What are the 5 Koshas in Yoga?

In yoga philosophy, the ‘koshas’ are five layers, or sheaths, that encompass the human being, representing different aspects of our existence, from the physical to the spiritual.

 These sheaths are believed to surround the Atman, which is the innermost self or soul.

 The 5 Koshas in yoga are:

Annamaya Kosha 

The first sheath is said to make up the physical body, our gross layer of matter…

The Sanskrit prefix ‘anna’ refers to food, related to the taking in of food or any external nutrition to nurture the physical body, you could say this layer holds the origins of ‘you are what you eat’.

As well as foodstuffs, Annamaya kosha relates to everything we take in through our senses: the scents, sounds, sights and textures around us.

This outer kosha also links to the element of earth, being the most firm, observable and often the first place we look to when growing and connecting to ourselves.

The word ‘maya’ is seen over and over again in Yogic literature, and refers to a sense of ‘illusion’ that separates us from one-ness and unity.

Maya is the very thing that makes us feel limited and divided, and when we’re experiencing anxious thoughts and ruminations, we can recognise this as the whirlings of Maya preventing us from seeing reality, and feeling at ease in the universe.

By practising yoga/ mindful movement, eating well, resting the body and supporting yourself to feel as well as possible, you are taking care of this kosha.

Pranamaya Kosha

The second sheath often thought of as ‘breath’, prana is really the energy behind the breath. It’s the life force within us and everything around us, as long as we have prana within us, we’re alive.

As with many things, there are different levels of prana present in everything. A person experiencing a sense of lethargy and low mood levels could be said to have low prana, whereas someone at ease with plenty of energy and a sense of purpose may have high levels of prana.

What we take in through the Annamaya kosha can affect the Pranayama kosha, for instance eating a juicy organic apple from the tree will provide higher levels of prana than one sprayed with pesticides and wrapped in plastic. A beautiful view of nature will provide more prana than a polluted road or chaotic street.

This sheath is linked to the water element, and just like water itself, it has many varying states and qualities, and allows for a fluidity and movement to occur.

Manomaya Kosha

The third of the Koshas is composed of manas or ‘mind’, this sheath relates to a sense of I and mine.

It’s where the ego and sense of identity is held.

Whilst the mind can be the place our darkest times are spent, the manas layer of us also allows for diversity and creativity and is powerful in the sense of turning potential ideas into reality.

The Manomaya kosha is affected both by what we eat and take in through the senses (Annamaya kosha) and our breath and energetic state (Pranamaya kosha).

Linked to the element of fire, this layer is sharp and discerning: it mulls over ideas, creates new ones, and perceives our experiences to create opinions and memories.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

The 4th of the Koshas…

The ‘wisdom’ or ‘intellectual’ sheath, Vijnanamaya can be thought of as the witness, the one observing our thoughts and actions.

It’s the part of us that can observe thought without becoming entangled in thought.

Whilst in a meditation practice, you may recognise vijanamaya kosha when observing your thoughts, allowing them to come and go.

We can be aware of vijnanamaya kosha when acting instinctually, and from a place of observing ourselves.

Linked to the element of air, we can’t necessarily see the things vijnanamaya does, but it’s always there and pervades all other layers of the body and mind.

Anandamaya Kosha

The 5th and final Kosha refers to ‘bliss’ – ananda is thought of as a state of joy and divinity.
This state may be recognisable as the feeling you sense in savasana at the end of a yoga class: the feeling that everything is in harmony, a sense of upliftment, ecstasy and joy. 
We can move in and out of this bliss state, and back and forth through the many sheaths on a regular basis…