A SHORT GUIDE
In the traditions of yoga and ayurveda, we are taught that we live in two worlds, the outer world and the inner world. To truly answer the question "who am I?" requires an exploration of the inner world. Luckily for us, a map is provided called the Koshas. When we start to look at the Koshas we learn that the confusion about the multiple parts of myself are really not so strange after all.
The map looks like a series of concentric circles. an ancient Tantric yoga text called Taitteriya Upanishad,, describes a human as having 5 sheaths or Koshas that interpenetrate one another, encasing the soul like the layers of an onion.
The outermost layer of the onion is the physical body, which the sages called the Food Sheath because not only is it made of the food we take in from the earth, but because it will ultimately become food for other creatures.
Surrounding the Physical Sheath, interpenetrating it, and transcending it are the three layers of the subtle body, the
Pranamaya Kosha, or Vital Energy Sheath,
the Manamaya Kosha, or Mental Sheath, and the
Vijnana Maya Kosha, or Wisdom Sheath.
Deeper than these is the Ananda Maya Kosha, the Bliss Sheath. It is this deep layer of myself that asks the inquiry of ‘Who am I”.
According to the sages of yoga, any real answer to the question “Who am I, really?” or “What is the meaning of my life?” involves looking into these sheaths, which are also called ‘bodies’ or ‘selves.’
To be fully empowered in who you are means to bring all these bodies on-line, as it were.
And this takes practice, because though all of sheaths are ‘firing’ at all times, most of us only have easy, conscious access to one or two. For example. Although most of us have an identification with our physical sheath defining ourselves as muscular or sinew, young or old, blonde or brunette we also spend much of our time in perhaps the mental sheath caught up in our thoughts, programs, and emotions. With the exception of present company this is where most people spend most of their life. Once you recognize how it feels to be ‘in’ one body rather than another you not only have an expanded sense of self, you have far more power over your choices and reactions to events
Benefits of being connected to each body:
Though this practice of Yoga Nidra can be a powerful meditation, most modern yogis aren’t seeking to transcend the body and mind–at least not as a way of life.
Rather, they want to be free to live with power and love within the body and mind. For those yogis, the map of the koshas is a tool we can use to bring consciousness to all these layers of ourselves. The map helps you recognize how each of these layers affects the others, and ultimately to find out how to unlock the hidden power and gift in each of these layers.
When you know how it feels like to be fully present in your physical body, the side effects can be feeling more like yourself more centred and more intuitively tuned into which foods and activities actually nourish the body.
When you can touch into the subtle power of expansion and healing in the Vital Energy Body, you can move stuck energy, release your own vitality, connect to the energy in nature and in others.
When you know the feel of your own Mental Body, you can begin to note the effect of certain thoughts, and actually step out of the trance-like states that arise when we blindly identify with thoughts and emotions.
Once you have learned how to access your Wisdom Body, you’ll find that you have more and more access to the clarity and intuition that can keep your life on track.
And each time you touch into the Bliss Body, you are touching into the fundamental goodness of life.
EXPLORING THE KOSHAS ONE BY ONE
1. ANAMAYA KOSHA
Ana means Essence of the Earth.
Anamaya Kosha-... Or with the alternate definition its the Illusion of Vital Life Force. I think they are both right.
Anamaya Kosha is not the body itself! This understanding provides a beautiful gateway to all the other Koshas. The Anamaya kosha is deceiving because we tend to identify it as our self. We think that we are our physical bodies. In fact, the yoga philosophy identifies the body as a temporary vehicle that we currently inhabit. How we treat the body plays an important role in the quality of our life experiences. The practice of yoga helps us to understand this. Once we become very familiar with Anamaya, the subtler bodies can be uncovered.
How it engage more fully in Anamaya in the everyday:
Because of the amount of energy parked in the mental body we tend to ‘think’ our body rather than feel our body. Eating obsessions, injuries and addictions come from this tendency to move and use the body without actually feeling how it responds.
Be willing to slow your movements down so that you move less from habit and more from a felt sense.
Personality is the mask we put on to go out into the world. Consciously pay more attention to softening the mask of the face, the shield of the heart and the armour of the belly.
Relaxation-In life and in practice. How relaxed is the body at the end of your practice? Highly stimulated lives need the unplugging of a yoga practice. If we don’t have this sense at the end perhaps we need to tailor our practice for the next time.
