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A dive into the subtle body.

In our previous articles, we discussed different elements surrounding the yogic traditions. We’ve explored the definition of yoga, its various schools of thought, and its evolution over time. We also got deeper into Patanjali's philosophy and detailed his eight limbs of yoga


With these basics in mind, we dived into concepts related to Hatha Yoga. We started by describing the system of the Nadis, or energy channels, which carry the Prana around our body. We also described the Shatkarma practices recommended to ensure a pure body and mind and facilitate the flow of Prana. 


This article and the following will explore the anatomy of the subtle body, describing its constitution according to yogic philosophy.

In this article, we will dive into the concepts of Koshas, Prana, and Vayus. We will discuss the philosophy behind them and the benefits of understanding their characteristics and values to enhance global health and consciousness. 



The Koshas. 

The first element to be defined in subtle anatomy is the Koshas. 

Kosha

In yogic philosophy, the Koshas are layers or veils of consciousness. Their function is to protect and contain the individual’s soul. The Koshas compose the individual’s personality and cover his true self. 

The yogic practices allow us to go deeper into these layers until we reach our inner self, the global consciousness, which would mean to attain Samadhi


There are five Koshas. The outer one is the physical body. Then comes the energetic, mental, and causal layers, and finally, the bliss sheath containing our pure consciousness. 


The first layer is Annamaya Kosha, the gross physical body. It is the one that allows us to sustain and nourish the others. It is supported by all our daily physical habits, such as eating, sleeping, and exercising. The better care we take of Annamaya, the more our deeper layers will be nourished and accessible. 


The second layer is Pranamaya Kosha, the energetic layer. This layer contains the Prana, or life energy, which we will discuss later. It is the space where our physical and mental energy moves through the Nadis and the Chakras. Different yogic practices, such as Pranayama, Asanas, Mudras, and Chakra activation, support it. 


Manomaya Kosha is the third layer. It is the mental body and contains all our cognitive processes and emotions. It governs our perceptions, beliefs, and habits. It is supported by meditating and cultivating a general awareness of our emotions and mental processes to understand and control them better.


Our fourth Kosha is the Vijnanamaya, or the wisdom body. It contains our intuition, witness and observant consciousness, and our wisdom. That layer is detached from our ego, thoughts, and sense of self. Profound meditation, detachment, and Jnana Yoga can support the Vijnanamaya Kosha. 


The last and deepest layer is the Anadamaya Kosha, representing the Bliss body. It contains the pure joy, love, peace, and ecstasy found in our inner and actual being. Behind this layer is the pure consciousness, the Atman, the connection to our true self. Connecting to this layer is the attainment of Samadhi, where the individual is lost in the global consciousness and becomes the “Knowledge.”


Understanding the Koshas and actively trying to observe them during our daily activities increase our awareness and gradually bring us closer to Samadhi. 



The Prana.

Now that we have an understanding of the different layers that compose an individual, let’s dive deeper into the notion of Prana.


Nadis and Chakra

Prana, directly translated from Sanskrit, means breath. The true meaning of Prana, as intended in the yogic philosophy, goes much deeper than the physical breath of our respiration. 

It is, in fact, the life energy that composes everything in the Universe. It is considered to be in every human being but also in every animal, plant, rock, star, etc. It is what keeps us alive and what connects everything together. 


Prana is movement. It is in constant circulation. In the human body, it flows at the level of the Pranamaya Kosha through the Nadis and passes through the seven chakras. Prana movement is essential, and its proper, uninterrupted flow through the Sushumna Nadi is the goal of Hatha Yoga philosophy. 

Patanjali, in his eight limbs of Yoga, described the steps to steady the Prana and direct it toward the Sushumna Nadi. Yogic practices like Shatkarmas, Mudras, and Bandhas are also meant to facilitate the movement of Prana. 


Prana is divided into five main types, called Vayus in yogic science and Ayurveda. Each has distinct characteristics and functions, flows in a specific way, and is located in a precise area.



The Vayus. 

Prana Vayu

Prana Vayu is the first type of Prana. It is the air of respiration and movement and is located between the diaphragm and the throat. It is considered the first air and the cosmic breath infused by Atman.

Vayu

It has effects on the heart and chest area, as well as on the face and the brain.


The Vedas and now science have found that the natural rhythm of our respiration, through inhalation, exhalation, and retention, is synchronized with our heartbeat. The heart beats about four times faster than we breathe. This rhythm facilitates movements inside and outside our body. It moves the heart, making it beat and sustaining the arteries and veins. It moves the food we eat to carry it in our digestive system. It sustains our senses, clarity, and wisdom.

 

The Vedic and Yogic philosophies thus consider the Prana Vayu as the silent witness of our journey through our human life. When we are stressed, sick, pressurized, or we don’t live according to our values and characteristics, the rhythm of our breath changes and the natural movement of Prana Vayu becomes impaired. This change is transmitted in our other bodily functions. It creates an accumulation of air in the body (Vata in Ayurveda) and brings different health conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, heart diseases, and/or painful inflammatory conditions. 


Breath can replenish the flow of Prana Vayu. A regular practice of Pranayama enhances its flow in and out of the body. Yoga asanas and meditation, too, favor movement and can positively influence the flow of Prana Vayu. In Ayurveda, Panchakarma cleansing therapies and Vata-nourishing food can help revitalize Prana Vayu. 



