The Pancha Koshas might sound deep and seem like a hard concept to grasp, but quite simply they refer to the layers of existence. In this article I will endeavor to explain them as clearly as I can, to help demystify the concept.
It is worth remembering that Yoga is often taught using Sanskrit terms, this is because this is the language that yoga was first taught and recorded in. In many cases the Sanskrit words do not have literal translations, so it is not unusual to require a few words or sentences to translate a Sanskrit word or phrase.
In this instance Pancha translates to five and Kosha translates to mean sheaf, covering or layer. When the two words are put together they refer to the five layers of existence, or the five layers that cover the true self, the true self is known as the Atman.
Through the practices of yoga each layer or Kosha can be explored and discovered, the purpose is to eventually know our true selves. Each Kosha subtly leads us to discover and explore the next Kosha.
Although in yoga we do talk about peeling away the layers, this is more a metaphor to help describe and understand that the Pancha Koshas are layers that act as a cover to shield something.
The layers provide protection and contribute to our physical and emotional identity. If these layers were to be removed we would be open and completely exposed. The layers are necessary for our own protection, physically and emotionally. They also provide some of our personality traits and physical conditions.
Through exploring each layer we are able to discover tension, blockages, toxins, different behaviour traits, habits, reactions and discover what serves us positively and also what serves us negatively.
This is a lifetime of self study, self awareness and practise. With each change or challenge that we experience, these layers also evolve and adapt so the work is ongoing.
There is no hard and fast, right or wrong way to discover and experience the Pancha Koshas.
The Pancha Koshas
The Pancha Koshas are as follows Annamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha.
Each Kosha overlaps and is fused together by our vital life force, in yoga this is known as prana whereas other spiritual practices might refer to it as Qi or Chi.
The first two Koshas are associated with the physical body.
The Annamaya Kosha relates to the physical body, anna means food or physical matter. Annamaya Kosha includes all physical matter such as:- skin, bones, muscles,organs etc.
The Pranamaya Kosha refers to the energetic body which includes the Chakras, the different directional flows of the prana known as Vayus and the nadis (the channels that prana moves through the body in).
Without prana the physical body would be lifeless. The main vehicle for prana is the breath.
The second two Koshas are associated with the mind
The Manomaya Kosha is the first stage of mental awareness such as, thought, feelings and sensations.
Mano means mind. When we acknowledge that we have felt something such as a cool breeze on our face, hunger, emotional hurt or happiness this is all experienced in the Manomaya Kosha.
The Vijnanamaya Kosha is also connected with the mind, vijnana meaning wisdom or intellect. It is within this sheaf that we make decisions, for example in manomaya we discover a sensation and in vijnanamaya we choose our reaction, either through wise decision making or intuition.
Quite simply in manomaya we notice we are hungry in vijnanamaya we make the decision whether to eat or wait.
The final Kosha or the fifth Kosha is associated with pure consciousness. It translates to mean the bliss sheaf. It is in this sheaf that we experience deep peace, a sense of feeling connected, calm and aware. Such as the state we aim to experience through yoga, meditation or other spiritual practices. This state is not easily achieved it can take many years of work and practise.
Protected and encased by all these Koshas lies the Atman.
Learn more about the Koshas here.