Understanding the Five Koshas of the Human Body

The koshas are described as being layered like an onion.
The koshas are described as being layered like an onion.

Greg Vore / StockFood Creative / Getty Images

The koshas are the metaphorical layers that comprise the human body and mind and house the soul. The meaning comes from the Upanishads, the ancient Vedic texts that informed Hinduism and many aspects of yoga philosophy.

Kosha translates to "sheath" in Sanskrit. According to ancient Vedantic philosophy, the five sheaths provide a framework for understanding the innermost self, or Atman, which is Sanskrit for the spirit or soul. Learn about the five koshas and how to access them in your yoga or meditation practice.

What Are the Koshas?

The koshas are often likened to Russian nesting dolls or the layers of an onion, with the human physical body being the outermost layer. In fact, the physical body is the only kosha with an anatomical aspect. The deepest layer or sheath is considered to be the true spiritual self.

Yoga philosophy describes the physical body, the subtle body, and the causal body as the three bodies that encompass the five koshas. Yogic theory posits that the human body and life force energy (breath or prana) is part of the physical body, while the mind and intellect are included in the subtle body. The causal body is considered as the innermost self or soul, which cycles through birth, death, rebirth, and ultimately, transcendence, according to the teachings.

Each sheath can be made accessible through practice, as deeper states of awareness are often reached through yoga and/or meditation. Many styles of yoga incorporate the teachings of the koshas, particularly Kundalini yoga. Kundalini is a practice of moving energy upwards through the seven chakras beginning at the base of the spine. This practice aims to connect to "oneness" or the innermost sheath through repetitive breath and movement patterns that integrate the subtle and physical bodies.

Why It's Important

The late B.K.S. Iyengar, an internationally recognized yoga teacher and founder of the Iyengar yoga method, explained in the 2005 book, "Light on Life," that the goal is not for the koshas to be clearly defined, but rather, for them to be seamlessly blended.

Total integration of the koshas can occur when optimal health and well-being are reached within the body, mind, and spirit. Exploring and integrating each layer can help to bring us closer to a state of oneness or bliss.

Benefits

Accessing your inner bliss can invite more feelings of joy, inner peace, and contentment into your life. By peeling back the metaphorical layers of the onion, you can begin to illuminate certain thoughts or behavioral patterns that might be detrimental to your progress and overall happiness. The journey of learning to integrate the koshas can help you:

  • Connect with the nuances of your physical body.
  • Find comfort and solace within your body.
  • Release energy blockages and deep-seated fears.
  • Understand where you may be repeating certain patterns.
  • Know yourself on a deeper level.
  • Bring more of your true self into the world.
  • Experience more joy, happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

When life is out of balance, yoga and meditation can help us to identify the kosha that may be imbalanced. Engaging in certain exercises and practices can help bring it back into harmony and reintegrate it with the other koshas.

Annamaya Kosha

Annamaya is the outermost sheath comprised of the physical body layer, which includes the muscles, bones, skin, and organs. Anna is Sanskrit for food, which sustains the human body and keeps it functioning optimally. The annamaya kosha is often referred to as the physical body since it is the only kosha that is physically tangible.

Yoga asanas (poses) have many health benefits and help to maintain optimal function of the physical body. Research supports a yoga practice to help treat problems that can arise in the body such as chronic lower back pain and injury. According to the American Osteopathic Association, a regular yoga practice can also increase strength, flexibility, improve breathing, increase energy, balance metabolism, and promote heart health and weight loss.

Many people who adopt a yoga practice generally report feeling more in touch with their bodies. Yoga poses can help to maintain the balance of the annamaya kosha since they leave a practitioner with a sense of feeling physically grounded. Try a variation of Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to get in touch with your physical body. Mountain Pose is considered a foundation for many other yoga poses.

  1. Stand tall with your feet about hips-distance apart, positioning your feet in a way that feels supportive. You might rock back-and-forth on your feet until they establish a natural resting position.
  2. Avoid hyperextending or locking your knees by bringing a slight engagement to your glute muscles and keeping a soft micro-bend in your knees.
  3. Align your spine so that it's neutral—you're neither tucking your tailbone under nor sticking it out.
  4. Soften your front ribs down while broadening your chest and keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
  5. Place one hand over your navel and the other over your heart and close your eyes and breathe.
  6. Feel your feet on the ground as you hold the crown of your head high and notice which muscles are engaged as you hold this position. You might gently turn your chin from side-to-side a few times.
  7. Observe any sensations that arise in your physical body as you expand with each breath in and contract with each breath out.

Pranamaya Kosha

The next sheath is the pranamaya kosha, also known as the energy body or life force sheath. In Sanskrit, prāna means life force, so pranamaya refers to the life force energy within the annamaya physical body. Pranamaya is therefore associated with the breath and the flow of energy through the physical body.

The pranamaya kosha animates both the body and mind to allow for physical movement and self-expression. This life force energy is what allows the inner self to manifest in the outer world.

In yoga and meditation, pranayama is the practice of directing the breath and is prescribed to address the pranamaya kosha. To bring this layer into balance, try a pranayama exercise known as the Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama).

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor or stretch your legs out long. Close your eyes and relax your facial muscles and your body.
  2. Bring your attention to your breath, simply noticing the inhales and the exhales.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose and fill your belly with air.
  4. On your exhale, expel the air from your belly through your nose by drawing your navel in toward your spine.
  5. Repeat this deep belly breathing for about five breaths. This is part one.
  6. On the next inhale, fill your belly and then draw in a little more breath to expand the air into the rib cage, feeling that expansion.
  7. On the exhale, release the air from the rib cage, feeling the ribs contract as you draw the navel back toward the spine.
  8. Repeat this deep breathing pattern for about five breaths. This is part two.
  9. On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage with air. Then sip in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, causing the area around the heart center to expand and rise.
  10. On the exhale, release the breath from the upper chest first, allowing the heart to sink down, then release it from the rib cage. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back in.
  11. Continue at your own pace, eventually allowing the three parts of the breath to happen smoothly without pausing in between.
  12. Continue for about 10 breaths total.

