Koshas are often referred to as layers. This is a helpful image for understanding this inner landscape of the self: the first layer is the most accessible and the innermost layer is much more subtle. As our yoga practice becomes deeper, it is helpful to have a guide to the contemplative aspects of ourselves.
The outer layer is the annamaya kosha. This is our physical body, and one that we are aware of when we experience physical sensations. We feed this body with nutrition and with movement. We also feed ourselves with breath, bringing us to the pranamaya kosha. This breath-body is also our life force. This kosha works on both a physiological and a subtle level. We bring the physical body and the breath body together in our yoga practice. The third layer is the manomaya kosha. It is related to the nervous system and its expression of thought and awareness. When we slow our practice down and pay attention to the breath, we become aware of thoughts as they arise. Going back again and again to the point of focus helps us to develop a sense of the first three koshas (body, breath, mind).
The fourth layer is the vijnanamaya kosha. A sense of this layer emerges as we move deeper into a contemplative consciousness of ourselves in our first three koshas. This is sometimes referred to as the layer of wisdom. It is where we are able to observe as a witness to our experience. Then the deepest layer, the anandamaya kosha, when we experience integration – a feeling of wholeness and contentment.
The map of the layers is one of self-study, getting to know and accept your own experience, rather than a goal-oriented checklist of progression. Bring your awareness to the moment-to-moment experience on your yoga mat and navigate the map of yourself!