The Many Layers of You: Bonus meditation
We humans are complex beings, especially when you take into account the many facets that make us, us. Have you ever noticed the feeling in a room change when someone walks in or out? Or felt a strange, rushing and tingling sensation during pranayama? Or maybe you’ve observed your thoughts flitting from ‘get me the hell out of this pose’ to ‘I wonder what to cook for dinner’ during a yoga class. If you have then you weren’t imagining it. Those were experiences of your Koshas, or sheaths.
We can think of koshas as layers, encasing our spirit or soul. Kind of like the layers of an onion or the layers you wrap around yourself in winter to keep warm. If you’ve ever questioned who you are, or why you sometimes feel like many people all wrapped up into one body with often opposing personalities, it’s because we are made up of these different layers:
The Annamaya kosha is our physical body - the skin, bones, muscles, organs, connective tissues and so on. It’s the parts of ourselves that we can tangibly see and touch, how we ground and navigate the world to have the human experience.
Prana translates as vital energy. If you think about something that’s alive and something that’s dead, the difference is Prana. It’s what animates us and gives us light behind our eyes. It’s the force that makes our blood circulate and our nervous system work. Those times when you felt a shiver of unease run down your spine or had the sensation your body was super tiny or super swollen during mediation, you were experiencing your Pranayama kosha. It’s also the layer that feels when someone enters the room, or picks up on the energy in a certain place.
The Manomaya kosha is our mental layer. It’s the part of us that constructs an ‘I’ or the ego. When we have thoughts about mundane things such as what to cook, where to go, whatever happened to that old friend of mine and did I really turn the oven off, it’s the construct of this kosha. It fires our impulses to cough, scratch our nose, or fidget during meditation. This is where we find the mental patterns we construct throughout life, from I’m not good enough, to I am deserving of this.
Intuition, wisdom and that deep-seated knowing is your Vijnanamaya, or Awareness, kosha. If you think about a stormy sky, full of thick clouds, the Vijnanamaya kosha is the blue sky that’s above it, kind of like when you break the cloud barrier on a plane. It’s the part of us that just knows things on a deep level without needing actual proof. Those times when you had a gut feeling about something, you were experiencing this kosha. It’s also the layer that helps us to sustain a spiritual practice, even if it means waking up an hour earlier than we would otherwise have to.
This is your bliss layer. The place where everything comes from, and goes back to. I don’t pretend to be able to explain it, because a, I’m sure its a totally objective experience and b, because I’ve only ever experienced something to what I think is about 0.00001% of it naturally (more on that another time). But, from my understanding of it, the Anandamaya kosha is the deepest, deepest part of your Self. The Self that has had many lives before this one. This is the goal of Yoga, as I understand it: Bliss. Uniting with your true, deep Self.
The concept of Koshas is something that is rarely taught in yoga classes here in the West, so I’m quite sure it sounds a bit airy fairy to most of you. So, if you want to experience your Kosha’s, you’re in luck! I’ve recorded a mediation taken from one that was published in Yoga International. All you have to do to receive it is sign up to my newsletter and enjoy!
Do try it out and let me know how you got on!