In the Yoga tradition, there are five bodies. Think of this as one of those holiday gift boxes; that has a series of smaller boxes inside. Each box has a little bit of room between its edges and the inner portion of the box that houses it. These are referred to has the Koshas in Sanskrit. In English, it means sheaths because each one fits within the next like a sword in a scabbard.
Over the next five weeks, we will seek to decode what each of these sheaths represents and what that means to us as yogis, The 1st body is the physical body, Annamaya Kosha, which will be the focus of this post. The 2nd body is energetic the Pranamaya Kosha. The 3rd body is mental or intellect, Manomaya Kosha. The 4th is Wisdom the Vijnanamaya Kosha. The 5th is bliss the Anandamaya kosha. All of these sheaths create a space between us the self or Atman, ultimate reality or real self.
Yoga was first embraced by the west through the asana practice which is the physical practice of taking shapes with your body. The early pioneers of teaching yoga to the masses abandoned much of the philosophy and focused on the movement with the hopes; the American public would dig deeper and go on a spiritual quest inspired by the movement. Which later did happen in the 1960s on a grander scale, but most of our practice today focuses on this outer sheath.
The first sheath is the Annamaya Kosha which translates into made of food. This is your physical body. The bones, muscle, fat, ligaments, skin, organs, and everything else that comprises your physical being. The food body is concrete it houses your sensations, this is the Kosha easiest to observe and experience. When we first start to practice yoga, we tend to focus primarily on the physical shapes we are taking. It takes time to become aware of the subtle bodies within.
This is my take on this sheath, and I do hope you look deeper and see what feels true for you. Many say that we consider our physical body to be us and through studying the sheaths we become aware of how it is only a vehicle. Though that may be true, I often find many of my students identify their physical body as other. That their mind is one thing and their body, well it’s just kind of like a commuter car to get them from point A to point B. There is a disconnect.
The Taittiriya Upanishad says “Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.”
This to me means, there is an importance to the physical body. As we know from studying the 4 Noble Truths that everything is temporary and impermanent, we also know this life is the same. We only get this body once and being completely mindful, and ditching embodiment won’t get us any closer to enlightenment.
We have to care for this body and remember that this is a gift. If you believe nothing exists beyond this life, you only get this body and life experience once. Your body allows you to move in various shapes, to taste flavors, to experience emotions, to smell wonderful aromas, to touch each other, to see beautiful sights. Without your physical body you would have none of that, and though it is all fleeting, it also gives you the importance in the now. Without your physical body, you also wouldn’t have the ability to find your dharma and follow your path.
If you believe in reincarnation, you only get this body and life experience once, the next time you come back, it will be in a different body and different time. If you believe in heaven, you only get this body once and only get a physical body once. So discounting this body as merely a vehicle creates a greater disconnect to our existence and the purpose of the sheaths. As well as partially invalidates the sheaths or the various depths of our existence.
So remember next time you find negative self-talk arising regarding your body, or forget that your meat suit is a big part of your very existence, pause and express gratitude to your Annamaya Kosha.