A Kosha is a layer or a sheath. One of the teachings of the Upanishads is that there are five sheaths surroundings the self, the individual Consciousness. In the Tantric viewpoint, these layers are not simply Maya (illusion). They are, yet again, another form that Consciousness has taken to see itself differently. The koshas move from the gross physical plane to the most subtle plane, each layer with its qualities.
The five koshas or bodies that constitute our being are:-
- Annamaya Kosha
- Pranamaya Kosha
- Manomaya Kosha
- Vijyanmaya Kosha
- Anandamaya Kosha
Let us try to understand these koshas
It is the outermost layer, the gross Physical Body, that represents flesh, blood, muscles, and bones. It is nourished and maintained by ‘Anna’the food we eat, so-called Annamaya or food layer. We are most familiar with this body. Modern Medicineunderstands and deals only with this kosha – the gross body. It is said to be the most vulnerable kosha as it manifests any deficiency in other koshas. Hatha yoga asanas, Kshatriyas, and our diet help in developing and strengthening Annamayakosha.
Pranamayakosha is the Pranic or life energy body. The word ‘prana’ being the term used for Pranic energy, which is maintained by breath. Breath is not confined to just oxygen, it is the vehicle of Prana, the vital energy. Pranapermeates the physical body, moves through it, and is the source of physical life. Without prana, the body would be lifeless. It governs the growth and functioning of our bodies. It is because of the prana that blood circulates, food is digested, impulses are carried from the body to the brain and back. ‘Prana‘ is the force behind the functioning of our Karmandriyas- body’s five organs of action – Feet, hands, vocal cords, urinary and excretory system.
The Mental sheath. It pertains to the mind and its thought process. These are the actions and reactions of the physical body which are maintained and fed by thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It works through our five senses and leads to our likes and dislikes.
Every fluctuation in the mental body has a chemical reaction in the physical body and vice-versa. Emotions create chemical altercations in the brain and affect hormonal secretion. Scientific research has proved that the state of our mind changes the state of our body by working through the central nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system.
It is the Wisdom layer, the sheath of the Intellect. ‘Vijnana’ means Wisdom or subtle knowledge. It is a higher intelligence that contains in itself, knowledge, power of discernment, intuition, conscience, and will. One who understands the functioning of this kosha or body modulates his thoughts and actions accordingly, faces the reality of life, keeps himself away from illusions, worldly temptations, and attachments, gives up all negative qualities, sheds ego. Such a person achieves the highest state of wisdom.
’Ananda’ is a Sanskrit word that means Joy, Bliss. This is the most subtle layer beyond any explanation. It is the core of our being. It is Spiritual. This energy layer is closest to Cosmic Light and Truth. Once this kosha is awakened we feel Blissful. We experience pure delight, ecstasy, joy. We forget the existence of our gross body, mind and we are transported to the highest level of our being. We become one with the divine, and we experience nothing but happiness and bliss.
For holistic health, all these five sheaths of our body are to be kept in good condition. Disturbance in one affects the other because these five sheaths function in coordination with each other to form an integral whole. It is important to awaken and strengthen these koshas as they provide the road map to lead us smoothly from our physiological; to psychological to spiritual self and thus help us live a healthy, happy and peaceful life.