How to deepen your relationship with Anamaya in Nidra:
Relaxation! The sole/soul purpose of this layer is to move into trancendance into other layers. This is way so much time is spend on the initial relaxation of the body
Sensation- Feel it and trace it
Bringing harmony and balance into our physical form to bring us deeper into our next Koshas.
Vibrant alive sensation. Dancing, bubbly, alive. This leads us into the next layer. It basically spills over into the next layer.
The most dense layer will will imprint changes last. Talk about why the body aches when in crises.
2. PRANAMAYA KOSHA
Prana-Constant motion/Vital life force.
Pranamaya Kosha is the Sheath Full of Vital Life Force, or the Measure of Vital Life Force…
It is the animator of all life, constantly flowing through the universe.
So we temporarily have the capacity to breathe, but we are not the breath. Ultimately the breath is something we share with all beings. Prana is the energy that flows through the body. The Pranamaya Kosha, the Vital Energy Body, interpenetrates the physical body, but is actually much larger.
Pranayama can be divided into prana-yama, which means control or restraint of the vital force, or it can be divided into pran-ayama which means expansion or freeing of the vital force. The alternate conditions of contraction and expansion of the vital force provide an enormous range of energetic potential which we can learn to master.
How it engage more fully in Pranamaya in the everyday:
Most of us are aware of how coordinating asana with the breath brings energy into an asana, but we often don’t realize that when we feel energized, sleepy, dull, restless, calm, vibrant, we are actually feeling our Vital Energy Body. Just as we have a physical ‘look’, we also have a personal energetic signature. Once you get sensitive to the energy within you and around you, you will start to recognize the vibrational signature that you or others leave in a room, or even on a piece of clothing. (Remember how comforting it was the first time you wore your boyfriend’s shirt to bed?)
You may also notice how much of your communication with the world is actually happening on an energetic level–from the way you ‘feel’ when you’re in the room with an angry person, to the peace you can find by sitting under a big old tree, to the subtle transmission of energy you get from being with a really good teacher.
How to deepen your relationship with Pranamaya in Nidra:
Meditation and even asana practice–which is often classified as a practice of the physical body–are intended primarily to tone the Energy Body, as well as the Physical and Mental Bodies. Much of the purpose of asana, especially when different asanas are practiced together, is to move stagnant energy, or prana, opening and changing the flow of vital force in the body.
When you feel expanding energy in the heart or head, or when waves of heat seem to go through the body, you are in contact with the Vital Energy body.
Sensations of stagnation being stirred or even moved. Feelings of spaciousness
even a sense of expansion in the physical body, a sense that the body is bigger than the boundaries of the skin. As this happens, you may find that your posture will automatically readjust itself, that your hips or back may open. These are all effects of consciously accessing the Vital Energy Sheath, which is actually the storehouse of healing power in your system.
Use the breath and our attention to move energy around! This way we can create harmony to the energy body so that it is no longer a disturbance for us and we can move into the next experience of the Kosha layers
Mano-Mind/Energy in Motion
Manomaya the body of energy in motion…emotion.
Just how in the chakra system the heart bridges the gap between the lower and upper centres of the body and is the storehouse of our emotions, so too the manomaya kosha bridges the gap between the outer and inner worlds and is the system of emotions.
The Manomaya Kosha–within which you think, fantasize, daydream, and practice mantra or affirmations– is the part of you that filters and makes meaning out of the world you inhabit.
The cross sections of big energy exchanges in the body.
How it engage more fully in Manomaya in the everyday:
Practice how to BE with your emotions rather than change your emotions.
Ask yourself is this mine? Is this feeling mine or someone else's?
How to deepen your relationship to Manomaya in Nidra:
static– passing thoughts, images, perceptions and emotions that bubble up in our inner world. See the ‘noise’ as the mind releasing what is no longer needed and making space for fresh experience. In other words build a relationship with the distractions.
However, if some of the thoughts in the Manomaya Kosha are like bubbles in the ocean, others are like tides. The deeper levels of the Manomaya Kosha also holds the voices of our personal and cultural programming, the powerful, mental structures formed by the beliefs, opinions and assumptions that we’ve brought in from our family and our culture as well as from our accumulated mental patterning. Called ‘samskaras’ in Sanskrit, these deep thoughts form the basic blueprint for our life experience.
It is important to note in this context that the mind is considered to be different from the contents of the mind. The mind is like pure water, and thoughts are the particles of matter suspended in the water. In this way the mind, like the physical body and the energy body, can be seen as a cushion which absorbs and holds thoughts and emotions. We can thank the mind for absorbing and processing all of our sensory input. And we can say that we have senses and a mind, but we are not the senses or the mind or the contents of the mind.
