We practice yoga to explore deeply the nature of our being. The five koshas (layers or sheaths) are integrated aspects of our being that we explore as we practice yoga and focus our attention on these various aspects of our being. Yoga is an inward journey of self-study through these layers to our higher Self, our soul or Atman, wherein we find the gift of who we really are, and our oneness with the universe and universal consciousness (Brahman)
As we practice Hatha-Yoga-based yoga asanas (such as in Astanga or Vinyasa Flow Yoga) and pay attention to our physical bodies, our food and nourishment, we bring awareness to our annamaya kosha. We start to explore the outer, most vulnerable aspect of ourselves, our physical bodies, where deficiencies of deeper aspects manifest themselves - our muscles, bones, organs, and connective tissue.
As we bring awareness to our breath as it pulses throughout our body, we bring awareness to our pranayama kosha. We start to explore energy, prana (life force), as it flows through our physical bodies, our arteries and veins and the other various integrated systems of our bodies - our lymphatic, nervous, hormonal, and circulatory systems. We explore various energy centers of our bodies, chakras, that are located along lines of energy pathways, nadis.
As we observe our thoughts and the space between our thoughts, we bring awareness to the more subtle patterns of our bodies and our ability to observe these patterns, these thoughts and feelings, perceptions and behaviors. We start to explore the subconscious aspects of our past experiences and stored information, our manomaya kosha. More meditative practices of yoga, like Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, help us access and explore this deeper layer. When we engage with our subconscious body, accessed through emotional aspects of our being, we enter the doorway (and see through the veil of illusion) to our spirituality.
As we pay attention to our ability to observe and question truths with clarity, we bring intention to the choices we make in life. We start to explore wisdom and how we use our knowledge; we are exploring our vijnanamaya kosha. We explore our morals, our ethics, our intellect, and take responsibility for our inner growth and acquisition of knowledge. We explore who we are. We explore our spirituality. We practice Jnana-Yoga - the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom through study of sacred texts and literature.
As we pay attention to our deeper, more expansive relationships in this world, we bring awareness to our consciousness, interconnectedness, and heartfelt feelings of deep happiness and joy, contentment, peace, attunement and tranquility. Here, we explore our most subtle and true nature, anandamaya kosha, even if for only short periods of time at a time. We practice Karma Yoga - the yoga of selfless service, and Bhakti Yoga - the yoga of love and devotion. And we experience Samadhi - the eighth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (Raja Yoga), wherein we find integration with each other and with pure Oneness. We find unity as the relationship of Atman (our inner Self, our soul) and Brahman (Universal consciousness) is realized.
Modern neuroscientists point to our consciousness as being central to our reality. As we tune into our consciousness, we empower ourselves to live the lives we are each meant to live, our dharma, and move beyond our karma, the sum of our past experiences. We empower ourselves to move beyond fear, desire, anger, and pride; and move with courage towards acceptance, love, joy, and peace.
Starting with a practice intended to explore our physical existence, we find a pathway to a deeper understanding of who we are. The koshas provide a map for this journey inwards.