According to Ayurvedic wisdom, the body is made up of many subtle layers called koshas in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the ancient language of India and is also known as the sacred language. These sheaths are layers of the body that when functioning at a healthy level work to keep our physical vessel and our mental condition in optimal health.
Each kosha has different attributes and plays a different role in our physical and mental life. We may experience wrong functioning of one or more of the koshas which can be identified with a variety of signs and symptoms. Ayurveda offers us ways to treat these subtle imbalances so that we may restore harmony to every part of ourselves.
Annamaya Kosha-The Physical Sheath
This is the kosha of our physical bodies, our “vessel” that is the container for our mind and spirit. The physical sheath is responsible for the intake of food and the digestive fire needed to assimilate the food. The function of this kosha is to keep the body healthy in the sense of warding off physical sicknesses. When experiencing a wrong functioning of the annamaya kosha, both acute and chronic illness may be experienced. Food and herbs are the healing matters of deranged annamaya kosha. To rebalance this kosha and return it to healthy functioning, a proper Ayurvedic diet is necessary as well as a regular practice of yoga asana and good hydration. All of these efforts help to maintain the health of the physical body. On a more subtle level, the physical sheath may also be affected by speech. As the mouth takes food in, the mouth also speaks words out. One’s words can have a direct effect on health and good digestion. Are the words flowing from your mouth as healthy and nourishing as the food coming in
Pranayama Kosha-The Breath Sheath
This kosha is composed of air. It relates to the physical body in the area of the lungs and heart and provides us with life energy. The pranayama kosha provides nourishment to the blood through the process of oxygenation. When functioning properly, this kosha helps protect us from the absorption of negative life energy. We may be able to recognize derangements in the breath sheath by symptoms such as disharmonic breathing patterns or nervous disorders. Life energy and positive impressions help to heal the breath sheath. To return balance to this kosha it may be necessary to practice pranayama, or breathing exercises. The practice of pranayama moves energy and life force through the body. The use of color therapy can also help to restore right impressionsand right functioning of the breath sheath. Just as with the physical sheath, positive speech plays an important part in the proper functioning of this kosha.
Manomay Kosha-The Emotional Sheath
The emotional sheath is made up of both our emotions and our imaginings. Relating to our physical bodies, manomaya kosha is located in our eyes. When this kosha is strong and functioning at high level, it helps us to avoid experiencing and getting caught up in negative emotions. Positive, nurturing relationships, healthy emotions and the act of creative release are healing balms to the out of balance emotional sheath. If you are prone to worry and gossip or are experiencing negative interactions and relationships your emotional sheath may be unbalanced. Finding a creative outlet that moves you, listening to soothing and peaceful or uplifting music is very therapeutic. In particular, the ragas or melodies of classic Indian music are considered therapeutic treatments. Meditation is also effective in treating this imbalance.
Vijnanamaya Kosha-The Mental Sheath
This sheath is composed of our thoughts as well as our will and determination. A healthy mental sheath works to help us the cycles of negative thinking as well as to aid us in the discernment of falsehood and truth. If you are having difficulty communicating and expressing yourself with words or if you are speaking untruths and unable to discern between fantasy and reality the cause may be a wrong function in vijnanamaya kosha. Positive thoughts and truth are healing to this kosha, it may be necessary to practice self-inquiry to discover this imbalance and once determined, spiritual study may be used to restore harmony. Meditation and the use of a mantra are also effective treatments for this kosha.
Anandamaya Kosha-The Bliss Sheath
The anandamaya kosha is the kosha of love and awareness. It’s the kosha that allows us to experience divine love and bliss when functioning properly and it helps up to remain in a place free from sorrow and sadness. When we experience depression, inertia and even a lack of creativity we again may need to apply self inquiry in order to identify whether the bliss sheath is imbalanced. Spiritual study and surrender of to the divine can be used to re-balance and harmonize this kosha.
With proper attunement to ourselves and the subtle layers of our body and the tools that Ayurveda provides us with, we all have what we need to live a healthy balanced life on all levels.