Wondering how to translate ancient yoga learning into your daily life? Heard about the Koshas but not sure what they are, or why they matter? Lucy McCarthy demystifies a complex teaching.
One of my great passions is exploring and then sharing the depth and richness imbued in the yogic tradition in an accessible and digestible way. I want to help you to understand more about koshas. This is partly because the wisdom on offer has transformed and enhanced my life beyond expression. This is also due to a deep belief that this sacred wisdom is so helpful to modern living. The teachers I have loved most have taken a complex yogic teaching and made it utterly understandable and relatable to me. Most importantly they have shown me how to put it into practicable use for a more peaceful, happy life.
Flow towards Freedom
My latest Series, Flow towards Freedom, (which is released on MFML in September 2019) explores a yogic teaching dear to my heart. A teaching that I truly feel when embodied, understood and put into practice will gift you with much greater Freedom and Ease in your life. The series explores the Koshas, usually translated as sheaths or coverings.
According to yogic physiology the human framework consists of 5 bodies or energetic sheaths known as the koshas. Many wise yogis, sages and enlightened beings that have gone before us attest to these teachings. The term ‘kosha’ was first used in the 8th century by famed philosopher Samkhya. He got it from 5th century BCE Taittriya Upanishad, one of the most ancient and wisdom filled philosophical texts coming from India.
Five sheaths or ‘koshas’
So what are the 5 sheaths and why are they important to know about and work with? Well, the 5 sheaths go from most gross, as in dense, to most subtle. We can also understand this as moving from most accessible and perceivable to less accessible and perceivable. The first and most dense sheath is the Annamaya kosha, otherwise known as the ‘food body’, essentially our body. Our dense obvious bones, muscles, blood….all that makes up our body.
The second sheath is the Pranamaya kosha, known as our pranic or energetic sheath. This is less obvious that the body in that you cannot see it. However, it is the where our prana, vital life force energy flows. Many ancient wisdom traditions acknowledge and honour the reality and presence of prana. Though in other traditions it is known variously as ‘chi’, ‘ki’ or ‘qi’. This energy pervades the whole body and in its overt manifestation as breath.
The third even subtler sheath is the Manomaya kosha. This is the mental sheath, which includes our thoughts, concepts, mental activities as well all our emotions.
The subtle layers
The fourth sheath is the Vijnanamaya kosha, which is known as the sheath of discernment and wisdom or the Psychic sheath. This sheath or covering is the seat of inherent wisdom, knowledge beyond sensory perception and our intuition. The final sheath is the Anandamaya kosha, our Bliss sheath said to be our true core essence. And said to pervade all of the other sheaths.
Experiencing the world through the koshas
All 5 sheaths are said to make up our experience in the world. Indeed how our body feels and functions, what we think and feel emotionally and our access to wisdom and joy all innately affect the way we move through the world. And just as our physical body can contain blockages often in the form of tension so too can there be blockages or stagnant energy in all of the other sheaths too. This is when yoga and our practice becomes so potent!
It is through the practices of yoga that we cleanse, purify and heal any blockages in each sheath. For example, it seems likely obvious and clear that we use asana, postures, with breath to help heal issues or blockages within the Annamaya kosha, the food body. Breath work known as pranayama is one of the most incredible ways of clearing and vitalising our Pranamaya kosha, the energetic sheath. Then the Manomaya sheath, our mental sheath is greatly cleared by concentration and meditation practices.
Koshas and the physical body
Most of us spend almost all our energy caught up in the first 3 sheaths. We are obsessed with our bodies and totally preoccupied with our mind, its thoughts and our emotions. In part this is why yoga is such a powerful practice. We move through the postures work on the breath and meditate to clear those first 3 most dense layers. Then once those layers begin to clear and the mind begins to quieten and settle, we are able to begin to access our wisdom sheath or Vijnanamaya kosha. This is when we start to hear and act upon our innate intelligence that comes through as intuition. So we can work progressively with our sheaths through the various yoga practices to begin to access our innate wisdom and bliss. In the Freedom to Flow series, my hope is that you will experience this.
Koshas and the spirit
Traditionally the koshas were thought of as coverings of our ATMAN– a yogic concept that means our soul or inner light or indwelling spirit. The idea being that our true essence, who we really are, is innately kind, good, loving and peaceful. It is simply the challenging process of being a human being that we accidentally cover up this true essence. Our life experience sometimes results in blockages in our various sheaths. For me this has been a hugely powerful and empowering embodied discovery. Yoga (thank God!) was not another place in which I needed to achieve and acquire in order to find validation, approval and success. Rather yoga is simply a process of shedding and letting go of that which was getting in the way of and covering my innate Radiance. How amazing is that?
So I invite you to go through the series exploring the ways in which the tools of yoga help you to relate and connect with each of your layers. Ultimately so that you each can rediscover the truth of who you really are and your innate Radiance. May it be so! Namaste
About Lucy McCarthy
Lucy McCarthy discovered yoga on a rooftop in India and hasn’t looked back since. After studying Hatha Yoga in India, Lucy trained with Max Strom. Lucy now has over a thousand hours of training under her belt and she teaches mindful, breath and alignment focussed flow yoga. Lucy places an emphasis on the practice as a healing and transformative sanctuary in our lives. Her classes inspire, uplift and provoke curiosity.