Within yoga philosophy, it is said that our bodies are actually made up of three bodies; the physical, astral and causal. Within these three bodies are five sheaths or 'koshas'; annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha and anandamaya kosha.
This is the most obvious one, it is the skin and bones we are made up of. Our physical bodies are made up of five elements; earth (prithivi), water (apas), fire (agni), air (vayu) and ether (akasha). We can balance or heighten these elements through our asana practice. We can create agni (fire) in the belly through leg raises and headstands. We can balance the vayu (air) using deep breathing in our postures. We can create a stronger sense of prithivi (earth) using grounding postures like warriors or tree pose.
Our astral bodies are our way of feeling pleasure or pain. It relates to our senses. There are five organs of action (known as karma indriyas), five organs of knowledge (known as jnana indriyas), five pranas and four elements of antahkarana (the inner instrument). This antahkarana is made up of the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), subconscious (chitta) and ego (ahamkara). So in total there are 19 elements that make up our astral body - the body used for feeling and sensing.
The casual body, aka the seed body, is our blueprint of the gross and subtle bodies. It is a body that is much harder to sense and one we quite often forget to find the connection with. It links to our bigger Self. It contains all our previous experiences, memories, habits and information on all the lives we have already lived. The astral and the causal bodies remain together at the time of death, both exiting the physical body.
The five sheaths or koshas
Annamaya kosha - the food sheath
Our physical bodies are made up of the material elements of the physical world. We are what we eat, so to speak. We are made up of food and will return to the earth, where our food came from, after our death. This sheath belongs to the physical body.
Pranamaya kosha - the vital sheath
This sheath belongs to the astral body. We are composed of five vital energies, all of which flow through the physical body via the astral plane; prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana. The pranamaya kosha also contains the five organs of action (the karma indriyas); mouth, hands, feet, anus and genitals. Within this kosha, we experience hot, cold, hunger and thirst etc.
Manomaya kosha - the mental sheath
This sheath again sits in the astral body. We experience thought through this sheath. We can experience thinking, doubting, anger, lust etc. The elements are; mind (manas), subconscious (chitta) and the jnana indriyas (the organs of knowledge; eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin).
Vijnanamaya kosha - the intellectual sheath
This sheath relates to the astral body. It consists of the intellect (known as the buddhi) which analyses the information we receive. It also controls the ego (ahamkara), our self-assertive principle. It works alongside the five organs of knowledge, listed above. Discrimination and decision making are its manifestations.
Anandamaya kosha - the bliss sheath
This is the only kosha that sits in the causal body. It's the part of us that experiences bliss, joy and peace. This is the part of us that we tend to lose connection with as it's the most difficult body to feel. Our aim in yoga is to reach connection with the anandamaya kosha - when we reach that inner place where everything is silent and calm, we have found our connection with anandamaya.
“The emotional wounds and negative patterns of childhood often manifest as mental conflicts, emotional drama, and unexplained pains in adulthood.” ~Unknown
I am a firm believer in making the unconscious conscious. We cannot influence what we don’t know about. We cannot fix when we don’t know what’s wrong.
I made many choices in my life that I wouldn’t have made had I recognized the unconscious motivation behind them, based on my childhood conditioning.
In the past, I beat myself up over my decisions countless times. Now I feel that I needed to make these choices and have these experiences so that the consequences would help me become aware of what I wasn’t aware of. Maybe, after all, that was the exact way it had to be.
In any case, I am now hugely aware of how we, unbeknownst to us, negatively impact our own lives.
As children, we form unconscious beliefs that motivate our choices, and come up with strategies for keeping ourselves safe. They’re usually effective for us as children; as adults, however, applying our childhood strategies can cause drama, distress, and damage. They simply no longer work. Instead, they wreak havoc in our lives.
One of my particular childhood wounds was that I felt alone. I felt too scared to talk to anyone in my family about my fears or my feelings. It didn’t seem like that was something anyone else did, and so I stayed quiet. There were times I feared I could no longer bear the crushing loneliness and would just die without anyone noticing.
Sometimes the feeling of loneliness would strangle and threaten to suffocate me. I remember trying to hide my fear and panic. I remember screaming into my pillow late at night trying not to wake anyone. It was then that I decided that I never wanted anyone else to feel like me. This pain, I decided, was too much to bear, and I did not wish it on anyone.
As an adult, I sought out, whom I perceived as, people in need. When I saw someone being excluded, I’d be by their side even if it meant that I would miss out in some way. I’d sit with them, talk to them, be with them. I knew nothing about rescuing in those days. It just felt like the right thing to do: see someone alone and be with them so they wouldn’t feel lonely or excluded.
