What Are Koshas?
The koshas are mysterious and elusive aspects of the human experience used to describe the different sheaths, or layers of a human being. These sheaths are metaphorical and cannot be seen.
I often refer people to the Pixar movie, Shrek, to gain a better understanding of exactly what koshas are:
Shrek: For your information there's a lot more to ogers than people think.
Shrek: Example? Ok um... Ogers are like onions!
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes... no.
Donkey: They make you cry?
Donkey: Oh... you leave them out in the sun and they start sprouting little white hairs!
Shrek: No! Layers. Onion have layers. Ogers have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers!
Much like ogres, people also have layers. In yoga we refer to these layers as koshas. It is said that we all possess five koshas or “sheaths” to our being. These sheathes are as follows: Annamaya Kosha (or physical body), Pranamaya Kosah (the energy body), Manomaya Kosha (mind and emotional body), Vinjnamaya Kosha (the wisdom body), and Ananadmaya Kosha (the bliss body).
The physical body is our outermost layer and the bliss body is the innermost layer. To fully understand ourselves and how we interact in and with the world around us, it is important to understand these layers of our essential being and recognize how each layer effects our behaviors, thoughts, and actions.
1. Annamaya Kosha or Physical Body
This layer is responsible for how we experience the world through our physical senses. Everything we see, smell, taste, touch, and hear we are experiencing through our physical body. The sensations of feeling hungry or tired are also experiences felt through our physical body, or annamaya kosha.
2. Pranamaya Kosha or Energy Body
On a physiological level, the energy body is associated with the respiratory and circulatory systems. Think of this body as the electricity that pulses through your veins and keeps your blood pumping. It is not quite tangible, yet we know that it exists. Think of the energy body in terms of the motivation you have throughout the day. Sometimes you have extremely high energy and you are ready to get things done. Other times you have low energy and find yourself in a state of sluggish relaxation. The energy body, or pranamaya kosha, is responsible for this.
3. Manomaya Kosha or Mind and Emotional Body
Cognitive function, emotions, ego, and judgement are all attributes of the human experience that are correlated with the mind and emotional body, or manomaya kosha. When we pop the hood and look beneath the surface of a person, when we are really getting to know them, the first thing we usually look for is their manomaya kosha. If you want to discover how a person feels or thinks or why they carry themselves in a certain way, what you are trying to discover is who they are in their mental and emotional body.
4. Vinjnamaya Kosha or Wisdom Body
This is where things start to get interesting. When a person is referred to as “wise” or considered to be a “deep thinker” the person is be noted for being in touch with their vinjnamaya kosha, or wisdom body. This kosha is responsible for our philosophical insights and practical reasoning. We use this kosha when pondering the meaning of life or search for truth in ourselves and the world around us. This layer of our being is responsible for the ability to comprehend the world around us and scope out possibilities and realities outside of us.
5. Ananadmaya Kosha or Bliss Body
The innermost layer and core of our being- the soul. This kosha is also known as the soul. It is connected to everyone and everything. This kosha, the soul, is part of the universe and is the universe. This layer is responsible for empathy, compassion, and bliss. This sheath is said to be the only part of your being that is infinite.
The goal of a yoga practice is to bring us into union with our bliss body. To do this we have to be willing to look inward and work out the knots in our bodies. When we do this, we can uncover the core of our being and feel harmony with who we truly are. There is so much more to our existence than meets the eye. Yoga practice invites us to dig deeper, go inward, and grow our understanding of the human experience. We are encouraged to peel back the layers one at a time and really get to know ourselves. This experience is never disappointing.