Written by: Jessica Riley-Norton, owner of Evoke Yoga and Evoke Cycle
Yoga is absolutely fascinating. When I teach a beginner's series, I always tell students that they can scratch the surface with a simple asana practice, or they can dive in to the Marianis Trench of ancient Asian knowledge and wisdom. Like watering a plant, we absorb what we can and want to absorb, and allow the rest of the water to fun off into the Earth. Over time, your appetite may grow, and you will be happy to discover that the yoga garden is lush, and ripe for our times.
At first glance yoga seems esoteric; that word 'energy' is supposedly tossed around to land on obscure understandings. Pranayama, or breathing techniques may seem arbitrary. However, after many glances within upon the mat or cushion, the intangible transforms into science.
Should you begin a practice of exploring the sacred scriptures of yoga, you may find yourself studying a diagram, pictured with a body with 5 layers around it, called the Five Koshas. I have had the opportunity to study the Koshas with a brilliant teacher named Claire Este-McDonald, and as a result have a greater depth of understanding of myself. The Five Koshas are similar to the chakra system, yet are organized differently. They are also called the five sheathes, since one fits into another like swords in sheaths. It is important to note that each Kosha impacts the others, and are not isolated bodies. To study the Koshas will bring about a greater understanding of yourself.
I will briefly define each kosha and suggest a few practices to exercise each sheath.
1. Annamaya Kosha
This is your physical body; your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and skin. This body depends upon the food you eat, and the source of the food yields greatest results when its food is the sun. We connect to Earth in this way; she supplies us with all the food and medicine we need to thrive in this physical body.
Self-Care of the annamaya kosha:
Yoga! An asana practice (physical postures) to strengthen, lengthen, and balance
A plant-based diet. The closer we eat to the source of the Sun, the better. Fruits and vegetables are produced with energy directly from the Sun, and operate at a higher vibration than secondary Sun sources. When considering the frequency of what you eat, think of the food's source and its journey to you.
2. Pranamaya Kosha
This is your second body, where your life-force, your prana or chi resides. This sheath extends beyond the physical body, though it has to do with your heart and lungs. Both Ayruvedic and Chinese medicine recognize this 'subtle body' as nadis or meridians repectively, and it was only recently with the emergence of Western Medicine that this concept became foreign to the United States, in particular. Like veins and arteries, prana is moved throughout the body through these channels. In a healthy body, the energy moves freely and in an unhealthy body, it becomes blocked. We can deplete ourselves of this vital energy by over exerting ourselves by over working and over exercising. This kosha is truly interesting, and so if your curiosity is piqued, you can explore this in great depth.
Self-Care of the pranamaya kosha:
Pranayama, or breath work. One example is alternate nostril breathing, called nadi shodhana, where you place the middle and pointer fingers of your right hand against your third eye, thumb against the right nostril and ring against the left. Allow one nostril open and you inhale, hold the breath, and then release through the opposite nostril, holding down the one you inhaled through. Reverse this order after a couple dozen rounds.
Acupuncture, Yoga, Meditation
3. Manomaya Kosha
Manomaya has to do with the mind, and our senses. It is how we absorb and interpret our environment. This kosha impacts our central nervous system, and when in automatic, controls the pranamaya kosha via breath. When we operate consciously from the manomaya kosha, we are aware of behaviors and habits of the mind and can offer ourselves an opportunity to shift into intentional directions. To be empowered in the manomaya kosha is to respond rather than react, and to bring awareness to our judgements and stories.
Self-Care for the manomaya kosha:
Meditate for a minimum of 10 minutes a day.
Just like junk food, limit your intake on toxic media. Watching violence or listening to violent music will affect the mind and your emotions dramatially
4. Vijnanamaya kosha
This kosha is your intellect, or your 'power of judgement or discernment'. This kosha sounds similar to the manomaya kosha, yet it embodies the mind with its wisdom, integrity, ethics and a moral compass. Someone with a healthy vijnanamaya kosha wil not rip you off, and will speak up on behalf of injustices. This sheath is our consciousness and is what separates us from the animal kingdom. You might say it is our privilege.
Self-Care for vijnanamaya kosha:
Read the Yamas and the Niyamas, the Yogic code of ethics and observances
Contemplate the highest good, and your highest self. Over time, responses towards the highest good are the more easily achieved.
Be of benefit. Align your actions or inactions with good ethics, even if 'it's just business'.
5. Anandamaya Kosha
Though we common folk only catch glimpses of this 'bliss' kosha, our world has witnessed many illuminated beings who steadily beam in this sheath. This sheath is unconditional love, where we recognize our true-self and our one-ness with all life, eventually experiencing Samadhi, or union with God.
Self-Care in the anadamaya kosha:
Gratitude journal. Write down three things each day before bed for which you are grateful for.
Seva, or service to others. Make service a priority.
Recognize yourself in the eyes of other beings you meet.
If you can imagine these bodies extended around your body, these are you koshas. With an open heart and some regular practice to visit this concept, no matter your religious or spiritual beliefs, you will reveal yourself to yourself and others, at great depth.
Jessica Riley-Norton has trained under Jill Abraham, Nikki Meyers, and S.N. Goenka in Yoga and meditation. She is devoted to helping others thrive, by walking in their true, uncompromised highest self. Jessica is inspired by her own continual transformation in uncovering the fundamental goodness, as well as witnessing the great benefits of yoga received by her students. Jessica opened the doors of Evoke with the intention of creating a supportive, energetic community, with opportunities to grow and thrive through the ancient wisdom of yoga. She recently opened Evoke Cycle, two doors down from Evoke Yoga. Jessica is currently working on her 500 hour certification at Down Under Yoga with Natash Rizopoulos.