The 5 Koshas Helped Fuel My Spiritual Evolution — Here's How They Can Help You
My journey toward spiritual evolution began with the physical body, which is most often where it all begins. Why? Because we start with what we know: what we can hear, feel, taste, touch, and smell. It's tangible. The Yoga Sutras say we need to take care of our "container"—our bones, muscles, joints, and tissues. We must cleanse it, strengthen it, and bring more flexibility to the spine through asana practice so we can sit in meditation or prayer for longer periods of time without distraction or discomfort.
Many people begin yoga with less-than-healthy diets and habits and find the body isn't willing to put up with all that for very long. Feeling nauseous is often their first clue that they need to detoxify and rethink their choices. That certainly happened to me. Because of my diet and all the drugs, drinking, and smoking I did before I committed to yoga, my cells, tissues, and organs carried impurities that I needed to bathe and cleanse through asana and pranayama. And then, of course, I needed to actually change my diet and my lifestyle choices in order to maintain good health. The physical cleansing of the body is a vital step on the spiritual path toward wholeness because, as B.K.S. Iyengar, the leading authority in contemporary yoga, used to say, "You can't build a temple on quicksand."
Even when we're not aware of it, doing yoga profoundly affects all parts of our being—our body, breath, mind, heart, and soul, better known in yoga as sheaths or the koshas. As a body-based meditation, yoga invites us to focus, stabilize, and move with more awareness. Nothing within us stands alone—we are living, breathing, thinking, feeling beings imbued with Universal Consciousness or Divine Essence.
All five of the koshas are activated whenever you do asana. Here are the different koshas, and how you can work with them:
Annamaya Kosha (The Physical or Food Body)
Focusing on the body can keep you in the present moment, grounded in your experience, able to investigate what's going on physically. Being in the annamaya kosha can show you where your tension is held and give you a glimpse of what may lie buried under that tension—the traumas and the suffering you may have been harboring for many lifetimes.
Pranamaya Kosha (The Energy Body)
Your breath, your life force, is the current that runs through this subtle energy pathway; it's known as prana, or chi in Chinese medicine. Most people think of it as the breath, but it's really more than that. It's the delivery system that brings vital energy to every cell, channel, muscle, nook, and cranny in the body. It makes sure that all of your biological processes, which include breathing, circulation, and digestion, function properly. When prana gets deregulated—whether blocked, stagnant, or overstimulated—it can mess you up pretty thoroughly.
You cannot find freedom in the body or feel at ease in your skin without paying attention to the breath. At the same time, doing asana in a way that opens up the spaces in your body gives the breath more freedom to distribute prana.
Manomaya Kosha (The Mental Body)
According to the yogic tradition, the central nervous system, which comprises our brain and spinal cord, processes and sends information from the manomaya kosha (the mental body) to the annamaya kosha (the physical body). In other words, the body and mind are connected through the agency of the breath. The manomaya kosha is the active, reactive, and not-so-discerning mind that flits from thing to thing and, if you're lucky, quiets down through asana, pranayama, and meditation practices. It is deeply influenced by what you see or experience—and can make split decisions based on that—but it's not so good at processing any of it. Asana can help you move any agitation out of your mind and into your body so you can identify it, notice where it lives, and release it.
Vijnanamaya Kosha (The Wisdom Body)
The vijnanamaya kosha is your inner wisdom. Awakening this kosha means getting in touch with your discerning, or intuitive, mind. That allows you to direct your life from your heart instead of your head, which means you can make more ethical, moral, and mindful choices, free from the impulse of any addictions, compulsions, and desires. It provides the pause between your thoughts and your actions that you need in order to show up for yourself and others with more patience and generosity and less judgment. It can help you see where you limit yourself by your actions, fears, or unprocessed traumas. It is through the vijnanamaya kosha that we develop clarity of the mind, greater intuitive understanding, and increased willpower.
Anandamaya Kosha (The Bliss Body)
The subtlest of the energy bodies, the anandamaya kosha connects our ordinary awareness with our highest Self or Spirit. Although it exists in all of us, most of us aren't aware of this layer of our being. The anandamaya kosha represents all-knowing wisdom, radiant awareness, transcendent illumination—in other words, pure bliss. You experience the bliss body when you suddenly and inexplicably feel at ease when you connect with someone so deeply you can't tell where you leave off and the other person begins. You experience it when you enter into a yoga pose, and after moving around, tweaking the alignment, and getting settled in, you simply receive the pose. You're no longer doing the pose; you are the pose. Yoga invites you to experience the anandamaya kosha through devotion to God, through selfless service out in the world, and by accessing the God within.
Excerpted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action. Copyright © 2019 by Seane Corn, E-RYT 500. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True. All rights reserved.
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