Why You Need to Understand Your Kosha Energy
By now, you’ve probably read a decent amount on chakras, but have you ever taken note of your koshas? They are another vital bodily energy that those seeking to live holistically very much need to understand for a balanced life.
A Kosha (also, Kosa) (Sanskrit कोश, IAST: kośa), usually rendered “sheath”, is one of five coverings of the Atman, or Self according to Vedantic philosophy. They are often visualized as the layers of an onion. Basically, the koshas are energetic layers or sheaths that move from the outermost layer of skin to the deep spiritual core. The koshas provide a framework for conceptualizing ourselves. Much like the chakra system, the kosha layers come packaged with their own individual physiological function and psychology.
In some respects, the kosha layers mirror the psychology of the chakras. This is why it’s so important to have a firm grasp on the concepts, and to understand how each energy system can impact your body and life.
So what are the koshas, and how do they tie into you overall? Here are quick overviews of each kosha and the area it deals with, as well as a diagram for a visual picture of how the koshas work according to MindBodyGreen:
1. Annamaya: “Foodstuff” Sheath
The first layer of the koshas represents the physical body, including the skin, muscles, connective tissue, fat and bones. When you pinch the side of your waist and feel the skin and muscle under your fingers, you engage with annamaya kosha. For a lot of people the first layer might be where we spend the most time hanging out, locked in our physical senses
2. Pranamaya: “Energy” Sheath
The second layer represents the pranic or subtle body—in essence, it’s the circulatory system for prana, or “life-force energy.” It also includes the fluid, physical aspects of the anatomical body that control the movement of blood, lymph and cerebrospinal fluid through the body and the circulatory movement of breath through the respiratory system. In psychological terms, pranamaya kosha controls our bodily and spiritual rhythm.
3. Manomaya “Mindstuff” Sheath
The third layer takes us into the deep recesses of the mind, emotions and nervous system. While modern science has developed an acute understanding of the inner working of the brain, the mind, motivations and emotions still retain a mysterious quality. The manomaya kosha makes up the control panel for the emotional and physical body, sending messages through your brain synapses and the central nervous system. It’s this layer where you move from physical feeling and rhythm to emotional feeling.
4. Vijanamaya: “Wisdom” Sheath
Diving underneath the sea of emotions in the manomaya kosha, we reach the wisdom body of the fourth kosha—Vijanamaya. It’s here that we develop awareness, insight and consciousness. Emotions left unchecked by awareness are destructive. The awareness of vijanamaya kosha illuminates our deeper desires and motivation and allows us to see the choice we have in all things. Instead of simply feeling or acting, we choose to feel or act with intention. Sometimes the intention is simply to move past the emotion into pure sensation and bliss.
5. Anandamaya: “Bliss” Sheath
The fifth and last kosha drops from conscious awareness into the pure and radiant bliss body. Within the anadamaya kosha, you might experience connection with all things, liberation from suffering and a state of being often described as “in the flow.”
Throughout the day, notice yourself shifting between the koshas layers:
- Right now I feel hot.
- Right now I’m paying attention to my breathing.
- Right now I feel upset.
- Right now I understand why I reacted that way yesterday.
- Right now I’m deep in meditation.
- Right now I feel bliss.
Yoga helps you to create a track to the deeper subtle kosha layers, so they’re easier to access. As asana prepares the outer body, yogic breathing turns your attention to the pranic body. Lastly, yogic philosophy provides the tools for bringing awareness to your fluctuating emotional state of mind, so you can embody and radiate health and bliss.
For an even more in depth look, this colorful infographic provides visual insight:
What is Ahimsa and How to Practice It in Everyday Life
Whether you’re experienced in yoga or just starting out, integrating the practice of ahimsa in everyday life can lead to wonderful strides. Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, which are the ethical, moral and societal guidelines for yogis. Ahimsa can be distilled into a practice of non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental and emotional.
Non-violence is defined by honest compassion and true love. You can achieve this by embracing love: learn to love deeply, and also to be loved. However, this is impossible to do if you choose to ignore or escape from certain traits held in yourself.
How Does Non-Violence Manifest in Daily Life?
To understand how non-violence can manifest in our lives each day, we must first learn how subtle daily actions and responses contain elements of violence. This often happens against ourselves. When our thoughts contain negative responses like disappointment, resentment, or guilt, when we feel shame, we are subtly creating violence. If you can’t forgive someone for something they’ve done against you, or if you can’t forgive yourself for something you’ve done, this is an act of violence because it pushes love away.
Expecting too much of yourself and putting all responsibility in your own hands is a type of violence too, as is expecting that the world will run according to your design. You’re being violent towards yourself and the world at large with these kinds of mindsets. Acting out of our fears is a form of violence to the self. We inflict violence on others daily in subtle ways, but this is simply an outward expression of the war that goes on inside of everyone. For instance, when we resent others, it creates a negative atmosphere. Finding inner peace through ahimsa will in turn allow us to come to peace in interactions with others. This may come as a surprise if you consider yourself a non-violent person. Consider how violence can function in the subtlest of ways. Violence disguises itself well; it manifests in words, actions and even inner thoughts.