Udana Vayu


Udana Vayu, also known as the “rising air,” is the second type of Prana. It flows upward from the novel to the throat and nose, passing through the lungs. It is considered the air of the throat. 


The Vedas philosophy states that each individual is born with a specific number of breaths, which are given according to the person's karma in previous lives. According to this philosophy, a person dies once her breaths are used. Udana Vayu keeps track of those breaths. 


The Udana Vayu gives us our vocal power and clarifies our senses and perception. It preserves our natural strength, will, and capacity for effort. It also keeps our memories of both past and current life. 


When it doesn’t function correctly, an individual can experience memory loss, impaired speech, dizziness or heaviness in the head, or deep fears. The impaired flow of Udana Vayu can also shorten the individual's life. 


We can protect the integrity of Udana Vayu by controlling our sounds and breath pace. When one is aware and alert of oneself in the Universe and doesn’t get caught up in unnecessary noise by getting angry or being too vocal, he protects his Udana Vayu. 


Thus, Udana Vayu can be replenished through silence, Pranayama, Asanas, Meditation, or Yoga Nidra. Chanting mantras or doing wholesome grounding activities will also contribute to its maintenance. In Ayurveda, seasonal cleansing and the consumption of Vata-nourishing food are recommended to keep Udana Vayu balanced. 



Samana Vayu


Samana Vayu, the third type of Prana, flows between the diaphragm and the navel. 


Considered the air of the stomach, it is the one, on the physical level, that assists food movement through the stomach and small intestines. It stimulates the production of gastric juices and digestive enzymes and helps assimilate nutrients. It is also responsible for transporting nutrients to the tissues and discharging wastes in the colon. 


When disturbed, the Samana Vayu can cause mucus accumulation in the stomach, indigestion, poor assimilation, and diarrhea. 


On the subtle and mental level, the Samana Vayu is responsible for our inner flexibility and spirit of discernment. It gives us the capacity to discriminate between the valuable and the unnecessary. It reflects our ability to balance. 


To keep Samana Vayu balanced and flowing, one can practice Pranayama, Yoga, or Tai Chi. The seasonal Ayurvedic and Yogic cleansings, Ayurvedic massages, and eating Vata-nourishing food can also contribute to maintaining a balanced state of Samana Vayu. 



Apana Vayu


The fourth type of Vayu, Apana Vayu is the air of the colon and is located in the pelvic region. It is the most dominant of the Vayus. 


It is the air of elimination. Its primary role is to expel feces, urine, flatus, semen, and menstrual waste. It is also the Vayu implied in the birth of a child, as it maintains the fetus and eventually lets it flow downward. 


It flows downward and is spiritually connected to our sense of non-attachment to material possessions. The Yogic philosophy teaches that our cognitive memories and higher levels of consciousness can’t be attained if there is greediness. Apana Vayu teaches us to nourish ourselves and let go of the excess. It is essential in our pursuit of awareness.


When impaired, Apana Vayu can cause diseases of the bladder, anus, testicles, and uterus. Its flow can be sustained by seasonal Ayurvedic and Yogic cleansing, especially the Basti and enema practices. Ayurvedic massages, warm baths, and a Vata-nourishing diet can also benefit the flow of Apana Vayu.

 



Vyana Vayu


Last but not least, Vyana Vayu is the fifth type of Prana. It is known as the air of circulation and is located in the heart. 


The Vyana Vayu distributes the energy. On the spiritual level, it represents our sense of charity and personal freedom. It teaches us to live in a community and influence each other positively. It gives us inward mobility, allowing us to direct our energy towards what makes us feel aligned. 


In the physical body, it transports the blood and nutrients through blood vessels, lymphatic channels, and glands. It is also responsible for bodily expressions such as yawning and blinking. 


When impaired, the Vyana Vayu can cause skin dryness, poor circulation, and diseases like fever and diarrhea. 


The flow of Vyana Vayu will be sustained by practices of yoga and pranayama. The Ayurvedic massage, body brushing, baths, aroma therapy, and a Vata-nourishing diet also sustain a good flow of Vyana Vayu. 



Briefly put all that together…


So, if we resume and combine all of this in yogic subtle anatomy, we have the beginning of a structure forming. 


We have the Kosha, sheets composing an individual’s personality and characteristics. These Kosha go from the external physical body to the energy, the mental, the wisdom, and finally, our true self. 


The Prana, the life energy, moves in the human body through Nadis, or energy channels, and passes through the seven Chakras, which we will describe in our next article. The essence of Hatha Yoga is to keep the Prana flowing in the Sushumna Nadi, which leads to Samadi. 


The Prana is divided into five main types and five sub-types. They are each located in a different area and have a different impact on a person's spiritual and physical health. 


Understanding the yogic anatomy and relating it to our lives and experiences can be of great interest to those who wish to follow a yogic path. Whether it is for managing health conditions or just for your well-being and self-care, understanding what is happening at a subtle level of yourself is a powerful tool. 




At Japam, one of our core values is making this knowledge accessible so everyone can be empowered on their journey through health and well-being. 

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or want a personal approach to your needs.


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