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The Koshas

F 'or millennia yogis have been saying that man's being extends far beyond what the eye can perceive. Of course, everyone is aware of themselves through the capacity to think and cognize. But our existence is far more than matter and intellect. If we were able to experience the body and mind through our subtle eyes, if we could perceive the body behind the body and the mind behind the mind, what would we see?

First of all we would see the underlying energy structure, which gives life to the physical body. Even subtler still we would perceive the whole process being motivated by mind and thought. Behind that mind we would see the operation of a higher type of mind, what we call intuition. And beyond intuition we would experience nothing but the absolute reality of our existence.

The five sheaths Swara yoga describes man as being composed of five areas of existence, termed the pancha koshas. The general translation of kosha is sheath, and pancha means five. Each kosha is indicative of a particular sphere of existence and maya means 'composed of. Annamaya kosha , the first sheath, is composed of anna or food. It is the physical body and brain. Pranamaya kosha, the second kosha, is composed of prana. Manomaya kosha, the third, is composed of manas or mind. Vijnanamaya

kosha, the fourth, is composed of inner knowledge or intuition. Anandamaya kosha is the sublime experience of ananda or bliss.

Kosha or Body





Experienced as

Armamaya Kosha (food body)

Pranamaya Kosha (pranic body)





Awareness of physical body

Awareness of physiological functions, e.g. digestion, circulation

Manomaya Kosha (mental body)



Awareness of mental and emotional processes

Vijnanamaya Kosha (intuitive body)



Awareness of psychic and casual dimensions

Anandamaya Kosha (bliss body)

Unconscious Mind to



Deep Sleep/ Meditative Awareness




The four categories of mind - conscious, subconscious, unconscious and superconscious, are experienced in the various koshas. Each capacity of mind and body is composed from the material of that kosha.

All the koshas are intricately connected and they continually influence and interact with one another. Pranamaya kosha is the intermediate link between conscious and subconscious. Vijnanamaya kosha is the link between subconscious and unconscious. These five koshas constitute every human being; the physical body is only a fraction of our total range of experience.

In swara yoga, by feeling the physical breath in the nose and acting in accordance with the flow of the swara, you are utilizing the conscious mind and physical body or annamaya kosha. Manipulating the breath and pranic flow and increasing its capacity stimulates pranamaya kosha. The practice of concentration utilizes manomaya kosha. Doing trataka on the tattwa yantras awakens vijnanamaya kosha. But to influence anandamaya kosha there is really no meditation necessary because in this kosha there is only a trace of awareness and no possibility of functioning.

The first stage of swara yoga awakens your awareness of pranamaya kosha, the direct link between mind and body, annamaya and manomaya kosha, and takes you into the subtler reams of existence. Later, the awareness moves into manomaya and vijnanamaya kosha as the practices start to unfold.

Evolution through the koshas

During the different incarnations, the consciousness has been evolving simultaneously with the mental and physical capacities through which it experiences. Here we are not referring to Darwin’s theory of the natural evolution of the species and the animal body. Evolution here means the ascent and expansion of consciousness. By means of matter the consciousness evolves and goes beyond. Thus evolution is a process of transformation. In the primal stages, life is dependent on the laws of nature, but once we come into the sphere of human experience a new faculty of conscious awareness opens up. It is this awareness which enables us to speed up the process of our evolution. Swara yoga is very important in this process because it enables us to enter the higher realms of vibration much more quickly.

In the course of time, matter evolves into energy and then into pure consciousness. Energy is the evolved form of matter. It is a slow, continual process as far as the natural evolution of the human body is concerned. Millions of years ago the human form was virtually the same as it is today. We

may have been a little taller, shorter, fatter or thinner, depending on environmental conditions. Of course, the human brain was much smaller then, bul still it has not yet fully evolved because, as we know, only a minute portion of it is in conscious operation, the other nine-tenths are waiting to be awakened.

It is a physiological fact that the instinctive portion of the brain is in constant use, whereas the higher frontal region is seldom used. It is the purpose of swara yoga to activate these dormant centres. In terms of evolution, our minds are still absorbed in annamaya kosha, the realm of matter. But the higher brain centres penetrate into the subtler koshas. So far, science knows little about the 'silent areas' or the brain and is only just becoming aware ol all the different realms in which it can function.

Man has to activate the remaining nine-tenths of his brain, there is no doubt about it. This is the process of evolution, and it can only be accelerated by a scientific system. Total transformation can take place in one lifetime if one is regular in one's practice of yoga. Just as matter is artificially turned into gas by applying heat, the gross mind can be transformed into pure consciousness by the 'fire of yoga'.

