Introducing the Pancha Koshas
The Pancha Koshas refer to the five layers of existence. The Pancha Koshas are taught and discussed in most early yoga texts and teachings.
These early teachings are a great tool for modern yogis, they help us to deepen our yoga practices and remind us how extensive the science of yoga is. By studying these early texts we are able to expand our knowledge, and bring an understanding into our practice that helps integrate yoga with our lives way beyond the parameters of our yoga mats.
Discovering more about the Koshas provides an understanding as to the depth of yoga. Yoga entwines with every layer of the self seamlessly and subtly. Each of these layers crosses over and supports each other.
Pancha translates to mean five and Kosha means layer. The Pancha Koshas consist of Annamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha. The word Maya has many translations in this instance it means covering. Each Kosha overlaps and is fused together by Prana. The first two Koshas are associated with the physical body, the second two are associated with the mind and Anandamaya Kosha is associated with pure consciousness or spirit.
Here is a brief introduction to each Kosha.
Annamaya Kosha refers to the anatomical or physical structure of the body. Anna translates to mean food.
Pranamaya Kosha is the energetic layer of the body. When prana enters Annamaya Kosha or the anatomical layer of the body all physical structures are able to function. We then become a functioning human being.
Manomaya Kosha refers to the mind. It is this kosha that allows us think and experience different sensations through the five senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell.
Vijnanamaya Kosha is also associated with the mind, however this kosha provides us with the ability to discriminate and make choices. It gives us a sense of what is real and what is unreal.
Ananadamaya Kosha is the bliss sheaf. Contained within this sheaf is the Atman. Atman is the Sanskrit word for inner self or soul or the real self beyond the ego.
As with many topics in yoga there is more than one commonly taught explanation detailing how the Koshas over lap and layer themselves. There are two popular explanations.
The first is to view the Annamaya Kosha or the physical body as the first layer, with each subsequent layer surrounding the previous. In this model each layer extends outwards.
The second is to view the physical self Annamaya Kosha as the outer most layer, with each layer sitting inside it. In this model the Blissful sheaf forms the centre. In the Yoga world this could be where the expression “Peel back the layers to reveal your true self” stems from.
Both descriptions are perfect and complement each other completely, so often in yoga we move from the outside in and also from the inside out. It is through regular practise and studies that these layers begin to emerge and we can see and experience each layer separately and as part of the whole self. This helps us to establish and experience a deep sense of connection to both ourselves and the universe.