In yoga, the human structure is composed of different bodies or layers called koshas. They begin from the most gross to the most subtle. It starts with the material most evident to our eyes; the physical body, or food body, called the Annamaya kosha, the one made of bone and flesh. It is followed by Pranamaya kosha, the energy body, the one by which our electricity is transported, and the one in which we have the energy channels (nadis) and the energy vortexes (chakras). The third one is the Manomaya kosha, the body of the mind, where the thinking takes place, where the memories are stored in the brain and the intelligence of the cells express their faculties. The fourth one is the Vijnanamaya kosha, it is within this body that intuitive insight happens, and it is within this body that real knowledge starts being experienced. Then the last is the Anandamaya kosha; the body of bliss where we connect with our true self, the greater self which is our supreme consciousness. Each and every kosha are interconnected with one another.
The physical body is the most gross of all the five koshas and it is often with this one that the majority of us identify as ourselves. It is where our sensory interaction with the universe takes place, and it's within this layer that we “normally” interact with our environment. In the Vedas (Hindu scripture), it is written that we are composed of the food we eat. Consequently, it is very important to understand what is taking place when we are eating. We have to realize the importance of the quality of what we are eating, especially if we are completely composed of this material we consume. If we want to optimize the outcome of our harvest, it is important to work the soil previously with proper fertilizers. It is the same for our body’s garden: the more we take care of it, and the better we feed ourselves, the better our physical body will be. Our physical body is a field where we can easily observe our state of being. We can easily work on our body and modify it.
The Annamaya kosha will often be the medium by which more profound disorders will express themselves. For example, when someone has chronic digestive problems it is often psychosomatic in nature. The person lives through a situation probably too hard to digest emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and this disorder manifests itself through stomachaches or ulcers.
In the practice of Hatha yoga, especially in asanas (postures) and the shatkarmas (cleansing practices), special attention is given to the Annamaya kosha. With their practice, we learn to observe and feel the body, we try to understand the messages it sends us. There are trillions of cells moving through our body and each of them have some kind of intelligence. Maybe we should try to listen to what they have to say! The postures and movements done while doing asanas free the tension accumulated from our past experience. They tone and massage our organs, and by doing so this allows energy to move freely and harmoniously.
Prana is the vital force, which exists within every living thing, human, animal, plant, the whole planet and even the whole universe. It exists everywhere around us and varies in force and quality.
The energetic body is composed of thousands and thousands of nadis - energy channels which have roots in what are called the chakras. Chakras are subtle energy vortexes situated along the spinal cord. Each chakra is related to a certain energy and our goal is to make sure that every single one of those vortexes works at its full capacity. We will see later on how to work on them and how they work on us. It is a fascinating reality that can be very helpful if we allow it to be. Because it is very subtle, people have tendencies to deny their existence because they can’t see it or observe it scientifically. If everything was so easy to experience, the game of life would lose its originality.
Prana can also be seen as the electric current moving through our body; it is the mode of transport of all information that goes in and out of ourselves. It is necessary for every single action; without prana in our body, we would die. It is like without the sun, we wouldn’t be able to survive because the sun is our ultimate source of prana. When we eat an apple, we eat the prana of the sun transformed to fructose and water, etc. etc. Prana does the same work through our cells, and through our mind. There are different levels of energy just like there are different sources of energy.
We can work directly on the pranic body with pranayama practices. As I will explain later, most of the time this work takes the form of breathing exercises. Simply put, by working on the breath, we work on our pranic bodies. It is quite simple to understand this by likening our breath to the primary workings of an engine, and thus, the human body needs air to run properly. By working on our breath, we induce the proper amount of air in our body to make it work more efficiently. Imagine the pump for your bicycle needing air to fill itself, such as with your lungs, and then the air is pumped into your tires: your body receiving oxygen through the action of breathing and the pumping of your heart. The model of the engine is an effective one to imagine for us.
