WHAT IS THE PANCHA KOSHA?
Erika Smith Iluszko
An overearching concept in subtle anatomy is that the energy of each embodied being is contained in a set of five interrelated sheaths, or koshas, that define the three “bodies.” The word “pancha” is Sanskrit for five and “kosha” can be translated as sheathes or layers. First mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the kosha model helps to map the inner journey of yoga. These five sheaths are called; Annamayakosha, Pranamayakosha, Manomayakosha Vijnanamayakosha and Anandamayakosha.
Starting on the periphery of the physical body and moving toward the core of your being as an embodied soul, the koshas are not a literal anatomical model of the body but rather is a metaphor that helps describe what it feels like to do yoga from the inside – the process of aligning what in contemporary language we often call the body-breath-mind connection. Using this typology to conceptualize the nature of being, yoga helps bring the body breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit (bliss) into harmony. Existing as an energetic whole, all aspects of all Five sheaths are simultaneously present, interwoven like a tapestry. Yogasana is a means for becoming consciously aware of this interwoven fabric of existence, connecting the physical and subtle bodies, bringing awareness more and more to a place of blissful being.
Annamayakosha is the first sheath, it is made up of the physical form, it is the one that we can see, named for the fact that it is nourished by food (anna is Sanskrit for food). In Hatha yoga this is where our practice could begin (e.g., yogasana or ayurveda) by exploring our physical bodies. But this is just the beginning, since this is the dimension of existence in which we experience the combination of energy and consciousness, even if we are not yet conscious of this interconnection.
The Pranamayakosha or energy sheath (prana is Sanskrit for energy), that connects the physical body with more subtle koshas. Composed of prana – the vital life force that pervades the being, it is physically manifested by the constant flow and movement of breath. This includes also the pathways of the body (nadis) which transport prana and certain junctions (chakras) in the body wherein the nadis spirals and rises along the spine.
Beyond the energy sheath is the Manomayakosha which comes from the Sanskrit “mano” loosely translated as mind. As we move inwards, these dimensions become more subtle. This is the dimension of thoughts, our identity, our personality, our sense of self and all the identifications that we form.
More subtle than the mind sheath is the Vijnanamaya is the sheath wisdom, or I like to think of it as the sheath discernment – the ability to question or wonder about the nature of who we are. As the sheath goes deeper and deeper in its layer, we come closer and closer to the truth of our being. Here we begin to begin the disidentification to our body and mind. By practicing yoga, we stimulate this part of our selves which is under the veil of the vijnanamayakosha.
The final and even deeper than the vijnanamyakosha is the Anandamayakosha. Ananda meaning bliss is the very end of the sheath and is a direct continuation of the “Atman” which is our true self, the formless, the deathless, the one that is beyond form or age or thought. It is the consciousness that is always there, that always has been and always will be – even when the mind, sense and the body are sleeping. In the Upanishads this is known as the “karana sharira.”
When we have an awareness of the kosha, we begin to notice where we hold identification with these sheaths. With this awareness we can begin to question ourselves “Am I identifying with a certain body part? Am I holding onto a specific kind of energy or am I expecting a certain kind of energy? Where is my identification with my mind?” Since we all hold a certain identification with our thinking, our upbringing, our families, traditions, our culture etc. It’s good to have our personality, our background, and our family culture, however it is very limiting. To be able to step past the mind sheath and go into the discernment sheath is where most of our work is. By investigating, we begin to get closer and closer to our true nature, to our Atman.
Join me in this life journey to transformation, liberation and light. Practice with us in groups or one-on-one.