The fourth of the five koshas is vijnanamaya kosha—the wisdom sheath. Vijnanamaya encompasses intuition and intellect. It can be thought of as the witness mind, or that aspect of our consciousness that is not entangled in what we are doing or thinking, but rather, acutely aware of what we are doing and thinking. Vijnanamaya kosha is awareness, simply put.
When you’ve reached the point in your yoga practice where you are much less distracted by random thoughts or occurrences and much less caught up in the anticipation of the next posture, you find that you are more able to feel the pose. You know what is happening in your body and your mind as you settle into the posture, noticing the nuances. This awareness is achieved when vijnanamaya kosha is properly developed.
Vijnanamaya builds on the foundation of the previous, outer sheath—manomaya kosha. Manomaya lays the groundwork for reaching vijnanamaya. We must first navigate the seas of our turbulent and busy minds before we are able to rise above the waves of thoughts that pull us away from our center. With this practice, we develop a steady mind and are able to view ourselves from a distance, so to speak. Vijnanamaya allows us to step back from our current situation and view it from a better perspective. This is where insight comes from.
Like manomaya, vijnanamaya can be obtained with regular yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation practice. Once we are able to fully engage vijnanamaya kosha, we will experience a deeper peace in our lives that comes by way of freedom from thoughts, actions, and speech that does not serve us. Given the world we live in, it is highly unlikely that you will maintain this awareness 24–7. Rather, it will come in waves, gradually increasing over time until you are much less likely to get caught up in the daily dramas your mind tells you about. As your yoga practice deepens, take notice of the subtle changes that occur and you will notice aspects of your awareness that exemplify the development of this kosha.