Yoga and the Koshas: A Holistic Approach to Well-being

Article At A Glance

Yoga’s koshas provide a framework for understanding the multiple layers of being human—physical, energetic, mental/emotional, and spiritual. These layers are all connected and influence and support the others. This holistic perspective explores all aspects of yourself to support a deeper understanding of health and well-being. With a wider lens, you approach healing from a more comprehensive standpoint.

As a physical therapist, a significant portion of my clients come to me seeking relief from physical pain or dysfunction. Through a conversation and a series of tests, I come up with potential sources of their symptoms and work with them on a plan of care.

Even seemingly straightforward cases may reveal complexities in terms of recovery. We are complex individuals with thoughts, perspectives, habits, and patterns.  Maybe you’re one of those people with a long list of ailments who, on paper, should have a significant disability. You trudge on with some dysfunction but remarkably bounce back from setbacks after just a few treatments. 

The human body is remarkable, capable of extraordinary feats and even healing itself. But your physical well-being is not separate from the rest of you. The impact of pain or dysfunction moves beyond your physical body and can affect the quality of your breath, your emotions, your mental well-being, and your body’s capacity to heal.

Yoga and the Koshas: Beyond the Physical Body

Creative representation of the five energy subtle bodies of man as a covering of the Atman, or Yoga's five Koshas.In yoga philosophy, there’s a concept called the Kosha model. This model provides a framework for understanding the multiple layers of being human. This model views the physical aspect of ourselves as just one layer of who we are. These layers are all connected and influence and support the others.

Injury, trauma, pain, and dysfunction may manifest in the physical body, making it seemingly appropriate to focus there, but it’s impossible to separate one part of yourself from another. 

A holistic perspective explores all aspects of yourself to support a deeper understanding of health and well-being. With a wider lens, you approach healing from a more comprehensive standpoint.

The Kosha Model  

Following is an introduction to yoga’s koshas.  As you read on, consider moments in your life when you’ve had pain or injury to see if healing for you involved one or more of these five layers.

1. Annamaya Kosha: Your Physical Layer

Diverse people practicing or exercising with Warrior 2 or Virabhadrasana 2 yoga pose.

In Sanskrit (the language of yoga), the physical body layer is called Anamaya kosha. This includes any tangible part of what gives you shape and form. How you treat your body and what you put into it significantly affects this layer. To care for your body, care about your body. This means seeking the right care, eating healthy foods, proper hydration, exercising, and rest. 

Engaging in practices such as guided relaxation, yoga, or other forms of mind-body awareness allows you to develop a deeper understanding of how your internal and external environment impacts your emotional and physical well-being.

2. Pranamaya Kosha: Your Energy Layer

Breath practices are part of exploring life in the 5 Koshas model.

Your breath gives you energy and life. Pranamaya kosha means extension of life force. As you breathe, without thinking about it, the oxygen travels to your cells and body to keep you alive. The way you breathe can change with or without your control. If you feel surprised or anxious, your breath stops or speeds up; if you feel deep relaxation and peace, your breath deepens or slows down. The connection between your physiology and mental state is clear. This brings us to the next layer —your mind.

3. Manomaya Kosha: Your Mental Layer

Young woman lying in Savasana Pose, a pose for deep rest and reflection.

Manomaya kosha, referred to in Sanskrit, encompasses thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and psychological patterns. Your state of mind can profoundly impact your health, including how you perceive and experience pain. Consider the effects of perpetual stress or emotions like fear and anxiety on your body, mind, and breath. Stress and negative thoughts can disrupt breathing, leading to muscle tension and pain.

As you nurture more positive thinking, manage stress, and prioritize self-care (which may include seeking professional therapy), you gain more tools for staying well. With practice, navigating life’s ups and downs successfully becomes easier.

4. Vijnanamaya Kosha: Your Wisdom Layer

Rear view of a group of body-positive friendly yogi women doing fitness and yoga together in moutain retreat.

Vijnanamaya kosha represents your higher consciousness and spiritual connection. In pain or dysfunction, this layer helps you find a deeper meaning behind your condition. You may realize the need to balance your drive and recognize when you are pushing too hard. Or maybe you’ll acknowledge others are facing far more significant challenges, providing you with perspective and hope.

If you feel anxious or worried, activities such as journaling, walks, or introspection may help you sort through your feelings and process them. Over time, you’ll see the hidden lessons or growth opportunities presented through circumstance. These moments of self-reflection and growth build resilience and inner peace, which help you transcend a mindset of resistance or victimhood. 

We gain wisdom through the highs and lows of life, along with a genuine willingness to learn and grow. With an open mind, gratitude, and the ability to appreciate the present moment in light of experience and potential alternative paths, you open yourself to a state of peace and contentment — the next layer.

5. Anandamaya Kosha: Your Spiritual Layer

Silhouette of woman against starry sky meditating in lotus pose. 3D rendering concept of yoga and the 5 Koshas especially the spirtual Kosha.

Your spiritual layer, known as bliss or Anandamaya kosha, represents the innermost essence of who you are. It transcends the fluctuations of the external world. You won’t think yourself into bliss. Moments of peace and joy happen spontaneously when you are in the moment, free from attachments and desires for things to be different.

It’s when you feel connected to something greater than yourself. As you cultivate wisdom and navigate life’s challenges with grace and acceptance, you find more profound meaning and purpose in your life. This opens the door to more accessible moments of joy, allowing you to experience peace, contentment, and fulfillment despite circumstances.

The Koshas Offer a Comprehensive Approach to Wellness

By considering yoga’s koshas, you approach healing, wellness, and self-care comprehensively, addressing all aspects of who you are. Your physical body is worthy of attention and care, but it is just one piece of what makes you whole.

Reprinted with permission from Christine Carr/TwoRiversPhysicalTherapyandWellness.
christine carr

Christine Carr, c-IAYT, eRYT 500 has been a physical therapist for over 20 years.  In her youth, she was constantly hurting herself. This motivated her to learn how to recover from injury and heal herself, naturally.   She loves to learn.  Studying the human body, and mind and how they function together is exciting to her.  She has a diverse academic background with experience that includes orthopedics, yoga, and functional medicine.  She enjoys teaching others how to recover from injury, manage their condition, and improve their function and performance.  

Christine enjoys any and all sports available in this beautiful area or kicking back with a good book in her spare time.  She has recently started gardening, though she said she has much to learn!

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