If you’re one of my readers, I assume that you are interested in taking care of your body. Most of my blogs are related to health, in some way, shape or form. I’m sure you’ve probably also heard the overused phrase about taking care of our mind, body and spirit as well. But that’s not just new-agey mumbo-jumbo. According to Ayurveda, we are all made up of five bodies, called koshas. Kosha translates to sheath, because each body is sheathed within another. All of the bodies are interconnected, from the outside in and from the inside out. They all require care. If any are neglected, we cannot live a life of balance, ease and joy. Any one neglected kosha, blocks access in both directions.
Annamaya Kosha – The Physical Body
The outermost layer, the Annamaya Kosha, is the physical body as we know it. It is our muscles, bones and organs, as well as our appearance. Annamaya Kosha translates to Food Body, because it is sustained by food and requires nutrients. It is the grossest of the bodies. (Not gross as in disgusting, but gross as in solid or dense). We take care of our physical body by eating a healthy diet, exercising appropriately, staying hydrated, sleeping well etc. The physical body is the base. If it is unhealthy, it is very difficult to access and balance the inner bodies.
Pranamaya Kosha – The Energy Body
If you are a yogi, you’re probably familiar with the word prana. It means energy or life force. It is carried on the breath. The energetic body is more subtle than the physical body, but it can still be felt as a physical sensation. When energy is full and balanced, we feel good. We are awake, focused, active. Neither lethargic nor scattered. We connect to our energy body with our breath. How lovely and relaxing does a deep breath feel? To access our pranic body, we can simply move our body until we are conscious of our breath. Take a brisk walk or jog and breath deeply, do some sun salutations and sync breath with movement, get out in nature and breathe in mother nature’s fresh air. This body is so important that an entire limb of yoga is dedicated to it – pranayama, or breath control. We can’t see or grasp the energy body, but we can feel it, in ourselves and others.
Manomaya Kosha – The Mental/Emotional Body
By the time we hit mid-adulthood, we’ve all got emotional baggage. We’ve had trauma. We’ve lost loved ones, lost jobs, been hurt by people we trusted. Maybe we’ve been divorced or widowed. Many have had serious injury or illness. If we’ve lived for more than 4 or 5 decades, we’ve got baggage.
It’s not about how much baggage you have, it’s how good a baggage handler you are.
We can use our traumas and experiences to grow our wisdom and become more skillful at life. Or we can do the opposite. When we do the opposite, we are attempting to protect ourselves, but what we are truly doing is limiting our potential. We put up walls to keep ourselves from being hurt, but the result is, we don’t truly live. We react with anger, when what we really feel is fear. We avoid people who push us out of our comfort zone. We feign independence when what we really want is love. We use alcohol, weed, social media, food etc., as distractions to avoid feeling our real feelings.
What’s wrong with doing that? Well, besides the obvious answer of we never live our lives fully, we cannot access our higher, innermost layers. You see, the five bodies build upon one another. We start with the Annamaya Kosha, the food body, because, we literally cannot live without food and physical health. Nor can we survive without the breath, or prana. We can survive without taking care of the Manomaya kosha, but our existence will be fraught with stress, drama and unhappiness.
How does one optimize the Manomaya Kosha? Have you ever wondered why you keep getting yourself into the same negative situations? Bad jobs, difficult personal relationships etc. If so, it’s time to look at your emotional body. The job of a yogi is to master our emotions so they don’t master us. Do you run away or lash out when confronted with difficult emotions (yours or someone else’s)? Next time that happens, try to just stay with the emotion. Don’t react, just feel it. Go back to the first two bodies. How does this emotion feel in your physical body? How does it feel energetically? What is it doing to your breath? As we become more skilled in feeling our emotions, we can begin to truly understand them, and respond appropriately, rather than reacting. Meditation is a great tool for strengthening this body, as is pratyahara, the practice of sense withdrawal. Simply taking time to step away from sensory stimulus for a little while each day, does wonders to balance our emotions.
Vijnanamaya Kosha – The Wisdom/Intuitive Body
As we work more and more with our mental/emotional body, we gain access to the Vijnanamaya Kosha. We might start to notice our thoughts coming from a deeper, subtler level of our being. We are connecting to our intuition, or inner wisdom. We all have the ability to access this body, but it does take some work to get there. We all have intuition, but we don’t always listen to it, or even recognize it. If we haven’t done the work on our mental/emotional body, we will not be able to access the intuitive and we will not cultivate wisdom.
We can all probably think of examples of when we ignored our intuition. Taking a job that looks good on paper, but you just have a feeling isn’t right for you, is an example of ignoring intuition. Any time you say to yourself, “I knew I should/shouldn’t have done that!” Is an example of ignoring your intuition.
A deeper meditation practice, spiritual study and a deep desire to know one’s self will strengthen this sheath. Noticing our gut feelings and honoring them, will grow our intuition.
Anandamaya Kosha – The Bliss Body
The Bliss body is most etheric aspect of the self. Every level of happiness, from full-blown ecstasy to simple contentment is connected to the Anandamaya Kosha. It is aligned with our soul’s desire, purpose, and living our dharma. The Bliss Body is related to enlightenment. But, getting there is not a goal that we can set and achieve. Only mystics, saints and sages are generally able to access this body on a regular basis. For the rest of us, it is a place that we pulse in and out of. We’ve all had glimpses of it. The feeling of being in love or holding our new baby. I’ve felt this feeling skiing; standing on top of a mountain and gazing at the utter beauty of nature. I’ve also felt it in music; dancing at an outdoor concert on a summer evening and getting totally enveloped by the sound. I don’t think it’s possible to give specific directions on how to access our bliss. But, I can certainly give you some ways to guarantee you’ll never get there. Hold grudges, carry resentments and anger, blame others for your woes, be dishonest with yourself and others, suppress your emotions.
The best advice I can give someone looking to access the Bliss Body, is to work on the other bodies. All of them. You can’t skip one. A healthy body and a closed heart will not bring you bliss. Intellectual knowledge without connection to spirit will not get you there. Spiritual devotion without physical health won’t cut it either.
The Koshas are all part of us. Just as we can’t ignore one arm and have a full life, neither can we ignore one of these bodies. If you’ve been neglecting one, or several, make a concerted effort to work with your neglected parts. I guarantee you’ll feel better. And you might just get some bliss.