Koshas are layers of our consciousness that we sheath our minds in. Koshas translated literally means sheath. I like to reference them as layers, which effectively makes me think of the Shrek quote about onions. Koshas are like onions. They are layers that lead to the inner truth of ourselves, our true consciousness, our purity within. Here are the five koshas with explanations.
1st Kosha-Annamaya Kosha
The annamaya kosha references the physical body that you feed, clothe, and exercise. You take care of this layer by living according to the yamas and the niyamas and following a yogic diet according to the yoga sutras and ayurvedic medicine.
2nd Kosha-Pranamaya Kosha
The pranamaya kosha is our subtle body, our breath. By having a stabilized, regular breath we can deepen all aspects of our yogic practice. We take care of this by practicing breath work and changing; it is also a crucial part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga…the third limb!
3rd Kosha- Manomaya Kosha
The manomaya kosha is our mental body. It is essentially our emotions, personality, and Karmic actions. We must work to discipline our emotions and our minds to deepen our meditations, and this kosha can become clouded through daily actions, but works purely when cleared and focused. The limb that is associated with this layer is pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses.
4th Kosha- Vijanamaya Kosha
The vijanamaya kosha is on our pure consciousness. This is our wisdom, the part of our minds that judges, decides, and processes information, the part that is of I-Am-ness. It is inherently positive, except when it is attached to memories, in which case it becomes clouded. As a yogi works through the layers to reach samadhi, this is the layer that we wish to gain most access to as it is our pure knowledge/wisdom. It is the complete shedding of our ego. We must first master the first three layers to move past the vijanamaya kosha through states of meditation.
5th Kosha-Anandamaya Kosha
This is our non-dualistic kosha. It is the layer that surrounds the Atman, Self. This is the joy, bliss, peace, love that is beyond the mind and completely independent of any stimulus to cause happiness. It is the pure consciousness within ourselves, and Self-Realization. This is from the rising of the Kundalini through continued states of meditation and selfless servicing.
In yoga we progressively move inward through each layer, kosha, so that we may realize our true self. By living through the 8 limbs and meditating on each layer, a yogi can slowly come to the state of realization of the Self, coming finally to Atman. Go deeper within.