Yoga philosophy sees the physical body as a vehicle for the soul in its journey towards enlightenment and goes on to discuss not just one body, but five bodies, each more subtle than the one before. These are called Pancha Kosha (pancha means five and kosha means sheath or layer). Here are the five layers broken down.
1. Annamaya Kosha – Physical Body
This layer is also known as the food body and is comprised of our gross physical body: the flesh, blood, bones, muscles, etc. This body is based in five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Its main function is to sustain the actual body and keep it alive.
2. Prananmaya Kosha – Energetic Body
This layer is where life force manifests. It energises both the physical body and the mind. Also called the pranic sheath, this layer allows us to feel heat, cold, hunger and thirst. Layers 2, 3 and 4 make up the Astral Body. The Astral Body is connected to the physical body by a subtle thread along which vital currents pass, which, when cut, the bodies separate and the physical body dies. This is the body in which the Nadis flow.
3. Manamaya Kosha – Mental Body
The mental sheath encompasses the outer mind. It deals with sensory perception and knowledge of the outside world and is composed of the five sensory organs: ears, eyes, tongue, nose, and skin. This is where thought, doubt, exhilaration, depression and delusion are experienced. This mind is the rational mind that objectively perceives the world (i.e. hot/cold, darkness/light, sounds, touch, etc.) and refers to all living things including animals and plants.
4. Vijnanamaya Kosha – Wisdom Body
This layer is about knowledge. It’s made up of our intelligence and reason. This is the body that deals with discrimination and judgement and allows us to organise the input from the outside world. It is the decision making faculty. The ego and the sense of “who I am” resides here.
5. Anandamaya Kosha – Bliss Body
The Bliss Body is also known as the inner mind sheath and is based on the aspects of love, faith and intuitive feeling. This is also referred to as the Casual Body or the Seed Body and it has only one layer in which the experiences of happiness and joy reside.