The techniques of yoga restructure the internal body system so that prana can flow freely without blockages. The quantum of prana has to be increased so that it becomes powerful and vital. Only in this way can we awaken the dormant areas of the brain. This is where swara yoga becomes essential.

Evolution is the ascendance of individual awareness from the material realm to the subtler and higher levels of existence where the mind becomes conscious and extends itself from annamaya kosha to vijnanamaya or even anandamaya kosha. This is the aim of swara yoga, nothing else. Therefore, we have to understand this science of the ancient rishis, interpret it correctly and integrate it into our daily lives, so that we too can share in their realizations.

The Prana Vayus

W hile studying the breath, the swara yogis noticed that it produced specific energy waves throughout the body. They saw how prana is circulated in the various regions of the body through the medium of the breath. And they found that as prana circulates, it is modified and adapted to the functions of each particular organ and region. According to these different modifications of prana, the prana vayus or pranic airs were classified.

In the Prashnopanishad it is explained that the "chief prana allots functions to the lower pranas in the same way as an emperor posts his officials in different parts of his domain". In all, there are ten vayus, and of these five are said to have greater influence on the body. They are known as the pancha pranas: prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. The five remaining vayus, having less potential, are called upa pranas or subsidiary pranas.

All the vayus are comprised ofthejiva's prana, not the pure maha prana. In the Kaushitaki Upanishad it is described how "each sense has its own prana, which stems from the one prana".

The body as well as the faculties of the mind and senses are all connected directly with the prana vayu. In the Prashnopanishad it is told how the senses and the mind once claimed themselves to be the 'rulers' of the body. But prana reproved them saying, "Don't be deluded. It is I alone,

dividing myself fivefold, who support and keep the body intact." Having said this, prana withdrew from the body. The mind and senses also found themselves withdrawn from the body "just as bees leave the hive when the queen departs and return when she returns". (2:2-4) It is the maha prana which is responsible for our every thought and action, while it is the prana vayus which carry them out.

Prana, apana and samana

Each vayu is located in a different region of the body according to its particular direction of flow. The most powerful are prana and apana, the upward and downward movements. Prana vayu functions in the thoracic region to stimulate the respiratory system and the absorption of prana. When the muscle known as the diaphragm contracts, a vacuum is created in the lungs which sucks in air. It is therefore known as the 'in breath'.

Working in opposition to this function is apana, the 'out breath', which is located below the navel in the pelvic region. It is the energy of expulsion, which is stimulated in the lower intestines and urinary/excretory complex. The downward action of apana eliminates wind and excreta from the body.

The whole body is ruled by these two movements of prana and apana. During the day, the action of prana predominates and at night it becomes subservient to apana. The Dhyana Bindu Upanishad says that because of prana and apana the jiva or individual soul oscillates up and down, caught in the snare of two opposite moving forces and bound by duality. The jiva is compared to a bird which, tied to its perch, flies away but is pulled back again.

However, the key to liberation lies in samana, the third vayu, which equalizes prana and apana. Samana is the 'middle breath' located between the heart and the navel, and its main function is assimilating prana. Physiologically it generates vitality in the liver, pancreas, stomach and digest ive tract. In the process of breathing, samana is the time gap between inhalation and exhalation.

Distribution of the five pranas





vyana (pervades the whole body)

Samana links prana and apana, making their movements complementary rather than opposed. When the assimilation and storage of prana is increased, the vital capacity is strengthened. Thus the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states that death does not come to one who increases the middle breath. Therefore, the yogis devised the practice of kumbhaka or breath retention in order to increase the time gap between inhalation and exhalation, thereby uniting prana and apana with samana.

Yoga is only accomplished when the natural movements of prana and apana are reversed so that apana moves up and prana moves down, and they unite with samana in the navel centre. The meeting of the two opposite energies generates an incredible force and pushes prana through sushumna nadi, thus awakening the entire pranic capacity, raising the consciousness and enlightening the soul. So, in samana we have the tantric principle of two opposite forces, one negative, the other positive, being brought together in order to explode the creative potential of the nucleus.

Udana, vyana and the upa pranas

After the middle breath another vayu action occurs, udana, which is said by the Maitri Upanishad to "bring up and carry down what has been eaten". Udana is called the 'up breath' and is specifically located in the throat and face enabling swallowing, facial expression and speech. It is also responsible for maintaining the strength in every muscle. When prana and apana unite with samana, it is udana which moves up and finally "passes through the tenth gate (sahasrara chakra) towards the higher worlds".

