One of the first realizations I had during my spiritual awakening is that there’s much more to life than what meets the eye. And to validate that notion, even after all these years, I’ve come across a fascinating and deeply metaphysical subject – the subtle body.
While exploring it, not much is visible to the naked eye. It’s like an iceberg!
Yet, as we go deeper and underneath each layer, we realize how complicated and beautiful we are.
Studying the subtle body is a gateway into studying the soul and attaining a deeper self-awareness.
Let’s explore the various layers, called Koshas, and their containers, namely – the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body. We will then talk about how to transcend each of these layers and work our way towards enlightenment.
What are the 3 different bodies?
Our soul comprises of five distinct layers, and each layer resides in a type of ‘body’, or a container. We know these as:
- Gross Body (visible container);
- Subtle Body (experiential container – not to be seen but meant to be felt);
- Causal Body (existential container – the cause for our effects).
Each body stores different layers, called Koshas. These are stacked one inside another, like a matryoshka doll!
While the Gross Body and Causal Body have one layer each, the Subtle Body which resides in between these two Bodies has the most layers (three).
We’ll talk about each body and its koshas in detail now. Let’s start from the top, from the Gross Body.
Understanding the 5 Koshas
Let’s take care of a nuance real quick – the nomenclature. When you read their names at first, don’t be shaken by their complexity! Look closely and you’ll notice that each name has a repetitive part –maya kosha.
Koshas, or sheaths/layers, represent different qualities that keep getting subtler, and go deeper and deeper, until we access our soul.
Maya means illusion. Each layer is labelled an illusion, as a simple reminder that they are meant to be transcended.
You’ll also notice some other sanskrit words. This is largely because all this knowledge was passed on by Ancient sages from India. While the other stuff can be translated, the sanskrit meaning is the right way to understand the depth of their meaning (as is true for all words when written in their original text).
That said, let’s move on to the first layer.
#1 – Annamaya Kosha, The Food Body
Anna in Sanskrit means grain or food.
It represents the most solid aspect – the physical body. The outer layer is called the Gross Body, which we can see, touch. And where all our other senses reside.
The other attributes of the annamaya kosha include digestion, organs, bones and other physicality. So the Gross Body relates to our ability to interact with our external environment, and to participate in day-to-day life by consuming, reproducing, excreting, etc.
It’s also interesting to know that the 3 doshas (pitta, vata and kapha) of your body are connected to the outermost layer. Since I haven’t talked about the Doshas yet, here’s a quick resource from Yoga Journal that explains the basics.
#2 – Pranamaya Kosha, The Life Force Body
This is where the Subtle Body begins. Its first layer, the pranamaya kosha comprises of the subtler aspects like:
- Prana Vayus, etc.
This is typically the time skeptics start questioning what’s up, because not much remains visible. And yet there’s so much wonder around ideas like Chakra Balancing, Nadi Shuddhi and Pranayama.
As explained in the ancient eastern scriptures, prana, chi, or life force energy flows through our body through this second sheath. Transcending it means that are no longer locked in the energy centers or points – that we’re able to experience expansiveness and oneness.
#3 – Manomaya Kosha, The Lower Mind
Yes, there are two minds – lower and higher. And the manomaya kosha marks the conscious mind. Which Michael Singer lovingly calls the ‘Monkey Mind’.
In this layer, we experience the thoughts of our conscious mind during meditatoin. And at the time, it drives us crazy! That’s only because we’re just learning to tap into that layer, and it’ll need a little self-control to work our way around it.
The manomaya kosha also reflect the three gunas or qualities, namely Rajas, Tamas and Satva. I’ll talk about this too in depth someday, but here’s another quick resource you can read till then to learn more about the three gunas.
#4 – Vijnanamaya Kosha, The Upper Mind
We then move to the fourth layer, and the third in our subtle body. The vijnanamaya kosha is the sheath of wisdom and inner knowledge.
Aka, the subconscious mind as it pulls in profound truths, realizations and spiritual resources from the depths of the Universe!
This is the point where once we’ve reached, we can solve any problem. It’s the answer to the new agey saying, “all the answers are within you”.
Yup, here. Those answers are within this layer. But why would you want to transcend it? Good question. Because our subconscious mind also holds our karmic impressions.
This is also where your past lives are stored, your old wounds and traumas. We need to transcend all of that. How? We’ll get to that in the next section.
#5 – Anandmaya Kosha, The Soul
It makes sense that we are not our thoughts, emotions or any of the other layers above. But are we not our soul? You might even ask if the soul is an illusion. Afterall, the translation of this layer, bliss-illusion sheath seems to say so. Your introspection isn’t futile!
Going deeper into our metaphysical truth, yes, in a sense the concept of soul is illusionary too. Because the soul is not separate from the Universe. It’s only in our physical form that we feel separation and duality.
So once we have reached awareness of this layer, we have attained enlightenment. What next then? Let’s talk about it in the following section.
How to Transcend Each Kosha
Having laid out that foundation, here’s a list of things you can do to work on lightening your association with each layer of the subtle body.
