In the scientific yoga system there are five layers of the body. These layers are called Kosha’s. When we come to the mat to do Yoga in todays modern world we mainly work on the first layer, the Anamaya Kosha. The Anamaya Kosha is anything and everything we consider to be the physical body, including; skin, hair, organs, bones, joints, blood, cells, etc. One of the main reasons for doing physical yoga is to keep the body and mind healthy and supple so that we can age with grace and ease. The other purpose for doing yoga postures is that it is a way to enter into the energy body a.k.a the subtle body. Asana (yoga postures) are the first point of access. While this layer is the most impermanent, it is our vehicle, our mode of transport in this life. To enter into the energy body we have to honour this mother-ship that carries one through this lifetimes experience. We therefore have to keep it well maintained through exercise, optimising nutrition, meditation, contemplation. We are lucky to have yoga in our lives as yoga encompasses all of that and more.
In doing yoga we begin to understand that the body is impermanent and everything that goes with the physical sense of being is impermanent; The body, our personalities, our possession. All of these are really a figment of our illusion….our delusion…..that distracts us from the Truth.
The other four layers of Koshas are our energetic sheaths, the subtle body. Through the practice of yoga and meditation we penetrate into these layers and experience something very different from what we see or what we believe to be this world. This modern material world does such a good job at distracting us from our deeper selves that mostly people disbelieve and are disabled in the use of ones own internal power and infinite possibilities that lie within. By tapping into these sheaths we begin to realise a different truth of life. It can have a very positive effect. We can begin a conversation with the subconscious mind and that is all empowering. However the process is slow and one has to be patient and persistent with yogic practices; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara Dyarana, Dyana, Samadhi.
The koshas have a profound philosophical significance. In the traditional yoga system, the yoga of the Vedas and Bhakti Yoga (devotional yoga) the Koshas work in a similar way to the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga*, 400 B.C. Each sheath is penetrated and realized one by one. The final layer leading beyond nirvana, beyond enlightenment, to the sheath that is a“nothingness”, beyond bliss, beyond stillness. In the later systems of yoga, such as Tantra Yoga (5th Century A.D.) and other eastern philosophies like Taoism, it is believed that we can experience any one of these layers within this lifetime at any given moment, if we prepare our bodies and minds and are willing to enter and move into a place within, a place that is beyond what we know of as the mind and reality.
This is my understanding of the Kosha’s. It’s not the only interpretation, though its an interpretation based on my experience of being in deep meditation and delving into the subtle body where I feel peace, joy, stillness, nothingness back to mind, matter, the material world and once again to experience peace, joy, stillness, nothingness and back to mind and matter and material world. In my experience, the Kosha’s work side by side, drawing us into the possibility of infinite peace and the material world pulling us back out of that existence into this existence. The play between the material world and the deeper layers of our energy system is the veiling and unveiling of Truth that is termed as Lila in yoga philosophy.
I wrote a blog a while ago about Lila that ties in well with this, so when you have time, take a read. http://www.hushyoga.com/blog/lilas-lotus-flower-part-ii/
I’ll be back next week with a more concise breakdown of each Kosha.
Love , Peace and Happiness.
* The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is different to Patabhi Jois’s use of this word for his physical yoga posture sequence termed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Both are referred to as Ashtanga Yoga and therefore is can be noted the term Ashtanga Yoga has two different meanings.