The Five Koshas

Last month we discussed Koshas one (Annamaya Kosha/Physical Sheath) and two (Pranayama Kosha/Vital Energy Sheath). Here we will continue with Koshas three, four and five. According to yoga tradition, each of us houses five different bodies, each made of finer gradations of energy. Rather than these bodies being separated by physical space, energetic levels separate them. All are present at the same time in each of us.

3) Manomaya Kosha (Mental Body): The foundational element of this Kosha is our absorption of the outside world through our five senses. Through this Kosha we process information from these senses, and respond reflectively. While always present, the manomaya kosha shuts down during sleep.

The reflexes range from the simple to the complex. An example of a simple reflex is the blinking of the eye when exposed to a puff of air. But a more complex reflex is the working of the autonomic system when it senses danger, which is a reflex shaped by our past experiences and learning. Our past experiences teach us to fear or embrace certain sensory inputs; if someone raises a fist we experience tightness in the muscles and shallow breathing. If someone smiles, we feel a sensation of warmth and looseness in the body.

We have some control over these reflective actions. To some extent they reflect what we feed them. If we have a mental diet based on watching violent TV shows, we begin to crave aggressive forms of stimulation. If we spend our lives staring into a cell phone we establish a monotony and dullness in experiencing the input of the world. It is best to establish a universe of balance, being close to nature, and in a natural form of harmony reflective of the natural world, as reflected of the Taoist model. Such a model is populated by psychological challenges, supportive and fun relationships.

Yogis recommend mantra meditation and periods of sensory withdrawal as a cleansing and antidote to disruptive sensory input.

4) Vijnanamaya Kosha (Intellect Body): This Kosha refers to intellect, judgment or discernment. Psychologically, this Kosha encompasses our higher cognitive power. Developmentally, it evolves later than the sensory processes called perception. This Kosha organizes sensual data into meaningful judgments or narratives.

This is the Kosha most worked with in psychotherapy. Those feeling states manifest in the Manomaya Kosha, and become translated into ego judgments through the sheath of Vijnanamaya. When that person raises a fist, the gut feeling we experience becomes a narrative like, “He hates me”, and this narrative often leads to action. When a desired person smiles, we may translate that warm bodily feeling into the narrative, “I am loved.”

From a mindfulness perspective, psychopathology stems from those faulty narratives we construct, and/or dwell upon. Cure comes from teaching the client about those distortions, giving insight into how those distortions occur and the establishment of more adaptive judgments.

5) Anandanamaya Koshsa (Spiritual Bliss Body): This is most hidden body, but is anchored in the intuition that life is worth living, that being alive is good. This bliss body is the deepest layer of the personal self, and the closest level to the universal or transcendent self.

Access to this state is through deep meditation. Meditation touches the bliss body and leads to the experience of being joyful and free. Saints, sadhus, Kabbalists, and other mystics purify their minds through deep meditation in order to be receptive to God. In addition to meditation, selfless service, devotion to God, and Samadhi (intense concentration) are all paths to bliss.

Each Kosha has a set of practices which enable us to reach our potentials. Wholeness, good mental health and happiness are dependent upon each of us developing our maximum potential in each Kosha.

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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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