Annamaya Kosha is the first and outer of the five Koshas (sheaths).
Annamaya Kosha, is a Sanskrit term meaning “the sheath of food” (anna), more specifically, the physical (or gross) body, which is made of food. All of the physical aspects of life come and go (through the cycle of birth and death) and are continually consumed by some aspect of the external (or manifest) reality. Thus, the outermost of the Koshas is called the sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.
In accordance with Vedanta philosophy and Yoga practice, we train this aspect of ourselves; we take care of it and nurture it so that we can enjoy our external lives and at the same time turn within without it being an obstacle during meditation. In meditation, we can become aware of Annamaya Kosha, exploring it, and going inward and beyond it, to and subsequently through the other Koshas.
Annamaya Kosha is the sheath that represents the physical body and it needs nourishment to survive. As humans being we are a part of the food chain the same as all other sentient beings. This sheath is the visible and recognizable part of our “Self” and therefore we tend to mistakenly identify ourselves with it. It is also the most vulnerable of the five Koshas due to its physical nature and the array of environmental influences it is subject to. It is strengthened and supported by proper alignment with our body type and age along with adequate hygiene. Moderate exercise is recommended to sufficiently activate and enliven this outer and transitory sheath. Asanas which require concentration and pranayama to establish a regular respiratory rhythm will maintain the health, flexibility and strength of this body, as will any type of sport which is not carried to extreme.
Since this Kosha represents our gross body (Sthula Sharira) which is the “touchy” and “feely” part of our being, it includes our musculature, bones, blood, all the fluids in the body etc. This sheath is a composite of the five great elements (or five “mahabhutas”); earth, water, fire, air and ether. Furthermore, it is the false identification of the “Self” with this sheath that has as its consequence “avidya” (ignorance), which results in our suffering. Some examples of this identification are simple statements like, “I’m fat” or “I’m ugly”, etc. If you just take a step back and replace statements like these with “this body is fat” and “this face is ugly”, you have taken an essential step in recognizing the distinction between the “Self” and the physical body. When saying “my body”, we are asserting that we have an enclosure called the body, but “Self” is not that body.
This Kosha, representing our gross physical body can be viewed as the first port of entry in respect to gaining access to all the deeper layers (sheaths), eventually leading us to the recognition of our very core, which is the Atman (Universal Self). It is our responsibility to care for this sheath, keeping it healthy, clean and free of impurities so the access to the inner (or deeper) sheaths is more easily gained. In addition to practicing yoga techniques of asana (and the moderate exercises mentioned above), cleansing kriyas, proper diet and relaxation on a regular basis will help us achieve this goal. It is important to remember that while practicing the asanas we need to be fully and consciously aware of the impact of each pose on every part of the body. This awareness during our practice will help prevent any undue strain or injury that we might provoke due to negligence, overzealousness or competitiveness, which often prompts us to strive for something beyond our body’s normal ability. The awareness of the entire body will also help us greatly in making the connection with the deeper Koshas that will be discussed in upcoming articles.
Final note: The Annamaya Kosha is totally dependent on the Pranamaya Kosha (Vital Energy Sheath), or life force, and will disintegrate as soon as life energy or prana has left the body. Yoga Philosophy teaches us that the real Self is not any of these bodies. In order to attain liberation one must put an end to identifying with these sheaths and identify with the true Self, which is beyond all the sheaths. Each Kosha can in turn, be transcended.
Stay tuned, coming up next will be: The Five Koshas (Part 2 – Pranamaya Kosha: vital energy sheath).