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The Koshas – Your Map to a Deeper Yoga Practice

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014

If you go out for a hike or bike ride this summer and decide to venture into new territory, chances are you’re going to reference a map at some point to orient and guide you on your journey. Within the context of yoga a similar sort of map exists called the koshas or sheaths. The koshas are helpful to navigate an inner journey beginning with the peripheral, more gross or tangible level moving to the subtler core.

The koshas are depicted through the map of the Pancamaya model (picture an archery target with its multiple colored layers/rings). This model describes the full breadth of yogic practices and how they impact every level of the human system.  According to this koshic map, we are composed of five interwoven layers or bodies that each influences the others. While the layers aren’t literal anatomical models of the body, they are reflections of what exists within us and physiological parallels can be uncovered. It’s through this model that yoga helps us to move toward a more balanced relationship with our selves.

The first layer, where you begin your journey, is called Anamaya and comprises the physical for food body. It’s the “you are here” part of your body map and for many, the most tangible and easiest to connect with. This is likely due to the yoga tool we most use to impact this layer, that of physical connection through asana and body sensing.

The second layer, Pranamaya, begins to move toward more subtle connections, as it comprises the energetic sheath or body. This includes physiological systems like the respiratory system and breath, as well as the energy of emotions. Pranayama or breath work is the tool that is most frequently used to access and address this layer. As you become more aware of where you are in your physical body (anamya) and practice the integration of conscious, rhythmic breathing into your yoga practice, you become more conscious of and affect energy at this level.

Manomaya is the third layer and is connected with your emotional, intellectual and mental body. Another way of thinking about this is as a connection to your nervous system and self-expression, thoughts and awareness. According to Patanjali’s yoga sutras (1.2), yoga is a tradition, a tool that can steady of the fluctuations of the mind over time…with regular practice! The use of chanting and sound, colors, and in more modern times, reading and listening to lectures are tools used to influence this sheath and focus the mind. Cultivating a steady breath as a tool to connect and get the flow among these first three layers is where many of us find ourselves exploring.

Vijnanamaya is described as the transformational or wisdom body. It refers to the level of character and personality explored in a reflective sense of consciousness. This may reveal itself as a deeper insight into our selves or into the world. The yoga tool often used to influence this layer is meditation.

Anandamaya is recognized as the bliss body, the spiritual or joyful body and is impacted through ritual in a symbolic way. An example is the ritual of ringing chimes and saying Namaste at the beginning and end of class or as a greeting and salutation.

So, as you continue with or consider beginning your own yoga practice, remember the depth of this practice and that the physical practice is only the beginning of the journey. With time and regular dedication, there is much more to be experienced and discovered.

~ Meagen Satinsky, PT, RYT, 500-Hour Yoga Therapy Candidate

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1 Comment

  1. A wonderful road map, with clear direction. It takes complex concepts and makes them very digestable and inviting.