Yoga, by definition, means Union of mind, body and soul. There is a built-in acknowledgement that your health rests upon things much deeper than the physical body. There are 5 layers of self, or being, that you must care for in our path to health.
The word kosha, means “layer”. You are made up of 5 inseparable layers. We distinguish them only to help us understand them, but they are inextricably intertwined and each offers its unique wisdom to our ability to move toward health. What happens on one layer affects all layers of your body.
From our obvious outer layer, we move inward through increasingly more subtle layers. Starting from the outermost layer and moving through the layers to the core of the self, each layer is made up of increasingly subtler degrees of energy: from the physical body, to the breath body, to the mental/emotional body, to the intuitive body, and finally, to the bliss body.
As we learn about epigenetics, lineage patterns, core beliefs, and trauma we understand that we cannot neglect the more subtle aspects of our beings. If we want health and wellbeing, joy and ease in life, we must learn to listen to the wisdom each layer offers us.
Learning to tune in, listen and respond to the messages from within you puts you on the path to health.
The Five Koshas
As we learn these 5 layers we will start with our most tactile and visceral layer and move inward to the most subtle. We describe each as a maya kosha. Kosha of course means “layer”. Maya has so many different meanings in yoga, it can mean “illusion”, like it is an illusion that this is something that can be separated from the others. It can mean “made of” and offers a way of describing the layer.
1. Physical Body
Your physical body, made up of your muscles, bones, organs, skin and all the systems that run within it, is the layer you are most familiar with, and the one our medical system is most equipped to care for. This layer is known as the annamayakosha in yoga. Anna means “food” or “physical matter”.
When your physical body is in balance you feel strong and capable. As the physical body tips out of healthy your flexibility, balance and strength decrease and you experience more stiffness, achiness and pain.
2. Breath Body
The next layer, is the energy that enlivens this physical body. It is called the pranamayakosha and offers the life-force energy of breath that yoga calls prana. Your breath has a lot to tell you, when it is full and deep and you sigh with contentment you are being given a message of safety, when it is short and tight it is trying to get you to pay attention. Your breath can be such a rich teacher of when you are in ease and when you are in stress.
Breath is the essential program that brings life to your inanimate body. It is the vital force behind every system of the body, from circulation to digestion, from reproduction to rest.
We know that when the breath body goes out of balance our physical health suffers as does our state of mind. Curating a relationship with this layer through meditation, breath practices (pranayama), and daily check-ins, can create a huge shift in the flow this energetic body offers.
When breath is shallow and tight, your prana is also strained. Restricted pranic energy that doesn’t allow full deep breath, causes the mind to be unsettled and the body’s systems strained and interupted. When we smooth out the breath, prana becomes more stable, the mind gets calmer, and every system in the body runs more smoothly.
3. Mental-Emotional Body
Our manomayakosha is the third layer. This one relates to your mental and emotional systems. It is your thoughts and feelings, and the sensations and is where the word mano comes from, which means “mind” or “thought”.
Our overactive mind is always attempting to look ahead and keep us on a familiar path, it is suspicious of change and keeps to its job of mitigating risk by not wanting us to deviate out of our comfort zones. This is the layer that is constantly reading the data input from our 5 senses. It is helping us navigate through life, steering away from what it perceives as dangerous and toward what delights us. The 24/7 job of receiving and assessing everything you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell is no small task.
This layer is how we assess the world around us. When we are on auto pilot or zone out, this system is the default decision maker.
When anxiety, stress, fear, and anger are driving this system we make different decisions than when ease, joy, contentment, and gratitude drive the system. Keen discernment of what is operating the manomayakosha is important or you might not be going down a path of health. Your thoughts and emotions often are responding from core beliefs and patterns that no longer are true, and therefore not supporting what is in your highest interest.
4. Intuitive Body
As you uncover each layer you are drawing closer to your innate wisdom. This is all that you know, without having ever been taught. It is your gifts and talents, your passions, and the unique intelligence that you bring to the world. It is your intuition. Part of aligning with your vijnanamayakosha, (from vijnana, meaning “intellect”) is to develop trust in what this area of your being communicates to you.
This inner knowing is where your deeper insights come from. If you can picture the old cartoons where a devil sits on one shoulder and an angel on the other, the Mental Emotional body might be the devil, ensuring you know the risks, the Intuitive Body might be the angel, urging you to consider the reward.
We sometimes say things like “something told me to…” or “I got a feeling that I should….”. Phrases like these reflect a connection to this intuitive layer. Paying attention to sensations, nudges, little voices inside are all ways this vijnanamayakosha layer speaks to us.
5. Bliss Body
The core layer of our being is the Bliss Body. The Sanskrit word is anandamayakosha, as ananda, means “bliss.” This layer is where you and the divine are one. It is your highest self. This is where your experience of expansion, freedom, and unbounded joy come from.
Connection with this kosha brings us back to centre, offers us the deeper purpose to life, and gives a sense of peace and connectedness when we need it most.
Often we experience this layer in special moments, when we reach the peak after a long hike, when we meet the eyes of a loved one we have not seen for awhile, when we hold a newborn, or watch a shooting star move across the sky. It could be a moving piece of music, a line in a poem, or a stirring in your soul from some other artistic encounter. This is the most subtle of the layers.
When you immerse in a passion you slip into your bliss layer. It is when you are connected through all 5 layers to the divine, and to your dharma, “life-purpsose”, that each of us have been sent to the world with.
Integrating the Five Bodies
It is impossible to separate one layer from the other. If your body is in pain, the breath will be shallow, the mind will be agitated, your intuition will feel cloudy and your connection to the divine feels absent. When you are in balance you feel vitality, in Yoga we call it Ojas: energy, joy, and enthusiasm for life.
Yoga asks us to consider each layer in our quest for health, understanding the integral purpose body, breath, mind, intuition and soul bring to your wellness.
We start by coordinating breath to movement. Focusing inward, allowing our mind and emotions to draw inward and notice the sensations from our deeper layers. As we practice, we synchronize our physical and breath body with mental-emotional and intuitive body. Eventually we drop into the connection to bliss body. The feelings of ease, contentment and bliss in savasana, or the spontaneous release through tears after a practice are indicators that you have found the connection of your 5 layers.
If you want to start a Yoga practice or learn to experience the fullness of your being, plug into the resource section at JillNovakYoga.com. There are Yoga Classes, Meditations, Breath Practices and information videos.
Our “Year of YOU” course offers a dedicated 52 to weeks to helping you find this connection, we enrol 4 times a year at the beginning of a quarter.