It’s often said that “You are what you eat.” According to yoga philosophy the material substance of our physical body is made of the food that we eat, derived from the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. In Sanskrit our material physical body is referred to as the annamayakosha. The word anna means “food.” But yoga reveals that we have four additional bodies: an energetic body (pranamayakosha), a body comprised of emotions and feelings (manomayakosha), an intellectual body (vijñanamaykosha) and an innermost subtle body comprised of bliss (anandamayakosha).
But even though we have five bodies, or koshas, they are still not who we really are; they are coverings that together make up our subjective experience of being alive. Our true Self is the atman, the eternal soul, and it lies hidden within these bodies. The five bodies form a vehicle for the soul and provide us with our unique individual identities, allowing us to share existence with other beings and to evolve our consciousness. All of our interactions with others affect all five of our bodies. Those interactions or relationships either hinder or support the revealing of the atman, the true Self.
Satchidananda—existence, knowledge and bliss—is the nature of the true Self, and it is this truth that underlies all manifestation. Through our karmas, by how we treat others as well as ourselves, we can cause that truth to be obscured. The yoga practices aim at purifying our perception of ourselves, others and ultimately God, by purifying the bodies that cover the Self, so that we will be able to see through the illusion of separateness. What separates our physical body from our spiritual essence is illusionary. The truth is that our spiritual self is more real than our physical self. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience, not the other way around. The life span of our physical bodies is short compared to the eternity of our true soul, which is immortal. Often people mistake physical existence for reality and refer to the spiritual as unreal. Actually that is upside down thinking. The spiritual reality is real and eternal, whereas physical reality is unreal and temporary.
The physical reality cannot exist without its underlying causes, which come from the more subtle realms of being. Every action that we take leaves an impression on our bodies. When those actions (karmas) are self-centered, we reinforce the sense of separation from the spiritual realm and can appear to ourselves as comprised only of dense, physical matter. When our actions come from a place of love and true other-centeredness, our physical bodies become lighter and more transparent, and awareness of our true nature shines through and illuminates all of our bodies.
When the dirt of ignorance (avidya) is removed from the bodies of the self the atman shines through. Yoga practices purify or cleanse the five bodies of avidya in particular ways. The annamayakosha, or physical body, is purified by a vegan diet, asanas, nadam and bhakti. The pranamayakosha, or energy body, is purified by kriyas, pranayama, asana, mudra, bandhas, nadam and bhakti. The manomayakosha, or emotional/feeling body, is purified by satsang, chanting, yamas, compassion, nadam and bhakti. The vijñanamayakosha, the intellectual body, is purified by satsang, chanting, niyamas, meditation, nadam and bhakti. The anandamayakosha, or bliss body, is purified by samadhi, joy, nadam and bhakti. In order to embark on this path of purification we have to intensely desire the knowledge of the Self, have a passionate yearning to know God and be willing to let go of what we think we know about reality.