Written by Lynn Austin Lalka
I want you to think of your first day of something. Your first day of school, or a new job. The day
you accomplished a longstanding goal, or the day you took the first step to live your life in a
different way. How did you feel on that day?
With the advent of a new year and the arrival of January, I often think about the birth of my first
son, who was born on January 30, 2017. I think about the moment I became a mother and what
I expected that moment and day to feel and look like. I had attended a series of birthing classes
in an effort to be prepared and had even written out a birth plan. This was going to be a
monumental new beginning in my life, and feeling like I had some degree of control felt
imperative. The day was nothing like what I anticipated it would be.
There is very little that can be predicted about the miracle of birth, and my firstborn’s entrance
into the world was swift, dramatic, and painful for both of us. I had this vision of him being born
and me automatically feeling overwhelming joy. Instead, I felt ill-equipped, confused, and a bit
I want you to think back, once again, to your first day of something- the one that came to mind
when you began reading this essay. Did it unfold how you’d anticipated it to, or was the reality of
that beginning somewhat (or drastically) different than what you’d envisioned?
With the onset of the new year, many of us are inclined to formulate plans for new beginnings.
Perhaps we make a New Year’s resolution, set an aspirational goal, or decide on something
we’d like to manifest in the coming year. I think we all know we can’t predict the future, but that
doesn’t stop us from making a plan for it. There is a feeling of security that comes from knowing
we’ve mapped out a beginning, middle, and end.
One of my favorite quotes is one from the Bhagavad Gita: “Yoga is a journey of the self, through
the self, to the self.” When I first heard this quote, a few weeks after attending my first yoga
class, I internalized it as meaning that the journey of yoga would have a final destination. I
would go on a clearcut journey and then have it all figured out. With time and practice, I now
realize that there is no final destination; there can’t be, because there is always something new
we can learn about ourselves. And because of this, our journey is really always just beginning.
The journey to self is expansive and never ending, and this can feel daunting. So what
framework can we use to help guide us? We are introduced to the koshas in the Taittiriya
Upanishad. The word kosha is often translated as “sheath”, “layer”, or “veil”. The koshas are the
five energetic layers that surround our soul. When we connect with each kosha with awareness
and understanding, we are able to access our soul and unveil our true Self.
The first kosha is the Annamaya Kosha, our physical body. This is the kosha we’re able to
access most easily, because we have to use it for so many of our everyday actions. If we injure
our knee, we are going to be aware of it, whether it’s because we have to walk somewhere or
just move it to get out of bed. Although the Annamaya Kosha is the “easiest” kosha for us to
access, we can still become very disconnected from it. For instance, if we’ve had a physical
injury or trauma we may consciously, or unconsciously, begin to ignore or disengage that area of
In our asana practice on the mat, we move our physical bodies into unique shapes, many of
which are very different from how we move in day-to-day life. As we move in these new ways,
we often realize that we’re feeling things in new ways too. Maybe we fold forward and are newly
aware of tightness running up the back of our legs, or bend to one side and realize that the two
sides of our body feel very different.
As we begin to notice more sensations in our physical body, we may become curious. We often
have so many preconceived notions about who we are, but what if there is something more
beneath the surface? As we move further inside, we realize our journey has only just begun.
Our second kosha is the Pranamaya Kosha, the energetic body. It governs our breath and the
flow of energy (prana) through the body. When we are disconnected from the Pranamaya Kosha
we may feel sluggish, or energetically “dull”, or have symptoms like slow digestion. But through
breathwork practices, we are able to reconnect with this kosha and better understand the power
of breath and energy as a vehicle through which we can connect to ourselves more deeply.
Take for instance a time when you felt sluggish and have paused what you’re doing and taken a
deliberate, deep breath. Did you feel your energy shift?
Our third kosha is the Manomaya Kosha, our mental sheath, which encompasses the mind and
emotions. When we are disconnected from the Manomaya Kosha we may get stuck in
unproductive thought patterns, have a hard time thinking clearly, feel overly affected by
emotional triggers, or have a hard time accessing much feeling at all. Meditation and journaling
are two practices that can help us tap into this kosha. Another powerful practice is “sitting in it”. I
can think of many times lately when I’ve felt overcome by my emotions and wanted to distract
myself to escape what I felt. But I didn’t let myself do that. Instead, I sat with these feelings and
allowed them to flow through me. And in doing so, I realized I’m not controlled by my emotions
and am actually a lot stronger than I thought I was.
