According to yogic philosophy, the human body is constituted by three bodies - the physical, the subtle (or astral) and the causal (or karmic).
Within the three bodies are the Five Koshas (or sheaths) -Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, and Anandamaya.
THE THREE BODIES:
The dense physical body is made of flesh and bone, including tissues, cells, molecules and atoms, and serves as a framework for the other two. It is the body that most humans find easiest to connect to, as we see the outer layers of it and feel it every single day.
It is connected to the physical or material world and the first kosha or sheath, annamaya, is part of this body.
SUBTLE (ASTRAL) BODY:
The subtle (astral) body is invisible to the untrained eye but can be perceived by other means. It is an energetic template of the physical body and vibrates at a much higher frequency. It is beyond the perception of our ordinary physical senses, but we can tap into it using many healing modalities.
It is formed by subtle organs of action and the three koshas pranamaya, manomaya and vijnanamaya.
CAUSAL (KARMIC) BODY:
The causal (karmic) body is what gives meaning to the existence of the previous ones. It is the subtlest vibration within the creation of the human being and the most expansive part of our nature. It is not an energetic template of the physical body and it is beyond the mind and consciousness. It can only be experienced through deep introspection using meditation as an instrument. It is what we call soul, spirit, or atman and is simply consciousness itself residing within the body.
It is connected to the fifth kosha, anandamaya (bliss).
THE FIVE KOSHAS
Originating from the Taittiriya Upanishad, an ancient Tantric yoga text, the Koshas are considered the five energetic layers (or ‘sheaths’ in Sanskrit) of your body that interpenetrate each other and surround your soul. Discovering and exercising each layer is believed to bring the individual closer to oneness with the universe and the true self.
“You are a multidimensional creature.
Your awareness manifests on many different planes.
Yoga introduces you to yourself and trains you to live fully and gracefully at every level of your being.
From the Hatha postures that strengthen and tone your physical body to the breathing exercises that balance and vitalise your life force, from the meditation practice that quietens and clears your mind, to the self-study and selfless love that open up an inner world of knowledge and unity."
Yoga is a holistic system that develops and integrates every part of your personality. By getting to know your five bodies and the inner self, you can experience the health and fulfillment of an enlightened life”.
- Linda Johnsen, Yoga International
LAYER ONE: ANNAMAYA
The ANNAMAYA (which means made of food) kosha is the first outermost layer, or sheath. In Sanskrit, it means the sheath of food, as it feeds the physical body and sustains the other koshas. Through this sheath or layer, we identify ourselves as a mass, which consists of the flesh, fat, bones, and skin and is something we can see, touch and feel.
The annamaya plays a crucial role for humanity as this is the physical aspect of life and is the first port of entry for us to have access to the deeper layer of the energy systems in our body.
A consistent yoga practice helps increase our strength, flexibility, mobility, blood circulation, digestion and focus and also helps in balancing our breathing, our nervous system, and internal energy systems. Yoga asana also helps maintain the balance of the annamaya kosha, as it leads to you feeling more in touch with your physical (mental and emotional) body, and leaves you with a sense of feeling physically grounded.
This sheath is strongly connected to the earth element.
LAYER TWO: PRANAMAYA
The second sheath / layer, PRANAMAYA (which means - consisting of breath or life) is the energy sheath and is composed of prana, our lifeforce. As such, pranamaya kosha is the vital shell of the body that contains life and governs your biological processes, from breathing, to digestion, to the circulation of your blood. It’s called Chi in Chinese medicine, Ka by the ancient Egyptians and prana in yoga.
The pranamaya kosha animates both the body and mind to allow for physical movement and self-expression. The life force energy is what allows the inner self to manifest in the outer world.
In yoga we practice pranayama, our breath control or awareness of breath. Working with the breath and meditation is a beautiful way to connect with your pranamaya kosha, allowing fluidity and life force to flow through the body.
This sheath is strongly connected to the water element.
LAYER THREE: MANOMAYA
The third of the five koshas is MANOMAYA (which means body made of thought processes) is the mind or mental sheath. Instinctive consciousness, thoughts, and perception are all linked in this kosha layer. In the West, we associate our routine mental state with the brain, but according to yogic traditions, the entire nervous system (including the brain) merely mediates the activity of this kosha layer.
The mind sheath is responsible for how we perceive the world around us and our thoughts, emotions, and fantasies are the more superficial layers of the manoyama sheath. The deeper layers include our beliefs, opinions, and values which are learned or inherited from society constructs, culture, and heritage. We also have our 'patterns' (referenced as samskaras in Sanskrit), which are typically fixed and cycling on repeat until we become aware of them.
The health of the third kosha is tremendously enhanced through the practice of mantra meditation. This soothes and balances the inner body, and helps release ‘knots’ of energy tied up in mental complexes and obsessive thoughts.
This sheath is strongly connected to the fire element.
LAYER FOUR: VIJNANAMAYA
Permeating the three denser layers (manoyama, pranamaya and annamaya), the fourth sheath, VIJNANAMAYA (which means - the power of judgment or discernment), is the home of our inner knowing (intuition) and wisdom (intellect). It can be thought of as the witness mind or that aspect of our consciousness that is not entangled in what we are doing or thinking, but rather, is acutely aware of what we are doing and thinking. The knowledge sheath is what lies beyond your thinking mind and stems from a deeper and more subtle layer of self.
An activated fourth sheath is what distinguishes human beings from animals as only humans have the ability to direct their own lives and make moral choices and is practiced through the Yamas and Niyamas, where you begin to experience the events in your life, even the painful ones, in a calm and objective manner.
As you deepen your yogic lifestyle, the fourth kosha grows stronger and more balanced. Your way of living, your contemplation, and your meditation lead to clarity of judgment, greater intuitive insight, and increased willpower.
This sheath is strongly connected to the air element.
LAYER FIVE: ANANDAMAYA
The fifth and final kosha is the deepest of the energy layers and, in the vast majority of humans, is totally underdeveloped. This is the ANANDAMAYA kosha (which means spiritual bliss), and is the aspect of our being, which is recognised as deep inner peace and joy, free from our thoughts, emotions, energy, and body, and yet at the same time embracing them all. It is the sweetness of ALL life that we feel when the mind is still.
Although anandamaya kosha is said to pervade all the outer sheaths, yogis believe it cannot be perceived until the illusions of the outer sheaths are peeled away. The waking consciousness (or 'thinking' mind) often masks the bliss body, making it difficult to access. Connection to the bliss body can often be experienced in practices where mantra and prayer are invoked through meditation and also in the final resting pose 'savasana' after our physical asana practice.
The blissful self reminds us that life can still be good, even when things are difficult. It is the yogi’s TRUE nature, lying underneath all of the illusions and is the deepest aspect of the true innermost self.
This sheath is strongly connected to the Ether element.