Getting to Know You: Understanding our 5 Layers of Being through the Pancha Maya Model

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According to Yoga Philosophy, we are not just our physical body or our mind, we are multidimensional beings made up of five distinct layers or koshas. The sanskrit word “kosha” translates to “sheath.” Starting from outermost layer and moving towards the core, the five koshas proceed with with greater and greater degrees of subtlety and power. While each layer is permeable, all are encased within the outermost layer of our being, the anamaya or physical body.

Anamaya Kosha - The physical body

The sanskrit word “anna” means “food” or “physical matter.” This sheath represents the physical body. Operating on the level of the physical system, our anamaya kosha is the material expression of who we are; the part of ourselves we can see, feel and touch, such as our muscles, tissue and bones. We nourish this outermost layer by our daily intake of food; what we eat literally becomes our bodily tissue. When we die and change form, this layer ultimately becomes food for other creatures and part of the Earth’s physical matter.

Pranamaya Kosha - The energy body

The sanskrit word “prana" means “life-force.” This sheath represents the vital energy which flows through and enlivens all our bodily systems. Operating on the level of the physiological system, it is the energy with inspires the heart to beat, the blood to circulate, the digestive enzymes to secrete and many other functions. We receive prana through direct contact with nature, such as soaking up the rays of the sun, planting our feet on the soil, breathing in oxygenated air or eating whole, living foods (consider how much energy a peach absorbs when she’s ripening on a tree).

Manamaya kosha - Mental-emotional body

The sanskrit word for “manas" means mind. This sheath is the layer of our being expressed through thought and emotion. Operating on the level of the psychological system, it is the mental faculty with which we absorb, process and interpret input from our life (presented through the senses of the physical body). Just as the physical body has layers of skin, fat, blood and bones, so the mental body has its own layers. The most superficial layer comprises passing thoughts, images, perceptions and emotions that move in and out of conscious awareness. The deeper levels of the manomaya kosha contain powerful mental structures formed by beliefs, opinions and assumptions you’ve absorbed from your family, environment and culture. Referred to in Sanskrit as “samskaras,” these mental grooves colour your perception of yourself and the world around you.

Vijnanamaya kosha - wisdom body

The sanskrit word for “vijna" means “knowing.” This sheath makes up part of our subtle body, and represents the higher mind, the faculty of wisdom that goes beyond the automatic, reflexive functioning of the intellect. Operating at a higher level of consciousness, it is at this level of our being that we experience intuition, conscience and will, leading us to higher and higher levels of truth, integration and insight.

anandamaya kosha - bliss body

This is the fifth, final and most subtle layer of our being. The sanskrit word for “ananda” means “bliss,” not in a sense of emotions, such as happiness or pleasure, but an expanded, unbounded experience of reality or “oneness.” Its subtle presence is felt as an instinctive sense that our true nature is joyful and free and interconnected to all beings. It is a visceral knowing that love is the deepest reality there is. This sheath makes up the essence of who we are. Its source flows from an energy that exists far greater than our physical form; beyond our physical form, often referred to as Atman, Divine, Ma, God or Universe.

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According to Yoga Philosophy, we are all multidimensional creatures. This awareness opens up a much broader, dynamic definition of health and wellness which goes beyond merely a toned physical body, regulated blood pressure or a functioning mind. These sheaths are not mere theoretical constructs. They are tangible parts of your being you can actually experience. Getting to know your five bodies and inner Self awakens the possibility of experiencing a quality of health and wellness that is filled with vitality, purpose, connection and Joy.

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