The pancha koshas refer to the five layers of existence as taught and defined by early yogis.
The Koshas provide a map that reveals the whole self from its densest layer to the subtlest layer. Through the practices of yoga it becomes possible to discover and explore these layers.
It soon becomes apparent that yoga extends far beyond the parameters of the yoga mat. Yoga is a never-ending journey that helps define all layers of existence from evolution to self-realisation.
The five layers of existence or the Pancha Koshas (pancha - five and Kosha - layer) are believed to provide a covering for the true self known as the Atman. When the layers are peeled away the true self can be discovered.
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. Pranamaya Kosha is also associated with the physical body because prana is required for the physical body to function.
The second two Manomaya Kosha and Vijnanamaya Kosha are associated with the mind and Anandamaya Kosha is associated with pure consciousness or spirit.
Exploring the Koshas through Yoga
Initially asana or the physical postures are experienced in Annamaya Kosha. Our attention is drawn towards our alignment and recreating shapes with the body.
Paying attention to the breath and recognising the movement of prana throughout the body brings the practice into Pranamaya Kosha.
The active chatter of the mind that often occurs and acknowledging the different sensations within the body is the action of the Manomaya Kosha.
As we continue to move deeper into our practises it becomes possible to still the Manomaya Kosha this allows to Vijnanamaya Kosha to become active. Vijnanamaya Kosha allows us to make enquiries and experience our intuition and inner wisdom.
When we become fully absorbed in our practice we are able to connect with the Anandamaya Kosha and experience inner bliss that is free from any fluctuations of feelings, moods or emotions.
Kosha Awareness Exercise
It might seem intense or deep, but it is very easy to identify and become aware of each Kosha as we practice yoga, here’s how.
Perform this simple scan of the Koshas whilst seated in Sukhasana, the easy pose. Sit with your ankles crossed and a straight spine. If this is uncomfortable elevate your hips by sitting on a few folded towels or a yoga bolster.
Bring your awareness to your physical body and your alignment, become aware of your sitting bones making contact with the ground beneath you, notice your spine extending straight up, pay attention to your physical body.
Take your focus to your breath, follow the path that your breath takes as you breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Notice how the prana feels as it moves through and around your body.
Become aware of how your body feels in the posture. Next become aware of the activity of your mind and allow all thoughts to pass through your mind without paying them any attention.
Be aware that the ego might try to take control and encourage you to take your practice in a specific direction.
As you continue to focus on your body in the posture and the smooth steady flow of your breath, notice how your mind becomes stiller and quieter and the ego is less active. As this happens Vijnanamaya Kosha begins to become more active. Allow your intuition to guide you and listen to what your body requires.
At some point during your practice you might find that you experience a steady state of being, one that is content, happy and free from fluctuations. This is Anandamaya Kosha.
Yoga enables us to experience and harmonise the Pancha Koshas, this brings a deep sense of self awareness to all levels of existence.