A YOGIC PERSPECTIVE
Annamaya Kosha – The Tangible Dimension of Our Existence
A Series with Yogacharini Maitreyi
This is part 2 in an ongoing series by Yogacharini Maitreyi. Part 1 was released in the January 2023 edition of Yoga Magazine. Please refer to the previous article for a more in depth understanding of the pancha kosha.
The Annamaya Kosha is the physical body in Sanskrit. Anu means “cell” and annam means “food.” This cellular body is nourished by and composed of food. It is the most tangible aspect of the pancha kosha. No one in our modern world view negates, denies or ignores the annamaya kosha since we can see, touch and experience it.
Pancha Kosha* = five fields / sheaths /bodies of our existence
The pancha kosha, or five dimensions of our existence, is a model to help us see how we are not limited to just the physical – we are so much more. This is the foundation to enable us to live a Yogic life. Its intricacies and functions were explored by Rishis (the ancient researchers) to help us build a better yuj (union) within and without. This process of reconnection between the kosha is necessary for a more fulfilled life.
THE PANCHA KOSHA IN THE SCRIPTURES
The first mention of the pancha kosha was in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The Upanishads came after the Vedas and are expositions for better clarity. The Vedas are mentioned to be over 8,000 years old by some Sanskrit scholars and over 20,000 years old by some traditional astronomers.
Taittiriya comes from Taittiri which is the name of a sage as well as a partridge. Upa means “by” and nishad is “sitting down.” So it literally means “sitting by or below the guru to absorb these Vedic principles. This guru sishya (disciple) connection is important as a person usually interprets things depending on the level of their consciousness. With the support of the guru they can see broader and deeper perspectives.
Guru means “dispeller of darkness.” The guru helps us see our blind spots and limitations thereby freeing us from the bondage of suffering that we cause ourselves and others. Guru also means “heavy.” This points to the gravitas and sincerity required on this path of self awareness.
THE LIGHT OF THE GURU
I am sure many of you have read a book when you were young. Then, on rereading it when older and more mature, you interpreted it differently. A guru allows for the full depth of the scriptures and teachings to be understood and prevents misinterpretation by immature minds.
He or she also allows a space where one can see and understand oneself better – especially disharmonious patterns. This requires that the student / disciple recogniSes the value. Otherwise they will think the guru is out to find fault when, in actuality, it is the greatest love to have the soft light of self awareness shone on one’s unconscious mind and emotions.
The disciple may have certain patterns, like low self esteem or shame, that may require being seen with karuna sakshi bhava (compassionate witnessing) and shifted for the better. This low self esteem and shame can mutate into pain that is projected onto others or sabotages situations if left uncared for in the abyss.
At a certain level of evolution this existence is ok but becomes an impediment to growth for a sincere sadhak (practitioner) who wants moksha (liberation). The guru, both through a healthy body culture and right application of Yogic tools, facilitates transformation through the annamaya kosha.
YOGIC TOOLS TO BUILD A CONSCIOUS BODY
As one works on asana one starts to notice habitual postural habits. Asana is usually translated as “posture.” However it comes from the root word “state of being.” So in each moment we are called to be aware of our state of being and our stance / posture towards the world.
By practicing the virya (pronounced veer-ya) asana (the courageous posture) we are putting ourselves into the body language of one who is courageous. By consciously shifting the soma, or body, we reprogram the mind. This somatic / bodily approach to creating better neural pathways was well understood in Yoga. There are thousands of somatic tools for neuroplasticity, in the Yogic traditions. They can be classified into broad categories of:
- Asana – A state of being and a seat for meditation.
- Kriya – An action for purification.
- Jathi – Conscious rhythmic movement to find one’s own inner rhythm. Colonisation and dictatorship in homes or countries makes us fall out of our natural rhythm.
- Mudra – A Mystic / energetic seal that activates elements and electrical impulses in the body impacting all system functions as well as mood.
- Naada Yoga – The science of sound.
- Yoga Chikitsa – A system where another works on realigning the back or certain areas of the body for better alignment and pranic flow
There is a specific approach to these practices different from exercise. One needs to learn to focus on awareness and not achievement. Achievement is a by product of this awareness. Not just the tools but the approach is important to cultivate consciousness in the body which translates into behavioural consciousness.
CELLULAR AND FOOD BODY
In an ancient story, Bhrigu eagerly asks his father and guru, sage Varuna, about the nature of his existence. Sage Varuna guides him by asking him to discover it for himself. Varuna is also the sea god and in charge of water and flow on this planet. Bhrigu is a hot headed young man who takes his dad’s advice and sets out on an inner exploration of meditation and contemplation for the purpose of clear seeing. He comes back and tells his father that he has discovered that he is this cellular body fed by food.