Freeing The Annamaya Kosha
The suggestions involved in liberating oneself from the ties of the Annamaya Kosha are categorized as:
- Strengthening the physical body (being physically healthy);
- Nurturing and serving the Gross Body like a temple;
- Gaining self-control over the physical body.
Let’s dig into just some of the ways we can achieve this.
#1 – Satvik eating
In Eastern culture, monks and sages emphasize on the practice of eating right in order to gain self-control over the tongue. And thus liberate that illusory ‘annamaya‘ that ties us to the physical aspect of our self through taste.
Satvik or morally-sound eating comprises of a number of rules.
To help get you started with the practice of clean eating, take a look at these pointers:
- Eating foods that are closer to nature and can thus energize your body better versus the spike-inducing sugary foods or beverages;
- NOT mixing your food and beverage in the same meal (ideally drink water 30 minutes before or after your meal);
- Practicing Intermittent Fasting, that is limiting the duration of the day you spend eating;
- Controlling the portion sizes and eating mindfully;
- Limiting the number of times you eat per day to 2 or atmost 3 meals (which eliminates snacking for sure);
- Eating freshly cooked food (which means no preservatives or packed meals);
- Following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
#2 – Hatha yoga
Hatha yoga comprises of asanas, that bring balance and strength to our physical body.
If you’re comfortable learning online, from my own personal usage, I can recommend the resources from the website called Yoga International.
And if you use this link to sign up, you’ll get a free 30-days trial along with a complimentary e-course about Yoga Therapy. It’s all on me for the first month, so go ahead and maximize your Hatha Yoga (as well as a bunch of other yogic practices). 🙂
#3 – Balancing your doshas
You may have gotten a glimpse if you checked out the resource from Yoga Journal above. But if not, here’s what you should know a bit about the doshas.
There are three doshas which reflect our body’s general tendency, so, you could either be a –
- Pita Dosha, if you are intense, feisty, get heated up when agitated, and have a generally good sense of digestion.
- Kapha Dosha, if you are laid back, have a larger build and tend to experience great sadness when you’re not your best self.
- Vata Dosha, if you’re a multitasker, have a medium build, agile in movement and light.
You could also be a combination of two or all, so it’s important to identify your type, and eat the right foods for your body type.
There are a bunch of online quizzes that you can take. I haven’t found one that works accurately for everyone, so I can’t really recommend anything yet.
But try to see the analysis and see what resonates most with you. And then, work on the underlying emotions that originate from a lack of balance of your doshas, as mentioned above.
Freeing The Pranamaya Kosha
Prana, or Chi energy is called the vital life force. When we breath, prana rides on top of the air. So this layer, the Pranamaya Kosha associates with our vitality and general wellness.
The various ways in which you could make the effect of your pranamaya kosha lighter, is by working with the prana energy through a number of self-healing practices. Here are just three tips to get you started.
#1 – Pranayama
Working with your breath is not just something the eastern culture promotes, but something modern therapists emphasize too.
Pranayama, literally meaning control over one’s inhale and exhale, is a true art! If you’ve ever attended a guided meditation, you’ll know how difficult it is to just ‘observe your breath’.
But, with a little bit of conscious effort, we can work to achieve the following basic pointers and improve the quality of our breathing:
- In day-to-day life, always inhale and exhale at a 1:1 ratio. Only rarely will certain practices advise you to maintain a different ratio.
- Always breathe in and out through your nostrils, unless stated otherwise in some practice. The mouth is infamous for taking in too much air too fast, and not helping the diaphragm expand in enough time.
- Breathe deeper and slower. When that happens, you can immediately dissipate anxiety. Shallow and rapid breathing is a trigger for anxiety.
Doing all this, we can immediately feel how much more vitalized we are. Why? Because the prana, which rides on the air we breath, is also going deeper and deeper into our being.
#2 – Mudras
Mudras, another Sanskrit word, literally translates to hand gestures. And how do they work?
Through different finger and hand placements, we can channel the energy to flow in our desired ways. These are typically paired with meditation, and the most common one which you probably already know, is the one in the image below!
At some point, as I venture deeper into mudras myself, I will write about it. But till then, I’ll point you to Deepak Chopra’s blog for more insight on some common ones you can use, and their purpose.
#3 – Chakras
This is one of the tools in this blog post that your girl offers in-house 🙂
I love talking about the chakra system, and have an exciting workshop I conduct online for anyone that’s interested. If you want to learn chakra balancing in a fun and practical way, feel free to reach out!
Freeing The Manomaya Kosha
Work with your thoughts in the lower mind to consciously release blocks from the manomaya kosha. Here are some recommendations to get you started.
#1 – Journaling
So simple? Really? Ah, not quite, my dear friend. Although journaling is a brilliant way to introspect your thoughts, its important to ask yourselves the right questions, and to reflect deeper with each query.
I use higher self journalling and inner child dialogue with my clients and the results blow our minds away, every single time! Journaling is such a powerful tool into the subconscious.
If only you know where to begin.
Don’t worry, I’m not leaving your side here! Here are 7 journaling ideas for self-healing to get you started.
