Note: This is part 2 of 7. For the full series on the 5 koshas click here.
Annamaya kosha is your physical body. Formed by the food you consume, it’s referred to as the “food body” — Anna “food”, kosha “body”. This is the layer of the five elements, the material aspect of your existence.
Is Annamaya Kosha an Illusion?
It could be said that the physical body is the greatest of illusions. Maya, being the trickster Goddess she is, convinces you that you’re a bag of blood and bones, living in a cold, mechanistic reality. On the other hand, it could also be said that this physical plane is Her fullest creative expression — Spirit made manifest.
The first viewpoint can lead to a negative view of the body and world. People gazing out through this lens can become puritanical, life-negating, escapists. They want out. Now.
The second viewpoint can become a slippery slope. Finding pleasure in Life’s playground can lead to attachment to playmates and toys. People attached to the physical want to stay in the physical. Forever.
It’s easier to label and discuss things in terms of black and white, as one or the other, but it’s also possible for both of the above views to be true.
Annamaya kosha is the greatest of illusions when you’re identified as it. But it’s also the vehicle through which you experience the beauty and joy of creation, and the vessel through which you discover your true Self.
Building a Stable Foundation for Spiritual Practice
An integral approach to spirituality involves cultivating an awareness of all the different levels and layers of being. The healthiest, most sustainable way of beginning this practice is in annamaya kosha. Developing an awareness of the physical body first will create a solid and stable foundation on which your spiritual practice can be built.
The body is the vehicle in which you journey through life. A healthy body equals a smoother ride.
In India, a system of medicine called Ayurveda (ayur, life; veda, science) developed alongside the spiritual practice of yoga. The yogis discovered that through proper diet, exercise, and the right use of herbs, they could align themselves with the uplifting current of energy known as sattva guna.
The 3 Gunas and a Yogic Diet
Yogic philosophy describes three fundamental forces of nature that interact with each other to form the universe as we know it.
I mention the gunas here, not because they are more active within the physical body than the subtler ones, but because they provide an easy way of understanding energetic states within all the bodies.
Qualities of the 3 Gunas:
- Sattva – purity, harmony, and light
- Rajas – movement, passion, restlessness
- Tamas – inertia, dullness, darkness
I’ll be writing another article that dives into the details of the gunas. For now, let’s look at how the three forces relate to diet.
Sattva is the force of upliftment and expansion. When its influence is dominant you experience a sense of levity and well-being.
A sattvic diet consists of whole, non-irritating, nutritious foods. It can include milk and other dairy products, but is vegetarian and primarily plant-based.
Fruits, sprouts and fresh vegetables, high quality oils, nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes are all a part of a sattvic diet. Foods are eaten in moderation, within season, and can vary depending on one’s particular constitution.
The opposite of a sattvic diet is a tamasic one. Ever gorged on ice cream or other junk food late at night, then woke the next morning feeling dull and groggy? That dull, heavy feeling you have are the qualities of a tamasic state.
Tamas guna is the force of darkness and inertia. It binds us to the physical and familiar. It’s resistance. Contraction.
The third guna is rajas. When overly active it can lead to restlessness, anger and anxiety. An excess of foods that are fried and spicy provoke rajas. Too much caffeine or other stimulants can send it through the roof.
The forces of the gunas are contained within all the foods you consume. Those foods go on to build and influence annamaya kosha — your “food body”.
There are many books written on this subject. But the important thing to become aware of are the after-effects of the foods you eat and the activities you engage in.
Does your diet and activities leave you feeling calm, agitated, or dull? Is your default physical state one of radiant health or weakness and dis-ease?
When you sit to meditate does the body feel like it’s trying to pull you down into sleep? Does if feel like it wants to jump off the cushion and run around the block? Or is it calm, balanced, and energized?
When the body is sattvic it will be calm and light. And this will help you advance on the path through the koshas.
Come back again to the idea of the koshas being vehicles through which you awaken. Imagine that a new environmental law was put into place that stated that each citizen was only allowed to purchase one car every ten years.
If your car breaks down in eight, you’re stuck with twenty-four months of public transit. Total it in an accident, it’s carpools for the rest of the decade.
That’s a high incentive to keep your ride well-maintained. High octane gasoline, lubes every 3k miles, regular tune-ups and flushes — you may even purchase new tires at the first hint of overwear for fear of having a blowout.
Think of your body in the same way. It’s the only ride you’ve got. You want it tuned-up and firing on all cylinders. Just as you wouldn’t put 60 octane gasoline in your car, you don’t want to use twinkies and hotdogs as fuel for your body.
The Force of Resistance
The best way to keep your body operating like a high efficiency machine is to eat right, drink plenty of fluids, get the proper balance of movement and rest, and address any imbalances before they become deeper problems. You already know this. The problem, of course, is the ego’s resistance.
The journey through the five koshas involves change and transformation. It’s a process of purification and refinement.
This path isn’t designed to rob you of the pleasure’s of life, but to give rise to enhanced sensitivity. Remember, the finest kosha is the bliss body, and the closer you get to that the more you live with joy.
The ego doesn’t want anything to do with this process. It convinces you that you’re someone who eats steak and potatoes and washes the meal down with a couple beers. “That’s what you’ve always done,” the ego says, “and that’s just who you are.”
The work is to burn through the ego’s resistance and make the changes you know need to be made.
Embracing the World
Annamaya kosha is a part of the world you live in. There’s no real separation between your body and your environment. To embrace the world is to embrace the body is to embrace the world.
All the world’s beauty and imperfections, all its conflicts and harmonies, are reflected within the microcosm of the body. To know one is to know the other. Your experience of physical reality is always a relationship between the two.
Creating harmony within annamaya kosha involves coming into harmony with the world. It’s to live in a way that is healthy for the planet and all its inhabitants.
In the next article we’ll explore the 4th covering of the soul, pranamaya kosha.