As stated earlier, anu means “cells” and annam means “food.” And what a fascinating journey it is to see that this cellular body is made of the pancha maha bhuta (the five great elements). They are our original ancestors as they are the building blocks of our physical body. The five great elements are earth, water, fire, air and space which we and the universe are composed of. Varuna is happy and hears his son out but also tells him to go back to deepen his research as there is more to be discovered.
Bhrigu discovers another body, the pranamaya kosha. He sees the connections between the chakra in the pranamaya kosha and the elements in the annamaya kosha. In the next article (Part 3) we will go into details about the pranamaya kosha. Varuna listens with joy and keeps sending Bhrigu off to explore more after each discovery.
Convergence points of nadis (pranic pathways) that create wheels or vortexes of energy
Prana = Life force
Maya = Composed of
Kosha = Sheath, field, body
THE 5 ELEMENTS IN AYURVEDA
Ayurveda is one of the oldest health sciences that empowers the individual to take responsibility for their well being. Ayur means “life” and veda is “science” / “knowledge.” Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga and here we also see how an assessment of the elements is used towards better health. A combination of lifestyle changes, herbs, and treatments are used to bring about this balance. Treatments include: oiling the body with medicated oils, sweating, building better gut health through enemas, etc. There are in- depth records for surgery and bone setting in Ayurveda as well. However that knowledge has been lost since the British colonial rule when Ayurvedic doctors were not allowed to practice.
An Ayurvedic doctor will look for the imbalance in any of the pancha maha bhuta, referred to as prakriti. In Ayurveda, prakriti means one’s constitution at birth that is responsible for the physical, emotional and mental characteristics of the individual.
Dosha means “fault” and the elements combine to create these humours that can go off balance. For example earth plus water constitutes the kapha dosha. Kapha is the bioenergy that builds bone, muscle and tissues. It is the life force that gives one stability and perseverance emotionally. There are three doshas or imbalances that can arise due to the deficit or excess of one or more of the elements.
KAPHA = EARTH + WATER. THINK OF CLAY.
When balanced: calm, grounded, patient, deep soothing voice, smooth skin, reassuring presence, kind, forgiving and stable like mother earth Imbalanced: stagnation, anxiety, cold hands and feet, phlegm, overwhelmed by change, food cravings.
PITTA = WATER + FIRE.
Think of Hydrochloric acid in the stomach that helps digest. Balanced: Can digest food and experiences well. Sharp mind, ruddy red complexion or hair, motivated, get things done Imbalanced: Short tempered, jealousy, hungry and insatiable, quick to come to conclusions without investigating.
VAATA = AIR + SPACE.
Think of the gentle breeze moving through space or, if this gets progressively more intense, then a tornado.
Balanced: Energetic, creative, agile Imbalanced: Scattered, poor memory, highly emotional, insomnia, irregular digestion, anxiety, loss of hair, poor immunity.
The aim of this article is only to point in the direction of how the balance of elements brings about health in the annamaya kosha, without going into details. It also aims to create awareness about the simplicity and sophistication of understanding of the yogis and seers.
CREATE A BODY OF LIGHT
Originally the aim of yoga was to build a conscious light body. This is done by creating yuj or union or reconnection back with the other koshas as well as the light of our universal being. Though the body is considered a vehicle, it can still become a channel of the highest through:
- Yogic lifestyle which includes diet and sleep regulation
- Yogic practices listed above, like asana, kriya, etc.
- An understanding of ones doshas if the system is imbalanced to rebalance it
- Aligning with the other koshas and moving towards Narayana (complete alignment) which we
will see more of in the following articles.
Yogacharini Maitreyi is the founder of ‘Arkaya Awareness Center’ and ‘Arkaya Foundation’. Her heart sings to see lives blossom into consciousness. She has been teaching holistic Yoga and Tantra across the world for over 26 years. She has received formal titles in her home country of South India: Yoga Chemmal (expert); Yoga Shiromani (Gem) and Yoga Acharini (Life Guide). In 2007, Maitreyi was one of the youngest people to be invited onto the board of the World Yoga Council in Europe. She has published more than 100 articles and poems in Indian and international publications and was formerly the weekly Yoga columnist for The Hindu, South India’s largest news daily. The Arkaya School is now fully online and Maitreyi leads a number of drop-in and intensive programs, including a 500-hour self awareness and healing teacher training accessible to people worldwide. To learn more and join, visit: www.arkaya.net (http://www.arkaya.net/)