My Fav Way to Understand Yoga: The Koshas

As I head into my 14th year of being a yoga student, I’m finally beginning to understand just how vast, rich and complex yoga is.

There are endless maps, systems and models that one can follow (I’ve followed several), but there’s one that I keep coming back to.

But in order for us to even chat about it, the very first thing we need to agree on is that you’re more than the physical, tangible, outermost layer that your eyes 👀 can see.

If you agree, then let’s keep learning…

While the most common form of yoga that’s practiced worldwide are the physical postures (asana), you never arrive onto the mat as just a body!

Ever.

You always bring with you your energy, emotions, thoughts, intellect, wisdom and spirit, or what’s known as the pancha (five) koshas.

Below is a breakdown of each sheath:

➡️ Annamayakosha – the physical body; sheath consisting of food or material

➡️ Pranamayakosha – the energetic body; sheath consisting of subtlety, energy or prana

➡️ Manomayakosha – the psycho-emotional body; sheath consisting of thoughts & feelings

➡️ Vijnanamayakosha – the intuitive or wisdom body; sheath consisting of intellect, experiential or direct knowledge

➡️ Anandamayakosha – the bliss body; sheath consisting of joy, peace or bliss

You can imagine these sheaths like layers of an onion, lampshades stacked atop one another covering the light at the center, or Russian nesting dolls that live within one another.

These visuals are a metaphor for how these sheaths cover the Soul, Self or Atman; the element of ourselves that we want to reveal and remember as yoga practitioners.

When we approach this system, as a student or a teacher, there are three central goals we want to work towards:

💭 Awaken awareness

🌲 Cultivate stability

🪷 Experience integration

Let’s look at each goal separately, so you can feel empowered to work with the koshas beyond the singular conversation that we’re having.

Starting with Awareness…

It’s common for people to have a strong awareness of the physical & mental/emotional sheaths, but then struggle to believe in or associate with the other three sheaths (energetic, wisdom and bliss).

You can awaken awareness by seeking out holistic yoga teachers who thoughtfully design their practices, and attempt to plant seeds of curiosity so you can explore beyond what you currently believe.

Moving on to Stability…

Once you’re receptive to the pancha koshas, your next goal is to create stability within them. Each layer is intended to be nourished & cared for before traveling further.

Here are my recommendations:

➡️ Physical body – asana that provides stability (shtira) & ease (sukha)

➡️ Energetic body – pranayama to support the free flow of energy

➡️ Emotional/Mental Body – mantra meditation for mental steadiness

➡️ Wisdom Body – studying yogic scripture, time outdoors

➡️ Bliss Body – selfless service, practices that lead to meditation, spiritual gatherings

Ending with Integration…

Once stability has been established, you don’t want to transcend, overlook or throw away all the work you just did.

You want to experience integration instead.

When I think of integration, I like to visualize mixing cake batter together.

With each turn of the utensil, the once separate ingredients begin to fold inward, and slowly disappear until they become one seamless mixture.

With the koshas, you want to experience integration amongst & between these various sheaths just like the cake ingredients.

You want to know that you are multi-layered, but also realize & respect that you are…

All of these bodies, and beyond them simultaneously.

You are the serene Soul that always lives at your core.

This is what the yoga tradition & the teachings of the koshas are attempting to guide us towards, but many of us arrive at the mat with the inability to comprehend this.

That’s why I’m 🙋🏽‍♀️ here!

Both the Body Mind Studio & the Body Mind Soul 200HR Yoga Teacher Training open with the kosha system, because right from the get go I want you not only learning about it, but putting it into practice.

I promise the kosha system is worth exploring.

To your wholeness,

Allie, xx

PS – Want to get on your mat? Try these suggestions:

Hey! I’m Allie.

I’m a self-growth student, freedom-seeker, yoga teacher and the founder of a tight-knit online yoga community: the Body Mind Soul Studio. I’m here to teach you how to transform your life on-and-off-the-mat with a holistic yoga practice.

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REKINDLE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE

If your practice has waned, if your yoga journey feels lonely or you like the way I share yoga’s teachings, then this is where you need to be. Join me once a month, for free, to practice yoga as a community.