- The Subtle Body is what connects our physical body to the Causal Body (AKA Universe, Spirit, God).
- The Subtle Body is always working to process sensory input from the physical body and advance our connection to the Universe, but when we intentionally activate it during our yoga practice we can experience that greater connection more presently on and off the mat.
- Activating the Subtle Body on the mat is simple but not necessarily easy. Or maybe it will be totally easy for you. You won’t know until you try!
- To get you started, there are 5 simple things you can do to activate the Subtle Body intentionally on and off the mat.
What’s So Subtle About the Subtle Body?
Spoiler Alert: Not much!
Actually, the Subtle Body isn’t as mystical as it sounds. In fact, some would argue that it’s really not that subtle at all (Like me! Right here!)
Made up of five layers – or sheaths or koshas, not to be confused with the kleshas– that overlap each other, the Subtle Body is working all the time whether or not we acknowledge it.
Its primary purpose appears to be processing all our sensory input brought in by the physical body and connecting our physical and subtle bodies to the Causal Body, or Spirit/ Universe/ God from whence we all came and are connected.
The good news? It’s pretty easy to do once you understand what the koshas are and how to activate them.
What Are the Koshas and What Do They Do?
The first kosha, or the outermost kosha, the annamaya kosha, is considered the food sheath, or the body made up of skin and eyes and hair that is literally what we eat processed into a functioning body. We know how to access and activate that, right? Lots of water, lots of fresh whole foods. That’s the physical body.
The last kosha, or the innermost kosha, is the anandamaya kosha, or our bliss sheath. This kosha is kind of like a little piece of the Causal Body or Spirit, that thing that lives within that is connected to that which is so much larger than ourselves and encompasses everything.
In between these and overlapping them are three middle koshas: pranayama kosha, manomaya kosha, and vijnanamaya kosha. Together, these koshas make use of the breath, the mind and memory, the intellect, wisdom, and intuition, to process the information brought in by our senses in such a way that obstacles and distractions are removed from our path to samadhi, or enlightenment and bliss.
Wait – So Are the Koshas Real?
What do you mean by “real”?
The answer depends on your definition of “real.” Are koshas tangible in the sense that if you were to split your body in half that they would tear or be visible? No. (Same with the kleshas, by the way.)
Are they real in the sense that they are a form and structure designed by ancient philosophers to help us understand how we have all the tools within us to connect with the Divine Universe? Yes.
Having said that, it’s important to point out that some people do say that they can tell when the Subtle Body is active by a change in energy that is visible or otherwise identifiable external to the body. But that’s a different conversation.
How Do I Activate the Koshas?
On the mat and off
So here are those five easy tips to activating your koshas that I promised:
1 – Yoga means “to yoke,” and tagging in the Subtle Body doesn’t mean abandoning the physical body.
This means that you don’t have to sit and meditate in order to activate the Subtle Body. That first body is a food body; you can activate it for spiritual purposes by eating healthfully.
That innermost body is a bliss state. Some people find that state unexpectedly when they are immersed in their passion – painting, writing, singing, holding a baby. There are a number of active – and personal – ways to tap into your Subtle Body.
All the sheaths in between, those are accessed through awareness + perception + mind + intuition (keep reading ;).
2 – Touch happens in more than just the fingertips.
The skin is the largest organ in the body, the first responder for much of our perception – and it is not relegated only to the fingertips. Especially when we are on our mat, we can begin the process of connecting to the Subtle Body by grounding ourselves on the mat. Notice where the body comes into contact. Feel the sensations of rooting into the earth and then drawing from that into the body.
This is awareness at its most heightened, and it is here, when we honestly and thoroughly open and assess where we are, where we are standing (or lying), that we ground ourselves and begin the activation process. This allows us to not only wake up the annamaya kosha, the outermost sheath, but to wake up the inner three koshas responsible for processing that information on different levels of awareness.
3 – The feet and the hands account for about half the bones in the body.
Yes, that’s right. About half the bones in the body are split between the hands and the feet (27 and 26, respectively), each one connected to a maze of tiny muscles, joints, and ligaments.
The feet, for example, have more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles plus 30 joints in addition to the 26 bones. There is so much opportunity for minor adjustments to your stance, to how you point or flex the foot and change where you feel release in the body, to your sense of lightness and balance on the mat.
Paying attention to these tiny little details goes deeper than the senses and takes your Subtle Body awareness to the next level as well.
4 – Softening is the same thing as stretching – but better!
One of the buzz word cues that you may be hearing (or using) more frequently in the studio is the cue to “soften.” This is a word that invites the Subtle Body to awake because the cue is essentially asking you to relax specific muscles when in a pose, allowing the focus to turn to activation of key body parts – or the mind, memory back, wisdom, and intuition that is the Subtle Body at work.
When we “stretch” in a pose, there is a sense of reaching for something that is out of reach, pushing our boundaries, perhaps striving to attain something that is not within our capability. It is a notion that takes up space and commands focus, becoming an obstacle to our ability to turn inward and focus on the Subtle Body.
But when we “soften” in a pose, we are invited to relax into what is already natural to us, allowing us to feel a sense of release that creates more space for focus on the activation of the Subtle Body.
5 – Breath connects the physical body and subtle energy bodies – but it’s more than air.
We too often talk about pranayama practice as if it is simply the art and science of moving oxygen into the body. When we are talking about yoga practice in general and activation of the Subtle Body on or off the mat in particular, it is so much more: it is the direction of life force or energy into the different sheaths using the breath.
Remember the three koshas in between the food sheath and the bliss sheath/ Causal Body? Those are navigated with breath that is directed based on awareness and intuition and driven by intention. This can be done in stillness, but it can also be done in any yoga posture on the mat and in any situation off the mat.
Bottom line: The power of the mind + breath can come together anywhere, making the Subtle Body accessible in any circumstance. The more you practice it, the easier and more accessible it becomes!
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