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Print Posted on 11/08/2017 in Yoga

The koshas, dimensions of being in yoga

In Sanskrit kosha means sheath or dimension. Each of the five koshas defined in Yoga represent a dimension of human existence or experience. Those dimensions are of any element in the world but it is easier to experience and understand them through our own bodies.

Each kosha can be compared to a layer to a more subtle aspect of our existence, from the solidity of our body to the energy that animates it, the mind that directs it, the mind that reflects on the essence of reality, and the experience of a transcendent and unchanging reality called consciousness.

The model of the koshas reminds us that Yoga is more about opening our awareness to something that we are ; learning to be rather than learning to do.

The five koshas

1. Annamaya kosha: the physical sheath

Annamaya kosha is the dimension of the physical body and material existence.

The physical body interacts with the material world and is made of food. Anna means food and maya means composed of. Indeed the cells that compose our body are made of food, fat molecules, water molecules, proteins, etc. Any element of the material world, including our bodies can also be described as made of five basic elements, earth (where the food grow from), water, fire (heat), air (oxygen and other gas), ether (space). Three quarter of our awareness is considered to be in the physical sheath.

2. Pranamaya kosha: the energy sheath

Prana means energy and pranamaya describes the movement of energy in the body.

Prana is the vital force of the whole universe. The action of prana is required for the heart to beat, for the brain to function, etc. Each of the five sheaths is composed of prana and need it to function.

3. Manomaya kosha: the mental sheath

Mana means mind and manomaya kosha refers to our mental experience of the world. The function of manomaya kosha is to ensure survival of ourselves and our peers. It monitors the need for food, safety, as well as all other emotional needs. It guides our actions to fulfill our needs. Manomaya being focused on fulfilling individual needs and desires it is often called the lower mind. It is said to occupy one fifth of our awareness during the day.

4. Vijnanamaya kosha: the wisdom sheath

Vijnana means knowing and vijnanamaya is the sheath of true knowledge and wisdom.

Vijnanamaya is a part of the mind that sees the universal true nature.

When experienced, vijnanamaya brings qualities of discernment, deep understanding, decision-making and deep connection with ourselves and others.

5. Anandamaya kosha: the bliss sheath

Anandamaya is the closest layer to the universal true nature. It is hard to describe anandamaya with words since in that sheath, “the instrument of experience [the mind and senses] has been totally transcended” Saraswati, S. (2008).

Ananda is often translated as joy or bliss because experiencing anandamaya kosha is characterized by an absence of pain or pleasure. Anandamaya is emmerged in the universal true nature and it transcends the boundaries of individual limitations. Anandamaya is where we all come from and get back to.

Some of the effects of yogic practices on the koshas

  • Asana (postures)

All asana have an effect on the body either on flexibility, strength, relaxation, balance, fitness or detoxification.

For example twists increase the flexibility of the spine and massage the digestive system.

All asanas are affecting the way prana moves through the body.

Physical practices also affect our state of mind, they may be calming or helping us to focus our mind, balances for instance.

  • Pranayama (breathing)

Can increase breath capacity, induce a relaxation or an activation of the body systems and organs. Pranayama also affects the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. For example bhastrika can help to detoxify digestive organs as well as activate the digestive system.

Pranayama techniques like ujjayi relaxes and focuses the mind. Nadi Shodana helps to let go of any persistent thoughts and balance the energy in the whole body.

  • Meditation and Yoga nidra

Yoga nidra relaxes the whole body, muscles, organs…

Meditation activates deep postural muscles and trains the body to be stable and relaxed for long periods of time.

Meditation and yoga nidra train the mind to be relaxed and develop the ability to observe the activity of the mind without being caught emotionally or reacting 

  • Chanting

Chanting mantras can clear tensions in the body and can bring up state of relaxation.

It also helps to let go of the lower mind and access qualities of the higher mind like deep connection and compassion.

As a conclusion the model of the koshas encourages us to go deeper and connect with the infinite beauty that lies within each and any one of us. Any breath, any gesture become an opportunity to do so.

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