Yogis have thousands of years of expertise in those techniques of pranayama, and I think we have a lot to learn from it and a lot to experience with it. We must never forget that we are here to experience and widen our consciousness. From our learnings and our experience, we can be most certain that pranayama can be a wonderful tool for us to use throughout our lives.
It is within this body that our intellect, our thought, and our reasoning takes place. It is naturally and intimately related to the two previous bodies. It is through its main command centre that the movement of the body will take place. It is where information from the environment around us comes in and orders go out. It is here where we bridge the outside world with the inside world. We can imagine the interaction between ourselves as an inner being and ourselves as an outer being. It is through this layer that we experience the ego; the limitation of our self. But it is through this body that one can realize its limitations and can coordinate proper action to rectify its course in harmony with its potential. Manomaya kosha is expressing its capability via different components. As we know, our cells have some kind of intelligence. Just because their structures are different from our brain’s structure doesn’t mean that we should deny them their immense potential. This is probably true about many other components of our being. When scientists said that we use only one tenth of our brain capacity, this means that there is a huge potential waiting for us to awaken and it’s part of our role in this game of life to try to find a way to release this energy and enjoy its magic.
With the practice of concentration, meditation and kundalini yoga, we can realize this capacity within us. We can find a way to listen to other realities. Our self (inner) is talking to our self (outer); the spirit within is always giving us insight and clues to the game around us. If we can find a way to tune our being properly, we can manage to grasp and understand the silent words of wisdom that will come to us, in the guise of instinct. Slowly, by sharpening our awareness through different practices and techniques, we can learn to listen to every kind of intelligence within and outside ourselves.
This way of listening will then awaken in us another kind of understanding and another way to experience life at yet an even subtler level, and then we will have greater access to our next body: Vijnanamaya kosha.
The fourth layer is quite translucent, and as such, it doesn’t truly veil our perception of the true reality. It is throughout this layer that the self finds expression and it is within this layer that we connect with our much wider being; our real essence. Vijnamaya kosha is the entry door of the subtle reality of all being and all things. It is within this layer that one can perceive and touch the other now and other here. No mind is needed here, and no concept or theory will make it more concrete and tangible to understand it, the way you would parts of the brain. Instead it is the layer that allows just the flow of life to express its pure entity. It is our intuitive body and our astral authenticity. On this level of reality all beings are connected with each other, every movement or thought has an influence on the other beings around us and vice versa. Most of us are unaware of it, we go on thinking of our individuality, our limited self as being our only reality but there is a much greater truth and if we take the necessary attitude we can realize this beautiful, complex and infinite reality and their we start to really enjoy the game, we start to realize or infinite possibility.
Here, if our ego is still present, even if it is no more tainted by our mind pollution, we can’t really proceed consciously to the next layer. The next layer being our spirit our real essence what is call our Atman, that is the expression of God at the microcosmic reality. How can we experience the infinite by separating ourselves from it to look at it with detached regard? The absolute with the concept of “I” or “me” regarding it at a mental level cannot be call ed absolute but when it is experienced without the “I” , then we can maybe call it absolute. What does it mean truly—the absolute, the infinite?
What to say about this body? How can its reality be expressed through words and a conceptual framework? This is the spirit within every single expression of our world, and of every other world, if any other world can be experienced. If you try to look deeply into your being, you will find it very difficult to experience who you really are. If you continue, persevering in your attempt, maybe you will get a glimpse of what you are not and slowly realize that there is something vast, too vast to even try to see or feel it. Then maybe you’ll be inclined to let go. Maybe you will understand what I mean by losing your ego.
Some people call it the infinite light, others the complete abyss - but for sure, saints and sages for centuries have expressed the necessity to lose our ego; to be able to realize the impermanence of all things and to experience the reality as it expresses itself to use here and now.
The different bodies are the textiles giving colours and textures to our envelopes. By working on them, we can design and modify our pattern. We have the power to give to our soul, our pawn, or our actor a wonderful dress with which it will be able to express its infinite nature during the play.
We have the possibility to build the player with whom we will play the game, so it’s our responsibility to take the appropriate time to create this player suitably and consciously.