Pancha Koshas and its application of yogic techniques in each layer
As humans, we define our identity and personality traits on the basis of physical, mental, and spiritual aspects. However, “The Pancha Kosha” theory from the Taittiriya Upanishad clearly explains the five layers of false identities namely, Annamaya Kosha (physical body), Pranamaya Kosha (vital life force), Manomaya Kosha (mind with emotions, feelings, etc), Vijnanamaya Kosha (intellect, ego, etc) and Anandamaya Kosha (bliss, total ignorance). Due to ignorance, we wrongly conclude one or more of these 5 layers to be our true self, leading to the root cause of all human suffering. There are a set of yogic practices which can help us transcend these 5 koshas (layers of false identities). Let’s discuss each kosha and the yogic practices applicable to each layer.
“ Anna” means food and Annamaya Kosha means “ the sheath containing food” is the physical body consisting of blood, flesh, bones, fat, and eating and drinking to sustain the body. The one who understands him/herself within this kosha would define themselves as the physical body and undergo sufferings related to the body.
In order for one to keep their body healthy and to make them realize that their body is just merely a vessel containing their true self, he/she must do the practice of yoga asanas or physical workout. Consistent and sincere asana practice helps us relate our body with the other aspects of the Pancha Koshas.
The pranamaya kosha is the life force energy (prana) within the annamaya kosha but it is also related to the aura, it is not simply contained within the physical body – because our aura expands out beyond the body.
The prana is then said to be subdivided into various forms called the vayus. They are prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana and according to prana moves via the nadis (energy pathways) to the chakras (spinning energy centers that collect, transform and distribute the energy), and these energy channels are linked to our sense of breath and stimulus in our nervous system. One might think they are the prana, but that’s not the case.
For those identifying themself as the energy of life force, they must do the practice of pranayama or breathing exercise. Awareness while breathing increases our lung capacity and helps us calm down nerve impulses. After this practice, we might feel a sense of euphoria, a feeling that nothing is hurting us, and a deepened sense of stillness. This is our prana. However, it does not stop here, we observe that something called the mind is connected to this layer which has to be dealt with. Prana is just another layer of ignorance we must pass through to find our true nature.
The mind sheath manomaya kosha is made up of a collection of thoughts and emotions. Those who think they are actually the mind, undergo suffering caused by unstable thoughts. The mind is like a playful child always running around, it needs to be disciplined by its parents. Similarly, we need to make our minds come to focus on the present moment.
The complete set of practices of yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation all together must be practiced to discipline our minds. Mental suffering can end up affecting the prana and the physical body. Hence, this holistic approach can help control the mind through the mastery of the body and the vital life force. Most importantly meditation works effectively to connect with our mind and practice “the observation of thoughts and emotions” from an eagle’s point of view. We will find out that no thoughts or feelings can truly cause us any harm. In doing so we see that our true self is in fact something beyond the mind.
The 4th layer Vigyanamaya kosha is also known as the ego or the intellect. There is always this voice behind our emotions trying to tell us the right actions we must take. The intellect or consciousness thinks logically devoid of emotions and unstable thoughts. Yet those who identify themselves as the intellect become very overconfident and egoistic leading them to suffer.
For such people, they need to practice spirituality and read valuable scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita. By gaining the right knowledge they can become humble and transcend out from a life of suffering.
Ananda means happiness, bliss, or total ignorance. The ultimate goal for our Atma (soul or true self) is to reach the level of anandamaya kosha before attaining samadhi. Those who have figured out the existence of anandamaya kosha are also called realized souls.
For such persons live a renounced life, usually in a natural surrounding environment like ashrams. They tend to practice all forms of yoga-like karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and raja yoga. Such people prefer going on pilgrimages or calming recreational trips like hiking, to appreciate all the small things the world has provided us with.
Pancha koshas are the 5 layers of ignorance, one has to work on separating themselves from adapting to the illusion of having these koshas as our true identity. Consistent yogic practices have proven to be the best approach to transcend out of these layers and lead a life devoid of much suffering and help us become free from our karma or the unexpected external circumstances. These practices ultimately pave the way towards nirvana or the state of samadhi.
Courtesy To: Ananya Kasiraj, RYT – 200 Hrs (student assignment)