The make-up of a Human Being - The Koshas
The human being is made up of several different components, some manifest, or directly observable, and some more subtle. These are:
- The physical body : muscles, bones, flesh, skin. What we can touch and see.
- The energetic body : the life force, breathing, the heart beat, circulation, metabolism, electricity, mental activity.
- The conscious mind : mental reactions (thoughts) we are aware of, interpretations of the present world around us through the sense organs, memories of the past and imaginations of the future.
- The subconscious mind: we mentally react to all the information we receive of through our senses (sounds, smells, sensations, sights, tastes) yet we are only aware of a small fraction of these reactions which manifest as thoughts in our conscious mind. We can think of this like reflexes. Subconscious reactions depend on the past conditioning of the mind. For example, if we have previously been stung my a mosquito it may have left an imprint in the subconscious mind that mosquitos are dangerous. When we next see a mosquito near us we may reflexively swat at it and try to kill it, without thinking about what we are doing. The subconscious mind is always reacting, out of our control. Reactions depend on the wisdom, understanding and ideas we hold deep down that we may not even be aware of. False ideas and false understanding cause us and others suffering. Yoga is the process of purifying and correcting false and unhealthy ideas from the subconscious mind, so that we always automatically react in a way that is conducive to a healthy and happy life for ourselves and for others.
- The core / Innate nature, consciousness: our ability to think, perceive and react means we have consciousness. According to yoga, the human consciousness if of the same source as that of all living beings. This is the most important concept of yoga, non-duality, all beings being interrelated as part of a universal whole, a universal consciousness (mahat). The quality of the universal consciousness is innately blissful, peaceful and loving. This is the true nature of all living beings, which would behave peacefully, happily and lovingly if impurities were removed.
Patanjali described these componants as layers or sheaths (koshas) from the external to the internal, from the least to the most subtle, from the most to the least manifest they are:
1. Annamaya kosha : physical body
2. Pranamaya kosha : energetic body
3. Manomaya kosha : conscious mind
4. Vijnanamaya kosha : subconscious conditioning
5. Anandamaya kosha : innate blissful and peaceful nature
6. Citta : consciousness
When all of first 4 koshas are pure and balanced, the blissfull and peaceful nature of the human being shines through in all thoughts and actions. Yoga is the process of purifying each kosha or layer by using different physical, mental and meditative techniques.
Purification of Annamayakosha
As the external and most directly observable componant, purification of annamayakosha, the physical body, is a good starting point.
The Yogic Diet
'Anna' in sanskrit means food. Literally, we are what we eat. Scientifically we know this to be true. The digestive system turns what we eat into nutrients then molecules which are used to build cells then tissues and the entirety of our body. But how much care do we take over our diet?
Purification of annamayakosha begins with purification of the diet. Foods with good energy, a positive and pure vibration, are those we should eat the most of. According to Ayurveda, as the sun is the giver of life and source of energy on earth, foods grown in direct sunlight have the most positive vibrations and are those most conducive to success a yoga practitioner. These are of course fruits and vegetables, already identified by western science as healthy, and life-sustaining as oxygen producers. The conditions in which the food provided also affect the quality of the food. Food obtained through killing or harming other beings has a negative vibration. This includes killing animals for meat, the unhappy husbandry of dairy animals and agriculture techniques which harm the ecosystem.
The optimal yogic diet therefore consists of predominantly fruits and vegetables. Meats and fish are avoided, and organic eco-friendly produce is preferred. Read more detail in the blog post 'Ayurveda - Eating for Life'.
Physical exercises are the second important method to purify annamayakosha, this is a fundamental purpose of hatha yoga (see 'The Hatha Method'). Heating the body, sweating, burning the metabolism, eliminates toxins from the body. This is harnessed in the Ashtanga Vinyasa method (see The Ashtanga Vinyasa Method) where by performing invigorating asana sequences the body is purified through sweating.