The structures in the Manomaya Kosha not only color our experience, they also help to shape it, which is why one of the most effective spiritual as well as psychological practices we can do is to notice and question our own ‘stories.
4. VIJANAMAYA KOSHA
vi- and -jnana. Vi means inner. Jnana means knowledge.
Discrimination, wisdom, intellect, conscience and intuition.
It is the platform on which our subconscious thoughts and impressions can unravel. In other words how to choose and refuse taking us further towards or from the Atman.
The vijnanamayakosha is said to be like a two-sided mirror. One side faces the outer world represents the intellect and learns to discriminate and make judgments. The other side faces inward. The inner side represents intuition-knowledge that is received from within. The advice is to continuously polish the mirror to avoid distortions. The intellect and the intuition should always be tested. Developing our intuition is sometimes called turning the mind around or looking within.
How it engage more fully in Vijanamaya in the everyday:
‘Knowing’ of the Wisdom Body, the layer of our being that is composed of intuition and awareness. Trust more fully those spaces that know without ever having been taught. The knowing without knowing.
Anyone who writes, paints, problem solves, does creative math or philosophy will recognize the Wisdom Body as the self we access when we’re functioning out of inspiration.
People who can access their Awareness Body find it much easier to do inner psychological work without over-identifying with their emotional issues.
How to deepen your relationship with Vijanamaya in Nidra:
True insight, the quiet wisdom that arises, game-changing recognitions, genuinely inspired, downloads.
Awareness Body also happens to be one of the best doorways into the pure I AM, the essence of being. The trick is to learn how to be present as awareness, without making awareness an object. The Wisdom Body, at its subtlest level, is simply awareness, the objective observing part of the self. Here, we can dis-dentify with even the most powerful thoughts and self-descriptions, and witness the play of our mind and our life.
We might think that there is something we need to do but self awareness is already here. It is simply a question of orienteering yourself towards that part to you that doesn’t change. What can become astonishing as we fall into the revelation of this self awareness is the possibility now while conceptually we have thought that the ‘we’ or the’ I’ has taken us into the body what is amazing is how the body is appearing within awareness. Enjoy that feeling of being identified with and falling into the space in which the body appears.
This is where we get our downloads, inspiration.
Manomaya- Mind personality who we think we are
Intellect and the mind are the same thing but performing different functions. Same inner instrument but we make the dissection based on the functions Intellect understands. The certainty is produced by the intellect. Understanding or not understanding is intellect. we are aware of the intellect
5. ANANDAMAYA KOSHA
We are leaving the field of duality, the field of time, to find our inner happiness, the flood of bliss which is constantly flowing. We are near the inner source. The source is called sat-chit-ananda-pure existence, pure consciousness, pure bliss. We are that source of life, light and love which is ever-pure, ever-knowing and ever-free.
The Bliss Body, being very subtle, is the most hidden part of us. Yet its subtle presence is felt as the instinctive sense that life is worth living, that to be alive is good. The emotional feeling of happiness or joy is possible only because of the existence of the Bliss Body. You’re literally born to be blissful, because the Bliss Body is the deepest layer of your personal self. Separated by a thread from the universal Self, the collective wholeness of Consciousness, your Bliss Body is filled with natural ecstasy, dynamism, goodness.
It is so close to the atman that it shines in the light of the atman. It is more conscious than the physical body but it bottles consciousness from you. It is not you. It is to your real nature. But it is definitely a great place to hang your hat and many never want to leave. Its illusion is so sweet and good.
How it engage more fully in Anandamaya in the everyday:
mantra meditation or Centring Prayer that teach the mind to let go of the thoughts that hide the Bliss Body, and sink more deeply into itself. To fully enter the Bliss Body, however, we usually need to be in deep meditation/Nidra.
When you’re in touch with your Bliss Body, you know that your nature is joyful, free, capable of every flavour of happiness from the rock-out ecstatic to the simple feeling of contentment. You’re in the Bliss Body in those moments when you recognize–viscerally rather than intellectually–that love is the deepest reality, beyond mental constructions or ideas. In fact, one of yoga’s greatest gifts is its power to awaken us to the inner body of Bliss.
How to deepen your relationship to Anandamaya in Nidra:
Let your self fall back into the witnessing of the experience.
The yogi’s teach us that we are naturally joyful…when the mind settles, control ceases, welcoming new parts of life we discover our home ground which is by nature very joyful. This is Ananda.
