Updated: Sep 21
Have you ever had one of the those ‘out of body’ experiences in your yoga or meditation practice? The physical practice of yoga, namely the ASANA is what I would call 'the gateway' - the place where we enter or begin the practice and begin to move our mind into our bodies. But as with everything yoga offers us, there is so much more than meets the eye.
Beyond the asana and the physical body that we are most familiar with are more subtle layers or bodies ; referred to as the Panchamayas where PANCHA = FIVE and MAYA = LAYERS/BODIES/KOSHAS, these are the energetic layers of the body which according to the Taittiriya Upanishad provides human beings a tool for mapping the experience of the self, where the SELF is unchanging, essentially our SOUL.
Annamaya Kosha – Food Sheath or Physical Body
Pranamaya Kosha – Vital Sheath or Energy, Prana or Life Force Body
Manomaya Kosha – Mental Sheath or Mental & Emotional Body
Vijnanamaya Kosha – Intellectual Sheath or Wisdom Body
Anandamaya Kosha – Bliss Sheath or Bliss Body
The five koshas or sheaths resemble a Babushka stacking doll where each of the layers is nestled within another, the physical or gross body, then there’s the energy body, the mental body and the wisdom body which make up the subtle body, then finally there is the bliss body, referred to as THE ATMAN in classical yoga philosophy or what I like to call the SOUL, this is where reincarnation comes into play; like changing clothes, the soul simply tries on a new outfit!
Just like it's essential to move our physical body, we also need to attend to our subtle body to live a more balanced life.
As part of our Yoga Teacher Training Program, trainees spend 8 weeks delving into all aspects of the subtle body through practices designed to peel away these layers and provide greater insight into themselves. Usually, in our discussions we inevitably arrive at the topic of psychedelics and how many yogis have used these to move through the layers without having to do ‘the work’.
A dynamic asana practice such as Vinyasa, Flow or Hatha allows us to move into Anaamaya Kosha - the gross body. Pranayama or breath work practices can be used to move into Pranamaya Kosha. Any combination of yin yoga, pranayama and Yoga Nidra can help us move into the mental body, Manomaya Kosha as it we tune into more subtle sensations and prepare for meditation which takes us into Vijnanamaya Kosha. If you’ve ever experienced Meditation or Yoga Nidra perhaps you’ve been given a glimpse into these subtle layers? It’s why yoga is considered to be such a holistic approach to wellness as it explores energetic layers beyond the physical through various means to attaining balance from the inside out.