Panchkosh : Five Sheaths

An individual's personality consists of Panch Kosh or five sheaths. These five sheaths are: 
    1.  Annamaye Kosh or food sheath 
    2. Pranamaye Kosh or vital-air sheath 
    3. Manomayh Kosh or mental sheath 
    4. Viganamayh Kosh or intellectual sheath 
    5. Anandamaya Kosh or bliss sheath 
1. Annamaye Kosh or food sheath : 
  • As the name itself suggests, the first level to take into consideration is the physical body that subsists on gross food and drink. That includes the body and its physiological processes, as viewed from a Western perspective. From the Indian perspective, the human anatomy is viewed via the ayurvedic tridoshas. These describe both the overall body type of the individual as well as its current condition. 
  •  The physical body is called the food sheath. As the name implies, the physical structure arises out of food, exists in food, after death goes back to become food for other living organisms. This sheath consists of the five organs of perception and five organs of action. 
  •  How the Annamaya Kosha is Affected:  
    • The physical body has been bestowed with, besides other things, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems to cope with stress situations. Roughly translated into Western terminology this refers to the glandular system in our bodies. In any emergency situation, the sympathetic system is automatically activated, ensuring a quick and spontaneous flow of essential fluids to cope with the situation. When the stress response is engaged normally and healthily, the body adapts to stress situations with a steadily elevated blood pressure. 
    •  Subsequently, it is the duty of the parasympathetic system to pull the sympathetic back to its original state. Unfortunately, down the years, and particularly in modern days, the frequency and intensity of stress situations have grown so much that the organs involved are subject to abnormal pressures. The parasympathetic system, after a while, can no longer bring its sympathetic counterpart back to normal and hence a failure in the endocrine and other vital systems of the body, leading to such psychosomatic syndromes as asthma, chronic constipation, blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc eventually resulting, in heart disease even. 
2. Pranamaye Kosh or vital-air sheath: 

  • The human being is an intricate network of energy, creativity and intelligence. Hence the need for a proper flow of energy to maintain good health. The Pranic or Energy Sheath, contains all the prana vayus (breaths of energy) in the system, the energy channels or nadis and the chakras or energy centers. Hence it is also called the "vital sheath" or "vital body". Prana, the vital breath which man lives by, is the bridge between the gross and subtle bodies as well as between the other koshas. Amending one’s breathing patterns through pranayama, helps enhance the flow of energy in the right direction.
  •  The vital-air sheath represents the internal physiological functions of the body. This sheath consists of five faculties: 
      1. Prana or perception, 
      2. Apana or excretion, 
      3. Samana or digestion, 
      4. Vyana or circulation, and 
      5. Udana or thinking. This sheat controls and regulates the food sheath. With age, all five faculties become weaker. 
  • How the Pranamaye Kosh is Affected 
    • The spasmodic dilations and contractions in the organs, veins and arteries of the physical body are a direct reflex response to cope with changing situations. This is what is happening in the energy body as well. In stress situations, the breath becomes short and rapid and, subsequently, the flow of energy is restricted. Over time, the breath becomes stifled, one starts to suffer from palpitation and shortness of the breath. Without being really aware of what’s happening, there is a rapid contraction and expansion in the entire energetic sheath. While, this may be helpful in emergencies, imagine what it will do to the system in the long run. Result, psychosomatic diseases like asthma. 
 3. Manomayh Kosh or mental sheath 
  • The third is the Mental or, here understood as the psycho-emotional sheath. It is the abode of all the dominant emotional and thought patterns that comprise one’s personality. Our feelings, stimuli and responses to situations, thoughts and actions spring from this sheath. The strength or weakness of this sheath decides whether a person is emotional or unemotional, easily or uneasily moved, gross or sensitive. Mental sheath controls and regulates the food sheath and the vital-air sheath. The mind is always in the state of flux. It is the source of emotions and feelings. 
  •  How the Manomayh Kosh is Affected 
    • Actually, it happens both ways and here there’s no telling which came first, the chicken or the egg. Emotional upsets and disturbances send out stimuli to the other sheaths. Subsequently, dilations and contractions in the Annamaya and Pranamaya Koshas happen. But, in actual fact they start at the mental level. Over time it becomes a chronic syndrome. Love, hate, resentment, ambition, competition and hostility are only some of the characterizations. 
    •  While in genuine situations, these emotions may be considered healthy response and create the necessary backups and reinforcements for survival, what happens when they become chronic and repetitive are translated into states of anguish, anxiety and depression. Subsequently, they perpetuate the physical stress response and man falls into the vicious cycle of coping with habitual stress. Extricating oneself from this is a trying and, sometimes, impossible process. 
 4. Viganamayh Kosh or intellectual sheath 
  • Then comes the fourth sheath, again the Mental, but here referred to as the Intellectual sheath. Whereas at the third level, the mind functions as a stimulus/response mechanism, in the fourth sheath, one is able to understand and discern. Further, personal understanding permits us to look beyond personal roles and perceive the larger picture. This is the level of cognition, conditioning or de-conditioning of one’s core beliefs, the most deeply rooted of which is the ‘I’ concept. In Sanskrit this is referred to as the ‘aham’, from which springs the word ‘ahamkara’. Little wonder then that this is the seat of the ego. The mental sheath is controlled by the intellectual sheath, which is the seat of judgment, decision, and directed thinking. How the Viganamayh Kosh is Affected This is best illustrated in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, verses 62 and 63: Man first contemplates on an object of desire. That develops in the mind attachment to it. From this attachment springs desire. Failure to satisfy desire leads to frustration. From frustration comes anger, leading to delusion. Continuous delusion results in loss of memory, resulting in destruction in the intellect. When the intellect is destroyed, everything is lost. 
 5. Anandamaya Kosh or bliss sheath 
  • The fifth level is least easily understood, but for reasons of explanation to the lay public is referred to as the sheath of bliss. Here the minds is said to rest in its intrinsic, natural state of bliss and ease. This is of vital understanding in relation healing since it refers to one’s health as essential nature, devoid of ‘chitta-vrittis’ or confusions and distraction The bliss sheath is the innermost or subtlest of the five sheaths, which regulates the intellectual sheath. It consists of Vasanas (innate tendencies or undogested desires) before they become manifest into thoughts and actions. 
  •  How the Anandamaya Kosh is Affected 
    • The above situation is precisely what prevents man from reaching his natural state of bliss. A constant state of being opposed to bliss is frustration, anger, disappointment and their attendant psycho-physiological strains, resulting in afflictions of the mind-body syndrome.
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