Indeed, when I speak about the 5 bodies, most people have a confused expression thinking ‘wait a minute, you’re talking about this physical body right?’
While Yoga does helps to increase the flexibility and strength of the physical body. That is only a superficial view of what Yoga has to offer.
Our Five Bodies/ Sheaths
According to the Upanishads ancient texts, our human nature consists of 5 different bodies or sheaths. Each body is responsible for a different aspect of the human life and they interact and overlap with each other, ranging from gross to subtle dimensions.
These 5 bodies (pancha koshas in Sanskrit) allow us to understand our nature for psychological and spiritual development. They are namely:
Physical – Annamaya kosha
Energy – Pranamaya kosha
Mental – Manamaya kosha
Wisdom – Vijnanamaya kosha
Bliss – Anandamaya kosha
Self – Atma
As discussed, ‘kosha’ means body or sheath and ‘maya’, which many understand as ‘illusion’, means ‘consists of’ in this context.
- Annamaya kosha, (the sheath which consists of Food)
‘Anna’ means Food. This sheath is our physical body and is the densest of all bodies. It includes our bones and also the tissues which make up our muscles and organs. It is the lowest vibration of our Self. Here, energy is solidified into matter and it is made of the five elements, of which the earth element is dominant. This materialistic body is created by the food that we eat. If one gets ‘stuck’ into this superficial body, then one becomes obsessed about only the physical form.
- Pranamaya kosha, (the sheath that which consists of Energy)
‘Prana’ means Energy. This sheath is the vital life force that moves through the body. Matter in its subtlest form is energy. This consists of the breath and the five pranas, namely: prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana. These forms of prana control various functions within the physical body, and without prana, the body would be lifeless, and unable to move or think. It is the prana that makes the blood flow, carries impulses through the nerves from our body, to the brain and back. Prana also circulates between the physical body and the different sheaths through the agency of the nerve channels or ‘nadis’. Prana is takes form as vital, mental, psychic and spiritual energy. It is what allows us to travel from gross, to subtle and causal bodies.
- Manamaya kosha, (the sheath that consists of the Mind)
‘Mana’ means Mind. This sheath is made up of our thoughts, feelings and emotion. This is prism of which we perceive the world and our likes and dislikes (raga and dvesha) via the agency of the five senses. We continuously react to favorable and unfavorable circumstances, which destabilizes our mind and controls our happiness.
Consciousness is the connection to the world through our senses, which is controlled by the brain and discerned by the mind. Mind functions on three levels:
- Conscious: mind connects the world to the brain
- Subconscious: mind stores of past experiences
- Unconscious mind: the ‘Real Self’ or ‘Atma’
Many people are ‘stuck’ in this sheath as they are seized by their mind. In order to progress from this state, we need practices such as pranayama (breath regulation) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal).
- Vijnanamaya kosha, (that which consists of Wisdom)
‘Vijnana’ means Wisdom. In this sheath we reach intuitive knowing and higher levels of consciousness. The awareness of the body and mind is lost, and is established as the ‘higher’ mind. We know, decide, judge, and discriminate from the wisdom part of ourselves, our higher consciousness. Consequently, the higher mind turns within towards the soul, seeking the Truth, and searching for the eternal center of consciousness. Vijnanamaya kosha, through the nerve channels (nadis), links the conscious mind, the higher mind and the universal mind.
Practices such as dharana, (concentration) and dhyana, (meditation) are inner disciplines to channel our focus towards a deeper level of consciousness.
- Anandamaya kosha, (the sheath that consists of Bliss)
‘Ananda’ means Bliss. It is the spiritual or causal body where finally, you become one with the “divine spark,” which is our soul. Anandamaya kosha is connected to the unconscious or super conscious mind. It is only when the higher mind fuses with the super conscious mind, (or unconscious mind,) that one awakens to the Presence with a sense of connection to all. It is the highest level of vibration in this life. It is said that when you realize the Self or God, you reach “Mukti,” or liberation. Very few people have managed to reach anandamaya kosha, only saints and realized souls. This is when we reach Samadhi.
This is a brief guide to the journey of Yoga. In Bliss Shala, we teach traditional Yoga with the aim to experience all the 5 bodies.