Updated: Oct 13, 2022
By Sara Atia
October 9, 2022
Explained through the Framework of The Five Koshas, The Eight Limbs of Yoga, The Three Gunas, and Tapas
Yoga is a systematic spiritual science. On Art of Shakti’s Facebook group (Vedic Yoga), we previously discussed removing the “mask” we wear… our sense of self who is not really us, which we try to become or project. This was inspired by my Guruji’s statement “yoga is about taking the mask off.” I stated that true radical transformation happens first within, it cannot just be outwardly projected. This is true when it comes to projecting a heightened facade, however, after further reflection I realized this is not the whole truth. We use the outer layers of our being to shed our karmas to access our true consciousness. By manipulating the physical body, we are able to step by step go deeper within to find our true essence. I will explain further.
The Five Koshas are known as sheaths (layers) of the self that reside in each person. The five koshas surround the self, one's individual consciousness, and vary from physical (gross) level to subtle planes. There is Ananaya Kosha (the physical body), Pranamaya Kosha (the energetic body), Manamaya Kosha (mental body), Vijnanamaya Kosha (wisdom body), and finally, Anandamaya Kosha (bliss body).
Physical - Annamaya Kosha - Anna means ‘food’. Physical aspects of life come and go and are consumed by another aspect of external reality. Our physical health is essential to be sensitive enough to experience deeper layers.
Energy - Pranamaya Kosha - The vital force which makes subtle vibrations related to breath, and is the driving force behind physical aspects of senses and operations of the physical body.
Mental - Manamaya Kosha - Mana means ‘mind’. It is the level of processing thoughts and emotions. It is operated through the prana of the physical body and senses, and is dependent on the physical and energetic body. It functions clearly when connected to the deeper koshas.
Wisdom - Vijnanamaya Kosha - Vijnana means ‘knowing’. It is the sheath of wisdom underneath the processing, thinking aspect of the mind.
Bliss - Anandamaya Kosha - Most interior Kosha, and first one surrounding the Atma, the eternal center of consciousness. Ananda means ‘bliss’. It is beyond the level of what an ordinary mind can experience.
At the core of the sheaths is the essence of our being, the Atma, the true self which is never born, and never dies. It is pure light shining through various layers. It is light itself, the observed and observer are seen as one.
The problem is most of us today just live in the outer layers, accepting that as our full reality. If we are on a journey to self-liberation, we strive to dig deeper, and align all these layers to be in unison with one-another, so there is no disharmony. When we outwardly live a life not aligned with our inner wisdom body, or our higher self, we suffer. Similarly, we may have our mental layer be in a very different place than what our outward actions display. To align these layers within ourselves is to know one's true essence, to awaken, and can be achieved through a practical roadmap created in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, beginning from the outer layers, and as we go deeper into meditation and practice, we slowly pierce through the deeper layers within. This method to achieve self-realization is reflected in the eight limbs of yoga, also known as the Ashtanga Yoga System. It starts from outward disciplines - individual and community ethics/disciplines, asanas, and through pranayama which bridges the outside to within, transitions to internal heightened elevated states achieved in stillness, concentration, meditation… leading to the ultimate goal, samadhi (self-realization).
The Eight Limbs of Yoga, with my own categorization through the Five Koshas is as follows:
Annamaya Kosha (Physical, Outside)
1. Yamas - community ethics (Nonstealing, Nonviolence, non hoarding, truthfulness, and self restraint.
2. Niyamas - individual disciplines (purity, contentment, dedication, self-study, and devotion.)
3. Asana - physical yoga postures, promote strength, flexibility, stabilize the nervous system, allow one to sit in stillness for long periods of time without discomfort, and exercise conscious prana movement.
Pranamaya Kosha (Bridge between the Outer - Inner world)
4. Pranayama - prana = life force, ayama = control. Prana is the essential life force which is responsible for all bodily functions. Through yogic breathing techniques, we learn how to purify and control our prana, which leads to being able to control the mind.
Manamaya Kosha (Mental Body)
5. Pratyahara - body becomes still, movement of prana is noticeable, sense withdrawal is possible. External objects are known as temporary, non-attachment is possible and true nature turns inward.
6. Dharana - state of refined concentration, with movement of prana stable. This state comes before meditation.
Vijranamaya Kosha (Wisdom Body)
7. Dyana - deep state of meditation, wholly immersed and senses are still. Individual consciousness is so still, and reflects clearly to ultimate reality, that all is one.
Anandamaya Kosha (Bliss Body)
8. Samadhi - Individual and Universal consciousness merge. Bliss in samadhi is outside normal experience and beyond words.
If you live the modern life, and your brain is overstimulated and overworked as most are, there is no feasible way to jump into successful meditation without sufficient preparation. This is why typically the average person will try to remain seated observing their thoughts, and the overwhelmingness of the congested mind will inevitably create tension with efforts to resist it, or easily become consumed by them. This is where Tapas comes into play - tapas is one of the five Niyamas (individual disciplines) which translates to self discipline, and inner-fire. In the book, The Art and Science of Vedic Counseling, David Frawley speaks about how “all the Yamas and Niyamas relate to Tapas as control of the outer self and energization of the inner or higher self.” The maintenance of discipline and ethics for how we behave alone and within society is what will allow us to build a bridge towards achieving alignment with our higher self. These disciplines help build Tapas, the purifying heat and fire that allow us This fire pierces through the 3 outer sheaths (or layers) of our being - the physical, energetic, and mental body.
GUNAS / TAPAS
The three Gunas, the three modes of material energy are categorized as tamas (inactivity), rajas (passion), sattva (purity). Although we strive to have predominant sattva guna, all three modes of energy are essential and play their different roles in our sustainability and evolution. An example: rajas drive one to yoga practice, sattva is the state of purity achieved in meditation at the end of practice, and tamas is what allows us to rest at the end of practice (shavasana). Without tamas, we would have no rest and would burn out. The issue comes when we are stuck in prominent tamas, which may manifest as darkness, oblivion, laziness, depression - this state can only be broken out through bringing in rajas, that passion, drive and motivation to purify self towards sattva. This is where the “good” ego kicks in, motivating us to work towards our higher self. Yet our culture and society is largely saturated in an overabundant energy of rajas - money, lust, attachment, greed, ambitions, which can often lead to tamas as we burn out. The direction in which rajasic energy (our passions) leads to seems to be largely dependent upon the purity of our intentions: Is it for your own evolution, the greater good? Or is it in pursuit for self interest or indulgence? The indulgence leads to tamas - darkness while the need to purify self and serve others will liberate us towards a predominantly sattvic state of being, in which our suffering will decrease.
Tapas is fire. Heat, energy, drive generated within for radical transformation. One of the strong ways we generate this is through methods in Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini Yoga, also known as Kriya Yoga, is a very powerful ancient Himalayan practice that is used to help one purify karmas, samskaras (impressions of the mind that accumulate from each lifetime), and ultimately awaken. There are many forms of awakening aside from Kundalini itself, but what is most important is that this practice can help generate heat and energetically purify ourselves from outside - in. Through mantras, pranyama, bandhas, kriya, we powerfully move through these blockages and gradually move closer towards our inner goals.
So if you can’t meditate right now… if you’re feeling tortured in your mind, thats okay. There is a remedy available to you.
By learning to practice the personal and communal ethics, creating a yogic practice, bringing in both Rajas and Tapas, that passion to ignite the inner flame of heat and transformation, we can purify ourselves to our true elevated state of being. Once these outer layers and blockages have been shed, we can effortlessly access the inner layers of our being and find the peace and bliss we have always been longing for.