Under normal circumstances udana carries prana from samana to the fifth vayu, vyana. Vyana spreads prana throughout the whole body, regulating and circulating food nutrients, fluids and energy. It holds all the parts of the body together and resists disintegration of the body. When prana moves, it is followed by samana, both creating apana, assisted by udana. The four actions produce vyana, but at the same time they cannot exist without the presence of vyana. Thus these five pranas are very intricately linked. It is said that at the time of death, when prana involutes upon itself, the vital functions of the mind and senses, which represent aspects of the pranic expressions, all withdraw into vyana. It means all the pranas are interdependent but integrated by vyana.

The actions of these five pranas give rise to five upa pranas, which add the 'finishing touches' to the body

mechanisms. The eyes are lubricated and kept clean by the blinking power of kurma. Krikara stimulates hunger, thirst, sneezing and coughing. Devadatta induces sleep and yawning, and naga hiccup and belching. Finally, after death dhananjaya lingers with the remnants of the body. The pranic body

If we could see the movements of prana vayu, we would perceive the pranic body. Sometimes when a person dies other people imagine they see a ghost, but in actual fact they are seeing that prana which is leaving the body, and this is not something supernatural which has to be feared.

Physics describes a subtle field consisting of charged particles that surrounds and takes the shape of the physical body. This field can be influenced by the internal organs and mental activities and also by the external electric and magnetic fields. We can say it is possibly the grosser manifestation of prana.

The pranic body is a network of flowing energy in the shape of the physical body, but radiating outward just as light emanates beyond the bulb. Its form is not static; it expands and contracts. Decrease in the vital capacity of any vayu causes contraction of the pranic body, while increase causes expansion. The mind and emotions also utilize prana and the pranic body is greatly influenced by states of mind. Negative thoughts lower the prana and exhaust your mind whereas positive thoughts enhance the prana and frame of mind.

In fact, the pranic body is affected by our whole way of living and the pranic functions in turn affect our capacities and attitudes in life. Through the practice of swara yoga we become aware of the mutual interaction between prana and mind and learn to live and work in coordination with the pranas rather than against them.

To be able to move the awareness into the pranic body is to come one step closer to the ultimate reality. The Kaushitaki Upanishad states: "It is prana alone as the conscious self that

breathes life into this body. Prana is the essence of the life breath. And what is the life breath? It is pure consciousness. And what is pure consciousness? It is the life breath." (v. 3)


The presence of positively and negatively charged particles activating the body and mind enables us to live in this world, but nature's wonders do not stop there. Man has devised a method to split the atom and release nuclear energy. In the same way he can also release a greater quantum of energy within his own being. In ancient days rishis used their knowledge of the principles of nature to boost the pranic energy in order to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness. The only difference between modern and ancient methods. of producing energy is that one utilizes external sources and the other internal.

The pranic network within the body operates on much the same basis as the energy system in nuclear, hydraulic and thermal power stations. The pressure of rapidly flowing water or rising steam rotates turbines which generate electricity. This action can create a powerful magnetic field that can be collected and stored in accumulators. Similarly, yogis describe how the pranic field within the body is charged by respiration. The process of respiration thus generates energy. This energy can then be directed into certain pranic accumulators, known as chakras, for storage.

Accumulation of energy is only a part of the picture; it must then be used efficiently. From the electrical power station, the energy is sent to substations through special high voltage wire cabling. Once it has reached this stage of

processing, it is passed through transformers which reduce the voltage so that it is useful for specific purposes. The same principle applies to the physical body, only here the high voltage channels for conduction of energy are not wire cables, they are nadis.

The nadi network

The physical body is structured by an underlying system of nadis. In recent times the nadi system has been associated with the nervous system. However, references in the Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads clearly state that nadis are entirely subtle in nature. The word nadi comes from the Sanskrit root nada, which means flow. Nada is a resonating and subtle vibration. Therefore, nadis are subtle flows of vibration. The Upanishads explain that the nadis penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, carrying prana, the breath of life. The atman is the source of shakti and the animator of all the worlds.

The entire network of nadis is so vast that even yogic texts differ in their calculation of the exact number. References in the Goraksha Sataka or Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika place their number at 72,000; the Prapancliasara Tantra says 300,000; while the Shiva Samhita states that 350,000 emerge from the navel centre. Regardless of the exact figure, the description of their structure is always the same - thin strand-like threads, similar to those of the lotus stem, which emanate from the spinal column.

Scientific research has been carried out to determine what and where nadis are. Dr Hiroshi Motoyama has found stable voltages of electromagnetic currents flowing within close proximity to the nervous system. 1 He takes this as evidence for the existence of nadis and acupuncture meridians.48