Exploring the Five Koshas 1

Exploring the Five Koshas

Vikasa Yoga All Articles, Mindfulness

Exploring the Five Koshas


As a yoga student and/or teacher, you’ve no doubt heard of the Subtle Body, the Nadis, and the Chakras. However, there is another system described in the ancient yogic text The Upanishads that can shed some light and insight on the way we experience ourselves and the shifts we can make to live more vibrant, healthy lives. This system is called The Koshas.

What are the Koshas?

In Sanskrit, Kosha means “sheath” and can be imagined as layers or lenses of experience. This system is broader than the Chakras or even just the subtle body, as it unites all aspects of our experience including physical, energetic, mental/emotional, consciousness and spiritual. Each of us exists simultaneously within all five of these layers, experiencing and interacting with the world around us, our inner selves and each other.

One easy way to imagine this system is a pair of eyeglasses with five sets of transparent lenses that stack one on top of the next. What we “see” or experience, is the combination of all five sets of lenses, yet each lens has its own unique properties. Imagine each lens as a different color. When you stack them all together, the color of the lens you are looking through is a combination of all five colors. Each layer impacts every one of the others in a complete web of connection. In order to understand this system, we have to look at each Kosha (lens) individually and explore its traits, the way it shapes our experience, and the ways in which it interacts with the other lenses.

Why are the Koshas important?

The five Koshas are Anamaya (matter/physical), Pranayamaya (energetic/breath), Manomaya (mental/emotional), Vijnanamaya (wisdom/consciousness) and Anandamaya (bliss/spiritual). You’ll notice that the portion that is the same in each Sanskrit word is the word “maya”, which can be translated as “illusion”. Just as an illusion is not reality, none of these layers alone defines who we truly are or what we are experiencing. Each of them contributes in different ways to our perceived identity, personality and sense of individual self as well as to our relationship with the outside world. When we are able to see these individual lenses as illusions and peer through into the clear, bright center, our singularity dissolves and it becomes clear that we are all connected.

How do the Koshas work?

When we say “illusion”, we don’t mean pulling a rabbit out of a hat. This type of illusion doesn’t mean our bodies or minds aren’t ‘real’. It is essential for us to remain connected to our human bodies, our minds, our conscious will, our energy, and our spirit. However, many of us identify very strongly with one or two of the lenses and barely recognize the others. We feed our bodies healthy food but neglect our emotional health. Perhaps we obsess about our emotional state and completely disregard the impact this has on the health of our bodies. They may not be magicians but they are adept at tricking us. It is only when we are equally aware of each of the Koshas that we can experience life fully and see clearly. In order to experience whole health, we have to see the whole picture.

What are some additional resources for understanding the Koshas?

In the next five short articles, we’ll dive deeper into each Kosha, or lens. We’ll explore the ways in which we experience that layer and practices that can help us achieve balance, connection, and complete wellness.

About the Author

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Inanna Jessup

Inanna Jessup is a Yoga teacher, traveler and writer originally from Colorado. Ever since she quit her corporate job managing Yoga studios in 2017, she’s being roaming the planet searching for experience, wisdom and connection. She works remotely and enjoys the freedom and constant learning that come with her lifestyle. She believes deeply in the awareness, humility, tolerance and compassion that can be developed through the practice of yoga and meditation and through the experience of travel.