Pssst…. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter and download 30 journaling prompts for the inner child, shadow self and practicing gratitude.
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#2 – Hypnotherapy
There’s so much stigma around hypnotherapy. And yet, we don’t realize that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Nobody can take over your mind, or body. You cannot be imprisoned or ‘made to do’ something.
Which means that whenever we follow someone’s suggestion, we are volunteering to take an action that they told us to do. If we reject their suggestion, we discard the ‘hypnosis’.
Hypnotherapy is NOT scary. As a matter of fact the first and free form of hypnotherapy that you can take, is listen to a guided meditation on Youtube!
And how is hypnotherapy useful? Because while meditation does involve sitting down with our thoughts, sometimes its nicer to redirect those thoughts to recover specific wounds and heal them. There are two great modalities of hypnotherapy to explore:
But don’t get stuck there! Remember, we’re only halfway through our healing. After this, we have two more sheaths to transcend. And with them, we will be transcending the illusion of past, present and future.
#3 – Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
Neurolinguistic Programming used to be an optional subject in college that I never bothered to take. So it amuses me how it followed me into my journey after all these years!
The basic concept of NLP, is to observe your limiting thoughts and recreate better, more meaningful neurolinguistic responses, using fun and creative tools. It is known to takeaway deep-seeded beliefs in minutes!
I use NLP in my own day-to-day life, as well as a part of my coaching. So I’d be happy to help you integrate it into your own life! Feel free to get in touch.
Freeing The Vijnanamaya Kosha, The Upper Mind
#1 – Meditate on the Heart Center
As the Upanishads call it, the Purusha element (eternal), which resides in your heart-center, the size of a thumb.
In order to move from this first suggestion, to step #2, tapping into inner wisdom, it’s essential to be acquainted with your inner wisdom.
And the best way, as Osho says, it to be headless.
In other words, now that we’ve moved deeper and away from our manomaya kosha, we need to feel from our heart. Not think from the head, when meeting the inner purusha.
The Heartfulness Meditation is a beautiful way to do that. I’ve been a practitioner on and off over the last year, and have experienced a shift within, everytime I participate in the practice.
#2- Tap Into Your Own Wisdom
Okay, so now that you understand the essence of processing all the layers above, let’s focus on the upper mind. And how to tap into its wisdom.
At first when we sit down to meditate, it can seem like you’re unsuccessful simply because the noise from the conscious mind has become so apparent. It’s not that your mind has a lot of thoughts all of a sudden. You’ve just become aware, that your mind has a lot of thoughts!
But, with persistence and perseverance, you might have sudden AHA moments every now and then. Like that’s why your friend was mad at you, or that’s why your stubborn refuses to listen to you.
Once you start having those AHA moments, you are becoming aware of the vijnanamaya kosha.
And being able to sit down in the ocean of thoughts, and guiding ourselves towards a single-pointed level of concentration (called dhyana) doesn’t have to be rocket-science!
But if you are struggling and need just a little bit of direction, you can explore my other recommended workshop, called Designing Your Own Meditation Practice.
#3 – Walk your truth
Okay, so now you’ve been sitting down and meditating quite a bit. You even receive these insights ever so often. What now?
The more you practice inner awareness and FOLLOW those profound insights that come to you out of nowhere, the stronger they’ll become. Loosening the strength of the vijnanamaya kosha means learning how to unmask ourselves and let go of all limitations of the subtle body that are ‘defining’.
There’s an exciting saying that goes around the spiritual community.
The more authentic you are with your words and actions, the more you can make things come true in the real world. No wonder people were scared from getting cursed by sages back in the day. It might just happen, they knew!
At first, walking our truth can be counterintuitive because it goes against our conditioning. It may ask us to stop walking with the herd, to think out of the box, to even leave a job.
And yet, meditation is not enough for us to become who we are. We need to follow our own inner wisdom and bring that radiant Self out. Till then, we’re just going to remain stuck in the same dilemma.
Anandmaya Kosha, The Soul
If we’ve reached this far, the only thing need be is to shed the body.
As the story goes, during Buddha’s time on Earth spreading the word of the Ultimate Way, many monks that attained enlightenment began committing suicide. They considered life so futile once they understood that they weren’t this body, that they couldn’t bare to be with it a moment longer.
This brought a lot of grief to Buddha, because his message hadn’t been rightly absorbed. He was the embodiment of oneness within the body, and his objective was to show to the world that it was possible for them too.
For the remainder of our time here, we must step into our higher calling and help spread the message of spiritual truth to mankind.
And we don’t have to wait till enlightenment to begin. We can start now, start with the experiences and knowledge we have. Making such a choice can make us a true Boddhisatva, he who puts his nirvana at hold for the greater good.
Learning about the subtle body can be a roadmap to self-healing. Take your time to gain self-control over all layers. But it take it one step at a time. And eventually, as these layers become lighter, you will notice yourself automatically experiencing detachment.
I hope you can see now that working on the subtle body is our way towards enlightenment. So what are you waiting for? Enlightenment, here we come! 🙂