Koshas is a Sanskrit word which means sheath or covering. According to Vedantic philosophy, it covers the Atman (soul). They are considered to be the energetic layer that moves from the outermost skin to our deep spiritual core.
The Koshas are classified under five layers or sheaths; also known as pancha-kosas (Panch = Five). They are described in the Taittiriya Upanishad
Each layer in the Koshas has its own physiological function and psychology.
Pancha-kosas or Five Koshas
“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.” Taittiriya Upanishad
Anna means “food”; maya means “made up of”. Our outermost Kosha is the sheath of food. This represents our physical body. Our physical body or annamaya kosha, contains the other koshas and can be kept fit through the practices of the hatha yoga.
Taittiriya Upanishad further states that “Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.”
Prana means life force or the energy. Prana is the force or the energy behind all kinds of movements. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning movement, motion or vibration.
This energy is in constant motion or in vibration throughout life. This is found in all creatures (human beings, plants, animals) and materials (ocean, mountain). Whenever there is a movement, growth, activity or change of anything it is because of prana. There is no movement without a prana. During death a body dissipates because of lack of prana.
Pranamaya kosha is directly affected by the practice of Pranayama. One should practice Pranayama with awareness of breath.
“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.Vijnanamaya kosha, “wisdom” sheath (Vijnana).” Taittiriya Upanishad
Mano means Mind.The third sheath is the mind stuff. It is the mental body which controls our daily emotions and judgements. It is the supervisor of our body factory, giving instructions to the physical body and senses.
After taking care of your physical body and training the prana energy, it is important to be trained in positive ways in this level of energy. By practicing meditation, we become aware of our Manomaya kosha.
4. Vijnanamaya kosha
“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.”Taittiriya Upanishad
Vijnana means psyche or wisdom/intellect. It helps us to distinguish between what is wrong and right, what is useful and not useful. This fourth sheath is something that distinguish humans from animals. Humans have the ability to direct their own life and make moral choices.
By practice of Yama and Niyama one can strengthen this Kosha. A brief on some characteristics of Yama and Niyama is provided below.
- Ahmisa: – Non Violence:
- Satya: – Commitment to Truthfulness
- Asteya:- Non-stealing
- Brahmacharya:- Continence
- Aparigraha: – Non Covetousness, Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
- Saucha: – Purity, Cleanliness
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Austerity
- Swadhyaya – Self-study, study of scriptures
- Ishwara Pranidhana – Surrender to God’s will
“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”Taittiriya Upanishad
Ahh finally it is Ananda which means bliss, happiness, joy. It is the most interior of all the Koshas. This bliss is not merely an emotion. It is that joy and peace one experience which is beyond mind and independent of the stimulus or external reaction.
“We can awaken our bliss sheath through three practices. The first is seva, selfless service. This opens our heart to our innate unity with other beings. The second is bhakti yoga, devotion to God. This opens our heart to our unity with the all-pervading Divine Being. The third is samadhi, intensely focused meditation, which opens our heart to our own divine being.”Source
To understand more about it, please go through the excerpts of Swami Satyananda Saraswati sermon in France.