Want more information on the chakra system? Chakra 101: An Introduction to the 7 Chakras
Read on to learn all about these energetic veils of illusion and how to affect and transcend them.
What Are the Koshas?
The koshas are sheaths or veils of illusion that cloud us from seeing our true nature. They block and shield us from seeing our deepest selves, or Atman.
According to Vedantic philosophy, there are five koshas in the body that cover the Atman and prevent us from recognizing and connecting with our truest nature and our Divine selves.
As we progress on our spiritual journey, we slowly start to peel away these veils of illusion one by one, until we are able to more clearly see our deeper layers.
Each kosha represents a different layer of the body, either gross or subtle, and moves from the outermost layer inward toward the Atman.
These Are the 5 Koshas and What They Represent:
Yogic philosophy believes that the body is a vessel for the Atman and, ultimately, for transcendence. And if we can peel away the blocking layers of illusion, we can see ourselves in our truest divine nature.
1. Annamaya Kosha
This first outermost layer is often referred to as the “food body.” Annamaya Kosha represents all of our physical human needs like eating and drinking to survive.
This kosha includes all aspects of our physical bodies, and therefore, is subject to the laws of nature, including mortality. Yogic philosophy encourages us to recognize that while we have a mortal body, it only exists to house our immortal soul.
To affect Annamaya Kosha, we can eat or drink or move our physical bodies. To peel away this layer, we must realize our connection to our essential needs but not identify as those essential needs.
2. Pranamaya Kosha
Moving slightly deeper into the body, Pranamaya Kosha is the first subtle layer. Often called the “breath body,” this kosha comprises all of our subtle anatomy, including prana.
Prana is life-force energy, and it links the physical body to the subtle body so this kosha connects the two.
To affect Pranamaya Kosha, we can practice pranayama or meditate on our subtle anatomy. To peel away this layer, we must recognize that while vital air is essential to our physical survival, it is not essential to our immortal survival.
3. Manomaya Kosha
Continuing further into the subtle layers of the body, Manomaya Kosha is the “mental body.” This kosha includes our thoughts and emotions, as well as our five senses.
We experience the world through our senses, so we experience the world through the Manomaya Kosha.
To affect this kosha, we can practice Pratyahara (or total withdrawal of the senses), which helps us to peel away this layer and recognize that we are not what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste but we are that which experiences these senses.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha
Moving deeper into our subtle layers, Vijnanamaya Kosha is our “wisdom body.” This kosha gives us the ability to understand, reason, intellectualize, discern, and analyze.
This is where we process all that our senses absorb.
To affect Vijnanamaya Kosha, we can study scriptures or study the inner workings of our own minds through deep practices of meditation. Chanting mantra also helps us to recognize this layer of illusion as it calms our thinking mind.
To peel away this layer, we must recognize that we are not our thoughts but that which observes thoughts.
5. Anandamaya Kosha
The deepest veil of illusion is Anandamaya Kosha, or our “bliss body.” This layer enables us to connect with pure joy and experience small glimpses of the Divine.
This closest layer to our Atman is when we start to tap into our immortal, Divine souls.
To affect Anandamaya Kosha, we can experience Samadhi through deep meditation practices and catch glimpses of pure enlightenment.
To peel away this layer, we must experience connection with the Divine and merge with the Divine to realize we have always been one and the same.
The Takeaway on the Koshas and Yoga Philosophy
As veils of illusion that block us from seeing our true nature, the koshas may seem negative. However, each layer of our being is essential for our human survival.
In order to reach enlightenment, we must use the physical forms that we have been gifted in this life to be able to transcend.
If we can skillfully navigate through these layers and recognize them for what they are (illusions rather than reality), then we can simultaneously accept them and transcend them to merge with our highest selves, our Atman.