The Panchamaya Kosha System comprises the five energetic bodies that make up the human experience. They can also be thought of as energetic sheaths that surround one another. Though we study them individually, they cannot be separated. Because of this, when there is a blockage in one of the energetic bodies, it will precipitate to the others. That is why it’s important to look not only at the layers individually but also at their relationship to one another. You can imagine the layers of the panchamaya kosha system to be like the layers of an onion. The first layer is the grossest, or physical, and each ensuing layer is just a bit more subtle in nature. The five bodies are as follows:
- Annamaya kosha
- Pranamaya kosha
- Manomaya kosha
- Vijnanamaya kosha
- Anandamaya kosha
The annamaya kosha is the first layer and is the physical body. It is made up of our skeleton, muscles, joints, and even the nadi system. All of the prana, or life energy, that we take in nourishes this layer. We utilize asana, or the physical practice of yoga, as a tool to access the annamaya kosha. There are many ways that we can customize the asana we practice to meet the annamaya kosha as it is in the moment. For example, a yogi might come into a general public yoga class and mention they have found it hard to sit still and are looking to move some excess energy. The teacher might make it their intention to meet the student as they are and move through a quick and energetic flow before maybe moving towards a more grounding cooldown to support balance in the student’s experience.
The pranamaya kosha is the second layer and is the energy body which includes the vayu of the breath. This is the energy source that fuels the body to continue. We access this layer through breath work exercises or even simply paying attention to the breath and breathing deeply. It is the marriage of breath and body that we see in yoga. It is this union that we utilize in yoga, the activation of the pranamaya and annamaya koshas together, to balance the sushumna, or the primary nadi, and create ease in mind and body.
The manomaya kosha, or mental body, is the third layer. Here within the manomaya kosha resides the three states of consciousness: unconscious mental fluctuations, conscious mental fluctuations, and the superconscious interpretation of Pure Awareness. It is also here within the mental body that chitta vritti occurs. Chitta vritti are the mental fluctuations that create our perception of reality. There are five mental fluctuations and being aware of them allows us to begin to acknowledge when we might be seeing through the lens of a mental fluctuation. The five mental fluctuations are right knowledge, perception, verbalization, sleep and memory. All of these cloud the human perception and can keep us from seeing the Truth. A lot of these can be identified by checking in with our thought patterns. We can acknowledge when we are buying into a verbalization that might not actually reflect reality and may actually be based on an assumption that we have made. With this in mind, we can utilize mantra to access the manomaya kosha. Mantra can be a helpful tool to stay mindful and present. It can create the pause in thought that allows for an acknowledgement of the fluctuation and an intentional choice in moving forward.
The vijnanamaya kosha, or the intellectual body, is the fourth layer. This is the sheath where knowledge resides. We are able to connect to Universal Knowledge through this layer. We have the ability to recognize our mental fluctuations and realize that we are not them. We can recognize that the truth is we are all spiritual beings in a human experience. We can use this sheath to take the seat of the observer to all that arises within our awareness. When one practices Yoga Nidra, specifically the Deep Relaxation of Nischala Joy Devi, you can access this sheath. You still the physical body through progressive relaxation, move through the energy body using the breath, and into the mental body where rotation of consciousness might be utilized. Once you have passed through the first three layers of consciousness, there will be space to just be. To notice and to choose how to show up, whether that is through connection with chitta vritti or through connection with True Reality.
The most subtle and final layer is the anandamaya koshas, or the bliss body. Here, there is no judgment or duality. There is no need for discernment because one is past the identification with the mental fluctuations and attunement with the divinity that is within all. There is only Purusha. We can access this state through meditation, concentration, and devotion to a higher power.
The human experience can be seen through the lens of the panchamaya kosha system. The bliss body, connection to Purusha, and pure awareness are within the reach of all human beings. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience and it is within all of us to see this Truth.