We get caught up in all of the ways we are told we are not enough—we are deficient…, we are not as good as…, if only we… Culture is all around us telling us about how to ‘fix’ superficial and perceived flaws in the embracing of one ideal or aesthetic. The truth is that we are far more than the external layer that holds all of our good stuff inside. This concept is called the koshas — or sheaths. In yogic philosophy, the 5 sheaths are acknowledged as the 5 layers of the self.
The 5 Layers of the Self
5 bodies — 1 consciousness
The 5 Koshas or Pancha Kosha are a part of the subtle anatomy. We know that in gross anatomy we’re made up of multiple systems, which are taught in science classes from our early childhood years. The subtle body, made up of meridians, chakras, and koshas, go beyond that, which can be examined under a microscope.
The Food Body - Annamaya Kosha
Our culture is heavily focused on this external sheath. We oftentimes define our worth by what it looks like, how pudgy or strong it is, and how well it functions. But just as we are more than beings that survive off of food and water alone, for we also need connection to others to thrive (and science has proven to survive, too), we must be more than this external sheath. How this body functions, however, is informed by the other bodies AND we can change this body by working on our relationship to the others.
The Energy or Breath Body - Pranamaya Kosha
Prana is energy or life force while pranayama is the regulation of breath. This body — our energy or breath body — is regulated by the breath. This is why we are able to calm ourselves down from being in a fury by breathing more deeply and slowly, whereas when enraged or scared, breath is shortened. We also can utilize yogic breathing to regulate the expense of energy. For example, we use ujjayi, kapalbhati, or bellows breath to heat ourselves up, sitali or Crow’s breath to cool ourselves down, kumbaka (breath holds) or alternate nostril breathing to calm and focus the mind, and letting go breath, longer exhales than inhales or Sivananda breathing to sit with or receive postures or a situation. We can change our entire state of being by changing the breath.
The Thinking Body - Manomaya Kosha
This body is like the unruly teenager that questions the Why of things constantly. We need this body to help discern and understand. Also, the mind can get in the way of experience. By giving the mind something to do, like sensing aspects of the body or sensations, or by allowing our thoughts to remain with us, but not be center stage, we are able to connect to the other koshas or to meditate more easily. Moving from active meditation to concentration gets us closer to the state of bliss or samadhi, so getting beyond the blocks that the thinking body will require us to consider is a big, important ask.
The Observer or Witness Body - Vijnanamaya Kosha
Yoga Sutra 1.3 tells us that if we cultivate the Seer, we will abide in our true nature. in other words, by being able to see ourselves at a distance from the situation we’re in, we are able to see ourselves more clearly, and thus, we become the definers of ourselves and our lives. No one gets to participate in the creation of your identity when you are its definer because what you have identified as truth simply is — one can’t argue with truth. It is crucial to identify and access this body to not only step into creation of who we are without the confines of society’s views on aesthetics, identity, politics, etc., but also because it is in the space of the Observer that we are able to place the vision that we are looking to manifest in our lives. It is quite difficult to make a change to a habit or situation without appeasing the thinking body’s need to know what the outcome will be, therefore change becomes difficult, and even impossible, for some. BUT, when we step outside of the world that we take in through the senses and step into a vision that is placed into the observant mind, we no longer need visual or sensory evidence because we are creating that evidence mentally during meditation. This is where the power of Yoga Nidra and visioning meditations come in. We are actively working within the realm of the observer body to do the work of manifesting whatever goals, vision, or transformation that we most deeply desire.
The Bliss Body - Anandamaya Kosha
The innermost and most subtle of all the sheaths, the Bliss body is the true self. It is the layer that is accessed while peeling back all of the illusions, story, and samskaras or mind grooves contained in the other bodies. This is where unconditional love, peace, unity with all beings, pure joy reside, and is a gift of deep meditation. When the veil between ourselves and others is completely lifted, we are in completely embodied bliss state. Of course, reaching the bliss body is a life’s work, and the reason why savasana is so important in active asana classes — we are working off all of the stuff of the day with the active asana class, then attempting to reach that bliss state, if only for a second, in savasana. Just as this is a state that is accessible through meditation, it’s also the body we hope to reach in Restorative Yoga classes, which is one of the many reasons it is SO important to have a regular Restorative Yoga practice.
Each of these koshas also connects to chakras, the elements, and even to the gross anatomy. Imagine if this were taught in secondary science education! There might be fewer incidents of bullying, anxiety, and body image issues because we would understand from a young age that we are LITERALLY more than skin deep, and would attempt to drop the veil of separation between one another. The next time you find yourself frustrated or disappointed with the food body, rather than immediately searching for something to appease it, perhaps try energy work so that satiation may take place in one of the other bodies. By doing this deeper work of visioning and healing deep within the bodies, we can connect to that light that we acknowledge within on another with namaste.
To learn more about energy healing and/or to be connected with a reputable energy healer, please contact me.