Part 16 – Koshas and Chakras

Another important concept in yoga is that of koshas. These are the sheaths that comprise human existence – from the external physical body to internal awareness. As each layer peels back, the true self is more and more revealed.

Layer #1 – Annamaya Kosha

This kosha comprises the physical body only. The limbs of ashtanga it correlates to are yama and niyama (practices of self restraint and self-discipline), as well as asana, which refers to the physical pose only.

The chakra association is the muladhara, or root chakra, as all other layers grow out of this layer.

Layer #2 – Pranamaya Kosha

This sheath is made up of the vital energy of the body, and so is associated with the manipura chakra in the upper abdomen – which controls the diaphragm, responsible for the breath. This kosha is tied to the ashtanga limb of prana as well.

The pranamaya kosha (the energetic body) is further divided into five specific types of energy:

  1. Prana – focused in the heart chakra and inhaling, drawing in energy
  2. Apana – focused in the root and swadhisthana chakras, associated with the removal of waste
  3. Samana – focused on the manipura chakra, and digestion
  4. Udana – focused in the throat and third eye chakra, associated with the energy expanded out, and how we react to the outside world
  5. Vyana – the combination of all four pranas

Layer #3 – Manomaya Kosha

This kosha is the layer at which a person can make the most basic mental and emotional processes, and so resides in the swadhisthana chakra in the lower belly – an area linked to instinctual feelings and thoughts. This layer is connected to the ashtanga limbs of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (concentration)

Layer #4 – Vijnamaya Kosha

At this layer of wisdom, a person can use their mental and emotional faculties at a more advanced level, and so is linked to the ashtanga limb of dhyana (meditation). It is tied to the heart chakra.

Layer #5 – Anandamaya Kosha

This layer is the transcendental sheath, connected to the vishuddi (throat) chakra and higher). It is the state of enlightenment, samadhi.

The koshas, chakras, and types of prana all work together to provide a framework to understand the body and how energy flows throughout it. Below is a handy summary chart.

Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 7.53.36 AM


2 thoughts on “Part 16 – Koshas and Chakras

  1. Taylor,
    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much yoga theory and thought so compactly presented, and with such clarity. To write is to learn, and I understand this has been a tool to organize your own thoughts, but it’s also really useful for the rest of us. Thank you.

    It’s also the most useful way to think of chakras I’ve encountered. Despite the fact that a lot of people I know and admire talk chakra, it’s always been a word that takes me straight to New Age inauthenticity, hence skepticism; but with just one phrase — “poetic expressions of human anatomy” — you instantly dispelled my misgivings. Poetry has a way at getting at truths that direct description does not; now I understand.

    A question: you have described your sort of intellectual learning very well, but I am wondering about your physical and even spiritual experience as you’ve entered these very deep realms of yoga. How does it feel? Particularly, I’m curious how learning pranayama has impacted you.

    In gratitude for the synthesis you’ve so generously given, I’ll leave you with a couple thoughts from two of my favorite synthesizers of yogic thought, Richard Freeman and BKS Iyengar. The latter concerns how yoga itself can be best understood as an art:

    “Yoga is a living art. It is a means of moving, breathing, thinking, expanding and contracting within the complex, ever-changing landscape of the world within and around us. As with any art form, yoga nurtures seeds of aesthetic satisfaction that stimulate flashes of understanding and compassion. For many practitioners, a keen truth and meaning spontaneously arise as insight into the vast, interconnected nature of all things.
    When embodied, these aesthetic sparks and seeds of insight are experienced as feelings of resonating with our surroundings. They occur in yoga when we’re not looking for them — just as they may when we’re standing in front of a great work of art or enjoying the perfect sunset. Somehow (possibly by chance) our perception of self is released just long enough for us to feel intimately connected to everything and everyone else, and the underlying field of kind, openheartedness that is our true nature naturally arises. Clarity or conscious awareness is the fallout — the residue — from practicing yoga in this way, as an art rather than a means for attaining this or that.
    This approach to practice requires a willingness to invite and be with not knowing. It encourages us to show up ready and eager to meet whatever arises. Perhaps most important, it demands the mental and emotional agility to be comfortable with the paradox of simultaneously holding two or more points of view with equal attentiveness.”
    (from The Art of Vinyasa by Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor)

    “Most of us encounter hardship and suffering, and many our plagued by physical and emotional pain, stress, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. While we often think of these as the problems caused by the demands of modern life, human life has always had the same hardships and the same challenges — making a living, raising a family, and finding meaning and purpose.
    These have always and will always be the challenges that we as humans face. As animals, we walk the earth. As bearers of the divine essence, we are among the stars. As human beings, we are caught in the middle, seeking to reconcile the paradox of how to make our way upon the earth while striving for something more permanent and more profound. So many seek this greater Truth in the heaven, but it lays much closer than the clouds. It is within us and can be found by anyone on the inward journey.
    What most people want is the same. Most people simply want physical and mental health, understanding and wisdom, and peace and freedom. Often the means of pursuing these basic human needs come apart at the seams, as we are pulled by the different and often competing demands of human life. Yoga, as it was understood by its sages, is designed to satisfy all these human needs in a comprehensive, seamless whole. Its goal is nothing less than to attain the integrity of oneness — oneness with ourselves and as a consequence oneness with all that lays beyond ourselves. We become the harmonious microcosm in the universal macrocosm.”
    (from Light on Life by BKS Iyengar)



    1. Hi Mark, thank you for the post and for sharing the quotes. A line that stood out to me was “For many practitioners, a keen truth and meaning spontaneously arise as insight into the vast, interconnected nature of all things.” This has very much been the case for me — this experience is helping me be more at peace with the world and myself by re-framing how I see things. I’ve been working on a post that explains a little more about what I’ve learned from the spiritual side. It’s been taking me a while to synthesize, and is the type of thing I was hoping to be create while I was here. Seeing your comment, and also one from my friend Anisa, gave me a nice little energy boost to get those thoughts on paper. Spiritual insights coming soon . . . 🙂


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