Panchamaya Koshas ~ The Five Sheaths
This knowledge is taken from Taittiriya Upanishad. It is said there, that our true nature is
hidden from our perception because of the five sheaths which enclose it.
The first yoga body, Annamaya Kosha, literally means “body sheath made of food, which is an illusion”. This is our physical body. The physical is created and sustained by food. If the quality of food is high, the illusory nature of the body is more readily perceived. This is one reason why fresh and seasonal food such as fruits and vegetables are recommended as a yogic diet. Eating fresh food prepared immediately before eating results in increased vitality available to nurture this “food body”. When we eat overcooked food, stale food, or even animals the food body then becomes de-vitalized and has difficulty refining the food into a quality necessary to be converted into the needs of the second body.
The second body, which is hidden by a second sheath literally means, the “body sheath made of Prana which is an illusion”. This subtle body’s anatomy is made of energy channels called nadis, which terminate in spinning energy centres called chakras. The word chakra means wheel, implying an ever-spinning centre of activity. The subtle body is composed of our senses and emotional states. The energy flowing through these channels is sensory input from the five gross senses and the subtler senses associated with the mind. Hence these vortices and channels are always active during our waking state seeking sensory and emotional stimulation. When we are fed beautiful sense impressions – art, nature, live vibrant colorful aromatic food – they can be converted into the”prana” which keeps the body healthy. From this stimuli, the chakras become open and functional. When we are not interested, repulsed or fall asleep, the chakra’s activity slows down or stops. The energies withdraw from the outer world and become replenished provided they can assimilate the sensory input provided. With negative input – violent movies, stale odours, and chemical food – there is less vitality available to be converted to prana.
The third body literally means, the “body sheath made of thought, which is an illusion”. This body is the body of the mind. This body is made up of the refinements produced from the first two bodies as well as its own capacity to generate positive uplifting thoughts. When thoughts are beneficial, the mind is content and at peace. From this, more positivity is generated and the mind refreshes itself. The nature of this body is thought. Mantra can transform the mind to a higher level of perception and cognition. Mantra literally means “the word which when contemplated transforms the mind”. Mantras given properly as a meal prepared lovingly will plug the mind into a higher and more creative mind, which thinks of the welfare of others.
The fourth body literally means, “the body sheath made of wisdom, which is an illusion”. This body is made of transcendent thoughts. It is awareness that is free of self-centeredness. It is concerned for the welfare of all. This is generated by a naturally-arising state of detachment from the grosser bodies. This body knows it is not the physical food body; therefore, one established in this awareness is indifferent to what happens to the body. For what happens to the physical body does not change the state of wisdom. Wisdom is the beginning of contact with transcendence. This state is accessed by meditation, reflection, and giving it proper food. The proper food is good company, spiritual literature, and selfless service to others. By regular diet of this nutritious food, the body of wisdom becomes more active and can fend off periods of unwholesome contact.
The fifth body literally means, the “body sheath of bliss, which is an illusion”. This body is said to be as small as a mustard seed, seated in the secret chamber of the interior heart and to the right of the physical heart. This body is composed of happiness. It does not need anything to generate its happiness, as that is its natural state. The beneficial foods given to the four grosser bodies will be refined into the food, which makes up this body. But also it is by nature joyful. And that is not the end. According to Yoga philosophy there is hidden beyond this body the Truth of who You are.
– Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy, Mukunda Stiles, New Age Books.