There is more to us than meets the eye. As yoga practitioners, we know that we are not just our physical bodies. In fact, from a yogic perspective five bodies actually compose what we think of as who we are! These five bodies are called the koshas.
The word Sanskrit word kosha means “sheath”. Each represents a different part of our human reality. The koshas include our physical, energetic, mental, wisdom, and bliss bodies. We can imagine them as overlapping, beginning with the bliss body and working outward toward the physical or beginning with the physical body and moving towards the bliss body. More importantly than the order we imagine them in is the realization that they are not separate. One body influences the other.
Annamaya Kosha: The Physical Body.
Annamaya kosha is our home in the physical world. Literally meaning “food sheath”, this indicates one of the primary ways we care for Annamaya kosha. Proper nutrition, healthy exercise, and spending time in nature cultivate optimal health and wellness in Annamaya kosha.
Grounding is another way of nourishing Annamaya kosha. Grounding is a technique we can use to remind ourselves of our connection to the physical world. It is particularly helpful when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, or “spacey”. Begin by simply noticing the location you are in. Take in all the sights, sounds, and sensations in your body. Notice how it feels to sit, stand, or lie down wherever you are. Use your senses to fully bring yourself into the present moment. It is a relatively simple practice, though not always easy. If it is difficult for you to get grounded, it may be helpful to work with a partner who can help remind you to look, listen, and feel.
Pranamaya Kosha: The Energetic Body.
Prana refers to our “life-force”. Pranamaya kosha enlivens the physical body. Our vitality clues us in to the health of Pranamaya kosha. When we are in poor health, it is echoed through our physical appearance and demeanor. The statement, “I just don’t have any energy today,” reflects a lack of health in Pranamaya kosha.
Pranayama and asana practices are excellent ways to nourish Pranamaya kosha. Imagine the energy body like a garden hose. When the hose is knotted, water cannot flow properly. We have to detangle it first! Likewise, when our energy body becomes knotted, we have to undo the knots. Asana and pranayama practices do just that! As we work with our energy body, we feel more at ease in our physical body and are better able to engage our mental and wisdom bodies.
Manomaya Kosha: The Mental Body.
Manomaya kosha, our mental body, is sometimes called “the monkey-mind”. It operates like a computer. Manomaya receives, processes, and distributes information. At its best, it is logical, analytical, and systematic. When given a straight-forward task, the mental body has what it takes to accomplish it! However, it can also be repetitive, redundant, and lack creativity and flexibility.
In order to care for our mental body, we actually need to engage practices that challenge it by disrupting its habitual patterns. We do this through practices that get us out of our own heads! Deep self-inquiry nourishes Manomaya kosha by giving us a way to test our thoughts and uncover what is true and more real about ourselves. Sacred service is another way to care for Manomaya kosha. We expand our sense of self by placing ourselves in service to something bigger than ourselves!
Vijnanamaya Kosha: The Wisdom Body.
As Manomaya kosha is the part of our mind that thinks and processes information, Vijnanamaya kosha is capable of receiving wisdom and inspiration. The wisdom body gives us access to discernment, creative thought, thinking-outside-the-box, and our intuition and sense of “inner knowing”.
Meditation nourishes Vijnanamaya kosha. As Manomaya kosha quiets through meditation, we are better able to tune-in to the Wisdom body, receiving guidance and a shift in perspective. Svadhyaya, or study of the sacred Self, is also a way to care for Manomaya kosha.
Anandamaya Kosha: The Bliss Body.
The bliss body is the truest part of who we are. Anandamaya kosha is the part of us that is connected to Source. Boredom, apathy, and depression are all signs of ill-health in Anandamaya kosha. Like food feeds Annamaya kosha, bliss feeds Anandamaya kosha. In order to cultivate wellness in our bliss body we must make a practice of regularly engaging ourselves in that which brings us joy!
Also imperative to the optimal functioning of the bliss body is to regularly connect with Source. If Anandamaya kosha were a lightbulb, Source would be the light. Through practices, such as those that bring us bliss, we sustain our connection to Source the way a plug connects a bulb to electricity. We access the state of Yoga when we are connected through our bliss. Thus, as we bring light to our own lives through our practice, we also shine that light in the world, uplifting, inspiring, and creating greater connection with everyone around us!