When you know how it feels like to be fully present in your physical body, rather than floating through life half-disassociated from it, you will find yourself more centered and sane, less prone to accidents, more intuitively tuned into which foods and activities actually nourish the body.
When you can touch into the subtle power of expansion and healing in the Vital Energy Body, you can move stuck energy, release your own vitality, connect to the energy in nature and in others. When you know the feel of your own Mental Body, you can begin to note the effect of certain thoughts, and actually step out of the trance-like states that arise when we blindly identify with thoughts and emotions. Once you have learned how to access your Wisdom Body, you'll find that you have more and more access to the clarity and intuition that can keep your life on track. And each time you touch into the Bliss Body, you are touching into the fundamental goodness of life.
Annamaya Kosha: The Physical Sheath
Though the Physical Sheath is the most obvious and apparent aspect of ourselves, very few of us actually have a real sense of where our organs are, or what actually goes on inside our own bodies. When I first began practicing yoga, it was nearly impossible for me to feel my feet or the muscles in my legs unless they actually hurt. Instead of sensing the body from inside, I tended to 'think' the body, simply because so much of my energy and attention was parked in the Mental Body. Most yoga injuries, not to mention accidents, eating compulsions and other physical addictions, actually come from this tendency to move and use the body without actually feeling how it responds. More than that, our refusal to fully enter our physical body keeps us ungrounded, spacey, and fearful. Once you learn to feel your body, to sense it from within, you start to know how to move inside a posture to protect yourself from injury. You begin to sense what food you need, and how much. Your attention becomes grounded. There is more presence and ease in your life when you learn to consciously inhabit the physical body.
To get 'into' the Physical Sheath, try this exercise. Become present to your feet in your shoes. Tighten and relax the muscles in your calves. Touch your face, and sense the contact between the fingers and the skin. Put your hand over your chest, and feel the heartbeat, or simply the contact between the hand and the flesh there. Then pick an inner organ—the liver, the heart, the kidneys. Try to find it with your attention. Really sink your attention into that organ. Just as you would in meditation, notice when your attention gets distracted by thinking or conceptualizing. When that happens, note to yourself 'Thought,' and come back to sensing the organ itself. Notice the naturally settling and grounding effect of this practice.
Pranamaya Kosha (Vital Energy Body)
The next three koshas are subtle, meaning that they can't be tangibly grasped. Nonetheless, they can be felt, and learning to feel them is essential for mastery of our inner world.
The Pranamaya Kosha, the Vital Energy Body, interpenetrates the physical body, but is actually much larger. When you feel expanding energy in the heart or head during meditation or asana practice, or when waves of heat seem to go through the body, you are in contact with the Vital Energy body. Most of us are aware of how coordinating asana with the breath brings energy into an asana, but we often don't realize that when we feel energized, sleepy, dull, restless, calm, vibrant, we are actually feeling our Vital Energy Body. Just as we have a physical 'look', we also have a personal energetic signature. Once you get sensitive to the energy within you and around you, you will start to recognize the vibrational signature that you or others leave in a room, or even on a piece of clothing. (Remember how comforting it was the first time you wore your boyfriend's shirt to bed?)
You may also notice how much of your communication with the world is actually happening on an energetic level—from the way you 'feel' when you're in the room with an angry person, to the peace you can find by sitting under a big old tree, to the subtle transmission of energy you get from being with a really good teacher.
Meditation and even asana practice, which is often classified as a practice of the physical body, are intended primarily to tone the Energy Body, as well as the Physical and Mental Bodies. Much of the purpose of asana, especially when different asanas are practiced together, is to move stagnant energy, or prana, opening and changing the flow of vital force in the body.
One way to tune into the power within the Vital Energy Sheath is to practice letting yourself be breathed. Without changing your breathing pattern, become aware of the breath flowing into and out of your body, as a natural, spontaneious flow.