Our fourth kosha is the Vijnanamaya Kosha, our wisdom sheath, associated with discernment,
intuition, and higher knowledge. Here, we have moved past the thoughts and emotions of the
Manomaya Kosha and to a place of deeper awareness. Do you ever have gut instincts? I
remember a few years ago when I had scheduled a trip to North Carolina for Labor Day
weekend. About a month before the trip, I decided I couldn’t go. Why? I couldn’t articulate a
reason; I just knew it in my gut. Hurricane Ida ended up hitting that weekend, meaning my trip
would have either been canceled with nonrefundable travel fees, or I would have been stranded
650 miles away from my children. I was very grateful to have trusted my gut.
Our fifth kosha is the Anandamaya Kosha, the bliss sheath. This kosha transcends individual
identity and connects us to universal consciousness. The Anandamaya Kosha is our innermost
layer, representing the culmination of spiritual evolution and the closest in proximity to our true
nature. We can tap into this kosha through all of our practices- asana, pranayama (breathwork),
meditation, self-reflection, etc. We can also tap into it by allowing ourselves to be more present
in the day-to-day; noticing the sun on our face, the breeze in our hair, the colors of the sky.
The koshas are often compared to layers of an onion, as we have to peel back the layers to get
to the core of our being. This journey doesn’t always feel easy and may not always feel good.
But it is always worth it. By recognizing and nurturing each kosha, we embark on a journey
towards self-realization, embracing the interconnectedness of body, breath, mind, heart,
wisdom, and bliss.
This very moment is our opportunity for a new beginning, no matter how many times we have
begun before. There is always something more to learn about ourselves, always something to
peel back and access more deeply. We are so much more than what we think we are. We are
Guided Meditation Practice for Accessing the Koshas
Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable space. Lie on your back, using any props that will help
you feel supported in the posture. Allow your arms to fall out to your side, palms facing up.
Relax your legs and allow your feet to fall open.
Close your eyes, and take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your lungs to fill with
fresh, cleansing air. Hold this breath for a moment, and then slowly exhale through your nose,
allowing tension in your body to release through the powerful vehicle that is your breath.
Bring your awareness to your physical body, supported by the earth. Notice the various parts of
your body that are connected to the earth- heels, backs of the legs, glutes, sacrum, middle
back, shoulder blades, back of your head. Begin to notice any sensations that are arising in your
physical body. Perhaps you feel your muscles beginning to relax or feel the blood pulsing
through your veins. Become curious about what you’re feeling.
Now bring your awareness back to your breath. With each breath cycle, deepen the breath a bit
more. As your breath deepens, notice if your awareness is traveling deeper within too. Become
aware of any thoughts or emotions that are arising at this time, resisting the urge to push any of
them away. Instead, in the same way that your breath flows in and out of you, allow these
thoughts and emotions to flow in and out of you too.
Staying in your reclined posture, bring one palm to the center of your chest (your energetic heart
center) and one palm to your forehead (the location of our third eye). As you continue to breathe
deeply, feel the gentle rise and fall of your palms as that pure, cleansing breath moves to those
two places in your body. Continue to lie here, focusing on breath, for a few more silent minutes.
(Allow 2-4 minutes to pass in silence)
Bring your awareness back to your breath, your expansive inhale coupled with an equally
expansive exhale. Feel that breath permeate deeper and deeper into the layers of your being.
Say to yourself “I am an expansive being. Full of life, perfectly divine. I am thankful for myself
and for the journey I’m on.”
Begin to slowly move your physical body, wiggling fingers and toes. Begin to make those
movements a big bigger, stretching through arms and legs. Draw your knees into your chest and
gently lower on to your right side coming into the fetal position. Pause here, and allow yourself
to just feel. When you’re ready, rise to a cross-legged seat facing the top of your mat. Remain
here, with eyes closed, for a few more breaths, before slowly opening your eyes and bringing
your awareness back into the room.
“Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” -The Bhagavad Gita
“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” -T.S. Elliot
“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is
“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
“This is just the beginning. You have so much more to do and discover. Even if it feels like you
should be further along by now, be patient with yourself…Good things take time, and my dear,
you’re destined for the extraordinary.” -Charlotte Freeman
“Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” -Walt Whitman