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Get to Know the Five Koshas

If you practice yoga, you might be familiar with the five layers of self, or koshas. Yoga teachings describe five koshas moving from outer to inner (from the gross body to the more subtle aspects of self). By studying each layer, you can deepen your self-awareness, and tap into those layers that might seem elusive.

The outer-most and densest layer is the annamaya kosha, often referred to as the "physical or food sheath." This layer is associated with the elements of earth, fire, water, air and ether, and is where we experience the physical world. We can develop body awareness through our asana practice by exploring our alignment in the poses, and noticing what we feel in the body as we move. 

Next up is the pranamaya kosha, or "breath sheath." This is where we experience the flow of energy within the self and in the world around us. Practicing pranayama (breath control) helps us to build a connection with this vital energy, or life force.

The manomaya kosha, "mind sheath," is where we experience thoughts, ideas, reflections, feelings, dreams and hopes. We use our mind and tap into our ego, or sense of self as a separate "I." In yoga, pratyahara is generally translated as "withdrawal of the senses." When we engage in pratyahara, we gain some level of control over our unruly senses, which helps us to become more attuned to the dualities that exist within us. 

The fourth layer, vijnanamaya kosha, is the "wisdom or intuitive sheath." This layer is about increasing discernment. The yoga limb of dharana can help us access our witness consciousness. Dharana translates as mental concentration and is done by focusing your attention on one thing. This practice is often used in meditation. For example, the focal point might be your breath, the flame of a candle, or a mantra that you repeat silently over and over. 

Anadamaya kosha, the innermost layer, is the "bliss sheath." Here we experience Atman, which can be described as your higher self or soul. The seventh limb of the eight-step path of yoga, dhyana, helps us reach this state, often described as slipping into the gap or glimpsing the soul. This space, where we recognize our essential nature and our relationship to all else, is one of infinite possibilities. 

In describing the koshas, I've referred to some of the steps in the eight-limbed path of yoga. If you missed my series on the yogic path, you can read about all eight of them in more detail in this blog. There are four posts, each one covers two steps.

If you want to delve deeper into the attributes of each of the five koshas, join Firefly for a two-part online workshop that starts on February 21. Register here.

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