Unwinding the Koshas

I don’t really have a catchy song for this one, but I’m still traveling and still working on studying for my exam, so it is what it is. 🙂 The koshas can be understood to represent the layers or sheaths of the self. Many people liken this to Russian nesting dolls, with each kosha being a doll that holds within it the others and so on. I tend to have visions of those filmstrips we saw as a child that started with the image of the person, then the next slide would be the muscular layer, then the bony layer, then the organ layer, an so on (and on that note, if you’ve never checked out Google’s Body Browser, do – http://bodybrowser.googlelabs.com). But the koshas go beyond that, because they are not concerned with just the physical self. The layers can be understood to proceed from the most “base” or physical to the most divine or spiritual.

Annamaya kosha is the most physically apparent layer composed of the obdurate stuff of the body (bones, muscles, blood, etc.). Literally translated, the annamaya kosha is the “food-apparent-sheath.” It can be thought of as all of self that is created/fed/sustained by the food we consume.

Pranamaya kosha is the layer of the body that is occupied by the breath. Literally translated (more or less) it would be the “air-apparent-sheath.” The pranamaya kosha represents the self that is created/fed by the air that we breathe.

Manomaya kosha is the functional mind. It is the mind that helps us process directions, take care of our daily tasks, etc. Manomaya kosha, or the “mind-matter-apparent-sheath” is not the seat of the self. I think of it as being something like the motherboard of the body.

Vijnanamaya kosha, or the “wisdom-apparent-sheath” represents the intuitional wisdom of our being. This one is a little hard for me, as the difference between intuition and instinct or true wisdom and social wisdom is not easy to determine. I can kind of get it (maybe with my vijnanamaya kosha?) but then it slips away when I try to really think about it (with my manomaya kosha?).

Anandamaya kosha is the “bliss-apparent-sheath.” This is the one we see often discussed as the goal of meditation, yoga, and more than a couple of religions. When I visualize this part of the koshas, I see it as the empty/every thing that remains when all else is peeled away. If we could completely peel away all the other layers, we would dissolve into oneness with the universal. I love that, in this way of understanding bliss or enlightenment, it is not something you have to find, because it’s already always present. What you have to do is to remove the masks that distract you from it, in a sense.

So, there you have it, the quick version of the koshas! Rockin’ on with the studies and the YIOM!

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2 Responses to Unwinding the Koshas

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I definitely needed this refresher! Thanks!

  2. The savasana sequence on a yoga practice CD from Kripalu contains a guided meditation through the koshas. Without fail, every time it reaches the manomaya kosha I cry, and by the time it’s at anandamaya, I’m in such a blissed-out state that–after a period of silence–I am startled when the teacher begins speaking again. I have a hard time settling down in savasana, so this kind of meditation is a great way to end a class!

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