The Bodies of the Self
According to yoga philosophy, our body is comprised of 5 “sheaths” or “koshas.” These five layers encase the soul or “Atman”. You can think of it this way: Imagine the soul to be a flickering flame and these coverings like lampshades. The outermost layer is called “annamaya kosha “ or “food-body”. This is referring to our physical body which is composed of food. What we consume literally becomes the cells of our body. The next layer is called “pranamaya kosha” or “energetic body; referring to the astral body, chakras(wheels of energy)and nadis-rivers of vibration in the subtle body. It can also be thought of as the body of electricity. Next is “manomaya kosha- or the nervous system and mind. Manomaya kosha is the body of emotions and feelings. Beyond that is vijnayamaya kosha or the “intellectual body” referring to that part of you which is the “observer” or witness. The innermost layer is “anandamaya kosha” meaning “the body of bliss” -pure unadulterated joy.
It’s interesting to note that each layer has the suffix “maya” after it. Maya mean “illusion”. Although the body and mind seem real they are illusory. What is real is beyond the body and mind; Our soul is what remains the same no matter how the outer body changes.
To a yogi, our task is to purify each of these layers through different practices such as chanting, meditation, asana, pranayama and kriyas so that we can actually feel who we are. Sri Brahmananda Saraswati said, “You are not the body and the mind, though you have a body and mind”.
It is not enough to simply know that you are a soul. We need a direct experience so that we can feel that.
According to Sharon Gannon, “When the dirt of ignorance (avidya) is removed from the bodies of the self, The Atman shines through. “ What is needed though is an intense desire- a thirstiness- to know the Self and God, and a willingness to let go of want we think we already know about reality.