Moving through the koshas has been compared to the act of peeling an onion or opening Russian nesting dolls. Like the dolls, the path of yoga moves progressively inward through each of the koshas.
As described in the Upanishads, the five koshas are ordered as follows:
- Annamaya kosha (food) - This outermost kosha feeds the physical body and sustains the other koshas. In yoga, asanas can affect this kosha by nurturing the body.
- Pranayama kosha (energy) - This kosha regulates the flow of prana (life-force energy) through the body via the nadis (energy channels) and the chakras (intense points of energy). In yoga, both asanas and pranayama (breathing exercises) affect this kosha.
- Manomaya kosha (mind) - Manomaya is the kosha that contains and controls thoughts and emotions. Various aspects of yoga practice affect this kosha. For example, meditation and alternate nostril breathing can calm the mind.
- Vijnanamaya kosha (intuition) - This kosha is connected to a deeper level of intuition and inner wisdom. In yoga, meditation and meditative asanas affect this kosha.
- Anandamaya kosha (bliss) - The deepest layer, this kosha contains ecstasy, love and joy. Some traditions refer to this layer as the true Self, while others believe this kosha opens the door to the true Self.
Some traditions also refer to two additional “universal” koshas: cittamaya (consciousness) and atmamaya (Self or atman).