Definition - What does Pancha Kosha mean?
Derived from the Sanskrit terms pancha, meaning "five" and kosha meaning "sheath" pancha kosha refers to the concept in yoga philosophy that there are five layers of awareness through which all experience is filtered.
At the center of these five layers is atman, otherwise known as the true self. An individual’s unique perspective of reality is believed to come from identification with each of the five koshas, and the path of yoga can help to heighten understanding and awareness of these sheaths.
Since these layers encompass all aspects of existence, from gross to transcendental, pancha kosha also provides a model through which physical, psychological and energetic imbalances can be addressed.
Wellbeing is said to arise when all five sheaths are integrated and balanced, a state in which the veil of maya (illusion) is lifted and any sense of separation between atman and brahman (universal consciousness) is dissolved.
Yogapedia explains Pancha Kosha
The concept of pancha kosha originated from Taittiriya Upanishad, a Vedic era Sanskrit text embedded within the Yajurveda. The classical Upanishads were concerned with addressing the nature of the self and one's relationship to the universe, and pancha kosha is thought to be one of the earliest conceptualizations of the human being.
The description of pancha kosha in Taittiriya Upanishad is highly symbolic; the fuller exposition as taught in the yoga tradition comes from later Vedantic texts such as Sankara’s Vivekacudamani or Vedantasara of Sadananda.
Central to Vedantic philosophy, the concepts of brahman and atman had a key influence on the development of the kosha model. A gradual process of moving inward through the five sheaths and resolving imbalances is believed to reveal a true understanding of the nature of the self as one with universal consciousness.
The five sheaths of pancha kosha are:
Annamaya kosha (the food sheath) - the outermost kosha, referring to the physical body which needs food and nourishment to thrive. It is believed to be the most vulnerable kosha, since issues with the physical body can manifest as imbalances in the other layers. Asana practice, dietary changes and sleep quality all impact the annamaya kosha.
Pranamaya kosha (the sheath of vital life force energy) - closely connected with annamaya kosha, this sheath is responsible for animating the physical body. Pranamaya kosha is composed of prana (life force energy) and is greatly influenced by pranayama (breathwork).
Manomaya kosha (the mental or psychological sheath) - referring to the aspect of the mind which governs perception of the world. Manomaya kosha is where one's sense of Self develops, along with the habits of thinking that influence behaviour. Mindfulness is the most effective way of influencing the manomaya kosha.
Vijnanamaya kosha (the intellect sheath) - this sheath is the seat of intuition, connected to inner wisdom and deeper states of consciousness. It is also responsible for inner growth and authenticity, and is impacted by all aspects of yoga.
Anandamaya kosha (the bliss sheath) - otherwise known as the bliss body, this kosha is the closest to atman. It transcends the logical, thinking mind, providing an experience of unity with universal consciousness. Daily meditation can help to connect practitioners with anandamaya kosha.
Since pancha kosha encompasses all aspects of being, Yoga therapy uses the kosha model as a diagnostic tool. As such, an individual can be viewed holistically rather than through a more traditional one-dimensional approach to treatment.
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