In Sanskrit, Pancha means ‘five’ and Kosha means ‘layers’.
The Pancha Kosha is a way for us to comprehend our existence that encompasses our physical, mental and spiritual components.
The practice of yoga can help us to ‘peel away’ at the layers, starting from the outside, so that we can reach the centre- Atman. You could think of this as your true self, your soul, or God… or simply an understanding of your existence.
This is the outermost layer and represents our physical body. ‘Anna’ means ‘food’, so in order to reach the deeper layers, we need to provide our bodies with correct nutrition. It is also important to not become stuck in this extraneous vessel, e.g. becoming obsessive about our physical form.
This is our energetic existence. ‘Prana’, meaning ‘vital life force’, is the energy that flows through our body, controlling the bodily functions that allow us to live. Prana circulates throughout the whole universe and we can influence the balance of it within ourselves by pranayama (breathing exercises). For example, chandra bhedi is a practice that has a cooling, calming effect on the body.
This is our consciousness. It is how our mind perceives the outer world and is highly affected by the 5 senses, but through yoga we can also influence and regain control over the consciousness. It is important to not become trapped in this layer, i.e. letting our thoughts and feelings carry us away from our true self.
This is our wisdom and intuition- ‘vijana’ means ‘subtle knowledge’. In this layer we can achieve higher levels of consciousness. Concentration and meditation are practices that help us to penetrate this layer.
‘Ananda’ means bliss. When we reach this layer, the higher mind awakens and we achieve a sense of connection to all beings and nature. This self-realization is considered to be total liberation or Samadhi.