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  • Writer's pictureJayne Hill

The layers of being - koshas

Yoga suggests that we are made up of layers called Koshas (body/layer/sheath). Often thought of as layers of an onion, or nested Russian Dolls, where each new layer stacks around and on top of the last layer. While that’s an easy way to imagine them, it’s not quite correct. Each layer is related to all the others. One layer is affected by and intermingled with the others. You are a beautifully complex, multidimensional creature!


There are five koshas or layers. They were originally named in Sanskrit, so I’ve included that here, as well as an everyday translation. I find a kind of poetry in the original language, but don’t get too bothered about it if you find it distracting.


The five koshas


Annamaya Kosha – the body of food

This is your physical body; the bones, muscles and tissues that move you around in this world. It’s a sense of being nourished, comfortable and strong.


Pranamaya Kosha – the body of breath

This is related to the flow and nourishment you get from your breathing, your inner vitality and general feelings of va va voom!


Manomaya Kosha – the body of thought

This is all about thinking, your habits and how you react. The mind is clever and can process and compute at a dizzying speed, but it can become scattered and unfocused. Or it can ruminate in circles on themes that don’t uplift you.


Vijanamaya Kosha – the body of the intellect

I like to imagine this one as your inner wisdom; a power of discernment that can help you make good choices. It gives a sense of clarity and purpose.


Anandamaya Kosha – the body of bliss

I like to imagine that this is a sense of your inner stillness and peace. I heard it referred to as ‘your radiant self’ and I love that. It suggests that you are already complete and perfect, but sometimes e all get caught up in everyday stuff and lose touch with that inner sense of calm contentment.


Maybe you can start to see how each one affects the others.


It’s an interesting idea. What does science have to say about the concept?


Science agrees!


Okay, so maybe there isn’t a research paper focused exactly on testing for the existence of these yogic layers of being. But, studies do agree that you are a beautiful, multidimensional being.


Bio-mechanics

This is the study of your posture, how your body is aligned as it moves and the effect it produces. It’s based on your body as a machine. Your body responds to the forces and pressures of different positions and activities and adapts to make them easier. You sit a lot and don’t use your legs? The strong muscles buttock muscles that should propel your forward when you walk, become soft and mushy like a cushion (yep – for me too). Your dominant hand is more dextrous and stronger than your other hand. Your dentist can tell if you’re brushing left or right handed by the way your gums have worn. Poor posture put strain on parts of your body so you have shoulder or neck pain or a tight jaw.


It’s the theory behind structural therapies like chiropractic and physiotherapy. Fix the structure and pain will go away. It’s a sound starting position, but it’s not the full story. Pain can be weird. It’s not always related to structural damage or fault. But that’s for another blog.


Breath

There are some studies about breathing and how it relates to your overall physical and mental health– like the one showing that inhaling through your nose is more relaxing than inhaling through your mouth or the one about a longer exhale than an inhale being relaxing.


Chemistry

We are a complicated soup of chemical processes. Chemistry delicately balances the acidity of your blood, the way your bones are broken down and build back up, the minerals that circulate in your body like magnesium, potassium and sodium salts. Every emotion you feel is associated with chemicals like hormones and neurotransmitters. Each chemical triggers another cascade of processes. Think how stress hormone cortisol mobilises every system of your body to be ready to fight or run. It’s like one key turning hundreds of locks at the same time.


Electricity

Are you thinking of Frankenstein’s monster? You might be surprised to learn you won’t need a shot of lightning because you create your own personal electro-magnetic field which radiates out around your body like a doughnut. Romantic image, I know. There’s a field around your head created by activity in your brain, and there’s a bigger field around your chest created by your heart. Individual fields interact and affect one another - just like the fields you created at school with magnets – without even needing to physically touch. If you’re intrigued, look up the research from the Heartmath Institute. I find it fascinating.


Then there’s the communication through your nervous system , relaying information about your environment and giving instructions about how best to respond – is this a threat? Am I safe?  Your brain is intimately connected to your gut via a looooong cranial nerve called your vagus nerve. The brain gets the headline as command and control centre of the body, but more information is passed from the gut to the brain than the other way around.


What does it all mean?


It means that when you’re aiming to change, you can start on any of these levels and the effects can ripple out through all of the layers of your being. You can choose to work on whatever is easiest, most meaningful or best connected for you.


For example, I’m a very feet-on-the-ground type and I find movement cuts through the chatter in my mind and settles my breath so I feel better. Another student told me that they’ll begin with their breath to bring themselves into a better space.


This term join our yoga community and come along to yoga class to experiment with different approaches and discover what resonates best with you.


What will you choose? Feel free to answer in the comments below.



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