The subtle body is the subject of various teachings. Many of them centre around the body’s own psycho-spiritual connections.
Beliefs of the subtle body include the notion that there are many subtle bodies in one person. Each subtle body corresponds to a separate plane of existence, which all finally culminate in the physical body.
The term subtle body was not used at first. ‘Subtile body’ is the term which first turns up in our literature in the middle of the seventeenth century. The term then occurs sporadically up until the middle of the nineteenth century.
At that point, the more familiar subtle body appears, and that is the way it has stayed until the present day. The origin of the original phrase we used is under discussion, but it could potentially come from various Sanskrit words, such as Suksma – dormant, and sarira – body.
The Subtle Body in Religion
The subtle body appears in many different religions around the world, particularly in Eastern religions. The subtle body is connected to focal points around the physical body through the means of channels which convey breath.
Channels and breath, or subtle breath, can determine what the physical body will look like. If therefore, people have control over the various planes of existence, then that will extend to control over certain aspects of the physical plane as well.
Breathing and visualisation practices allow people to gain control over their own reality. This then lets them further control how these channels ebb and flow. True practitioners of such methods are able to attain a higher level of consciousness from their expertise.
The Bhagavad Gita states that the subtle body is made up of mind, intelligence, and ego. These three combine to control the physical manifestation of the body. We can see this idea throughout a number of other spiritual traditions, such as Sufism in the Islamic tradition, Taoism, and Tibetan Buddhism.
The subtle body even appears in Hermeticism under the guise of the immortal body. All of these were attached to certain symbols such as the sun and the moon.
Tantra sees the subtle body in a very positive light – the potential for yoga to eventually lead to liberation is very vivid in this tradition. This tradition subscribes to a number of beliefs surrounding the subtle body.
In that tradition, it is a flow of energy leading directly to various points of focus in the body. These points can vary according to the religious or spiritual Tantra traditions involved. Netra has six chakras, and Kaulajnana-nirnaya having eight chakras. Kibjikamata Tantra has the seven chakra system, which is universally recognised.
Buddhist Tantra calls the subtle body the innate body, and also the uncommon means body. Thousands upon thousands of energy channels, which carry energy from place to place, are what creates the subtle body. All of these channels eventually converge on the chakras, and there are three main channels which directly connect the chakras to one another.
These channels are as follows: the left channel, the central channel, and the right channel. These channels start at the brow and move through the subtle body, passing through all the chakras on the way down.
Reconnecting with Your Subtle Body
We experience the subtle body through our feelings and sensations. However, before you can be aware of it, you need to train yourself to feel it.
The subtle body can get lost within our thoughts, as our minds can become too clouded to properly sense it. Our everyday feelings of anger, happiness, and sadness are too overwhelming for the subtle body. To begin properly, you need to learn to control your emotions.
The subtle body communicates to us through our own physical bodies. It does not interact with the emotional script we have for ourselves. Once we manage to quiet our minds and emotions, then we can start to hear our subtle body communications.
The best part about the subtle body is that once we get into the way of listening, then we can hear what it has to tell us. Meditation and breathing exercises allow us to hear the channels of our body. By doing this, we begin to sense that the physical plane is just one aspect of our being.
By becoming more aware of your subtle body, you will come to realise that your physical body is simply a collection of sensations that are in constant flux.
To try and experience your subtle body, try the following exercise:
Try to become aware of your heart and the area around it. Once you are comfortable with this visualisation, next move onto attempting to get in touch with whatever sensations are there.
Observe the sensations for a while – are they stable, or do they change according to different times and stimuli? Do you see any association with the feelings – a sound, an image, or anything like that?
Anything you hear within yourself is your subtle body speaking to you, sending its energy through the channels in your body.