Instead, embrace and act from your inner truth. Truth and non-violence are a pair.
Yoga is a great way to access ahimsa in our daily interactions. By practicing yoga daily, you can confront your own inner darkness impartially and with compassion. This then paves the way for transforming negative emotions and tendencies without acting on these feelings.
Yoga creates the avenue to getting in touch with any violence you hold inside of you through non-violent means and therefore to express negativity without hurting anyone, yourself included. Releasing negative energy through positive intentions transcends the negative aspects of yourself, creating peace in the world around you.
How to Incorporate Ahimsa
You can incorporate ahimsa into daily activities. For example, some yogis don’t eat meat. But whatever you decide to do with your diet, you should focus on practicing self love in all that you do.
Another way to bring ahimsa into your life is through compassion. It’s the ability to accept events as they are with an open heart, letting go of reacting in any negative way and replacing those feelings with kindness and acceptance.
Also, move with intention. Consciously put non-violence into action. Instead of letting the limits of your body create stress, make the decision to intentionally respect and even love the limitations your own body has. Perform yoga poses gracefully, but do it without force.
Yoga gives you the chance to practice non-violence in your mind at the same time. While tuning in to your body, simultaneously start to watch as your thoughts form. Cultivate your awareness of your own thoughts to find if there are hints of violence against yourself or others in your life. Awareness doesn’t mean reaction, though. You don’t need to push these thoughts away ” just recognize them. Observe as they come into your consciousness, and then watch as they again leave.
Ahimsa in the Body and Mind
We can understand ahimsa as the being mindful of thoughts. Thoughts naturally move into and out of our minds. The thoughts themselves don’t necessarily cause harm. However, holding onto thoughts and letting them repeat again and again in your mind is what in the end turns into actions or words of violence. Start to practice simply observing your thoughts instead of reacting to them. When you allow yourself to acknowledge and observe, you’ll find that your thoughts slip from your awareness just as easily as they come in.
You can be at the peak of health and still have your thoughts deeply affect your wellbeing. Yes, exercising and eating well are hugely important for your health, but even if you do these things “right,” your thoughts can harm you. Negative thinking sends out messages to the body that trigger the fight or flight response. Thoughts do this even if there’s no outside threat.
The fight or flight response secretes cortisol, which you might know better as the stress hormone. This, in turn, lowers the immune system, and that then makes us more likely to experience physical pain and sickness. And again, it’s not just those pesky bad thoughts we have about ourselves that do this. Jealousy, anger and judgement toward others make us feel bad as well.
That’s where our non-violent thoughts come in. When we think lovingly, these thoughts trigger dopamine’s release into the body. Dopamine is that chemical that makes you feel good and relax. Unlike cortisol, dopamine brings strength to the immune system. It can even cure illness. Those who think of themselves as optimists tend to have stronger immune systems and recover faster from illnesses and injuries. Optimists may even live longer than those who think of themselves as pessimists.
What This Means for You
When you turn your yoga practice into a complete lifestyle, ahimsa can guide your daily interactions with yourself and others. Anyone, regardless of experience, can get frustrated when the physical components of yoga don’t move forward as quickly as planned. Keeping ahimsa in mind as we practice yoga lets us move out of negative thoughts about the body. We can then accept ourselves totally, no matter how flexible, how strong we may be in any given moment.
This translates to all aspects of our lives. In the physical sense, non-violence means not pushing yourself over the edge. You can, of course, still challenge yourself so that you can grow; in fact, you must. But embracing ahimsa means not pushing yourself to harm.
You shouldn’t put much stock in holding a handstand long enough to please your ego if it brings you harm. Likewise, you shouldn’t hold on to resentment or jealousy against yourself or someone else. Embracing ahimsa instead will improve your own well-being as well as those around you.
Everyone holds pain inside themselves, but you can overcome this in a positive way when you practice ahimsa. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; it’s human nature. We must, however, learn to fully experience these negative feeling without reacting negatively to them. This may seem contradictory, but ahimsa leads to a path of peaceful living. By observing but not acting on our natural feelings of pain, hatred, pain and violence will move out of our lives, and doors will open to new understanding.
Let go of expectations of what you should do. Stop clinging to the need to scold yourself with negative, violent thoughts. When we do this, our bodies respond. Instead of bringing in those negative emotions and working against us, our bodies start working with us.
Practice ahimsa in your interactions each day by accepting, then releasing negative thoughts about yourself and others. If you’re looking for other ways to bring ahimsa into your everyday practices, you can find them here on Gaia. You can have ahimsa in your diet, in your thoughts, and in how you communicate with the people around you.
The yoga practice of non-violence can easily move into all aspects of your life. Yoga creates a peaceful reconciliation with your true nature. Non-violence comes from love of the true self, from true self-acceptance. This ahimsa comes from deep in the heart.