Looking back now, I was clearly trying to heal my childhood wound through other people. I tried to give them what I wish I’d had when I was younger: someone kind, encouraging, and supportive by my side. I tried to prevent them from feeling lonely. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s kind to recognize others in pain and try to be there for them.
The problem with my strategy was that I chose people who were alone for a reason: they behaved badly and no one wanted to be around them. I chose people healthy people would not choose to be with. People who treated others poorly and did not respect themselves, or anyone else for that matter. That included me.
And so I suffered. I suffered because I chose badly for myself. And I chose badly for myself because I followed unconscious motivations. I obediently followed my conditioning. I followed the rules I came up with as a child, but playing by those rules doesn’t work out very well in adulthood.
I never under
stood why I suffered. I couldn’t see that I had actively welcomed people into my life who simply were not good for me. It didn’t matter where I went or what I changed; for one reason or another, I’d always end up in the same kind of cycle, the same difficult situation.
At one point I realized that I was the common denominator. It then still took me years to figure out what was going on.
Eventually, my increasing self-awareness moved me from my passive victim position into a proactive role of empowered creator. Life has never been the same since. Thankfully. But it wasn’t easy.
I had to look deep within and see truths about myself that were, at first, difficult to bear. But once I was willing to face them and feel the harshness of the reality, the truth set me free. It no longer made sense to play by rules I had long outgrown. I didn’t realize that I had become the adult I had always craved as a child. But I was not responsible for rescuing other adults—that was their job.
I have since witnessed the same issue with everyone I meet and work with. One particular person, who had endured terrible abuse growing up, was constantly giving people the protection he had craved but never received as a child. He gave what he did not receive. And yet, in his adult life it caused nothing but heartache for him.
When he saw, what he perceived as, an injustice like someone being rude to someone else or a driver driving without consideration for others, he intervened. Unfortunately, he often got it wrong and most people didn’t want his input, which left him feeling rejected and led to him becoming verbally aggressive. Eventually, his ‘helping’—his anger and boundary crossing—landed him in prison.
He was not a bad person—far from it. He was simply run by his unconscious motivation to save his younger self. He projected and displaced this onto other people who did not need saving and never asked for his help. But his conditioning won every time and in the process wrecked his life.
What ends this cycle is awareness, understanding, and compassion.
We must learn to look at the consequences of our actions or inactions and then dig deep. We must ask ourselves: What patterns do I keep repeating? What must I believe about myself, others, and life in order to act this way? Why do I want what I want and why do I do what I do? And what would I do differently if I stopped acting on my childhood conditioning?
Beliefs fuel all of our choices. When we don’t like the consequences of our actions, we must turn inward to shine a light onto the unhelpful unconscious beliefs we formed as children. Only awareness can help us find and soothe them. Only understanding can help us make sense of them. And only compassion can help us forgive ourselves for the patterns we unknowingly perpetuated.
We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We couldn’t have made any different choices. But once we begin to see and understand how our minds work and how our conditioning drives everything we do, we grow more powerful than we ever thought possible.
It is then that we are able to make healthier, wiser, and more life-enhancing choices for ourselves. We can then break the cycles that previously kept us stuck in unfulfilling and often harmful situations and relationships.
There is always a different choice. We just have to begin to see it.
Shared from tiny buddha
I wanted to share a Year End Ritual to help you generate gratitude for the blessings that the past year has brought you, to accept the difficult experiences and to let go of what you don’t want to carry beyond this year. It also helps to create a new vision and energy to propel your life forward meaningfully into the New Year.
1. Write down what you are grateful for over the past year – the small and big things – make your list as long as possible. From your list select the 5 blessings that you are most grateful for. Reflect on these 5 blessings and cherish them in your heart.
2. Write down all the difficult experiences you had over the past year. Reflecting on the whole list, what can you learn about yourself from the sum of these experiences? How can you integrate what you have learned in a way that helps you to accept what you have gone through?
3. Write down what you want to let go of so that you don’t carry that with you beyond this year. Reflect on this list and then imagine releasing the energy associated with those old things. It might be appropriate to take specific actions that enable you to completely move on – free of unnecessary baggage. Do what’s right for you, but without causing any harm.
4. Imagine how you might experience yourself at the end of the coming year, should you achieve the year of your dreams! Step into this image of yourself being the way you truly want to be and feel the energy of this. Then ask yourself what your next step will be to fulfill this state, while being of positive value to the lives of others and to the world. Commit to taking that step and look forward to how it will create mutual success momentum throughout the coming year.
Wishing you good health, prosperity and joy in the New Year!