According to yogic anatomy (the view of the world that brought us the chakra system), there are five layers of the body and the soul. They are called koshas.
The koshas are interconnected and intimately support one another, and every person has all five koshas within them. One of the best ways to get to know and experience the koshas is through a yoga nidra meditation, which guides us to identify, feel, and relax each part of our body. By bringing attention to each kosha, you can gain a better understanding of how your body and your mind are linked, according to this particular worldview, and gain a better understanding of your own soul.
In order from most physical to most etheric and spiritual, the koshas are:
Annamaya kosha (the physical layer)
Pranamaya kosha (the breath layer)
Manomaya kosha (the mind/belief/emotion layer)
Vijnanamaya kosha (the higher mind/wisdom/intuition layer)
Anandamaya kosha (the bliss/higher consciousness layer)
Annamaya Kosha (the Physical Layer)
The outermost of the koshas is the annamaya kosha, or the physical layer. This includes the entire physical body, including the skin, bones, and blood. Some might believe that the needs of the physical body must be bypassed or ignored in order to experience the soul but, in truth, the physical body is the gateway to entering deeper realms of the mind and heart. Pay homage to this kosha and access deeper layers through eating healthy foods and taking in plenty of water, rest, and relaxation.
Pranamaya Kosha (the Breath Layer)
The pranamaya kosha is named for the Sanskrit word prana, which refers to the lifeforce we receive through excellent food and, primarily, clean, fresh air. This kosha is strengthened through healthy breathing practices such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or dirga pranayama (three-part breath). Many of us take breath for granted—until it’s obstructed. Therefore, keep the nostril passages open and clear through use of a neti pot and/or nasya oil, and get plenty of exercise to keep the lungs strong and healthy.
Manomaya Kosha (the Mind/Belief/Emotion Layer)
Now we enter the layer of the mind, where our imagination and ideas hold the key to unlocking yet deeper layers. This kosha is engaged in acts of creative thinking and active imagination. You strengthen this kosha when you pay attention to the thoughts and beliefs that underlie your actions, as well as when you treat your emotions as messengers and honored guests rather than enemies to be vanquished.
Vijnanamaya Kosha (the Higher Mind/Wisdom/Intuition Layer)
The magic of this layer is revealed when we invest in self-inquiry. The Sanskrit practice called neti, neti (not this, not that) refers to the activity of taking a metaphorical fine-tooth comb through the contents of the mind, ultimately ridding oneself of what no longer serves or benefits. To support this kosha, read books and spiritual texts that stimulate, challenge, and move you to deeper thought. While wisdom cannot be bought, sold, or pretended at, you can engage in practices that awaken your own inner wisdom and surround yourself with people who do the same. Practice trusting your intuition in small ways so that your relationship with it deepens over time.
Anandamaya Kosha (the Bliss/Higher Consciousness Layer)
This kosha is nearest to the soul and as such, is closest to our core essence. This is the home of our innate self, giving rise to a state of being, knowing, and resting in our essential nature. It is experienced only when all the other koshas are relaxed, content, and open.
Below is a 20-minute guided audio meditation to help you bring awareness to each kosha through a practice of deep relaxation called yoga nidra.