Discovering more about the Koshas helps to deepen our understanding of yoga. It also provides us with some understanding as to how yoga filters into our lives.
In this article we will look at the first two Koshas, Annamaya Kosha – the food sheaf or the physical body and Pranamaya Kosha – the vital energy sheaf or the pranic body.
Annamaya Kosha is the densest of all the five Kosha’s and vibrates at a low frequency. It is given the name the food sheaf, because Anna translates to mean food, this sheaf is deemed as being created and maintained by what we consume.
The terms rasa (essence or flavour) and prithvi (Earth) are very much used when it comes to defining Annamaya Kosha
The human body is made up of anna, it grows and gets strengthened with anna and later after death the physical body decomposes back into the earth.
Annamaya kosha is regarded as the force that controls, influences and shapes the physical body.
Physical yoga practices (asana and all hatha yoga techniques), fasting (upvas), inner cleansing (kriyas) and austerity (tapascharya) will help to purify, cleanse and refine this sheaf.
The health and condition of Annamaya Kosha helps form our personality and many of our physical traits. It is this sheaf that we often become very attached to. It is normal for us to develop an interest in the way we look, how we are perceived, the food we eat and what we consume. One of the first stages of spiritual practice is to lose or lessen the attachment to this sheaf.
Medicines prescribed in the western world act primarily on this Kosha.
Pranamaya Kosha is also known as the sheaf of vital energy or the pranic body. It is comprised of prana, its physical manifestation is the breath. As long as this vital principle exists in organisms then life will continue.
This Kosha is vital for life, when prana enters the Annamaya Kosha and flows freely all of the structures in the body function. Prana is shared by all living beings, it is present in the food we eat, the air we breathe and it is the one binding force that unites the entire universe.
The Pranamaya Kosha interconnects the Annamaya Kosha with the other more subtle sheaths (the Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, and Anandamaya Koshas).
Prana flows in all different directions these different flows of prana are known as Vayus or winds. Each vayu influences different tasks, actions, emotions and behaviours. When prana is balanced and flowing freely we are able to enjoy and experience optimum levels of health and wellbeing, this is greatly reflected in all of the Koshas.
Prana moves around the body through a network of energy zones called Nadis. Although there are 72,000 different Nadis within the body, the three nadis that yoga students become aware of first are Ida, Pingala and Sushumna Nadi. It is in the Sushumna Nadi that the Kundalini energy will travel.
The Chakras also make up a vital part of the Pranamaya Kosha. Chakras are dense areas of pranic energy often located where different Nadis or Vayus meet. There are lots of Chakras within the body, the seven main ones are aligned with the Sushumna Nadi and positioned between the base of the spine and the crown of the head.
The form of this sheath is subtle, but unlike some of the other Koshas Pranamaya Kosha disintegrates at death along with the physical body.
Pranayamas, eating a healthy diet rich with raw fruit and vegetables and getting plenty of fresh air will help to refine, cleanse and purify this sheaf.
Many natural forms of healing work on this Kosha such as homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, reflexology, magneto-therapy and many other alternative practices.