Witness- Quality of what it is to Witness. As all of our material passes through we can begin to see the witness that is not drawn into the ‘washing’ experience. As we fall into the witness experience it can still feel quite personal…I am witnessing this. So its as though even though we are stepping back it still feels as though we are in a container of sorts. Ego still hangs on to the witness. As we stew in this quality of witness and explore the felt sense of this we naturally fall into a subtle distinction here. We go from “witness’ to ‘witnessing”
Witnessing- Feels more expansive…less personal. Open, spacious
Being/Presence- Goes even beyond witnessing. Being to me feels like there are no boundaries, no boarders. It is still tangible like we can feel the visceral-ness of being as a humm or pulse of life itself. That unending aliveness there is the ability to then be aware of all of this.
This layer still contains and subtle sense ‘I-ness”/Asmita. Asmita-when we are in this blissful awareness, paradoxically there is a continuation of the sense of ‘I’. So the subtle ‘I-ness’ that lingers around is beginning to be explored here even as we go into deeper sates of ‘beingness’ there may still be a subtle ‘I sense’. The study of this “I-ness’ can actually takes us into deeper states of absorption
Summary of all 5 in one easy example
EX) The Hand
What I see the skin and flesh and bone that lies inside is the Anamaya
When I lift my hand the energy which allows me to lift my hand is the pranamaya kosha
The thought “I must lift my hand” that is the mind the manomaya kosha
The wisdom of knowing “I AM lifting my hand” The vjanamaya
Any happiness associated with lifting the hand that is the rooting down from the Anandamaya kosha. If you cannot associate happiness with lifting the hand consider someone who's had a stroke and is in physiotherapy. The absolute ecstasy they will have in the ability to lift their hand in recovery.
Atman/ Awareness- 6th dimension.
Atman-Being aware of the entirety of everything.
While the ‘being-ness’ of the 5 koshas has a sense of ‘aliveness’ paradoxically the awareness of the 6th feels quite empty, void and stillness. What we call the void is also the fullness. This is why the analogy of the 5 sheaths being like a Russian nesting doll is not accurate. Like the nesting dolls we expect the secret of the atman when we get to the centre. Nothing is there when we peel everything away. This is the Ultimate reality.
How the Atman relates independently from the other Koshas:
Each of these layers is an experience and therefore not who we are.
Our bodies, our prana our minds are experienced by ourselves and nobody else. We get a first person account of our thoughts but who is it that is having the experience of the thought?
YOU are the experiencer. The Atman is not an object (like the koshas) out there that can be pointed to, it is the one who is having the experience. If we want to know who is watching, It cannot be found external. We do not find it not because it cannot be found but bc we don't look in.
Our entire field of knowledge lies in the known and the unknown. We know this and we don’t know that. What is distinct from the known and unknown is the knower. The Atman is neither known or unknown it is the subject not the object. Conscious is not a object of consciousness. To know the knower you do not have to add to it.
Consciousness explained through symbolism:
Here’s another way to put it. Say we have a jar of sugar, a cup of water and a cup of milk. We want the water to be sweet, we add sugar. If we want to the milk to be sweet we add sugar. Whatever we wish to bring into our awareness we add consciousness to it. How do we know this book by by looking at it. My consciousness becomes aware of it. How do I make sugar sweet? Sugar has inherent sweetness which it lends to other things. We don’t have to become conscious of consciousness. Consciousness is Self luminous. It reveals itself in the action of lighting everything else up. Consciousness is illuminating the 5 sheaths right now. It is not that we separate the consciousness from the 5 sheaths. The 5 sheaths appear in our consciousness. They have no existence apart from consciousness.
It is an object shining in the light of consciousness. Its an object shining in your light.
Intellect changes continuously. We learn things in school we forget them later. Things we didn’t understand before we understand now. Atman is the unchanging witness of the object.
Now it is time to retrace our steps back to the external world. On our way we begin to realize that the koshas are not just protective layers, but also means of expression. We begin to see that the inner world and the outer world exist together like a vast continuum. We begin to see the inner perfection of all beings. Our thoughts, our speech, and our actions become the instruments to express our inner knowing.
Believe it or not, it is actually possible to be conscious of yourself in all these layers and levels. To be aware and present in all of the koshas is to awaken to your own life and to integrate all the parts of yourself. In that, it becomes easy and natural to sense the universal Self that expresses itself as our individual, layered self. Then, we’ve become like the greatest sages of the yoga tradition who are awake in all their bodies and awake to that which is beyond them.