The Panchamaya Kosha

The Panchamaya Kosha model is a foundational philosophy that informs yoga therapy due to its comprehensive nature. It is said to be more than 2,500 years old.

The Panchamaya is often chosen as the primary lens for which yoga therapists view the human system. It is a model of overall wellness that integrates wholeness and the multi-dimensionality of the human experience, providing a framework from which to practice and apply yoga therapy.

Panca means “five”  Maya means “all pervading”  Kosha means “sheath”.

In effect, this translates as the five layers of our personality.

Similar to the BPSS (Biopsychosocial Spiritual) model, the kosha model recognises that many layers of experience (physical, energetic, psycho emotional, social & spiritual) influence our wellbeing. 

Over time the model has been referred to as the five sheaths, veils, illusions, bodies, lampshades, caves, layers or levels of existence, to name just a few.  

Essentially they represent various levels of our being from the gross to the most subtle, all held together by prana, our life force energy.  Only the first layer, the densest, is made of matter as we know it. The other four are energy states invisible to the naked eye, although we can sense their presence within us when we pay close attention.

The 5 layers

Annamaya Kosha is the physical body or anatomical layer. Anna means “food” or “physical matter.”  This layer refers to how we are nourished by and created by our daily intake of food.  The food we ingest ultimately forms the gross expression of our body that we can see, touch and feel.

Pranamaya Kosha refers to the breath and energy body or physiological layer. Prana is the vital energy that enlivens all of our physical systems.  It governs our biological processes such as breathing, digestion and circulation and it links the body to the mind. Too much or too little energy can be caused by an excess or lack of prana, and dis-ease may ensue.  Without prana the physical body can no longer operate, as it provides the link between the subtle and gross bodies.  When the link is broken, death occurs.

Manomaya Kosha encompasses the mind and emotional body or psychological layer.  Mano means mind, and refers to our thought processes, behaviours, beliefs, feelings and emotions including “the story that we tell ourselves”. Lower mental functions live here in the subtle body, including how we take things in via the senses and then respond to them.  When balanced at this level, we have a sense of clarity in our beliefs and know who we are.  Our behaviors align with these beliefs and provide us with a sense of congruency. 

Vijnanamaya Kosha is our wisdom body or intellect layer. This subtle body layer represents the awareness and consciousness of our actions, thoughts, beliefs and behavior. Vijnana means knowing and pertains to judgment, discernment and intuition. This layer recognises right from wrong, our patterns and our memory.  It affords us to have a broader perspective so that we may see beyond our individual pain. It is also the layer in which creativity, imagination and curiosity live.

Anandamaya Kosha houses our bliss body or cosmic layer.  This is thought to be our deepest sublest level as human beings; a state of bliss, peace, joy, and love form this causal or astral layer.   Ananda means bliss and pertains to having a balanced mind where our true source of self confidence dwells and where we are in unity with everyone and everything.

Swami Sarvapriyananda uses the following metaphor to explain the koshas in simple terms:

Annamaya “I see my hand”,  with its blood, bones and flesh

Pranamaya “I am lifting my hand”, by using energy to lift it 

Manomaya “I made the decision to lift my hand”, by using my mind 

Vijnanamaya “I know that I am lifting my hand” , by using my intellect 

Anandamaya “I feel happiness lifting my hand” 

When we look at the system as a whole, wellness is the causal state of the koshas being in balance.  When in balance we feel a sense of joy, ease and wellbeing. When imbalanced we may feel upset, confused and unsure and experience pain and/or despair. 

Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati describes the koshas as coloured lamp shades stacked one on top of the other. As the light shines through each shade, it is progressively obscured, altering its nature and causing a distortion of our true self and consciousness.

Imbalance can occur at any one of the five levels, however they all profoundly interact with and influence each other. Balancing the first 3 more dense (gross) layers allows greater access to the more subtle layers. An imbalance that is addressed on one level, positively affects all other levels and may influence the origin of the symptom.  

Yoga Therapy can be used as a process in which to develop and balance our body, energy and mind, as each of our life experiences leave a residue in our systems. Over time and through practice our “lampshades” will become less and less coloured and allow our light to shine through once more. Yoga therapy not only improves our wellness physically, mentally, and emotionally, it also allows us to return to homeostasis when we experience an inevitable setback in our life.  This in turn leads to self-empowered healing and reduces our suffering; we shift from reactionary to responsive. 

While yoga therapy may not cure the disease, condition, or mental health diagnosis; it can go some way to “healing” us by shifting our identification with suffering; this is particularly notable through the practice of meditation.

Yoga philosophy teaches us that we are not just our physical body or our mind, but a holistic entity with different layers that continuously interpervade and influence one another. 

The Panchamaya model provides a yoga therapist and their clients with insight into how the human system functions, clarification of the root of the disturbance, and guidance on how to use the tools of yoga to begin to find balance and autonomy.

Through evaluation, a yoga therapist is able to discern the level of disturbance, classifying the source of dis-ease within the system and create a bespoke practice for their clients to move forwards with.

In gratitude and recognition of my teachers Emily Smith & Shanti Kelley for their boundless wisdom and dedication to sharing the ancient teachings of yoga, which appear within this blog and serve as reminder to never not be learning.

Sources

Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani

Kelley, S. (2021) ‘Applied Philosophy within Manomaya and Vijnanamaya’ (Lecture), YT102.04: Eastern Philosophy & Subtle Body. Practice School of Yoga Therapy. 13 August.

Swami Sarvapriyananda

Smith, E. (2021) ‘Panchamaya as a Whole System Approach to Yoga Therapy’ (Lecture), YT102.01: Eastern Philosophy & Subtle Body. Practice School of Yoga Therapy. 14 May.

Smith, E. (2022) ‘Detailed Analysis of the Panchamaya Kosha Model in Assessment and Plan of Care’ (Lecture), YT202.03: Eastern Philosophy & Subtle Body. Practice School of Yoga Therapy. 22 April.

Smith, E. (2022) ‘Spinal Conditions, Pathology, Treatment and Yoga Therapy Principles’ (Lecture), YT203.04: Essential Sciences for the Yoga Therapist. 2 February.