What Are The Koshas?
The 5 Layers of Beingness
Yoga is the process of accessing the innermost layers.
In the yogic manner of thinking, we arrive to Earth in human form even though our true essence is that of non-physical consciousness (AKA soul, spirit, atman, Brahman…).
In order for the higher self to engage in the play of life on the earthly plane, it has to put on the clothing, so to speak, of humanity.
From the least dense to the most dense layer, the higher self surrounds itself with the adornment of a person. These layers are the koshas, and the project of yoga is to recognize that they are not the true self but merely temporary garments worn while the soul navigates the material realm.
The accomplished yogi learns to reside in the innermost, and subtlest, layer — the layer closest to the true nature of who we are.
I’ll explain each layer briefly, beginning with the outermost. But first, I’ll explain what “mayakosha” means in essence.
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Table of Contents
"Maya" & "Kosha" Described
“Maya” is the veil of illusion that keeps us believing we are separate from All That Is. In reality, the soul (or self or purusha or atman…) is one node of divine consciousness which is itself indescribable, limitless, and all knowing — per the Vedic and yogic teachings.
“Koshas” are sheaths that encase the soul (or purusha) when the soul incarnates.
We are to keep in mind that these sheaths are ultimately temporary and are not the true self.
Let’s take a look at each sheath:
The "Food" Layer or the Physical/Material Layer
You've heard of "you are what you eat," right?
Your body as you know it — skin, bones, blood cells, tissue, hair, and anything else that takes physical form — is part of annamayakosha, literally the “food layer.”
This outermost layer enables us to navigate the world of matter. It is absolutely necessary for a human, but it is not all there is.
Helpful Mantra = "I am not the body."
Did you miss the explanation of Sutra 1.4, “You are not your thoughts”? Click here to read.
The Energetic Layer
Each of us can access this subtle-body sheath.
Prana is a word that signifies life force, breath, and your vital energy field.
Subtler than the material body, it brings life to the material form and can be felt by bringing awareness to breath. With practice, yet subtler forms of prana can be felt and directed.
Examples include, working with:
- the chakras,
- kundalini rising,
- nadis (channels or meridians),
- and the energetic field.
Helpful Mantra = "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out."
The Mental Layer
You are not your thoughts.
The mind, along with the five sensory organs, are part of the subtle body. The mind has the function of liaising between the true self and the physical reality.
Often, beings get absorbed in this mental layer, which keeps them in separation and causes them to forget their true nature as a soul within the unified field of consciousness.
This is why yoga teaches practitioners how to quiet the mind. Quieting the mind creates a window into the reality of the self as an extension of the grand consciousness (All That Is, etc.).
For a look at the many names of God, read THIS.
Helpful Mantra: "I am That, who witnesses the comings and goings of mind."
The Wisdom Sheath
The Innermost Subtle Body Layer (Before the True Self)
Vijnanamayakosha can be thought of as the wisdom layer, the intellect, or the higher mind. This is the layer of discernment, inner knowing, and of deep-seated intuition and truth.
Allowing your consciousness to reside here can feel very good because this sheath is very close to the ultimate goal of yoga (which means residing as the soul), but vijnanamayakosha is still grosser than the innermost layer.
Because it is so close to the innermost essence, vijnanamayakosha can quite easily reflect the true light of consciousness. However, because it is so closely linked to the grosser layers, this layer of discernment is still ultimately a sheath of delusion which keeps the soul suffering in the illusion of separateness and bound to the cycle of rebirth.
Mantra = "Separation is an illusion"
The Bliss Sheath
The causal layer that gives rise to all else
“Ananda” means “bliss,” and anandamayakosha is the innermost core of being.
In this layer, the illusion of separateness dissolves, and the soul’s light is most clearly reflected.
Although it is very close to absolute truth, this sheath still steeps the being in a degree of ignorance merely because it is one of the layers that stands between the infinite consciousness and material reality.
Nonetheless, the nature of anandamayakosha is supreme bliss, love, truth, and connection.
Yoga is a process of accessing this layer more and more readily so that the nature of reality can be perceived — and so that the soul can reside in its own pure nature (see Sutra 1.3).
Mantra = "Sat Chit Ananda" - I AM PURE CONSCIOUSNESS BLISS
1. A Contemplation:
Which habits and practices help me to witness my innermost layers? Which pull me farther away from them?
2. Meditation Prompt:
When the mind stops its running, who is it who still witnesses?
8 Sutras that Point to Freedom
What do the koshas have to do with yoga?
In the best cases, the physical exercise and breath practices of modern yoga exist to help the practitioner access deeper layers of themselves.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you are already quite familiar with the concept that yoga postures are offered for the express purpose of facilitating a comfortable meditation seat.
It is meditation that enables the student to glimpse anandamayakosha and ultimately his or her true nature as a soul and extension of the supreme consciousness.
Have you ever glimpsed your bliss layer? What’s it like, and what brought you there?
I love to read your comments!