The Five Koshas

According to yoga tradition, each of us houses five different bodies, each made of finer gradations of energy. Think of them like those Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka), with a smaller one inside of a larger one, and that larger one is inside one that is a bit larger, and so on. Rather than these bodies being separated by physical space, they are separated by energetic levels. All are present at the same time in each of us.

Our growth toward becoming a healthy being and incorporating spirituality into our daily lives depends on the process of deconstructing and then rebuilding these five layers (Koshas). The Sanskrit word Koshas are referred to as sheaths, like a sword in a scabbard, and we seek to withdraw the sword from its covering to release its energy. In practice, we develop techniques to access these five energy levels.

These Koshas are:

1) Annamaya Kosha: (Physical Sheath): This is the most tangible aspect of self; our body. Most of us lack awareness of that body, and this Kosha refers to our mental relationship with our body’s energy.

Exercise is the key to this awareness, but we must bring internal focus to our exercise. We need to feel our body from the inside, not simply view it in the mirror, or through competitive performance.

In my own yoga practice and even with aerobic exercise, I focus inward, including musculature and internal organs. I scan my body, focus on the tight parts to loosen them and then focus on internal organs to witness their action and consciously relax them. This is a basic mindfulness practice.
Do a body scan where you allow your awareness to scan your body from head to toe. Then, with total awareness, subtly tighten and loosen body parts and organs to become hyper-conscious and gain mental mastery of your physical body.

If you focus on any part of your body, you can sense the energy, muted feelings of movement, almost imperceptible blockages and cramps, and pure energy running through that body part, which is always there. It is our lack of awareness that prevents us from experiencing these sensations.

2) Pranayama Kosha: (Vital Energy Sheath) This energy inter-penetrates the physical body. Our conscious experience is the integration of energy both inside and outside of our body. Like a screen door, the energy flows unobstructed from out to in and back again. This is a pure energy often experienced as vibration, or feelings of being energized like anger, calmness, restlessness, sadness or fear. When you have been with a person who is angry for example, you can feel or sense this as a vibration that resonates within you too.

The practice of pranayama, or conscious breathing exercises, helps you access this level.
We need to breathe with mindfulness, utilizing pranayama techniques, and relax into this feeling, experiencing the breath both inside and outside as if a sword is being drawn from its scabbard, and replaced.

Bathe yourself in this energetic field that permeates in the environment and in our body. I often focus on feeling my breath drawing in energy from within my immediate surroundings and then filter it through a calm energy that radiates when I breath out. We will discuss Koshas three, four and five next month.

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About the writer: Dr. Michael Abramsky

Michael Abramsky PhD, ABPP is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology. Dr. Abramsky also has an MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years.

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