Today, more and more medical practitioners have a holistic approach to health and healing. They talk of mind, body and spirit. There is a realization that human body is not just this physical body with which we identify our self. It is part of a complex system which consists of mind, emotions, attitudes, will and the spirit of a complete human being. So it is not just our physical body that has to be taken care of, but the state of our mind and spiritual progress is equally important for our wellbeing.
Indian ancient medicine of Vedic period believed that man is a multidimensional /multilayered being. In ‘Taittriya’ Upanishad, a human being is described as having five distinct bodies/ layers/ sheaths called the ‘Koshas’ Our physical body is just one layer amongst several layers of energy that make up a body. Outer most layer is the physical body which is gross and we are familiar with it. Other four are subtle. These are in energy state and we don’t see them but we can become aware of these, understand these and develop these sheaths with some practice.
The five koshas or bodies that constitute our being are:-
1. Annamayakosha – The Food body
2. Pranamayakosha- The Pranic energy or life energy sheath
3. Manomayakosha- Mental body
4. Vijyanmayakosha- Wisdom body
5. Anandamayakosha– Bliss body
These layers range from the gross to the most subtle.These sheaths are not independent of the other. These are inter-dependent, inter-related and interpenetrable to each other. If one of these layers is disturbed it affects the other layers. It is important to understand them all in order to achieve our ultimate goal of holistic health and happy living.
Let us try to understand these different bodies/ layers/koshas
1. ANNAMAYA KOSHA- It is the outermost layer, the gross Physical Body, that represents flesh, blood, muscles and bones. It is nourished and maintained by ‘Anna’the food we eat, so called Annamaya or food layer. We are most familiar withthis body.Modern Medicineunderstands and deals only with this kosha - the gross body. It is said to be the most vulnerable kosha as it manifests any deficiency in otherkoshas.Hatha yoga asanas, shatkriyas,and our diet help in developing and strengthening Annamayakosha.
2. PRANMAYA KOSHA-PranamayaKoshaisthePranic or life energy body. The word ‘prana’ being the term used for Pranic energy, which is maintained by breath. Breath is not confined to just oxygen, it is the vehicle of Prana,the vital energy. Pranapermeates the physical body, moves through it and is the source of physical life. Without prana the body would be lifeless. It governs the growth and functioning of our body. It is because of the prana that blood circulates, food is digested, impulses are carried from body to the brain and back. ‘Prana‘is the force behind the functioning of our Karmandriyas- body’s five organs of action - Feet, hands, vocal chords, urinary and excretory system.
Those who work on this energy have good health and longevity because physical life depends on this energy. If Pranamayakosh is disturbed then Annmaya becomes sick. When energy is blocked the result is disease that progresses from the energy body to physical body. Feeling sleepy,dull, energized, restless, calm are all attributes of this vital energy body.By regular practice of pranayama , the pranmayakosha becomes more energetic and efficient, which in turn energizes the annamayakosha.
Prana also circulates between the physical body and different sheaths through‘Nadis’ – energy channels. It helps us to travel from gross to subtle bodies. Prana is intimately related to the third Kosha- the Manomayakosha which is the Mind Body. It helps to control our mind.When the Nadis get blocked due to our faulty life style, when the breath is shallow and its flow is not smooth then prana gets disturbed and it causes the mind to become agitated. On the other hand, when pranic energy flows slowly and smoothly then the mind becomes calm and peaceful.
The best and the easiest way to control the mind is through the practice of Yoga. Practice of pranayama works directly on this layer. Pranayama is not just breathing exercise, it helps the prana reach every cell of the body. For keeping the prana and the pranamayakosha clean, healthy andflowing freely, Pranayama is important and useful.By the practice of pranayama we are able to control the flow of prana and expand the pranic energy.
3. MANOMAYA KOSHA- The Mental sheath. It pertains to mind and its thought process.These are the actions and reactions of the physical body which are maintained and fed by thoughts, feelings and emotions. It works through our five senses and leads to our likes and dislikes.
Every fluctuation in the mental body has a chemical reaction in the physical body and vice- versa. Emotions create chemical altercations in the brain and affect hormonal secretion. Scientific research has proved that the state of our mind changes the state of our body by working through the central nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system.
A positive mind favorably stimulates the immune system and a negative attitude depresses it. Positive emotional attitude like love, happiness, peace and spiritual experiences improve the process of healing. Whereas negative thoughts and emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy, greed and violence, reducebody’s immunity and enhance the chance of damage to health.
