Yoga and Ayurveda give us different frameworks for understanding the human experience. One system in yoga is the kosha system or layers of consciousness. This system is presented in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad. This model presents humans as containing five koshas, or layers of consciousness, from the densest to the subtlest elements of existence. Although everyone is comprised of all five layers, not everyone experiences themselves that way. Understanding the koshas can help us turn inward and get in touch with the deeper layers of Self.
The koshers are made up of layers. Many people get stuck operating on the outermost layers without consciously realizing there are deeper layers or recognizing how they each relate to one another.
We live as if each layer is operating separately, as opposed to them all moving as one cohesive unit. Yoga translates to “yoke” or “union”. You can start with the physical body, where you learn that you can access the innermost layers only by going in and through. Starting from the outermost, densest layer, moving inward, the five layers are:
1. Annamaya kosha—Physical Layer: The first layer of consciousness consists of the physical (or “food”) body. It includes the muscles, bones, connective tissue, organs, fat, and skin.
2. Pranamaya kosha—Energetic Layer: The second layer of experience consists of subtle body energy, or the elements that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Breath and prana (life force energy) are part of this layer.
3. Manomaya kosha—Mental/Emotional Layer: Thoughts and emotions make up the third layer of being. Most people only consciously operate in these first three layers.
4. Vijnanamaya kosha—Intuitive/Wisdom Layer: The fourth layer is comprised of intuition and wisdom. In it lies the ability to connect to higher knowing, to follow intuitive impulses, and see the bigger picture beyond logic.
5. Anandamaya kosha—Bliss Layer: Finally, the fifth layer is the quiet place of peace and love right at the center of your being. When operating from the anandamaya kosha, you experience a sense of presence and oneness among all beings.
A great way to start is by starting small and checking in with yourself throughout the day. It can begin by noticing yourself shifting between the koshas layers:
Right now I feel hot. Right now I feel cold. Right now I feel my breathe Right now I feel upset. Right now I feel happy. Right now I understand why I reacted that way yesterday. Right now I’m deep in meditation. Right now I feel bliss. The koshas are another tool for us to go inward and delve into our deeper selves. Do you resonate with the koshas? Tell us how you apply them in your life!