Sanskrit can be a bitch. What the hell are koshas? Why are they beneficial? To most of us the struggle is real in understanding what all of these Sanskrit terms mean. The koshas are the 5 “sheaths” that layer through the body. Somewhat similar to the chakra system, they armovefrom the outermost layer of the body and penetrate the spiritual core. When they are all workig in alignment, spirtual connectedness is at it’s peak. Dive in!
The Annamaya Kosha.
This Kosha is the outermost layer, or sheath, and comprises the gross physical body. It thrives off of nutrition and without proper nourishment cannot carry us through an asana practice. Although it is the most basic of the koshas, in my opinion it's also the most important because without physical strength through proper nourishment, we would not be able to commit wholeheartedly to a practice. For example, if we are continually eating foods that are causing harm and creating blockages and inflammation, we might find that we are tired, sluggish,and generally weak. This does not make for a successful yogi.
The Pranamaya Kosha.
The energy sheath is built up by breath. When we can successfully tap into the Pranamaya kosha, we are able to contain our focus. It is the life force, and governs everything inside our inner body, our metabolism, digestion, and nervous system. Through proper breath we can learn how to make larger movements into more subtle movements, and through this honing Wwe come closer to being able to command our bodies. In our practice, instead of wiping off every bead of sweat or adjusting every stray hair, these annoyances start to become just things that once bothered us, and now we can just let them be.
The Manomaya Kosha.
The Manomaya kosha acts like a container that holds all of our thoughts, their processes, our memories, and how we conceptualize and put together new thoughts. If we let it, and if we really delve into our past experiences, and the pain or pleasure they may have caused us, we can tap into profound healing. But in order to do this we need to let ourselves be vulnerable, we need to stop avoiding things that hurt us and just live life. When we finally decide not to let past experiences govern our future, we are on the path to developing spiritual and emotional maturity. For example, when I was dealing with anxiety I wouldn't drive my car because of one panic attack that I had previously while driving, but when I decided that enough was enough and I put my foot down and just drove without letting my thoughts get the best of me, I finally was able to conquer those scary thoughts.
The Vijnanamaya Kosha.
While the Manomaya Kosha governs our thoughts, the Vijnanamaya Kosha encompasses our intuition and higher consciousness. It is intellectual, governs our reason and rationale, and is highly spiritual. When we can tap into this kosha, we experience freedom from thoughts, actions, and negativity that does not serve us. Discomfort of any sort becomes an afterthought. As an example, when we are in meditation and are fully there in the moment, not distracted by anything around us, we are experiencing a breakthrough.
The Anandamaya Kosha.
The deepest level of the self, this is where we find bliss. But this is not the bliss we think of in today's society. This bliss comes from hard work and perseverance by work on all layers of our being. We have gotten through all of the thorny layers and have found fulfillment. We have transformed our thoughts from negative to positive and accepted pains that we have had in the past. Also, we have come to the conclusion that the spiritual journey does not stop, does not end, but rather is something that we will continue to experience throughout our lives. Just because we have succeeded in all the other koshas, does not mean our journey ends. Rather, it is just beginning. For example, spiritual teachers do not just say, yes I am enlightened and then forego their journey, they regard it as a stepping stone to achieve even greater things.
While all the Koshas have their importance for different reasons, the Annamaya kosha is the one that stands out to me. Probably because nutrition and proper diet is something that has fascinated me for my whole life. I truly believe that without proper nourishment, every aspect of our being is impaired. Our thoughts, our brain function, our physical body, none of these things can run properly without adequate nourishment.
To me, samadhi is the ability to go deep within all layers of the self and to know them inside and out. It is the integration of all aspects of our lives, our hopes and dreams, our trials and tribulations, our past experiences. But not just that, it is our ability to take all of those things and unify them. When we can manifest all of these things as one, we free ourselves and can awaken spiritually. We don't need to think about why something happened in the past, but rather we can take that and learn from it. We can take our guard down and know that we are enough. We are sufficient. And when we can reaffirm that knowledge within ourselves, we achieve oneness. I know that for myself, when I can let my guard down, not be overtaken by my fears, and really open my heart, I feel full. I fell like I am whole and one with myself. My speech flows freely, I exude love and joy, and I am happy. When I am in this space, my meditation is at its strongest. My diet is clean (which it generally is), and I am getting adequate rest and exercise. All of these things factor into me tapping into myself and opening up.