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Total health- upanishadic concept- Koshas


We can see, touch and experience our physical body. This is visible, this is on display so we take much care of this body in terms of keeping it clean, perfect grooming, wearing good cloths and making it up with various other means. For us this is a means to impress others. It is good but we are not mere physical body , much more than that. Yoga says we are made of five bodies, or sheaths each made of increasingly finer grades of energy. And if we intend to live a fully balanced and healthy life, all our bodies need to be kept in good condition. All have taken care of simultaneously. This concept of five bodies or Panch Kosha is described in Taittriya Upanishad. The Panch kosha are-

Annamaya kosh- Physical body

Pranamaya kosh- Physiological body

Manomaya kosh- Mental body

Vijnamaya kosh- Intellectual body

Anand maya kosh- Bliss body

Annamaya kosh

As the name suggests, it is made of food we eat. Birth and death are attributes of this sheath. It operates during waking state. From food seven dhatus are produced. It is the outer physical body स्थूल शरीर that we can see, feel, touch and experience . As we practice yoga asanas physical body is the starting point of our experience. Those who treat this vital force (body) as a gift of divine, as a temple that houses our soul, they take good care of it and experience vitality and longevity as this energy is the source of physical life. It is the only Sheath made of matter. “When we eat overcooked, stale, animal - based food , the food body becomes devitalised and has difficulty refining the food to a level of quality at which it can be converted into the needs of the second body. Through quality of food and asanas we can strengthen this sheath”.- Structural Yoga Therapy - Mukunda Stiles p. 44

Prana maya kosh

It is concerned with the network of vital energy , the Prana. Nadis and chakras are its other components. Hunger and thirst are its attributes. This body operates during dreaming state. It is subtler than Annamaya. The pranamaya kosh controls the annamaya. It is the bridge between gross and subtle body. Breathing awareness and breathing exercises called pranayama increases and facilitate flow of prana in our body. This is life energy that governs our various bodily systems from respiratory to digestion to circulation of blood to excretion. This keeps us alive. When it ceases to function, our physical body is no longer alive, vital organs stop functioning and cells begin to disintegrate. There are five, principal pranas - Prana, Apana, Saman, Udana and Vyana which do different types of function - respiration, excretion, digestion, creativity and circulation. Through practice of pranayama we can strengthen this sheath.

Manomaya kosh

It consists of mind and sense organs- Jnanendriyas. This is the body of thoughts, emotions and feelings. Pleasure and pain are attributes of this body. Patterns of thoughts, attitudes and beliefs are all aspects of our personality and are embedded in the Manomaya kosha- Dr M S Thirunavukkarsu - Compilation on Yoga and Naturopathy p. 31. It is subtler than prana maya. This is the master that controls both Annamaya and pranamaya kosha. Someone has explained working of this kosha beautifully like this- It is also responsible for sensory and motor nerves and also our day to day awareness when we are functioning on "automatic " route. You get a clear sense of it when you observe a person in coma. The first and second sheath are still operating- he is breathing, his heart and lungs are still operating, he is being given food, but he has no awareness”. If he has no awareness, then what type of life it is? This sheath operates from our first breath till the last breath. If we keep feeding our body with violent TV shows and video games, and keep it engaged in social media, it begins to take aggressive form and becomes less sensitive. And similarly, if we stuff it with too much work and too less play, it experiences mental indigestion.

It is the kosha that keeps us in bondage. A daily sense of pratyahar leading to meditation provides excellent tune up. With tratak kriya and meditation we can strengthen this sheath.

Vijnamaya kosh

It is the sheath of our intellect and ego ( Ahamkara). Intellect also includes will power and reflective and introspective aspects of our consciousness. The quality of buddhi is discrimination and determination. Thus it guides the mind to come to a definite conclusion- by analysing the facts- what is right, what is wrong; what should be done and what should not be done. Vijan is a real instrument of action- Bhagwad Gita suggests. This being the closest to our soul, receives highest light of the soul compared to mind and body and thus has higher wisdom to guide us through our life. All new ways of thinking, intuition, creativity, invention and discovery are products of this kosha. We should always operate through vijnanmaya kosha.

One who doesn't seem to be in control of his life, who always blames others or circumstances for failure ; one whose ethical foundation is not strong ; one who is not able to stick to his decision ( lack of perseverance and patience) are the type of persons whose vijnanmaya kosha is weak.

Yamas and Niyamas are designed for such persons. Reading good scriptures, books that uplift the spirit, company of noble persons, satvik diet strengthen this kosha. Jnana yoga also works on this kosha.

Pranayama, Manomaya and vijnanmaya are part of our subtle body शूक्ष्म शरीर .

Anandmaya kosha

It is inmost being of our personality. This kosha is reflective of three attributes of our soul- Sat- eternal existence, Chitta- consciousness and Ananda- bliss. It operates during deep sleep. This sheath is made up of latent impressions. Love (priya) joy (moda) and delight (pramod) are reflections of bliss. The ananda is our inherent nature and not dependent on outside objects or circumstances, only thing is we need to be connected with our soul. Deepest level of our being where we are fully in touch with our inner soul.

Inter relationship between the Koshas

“The Koshas are really not separate but indistinguishably connected with each other. They are considered separate only for the purpose of explanation and conceptual understanding. Energies flow from one kosha to another. For example, thoughts in the manomaya kosha stimulate a flow of vital energy in the Pranamaya kosha which, in turn, stimulates the physical body; and intuitions in the vijnanmaya kosha are accompanied by a proud of joy from the Anandmaya kosha and by inspired activity in the manomaya, Pranayama and annamaya Koshas”. Dr M S Thirunavukkarasu - Compilation on Yoga and Naturopathy p. 33.

By doing yoga we can integrate all our five sheaths of existence.

Practice point

Ordinarily we operate from our Manomaya Kosh mental sheath. Though buddhi gives us right advice but because of past habits and samsaras, mind overpowers the buddhi and always have its way. We should always strengthen our vijananamaya kosh by following Yamas and Niyamas in life. Keep watching your behavior and actions and see that your mind doesn’t overpower your intellect. Do introspection and reflection to increase the hold of Vijnanma kosh.

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