Every cell in the body responds to each thought you think.
Many of us have an overactive Manomayakosha. Being emotionally hyperactive, stresses our nervous system. If we learn to controlour mind, we can do wonderful things with our body. We can retard or reverse our aging process. It is not only the toxins in the physical body that can harm us, but toxins in the mind (the negative thoughts) can be more dangerous.
Those who establish their awareness in the Manomayabody free themselves of unhealthy thoughts and actions and develop self-control.
Practice of yoga can help us to control and calm our mind.Practice such as pranayama, pratyahara(mental withdrawing of the senses) are very efficient. Patanjali tells us in Yog sutra, “Yogaschittavrittinirodha”- yoga helps in controlling the manifestations of the mind.
Yoganidra also helps in penetrating through the Manomayakosha and gives it a direction.
4.VIJYANMAYA KOSHA….It is the Wisdom layer, the sheath of the INTELLECT.’Vijnana’ means Wisdom or subtle knowledge. It is higher intelligence that contains in itself, knowledge, power of discernment,intuition, conscience and will.One who understands the functioning of this kosha or body, modulates his thoughts and actions accordingly, faces the reality of life, keeps himself away from illusions, worldly temptations and attachments, gives up all negative qualities, sheds ego. Such a person achieves the highest state of wisdom.
Once our mind is calm and stable, we start on an inward journey, senses are drawn inwards,outer world does not affect us much. As Lord Krishna said in BhagwadGita ‘SamatavamyogaUchayate‘-Through yoga we achieve equanimity of mind. We accept Sorrow,joy, heat, cold, pleasure, painwith composure. We start understanding the meaning of life. We develop more clarity and intuition that helps us to act wise and not to give in to the temptations of the material world. We are guided by your morals and ethics.We expect less.We start becoming comfortable with who we are and what we have. We experience peace within. It leads to happiness.
A person with under developed VijnanamayaKosha has poor judgment of right and wrong, has no will power, no control over his life.
This wisdom layer is inherent in all of us but most of us remain ignorant about it.
Once we are able to create balance and harmony in our physical body, energy body and mental body, we can easily connect to ournext layer,the wisdom body.
‘Ashtanga’ yoga practice such as ‘Dharana’( mental focus on an object ) and ‘Dhyana’ ( meditation on the divine )are steps that help us to gradually move towards this higher level of consciousness.
‘Jnana’ yoga, study of spiritual texts also nourishes the intellect and helps in developing this kosha. This knowledge helps us in finding our true nature and in our understanding of the world around us.
5. ANANDAMAYA KOSHA - ’Ananda’ is a sanskrit word which means Joy , Bliss. This is the most subtle layer beyond any explanation. It is the core of our being. It is Spiritual.This energy layer is closest to the Cosmic light and Truth.Once this kosha is awakened we feel Blissful.We experience pure delight, ecstasy, joy. We forget the existence of our gross body, mind and we are transported to the highest level of our being. We become one with the divine, and we experience nothing but Happiness and bliss.
This kosha is our true nature, which is nothing but goodness, contentment, peace and love that expands beyond any mental constraints. Most of us are not even aware that this higher level of consciousness resides within us and we can connect to it. Very few manage to experience this Kosha. Sometimes we experience this state of bliss, when we are so much engrossed in creating something that we almost forget our existence. Artists, painters, writers. Performing artists have experienced it in brief flashes. Meditation helps us to achieve a state of bliss. Once we experience the beauty of this higher conscience we try to achieve it again and again. It becomes our nature and we can be in a state of bliss most of the time. It is the most beautiful experience of our being.
Step by step practice of Patanjali’s eight fold yoga and meditation help in connecting us to this layer and in achieving the state of ‘Ananda’. The ‘sadhaka’ becomes free from the shackles of physical life and always enjoys a blissful condition. Awakening our blissful self is the greatest gift of yoga to mankind.
Bhakti yoga – devotion to God also leads us on the path of a blissful experience.Another way to awaken this sheath is through selfless service -Karma yoga.
A combination of Raja yoga, Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga enhances our experience of Blissful self.
For holistic health all these five sheaths of our body are to be kept in good condition. Disturbance in one affects the other because these five sheaths function in coordination with each other to form an integral whole. It is important to awaken and strengthen these koshas as they provide the road map to lead us smoothly from our physiological; to psychological to spiritual self and thus help us live a healthy, happy and peaceful life.