The first of the five koshas is anamaya kosha—the physical body. Your limbs, torso, and head; your skin, muscles, bones, and organs—everything that makes up your body, inside and out, is the anamaya kosha. The practice of yoga begins with the anamaya kosha because it is most tangible. We can see it, feel it, and move it. It’s easily accessible to us. The physical practice of yoga asana and pranayama are very anamaya-centered.
Cultivating body awareness in the modern world is truly a challenge, however. We tend to be so outward focused, always looking ahead to the next thing, or paying attention to anything but the present moment. Our bodies simply get shuffled around from place to place, fed whatever food is most convenient, and basically ignored until symptoms emerge that force us to begin paying attention, often too late.
It is no mistake that the practice of yoga, especially in the West, begins with the physical asanas. We need it. The time we spend moving and breathing—all while staying present (for the most part) with these movements and breaths—is truly a gift that can open up our awareness. In order to begin to understand the deeper and subtler koshas, or sheaths, we must first come to know our physical body.
Anamaya kosha is also called the “food body” for the simple reason that, as the saying goes, you are what you eat. The foods we eat literally become our body as they are broken down into nutrients and absorbed so that the body can utilize them. The vitality of the foods we choose to eat is a direct reflection of the vitality our bodies will achieve. Truly understanding and integrating this concept into your life will help remove the obstacles that may have kept you from adopting healthier dietary habits.
The anamaya kosha is deceiving because we tend to identify it as our self. We think that we are our physical bodies. In fact, the yoga philosophy identifies the body as a temporary vehicle that we currently inhabit. How we treat the body plays an important role in the quality of our life experiences. The practice of yoga helps us to understand this. Once we become very familiar with anamaya, the subtler bodies can be uncovered.