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Kosha means "sheath" in Sanskrit.

In yoga, the term is used to describe metaphorical layers within the human body.

This meaning comes from the ancient Hindu texts called the Upanishads.

The outermost sheath is basically the physical body. It is the only layer that has an anatomical aspect. Although the other koshas are described as being layered, B.K.S. Iyengar explains in Light on Life that that the ideal is not for the layers to be clearly defined but rather for them to be seamlessly blended.

This happens when there is optimal health and well-being.

When things are out of balance, it becomes necessary to identify the kosha that is troubled and take on practices that may help it come back into harmony with the others.

Exploring and integrating each layer brings your closer to a state of bliss.

The Five Koshas Are:

Annamaya Kosha

The outer sheath is the body layer. Anna means food, which is what sustains this level. This is our physical body – our muscles and our bones, our ligaments and our tendons. This is the kosha most people are concerned about when they begin a yoga practice. They want increased flexibility, to tone up their muscles, to learn to relax their bodies, to gain strength, improve balance and find stress relief. Asana keeps this kosha healthy and can be used to treat problems that arise in the body.

Pranamaya Kosha

The next sheath is the life force/energy sheath. It is concerned with the breath and the flow of energy through the body.

Prana comes into the body via food and water, but it also comes into the body via breath. One of the major benefits of yoga is that we become conscious of our breathing, and learn to take proper deep breaths. This increase of prana into our system literally makes us feel more alive and it invigorates and powers Pranamaya kosha. Pranayama practice is prescribed to address this layer.

Manomaya Kosha

The next sheath is the mind or mental sheath. It has the do with thoughts and emotions. Manomaya (which means “body made of thought processes” It is maintained through meditation. The health of the manomaya kosha is tremendously enhanced through the practice of mantra meditation. This soothes and balances this inner body, and helps release “knots” of energy tied up in mental complexes and obsessive thoughts.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

This is the knowledge sheath. This kosha is comprised of your wisdom, intuition, and perception. Vijnana means “the power of judgment or discernment”. It’s often translated as “intellect,” but the real meaning is broader, encompassing all the functions of the higher mind, including conscience and will. Meditation is also the key to this layer. As your vijnanamaya kosha grows stronger and more balanced your lifestyle, contemplation, and meditation lead to clarity of judgment, greater intuitive insight and increased willpower enhancing your ability to connect with inner guidance.

Anadamaya Kosha

The innermost sheath is the bliss sheath. The anandamaya kosha is extremely important in yoga because it’s the final and thinnest veil standing between our ordinary awareness and our higher Self. It represents unending joy, love, peace, and complete happiness. 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.

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