In Eastern philosophy, the koshas are considered the energetic layers of your body that surround your soul. Sometimes, they’re referred to as “sheaths” or “casings.”
The five koshas exist together and are encased, or nested, within each other. Your physical body composes the outermost layer, while the innermost layer contains your bliss body, or soul.
They were first described in the ancient yoga text the Taittiriya Upanishad. This Vedic text is thought to have been written during the sixth century B.C. and provides guidelines relating to spiritual liberation.
Some believe the koshas are key to enhancing awareness of your inner world and developing a connection among your mind, body, and spirit. Attention to your koshas may awaken deeper states of awareness on your path to self-realization.
Read on to learn more about each of the five koshas, their history, and how you can use them in your life or spiritual practice.
You can visualize the five koshas surrounding the soul as the layers of an onion or a matryoshka — the wooden Russian nesting doll that contains smaller and smaller versions of itself.
Working with the koshas may allow you to go deeply into the center of your self or soul. This can help you take your spiritual practice to the next level and make positive changes in your self, your life, and the world around you.
An awareness of the physical and mental koshas is the starting point for you to become aware of the deeper layers within.
The annamaya kosha is the physical sheath that composes the outer layer. It’s sometimes referred to as the food sheath.
Your body weight or size can reflect your physical sheath, as well as any physical ailments or concerns you have. You can also pay attention to how your body reacts to different types of food.
The pranamaya kosha is the vital energy, breath, or life force sheath. In Sanskrit, the word “prana” refers to life force and is the word for breath.
Awareness of this kosha allows you to move stagnant energy, so you can experience greater vitality and an energetic connection to yourself, others, and nature.
The manomaya kosha is contained within the annamaya and pranamaya koshas. It acts as a messenger, bringing experiences and sensations from the outer world into your intuitive body.
This is the mental sheath that represents your:
- inner world
This layer includes thought forms, mental activity, and awareness of thoughts. Getting in touch with this kosha involves looking at your perceptions and mental patterns.
The vijnanamaya kosha is the astral or psychic body that’s your seat of intuition.
Known as the awareness or wisdom sheath, it allows you to develop a deeper awareness and to see reality for what it is. Thought of as “the mind beyond the mind,” this kosha is connected to your deeper and more subtle layers of thoughts.
The vijnanamaya kosha helps develop clarity and inner reflection as you learn to detach from your thoughts, ego, or sense of self. By remaining the witness, you may learn to become more present and aware of each moment.
The anandamaya kosha is referred to as the bliss body. It’s the deepest and subtlest of all layers — so much so that some people even say you can’t use words to describe it. Instead, it must be felt and experienced.
Developing your anandamaya kosha requires the discipline to complete inner work and spiritual practices over a long period.
This level of consciousness relates to the essence of your true self or nature, which is perfection.
Transcending all five sheaths can lead to a state of samadhi, or unity between individual and universal consciousness. This is said to be pure bliss or joy.
While you may not reach samadhi, you may experience glimpses or moments of bliss that are bright enough to color your world and awaken these feelings of joy, even if only for brief moments.
During the sixth century B.C., the Taittiriya Upanishad was the first ancient text to discuss the koshas. They were referred to as the five casings that hold the light, purity, and perfection of your true self.
The Taittiriya Upanishad also explains how to develop character and correctly conduct yourself. These ways of living are guidelines on the path that leads to attaining brahma-jnana, which is the knowledge of your supreme self.
While the koshas are said to exist in layers of your body, with the bliss body being at the center, the chakras are wheels of spiritual energy along your spine.
Chakras are found in the astral body, along with nadis and kundalini. Connecting the nadis to the sheaths, chakras have an effect on your physical, mental, and emotional body.
Nadis are channels for energy and vital life force. Your body has thousands of nadis that impact your overall well-being. One important nadi, the sushumna channel, runs from the base of your spine to the crown of your head.
When kundalini energy is awakened at the base of your spine, it moves along the sushumna nadi and the seven chakras. As this divine cosmic energy awakens and rises throughout the central channel, it energizes the seven chakras.
Learning about the five koshas can help you learn to detach from your identity, or ego. Starting at the outer layers, you’ll be led on a journey to deeper states of awareness and pure bliss, which is known as samadhi.
You can get in touch with the koshas during a yoga session through asanas, or poses. Here’s how:
- In each pose, become aware of your physical body, both externally and internally.
- Next, notice how your breath affects your body and mind. Breathe into any areas of tension or tightness.
- Become aware of how you can use your breath to guide each movement.
- Decide if each movement should be coordinated to an inhale or exhale. If you’re unsure, try it out both ways.
Yogic practitioners and spiritual seekers on the path of self-discovery use the koshas to answer questions such as, “Who am I?” Sometimes referred to as the direct path, this meditation technique is a teaching of Jnana yoga.
This method of self-inquiry is known as the path of knowledge, self-realization, or understanding. You can simply ask yourself this question and see what arises.
You can also ask yourself what you would be without certain thoughts or inquire into the origin of an individual thought.
Examining the sheaths can lead to self-discovery and empowerment. They may help you gain a deeper understanding of:
- your true nature
- your place in the world
- that which is beyond comprehension
This expansion in terms of the way you see yourself can help you better deal with certain relationships, situations, or mental patterns.
If you feel floaty or scattered, you may center and ground yourself physically by using your intuition to place your hands on any area of your body.
Or you can do self-massage or massage your pressure points. Additional grounding techniques include:
- moving your body
- becoming aware of the sounds around you
- petting an animal
Notice how your thoughts affect your breath, energy, and physical body. Instead of trying to stop or push away thoughts, learn to develop an awareness of your thoughts as they arise and pass.
Imagine that you’re sitting on the banks of a river as your thoughts flow by. Each time you notice your mind getting lost in a story, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. You can practice this technique during mediation sessions and throughout your day.
Regulated breathing practices, known as pranayama, help increase your energy and deepen your awareness. They can also help:
- improve sleep patterns
- reduce stress
- boost cognitive function
Check out some breathing techniques here.
To uncover the perfection of your true self, you can use the koshas to foster a sense of connection to the entire world instead of feeling separate from it.
Awareness of your five koshas may help you:
- deepen your spiritual practice
- enhance your understanding of self
- make positive changes in your life
If your innermost layers feel elusive, start by becoming aware of your physical body, breath, and thoughts. Gradually, you’ll learn to become aware of and experience the more subtle layers.