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Koshas: what are they, and how do they affect our yoga practice?

Kosha means 'sheath' in Sanskrit and refers to the metaphorical layers that comprise the human body, mind and soul. They are the layers to our deepest Self.

Through our practice of asana, pranayam, and meditation we are able to penetrate these layers and grant ourselves access to the deeper levels of consciousness within.

Generally these layers work from the outside inwards but the journey is not always linear. This is relatable to many people's experience of yoga deepening from "just a physical exercise" to perhaps a more emotional or spiritual practice the longer they have been coming back to the mat. As you read through the following descriptions of each Kosha, you might be able to notice how these layers relate to your own practice.

Annamaya Kosha is the outermost sheath that describes the physical body such as skin, muscles, bones and organs. This is the only sheath that is physically tangible to touch. Anna means 'food' in Sanskrit which is what sustains our physical body. The practice of asana has many benefits to help maintain health in the physical body. Have you ever noticed when your body is in good physical health how it positively affects your mood and mind? This is the bridge between Annamaya Kosha to the next layer...

Pranamaya Kosha is the energetic body. Prana means 'life force' in Sanskrit and refers to that which gives the body life. We are no-longer working with concepts that can be easily touched or seen so we have to rely on the lived experiences of intuition and introspection. You will have heard the term "Pranayama" which is the practice of directing breath in the body to achieve different energetic effects.

Manomaya Kosha is the sheath of the mind and emotions. When we become aware of this layer through meditation and mindfulness, we can observe our behaviours and responses to the world around us, eventually learning to balance these sensations and patterns, known as samskaras in Sanskrit.

Vijnanamaya Kosha is the sheath of wisdom and intuition. It goes beyond the thinking mind into the innate knowledge of your inner self. This is believed to be accessed in a 'flow state' such as playing a sport or an instrument when the mind is no longer thinking but rather the wisdom is flowing through you. During meditation we attempt to quiet the chatter of the thinking mind to access this deeper place of knowledge.

Anandamaya Kosha is the layer of pure bliss and represents our transcendental being. In Sanskrit, ananda means 'happiness' and 'bliss'. Yogic philosophy believes that humans are blissful beings at our core and we have the ability to access this state through our yoga practice. We all have the ability to live with contentment and joy, even life is challenging.

So you can see how the Koshas really are a description of the yogic journey inward. Also, noting that no matter where you find yourself on this path, it is not just something that lives on the yoga mat but in our daily interactions, relationships and existence.

Have you experienced the Koshas in your life through your yoga or spiritual practice? I would love to hear in the comments below ॐ✨

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