by Juan Villegas, E-RYT® 500
Koshas: Getting to Know Yourself through Yoga Practice
Koshas are layers or sheaths that help us to move from the physical to the spiritual. There’s that moment at the end of an intense physical and mental practice, it could be running, yoga or chasing your nephews around a park for two hours, where you feel absolutely blissed out and serene. Have you felt that before? While your mind was focused and your physical body was working you managed to move into a state of peace. According to yoga philosophy, you have moved through the layers of the Koshas. Much like layers of an onion, the peeling of these layers helps us navigate to the core of who we really are.
Annamaya Kosha is the first Kosha; it’s your physical body. It’s perhaps the Kosha that we identify with most since we can easily relate to its presence and sensations. In asana practice connecting with this first layer is usually what we do when we arrive onto our mat and assess how we physically feel as we begin to move.
The second sheath is the Pranamaya Kosha, the energetic or breath layer. Pranayama practice helps us to ignite the breath, increasing prana (life force energy). Connecting to your breath as you flow through an asana practice helps to navigate from the breath to the mind.
The third sheath is the Manomaya Kosha, the part of the mind responsible for thoughts and actions. During meditation or asana practice focusing on the breath slows the clutter of thoughts or vritti in Sanskrit, allowing the mind to relax and to bring us to a deeper sense of stillness.
This leads us to the fourth sheath, the Vijinanamaya Kosha, the higher mind or intellect. This is part of our mind that controls the conscience, right from wrong and allows us to make true decisions that are not influenced by the fluctuating lower mind. In our yoga practice, we can experience this layer as a deep sense of awareness and insight.
Finally, as you lay in Savasana and let go of thoughts and physicality you reach the realm of the Anandamaya Kosha, the bliss body. Here there is space, freedom, peace and a true connection with you truly are. This may only last for a few moments, but it is these glimpses that keep us coming back to our mats time and time again.
Have you noticed these Koshas in your practice?