Wise gurus and sages of Yogic tradition did not perceive the human body as the mere anatomy and physiology of it. Although they practiced techniques for good health and longevity of the physical body, their efforts were directed at experiencing the subtle body activities.
An acquaintance with the concepts of Nadis, Chakras, Pancha-kosha and others could be of immense help to a sincere practitioner of Yoga. Right knowledge of these dimensions will give you strength to steer through these sublime experiences when they happen unexpectedly. Someday in your regular asana practice you may feel a tingling sensation in your spine or an unusual cool around your throat region in a pranayama session.
I’ll begin with a description of Pancha-kosha or 5 vital sheaths of individual existence and give an outline about Nadis and Chakras
Pancha Kosha – 5 Vital Sheaths
Yogic tradition posits that an individual exists in five coherent dimensions. However, not everyone is always aware of these sheaths. These sheaths are ever-existent in all individuals but everyone has a dominant experience of any one. Thus these koshas are also loosely translated as ‘the level of experience’.
Yogic sages call these sheaths – annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha and anandmaya kosha. The order mentioned here is grosser to subtle. However the order of origination or primevality is opposite. For example, the tree and all its stems, leaves, fruits and flowers are a gross manifestation of a certain primeval blueprint already existing in its seed.
Annamaya Kosha is the grossest of all and springs from the Sanskrit word anna which means food. This kosha or level of experience corresponds to the physical body which is greatly dependent on physical interactions like food, air and water.
Pranamaya Kosha is subtler than annamaya kosha and translates to the experience of vitality and energy. Although Prana (the vital force of manifestation) pervades all the five koshas, this level of experience is more intimately linked with the experience of Prana as the energy force. It can be imagined as the astral counterpart to the physical body with almost the same shape. Pranic body is what is seen as the aura.
Annamaya kosha and Pranamaya kosha together form the experience of one’s body and senses.
Manomaya Kosha is the level of experience of mind. It constitutes the conscious mind from which interacts and is intimately linked with the annamaya and pranamaya kosha together. It is the intermediate link between the extroverted first two koshas and introverted other two.
Vijnanamaya Kosha is the level of experience of the subconscious and unconscious mind. It’s called the psychic sheath which is subtler than the mind as we usually perceive it. Experiences on this level are intuitive and subtler than the analytic mind of manomaya kosha.
Anandamaya Kosha is the most subtle experience of ananda or bliss that Yogis term as the experience of Samadhi. It is said that most pranis (individuals) experience this state unconsciously in a rare event sometime in their lives. But a continuous experience of this kosha cannot be compared to any other sublime or heightened pleasurable experience.
These koshas are intricately interlinked and a yogic practitioner must clear all blockages in the grosser sheaths to experience subtler sheaths completely. All Yoga techniques are aimed at cleansing and piercing differing koshas.
Practices of Asana and Shatkarma are directed at annamaya kosha and facilitate in the experience of pranamaya kosha more dominantly. Practices of Pranayama and subtle breath techniques are aimed at clearing the blockages in Pranamaya kosha. The nadis and chakras are essentially cleared and experienced at the complete experience of this kosha. Further techniques of Pratyahara and Dharana are aimed at perfecting the manomaya kosha and entering the vijnanamaya kosha of intuitive experience. It’s a link between the individual and universal mind or knowledge and often intuitive guidance are encountered. The latent samskaras come up and are purged in this state. There’s no logical ascending techniques that work any more. The final piercing of anandamaya kosha is a transcendental experience often attributed to divine grace. However, clear and purified grosser koshas set the stage for the final divine event to take place.
Dear divine readers, remember we are talking of these koshas and stages of experiences like a path to be walked to reach a destination. Although in a certain sense it is true, but quite literally we are talking of evolution. And with evolution the capacity of perception itself transforms in a way we cannot imagine just now. Hence Yogic scriptures posits such knowledge only as a View that can help a sincere practitioner understand the techniques but makes no philosophical claim. As it’s believed that only what you can experience, is your truth.
Another tangible concept is that of Nadis and Chakras
Nadis – Energy channels
Nadis are energy channels similar to the nervous structure of the physical body. These channels primarily belong to the Pranamaya Kosha and the physical nervous system corresponds with it. They aren’t physical structures that may be dissected but are the subtle energy networks which sustain the physical body. The sensations which are attributed to nervous impulses is the Prana moving through Nadis in Yogic terms, and what happens on the physiological level is only the grosser substantiation of the same. A total of 72,000 Nadis are said to exist in a Human Being’s Pranic body according to most scriptures. These can be consciously experienced in a heightened state of consciousness. A few of these Nadis are more central to Yogic progress than others. These are called – Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, situated in the spinal column.
Many Asanas and Pranayamas are aimed at cleansing blockages in the nadis. When nadis are blocked, physical and pranic discomfort is felt. An easy way of assessment is the length of time and extent to which an individual can willfully relax their body. To practice relatively more advanced techniques of concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana), purified nadis are essential, or else twitching of muscles and pranic discomfort won’t allow the mind to still.
Chakras – Psychic Centres
Chakras are vortices of energy in the body (body comprising all the koshas) of all beings and act as a storehouse of cosmic pranic energy. They can also be understood as transformers to step up and step up the energy for all the body organs and processes. They are connected to the network of nadis similar to how we naively understand the plexus of nervous systems. In human beings, they are placed along the spine and the three major nadis – Ida, Pingala and Sushumna pierce through them, interconnecting them. Once a sincere practitioner is able to experience the sukshma sharira or the subtle body i.e. a heightened experience of Pranamaya kosha and Manomaya kosha – concentration on specific chakras induce specific experiences and states of consciousness.
To read in detail about the chakras and nadis, refer to another article – Chakras
Om Tat Sat Om