Manomaya Kosha

The next sheath is the mind or mental sheath. It has to do with thoughts and emotions and can be maintained and brought into balance through meditation. The mind sheath governs your thoughts, emotions, and fantasies, and is responsible for how you perceive the world around you. These are considered the superficial layers of the manomaya kosha.

Deeper layers of this sheath include an individual’s beliefs, opinions, and values that are learned or inherited from culture and heritage. There are also certain mental tendencies that have accumulated over the course of a life. These are often referred to as our "patterns," which are typically fixed and cycling on repeat until we become aware of them. In Sanskrit, these patterns are known as samskaras.

Practicing meditation can provide insight into certain patterns that an individual can learn to recognize and eventually break free from. To connect with your manomaya kosha and observe your thoughts and emotions, try a simple mindfulness meditation exercise. Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our thoughts by paying attention to the present moment.

  1. Sit comfortably with your back supported. Close your eyes and invite your attention to drift inward as you begin to deepen your breath.
  2. After 3–5 rounds of deep, diaphragmatic breathing, allow your breath to return to a natural rhythm.
  3. Notice how you're breathing, but now, don't try to control the breath. This will help bring your attention to the present.
  4. Simply follow the rise and fall of your natural breath. When your mind starts to wander, bring your attention back to your breath.
  5. Observe any thoughts, emotions, or images that arise, as if you were watching clouds drift by.
  6. Remember that it's a normal part of the process to have thoughts during meditation. Rather than trying to suppress your inner dialogue, simply acknowledge it and allow it to pass.
  7. If your mind starts to drift too far away and your thoughts are spiraling, bring yourself back to the present moment once again with your breath. Don't worry about whether or not you're doing it "right"—just stay focused on your breathing. This will help you learn how to sit with the thoughts that arise without getting too caught up in them.
  8. Stay in the meditation for 10–20 minutes depending on your level of experience. When you're finished, notice how you feel. Optional: Write about your experience in a journal.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

The vijnanamaya kosha is the knowledge sheath. This kosha is comprised of your wisdom, intuition, and highest perception. When you're meditating and observing your inner world, the knowledge sheath is what lies beyond your thinking mind; it stems from a deeper and more subtle layer of self. This innate inner knowing is a higher state of consciousness. When wisdom is accessed, deeper insight can be revealed. Some teachers believe that any activity requiring total immersion, such as playing an instrument, writing, or painting, is accessing the vijanamaya kosha.

Meditation is also the key to reaching this deeper layer. To access the vijanamaya kosha, a meditation that opens the third eye (ajna) chakra can bring you closer to your own innate wisdom and intuition.

Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and relax your facial muscles as you begin to deepen your breath. Bring the tips of your thumbs and index fingers to touch. This is known as Gyan mudra in yoga, also known as the "knowledge mudra." Bring your internal gaze toward the space between your two eyebrows—your third eye. Hold your attention here as you breathe in and out for a few minutes. As you settle deeper into the meditation you can relax your internal gaze as needed. Continue the meditation for 10–20 minutes depending on your level of experience.

Anadamaya Kosha

Anandamaya is the innermost sheath known as the bliss body. In Sanskrit, ānanda means happiness and bliss, and represents the transcendental energy of creation and existence. Therefore, the anadamaya kosha is synonymous with joy, love, and peace. It is total immersion with creation itself and is the deepest aspect of the true innermost self.

The waking consciousness or thinking mind often masks the bliss body, making it difficult to access. But when you are in touch with the anandamaya kosha, you’ll experience lightness, ease, and contentment, and ultimately, a great unending joy.

The blissful self reminds us that life can still be good even when things are difficult; that being alive is a gift. Yoga philosophy posits that we are all born as blissful beings and retain the capacity to be blissful even in adult life. This means that the anadamaya kosha, or causal body, is always available to you and is accessible through consistent yoga practices where a deep state of meditation is reached. Connection to the bliss body can often be experienced in practices where mantra and prayer are invoked.

Many yoga practitioners report feeling "blissed out" during Corpse Pose (Savasana), the final resting pose that culminates a yoga practice. In meditation, you can try reciting a simple mantra to yourself, "I am blissful."

A Word From Verywell

Like other elements of the subtle body (the chakras come to mind), the koshas are not meant to be interpreted literally. Instead, they provide a philosophical framework through which to view our experiences in the human body. 

By getting more in touch with your physical body, you can access deeper states of consciousness to experience more joy and ease in your life. With time and consistent practice, you may be able to one day reach that blissful state of oneness. And even if it takes a while to get there, the process of getting to know yourself on a deeper level will be well worth the journey.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jain M, Tripathy PR, Manik R, Tripathy S, Behera B, Barman A. Short term effect of yoga asana - An adjunct therapy to conventional treatment in frozen shoulderJ Ayurveda Integr Med. 2020;11(2):101-105. doi:10.1016/j.jaim.2018.12.007

  2. Arbo GD, Brems C, Tasker TE. Mitigating the antecedents of sports-related injury through yogaInt J Yoga. 2020;13(2):120-129. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_93_19

  3. America Osteopathic Association. The Benefits of Yoga. Maintaining a regular yoga practice can provide physical and mental health benefits.