The koshas (sometimes spelled kosas) make up the 5 layers of our being, from the outermost layer of the physical body inward toward the soul. They have distinct and separate qualities, yet are all connected and function as one.
The word 'pancha' means 5 and the word 'kosha' means sheath.
For many people, awareness never moves beyond the first layer of the physical body. The practice of yoga (as a whole) can help us to better perceive each of these 'bodies' and learn how to create connections and awareness among them.
The koshas below are listed as if from outside-in, annamaya kosha being the outer-most sheath.
1) Annamaya Kosha: Physical, tangible, food body. As the only body we really 'know' or can see, the annamaya kosha is often where much of our awareness lies. We might feel hunger, an ache or a distracting pain, and hopefully use that information to heal and care for ourselves. The annamaya kosha is supported by hatha yoga (physical movement) and is most closely related to our lowest 3 energy centers, the root, sacral and solar plexus chakras. (Learn more about the chakras here)
2) Pranamaya Kosha: Energetic body. The word 'prana' translates to 'life force energy.' Prana is the upward flowing, inhaling, inspirational type of movement and flow within the body. The pranamaya kosha is supported through the practice of pranayama, breath control and is most connected to our heart chakra.
The Pranamaya kosha is the subtle body, which contains the chakras and the energy meridian systems. This layer is what is often still experienced after an amputation or a surgery to remove an organ. The physical part of the body can be removed, but the other layers and energy pathways actually still exist and function.
3) Manomaya Kosha: Mental/emotional body. The manomaya kosha is our layer of being where we experience thoughts and feelings. Connected to the ajna (third eye) chakra and the brain, the manomaya kosha is considered to be the control panel for the rhythms of our nervous system.
Manomaya kosha can be supported through activities such as journaling, self-reflection and honesty to tap into our feelings, thoughts and emotions.
4) Vijnamaya Kosha: Wisdom and intuitive body. Intuition is not always easy to perceive, but it's here in the vijnamaya kosha that we can discover our ability to receive knowledge and wisdom. Often during times of meditation or creativity when the heart is open, we will experience small moments of intuition.
"Emotions left unchecked by awareness are destructive. The awareness of vijanamaya kosha illuminates our deeper desires and motivation and allows us to see the choice we have in all things. Instead of simply feeling or acting, we choose to feel or act with intention." - Source
5) Anandamaya Kosha: Bliss body. The 5th and final pancha (layer) is our closest connection to peace. At the very center of our being and within the sheath of the anandamaya kosha is the Atman (soul). The anadamaya represents pure awareness and freedom.
The koshas provide an amazing framework with which to understand the complexity of our bodies. Through the lens of yoga, the koshas represent a truly holistic approach to notice our strengths, imbalances, habits and tendencies and support the mind, body and spirit as a whole.