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What Is the Subtle Body?

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The Subtle Body and the Psyche

The Western equivalent is the psyche comprised of the ego, the conscious, and the unconscious mind.

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The subtle body is the ego, the mind, memories, the unconscious, the subconscious, and the supra-conscious aspects of the human being.

An equivalent term from Western philosophy and psychology would be the psycheThe subtle body is a concept derived from ancient Indian philosophy. It describes that part of the human being other than the physical body. 

Psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, neuroscientists, and yogis study the subtle body. You can directly experience your subtle body through self-examination and reflection. 

The study of the subtle body is crucial because it is the study of our essential nature, and understanding the subtle body leads to a more fulfilling life. The founder of modern science, Aristotle, noted, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

The subtle body is also a key element in the theory of reincarnation. Awareness of the subtle body also leads to a deeper understanding of yoga. In this writing, we will explore the history and science of the subtle body and learn ways to explore it through self-reflection and meditation. 

History of the Subtle Body

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References to the subtle body are found in the Upanishads, some of the most ancient writings of Indian philosophy. The term was subsequently defined and explored in more detail in the teachings of the Buddha, the Samkhya philosophy, and the yoga philosophy. 

These ancient philosophies, a vibrant part of our modern world, are soteriologies. Soteriology is a branch of metaphysical philosophy that deals with understanding the methods of liberation and salvation, the attainment of which leads to Nirvana and the experience of the “heaven within.”

There are two ways to conceptualize the subtle body. The first is as an object or a thing. The other way is to see it as a process, a becoming. We can conceptualize the mind as a thing; for example, “his mind is full of scattered thoughts;” or as a process: “her thinking is so haphazard.”

It is best to explore the subtle body primarily as a process. These processes are going on within us all the time. You can directly experience the subtle body. You are the subtle body.

The Essence of the Subtle Body

The essence of the subtle body begins with undifferentiated consciousness, an awareness that is not individualized. Next is core awareness, “I am.” Not “I am this or that,”  but “I am.”

In the Big Bang theory, an immense amount of creation occurred within fractions of the first second; so too with the subtle body. “I am” embodies the potential for sensing, thinking, and the elemental vibrations, the quantum level of reality, which merges and combines into the atomic and molecular reality that comprises the gross physical. 

With this understanding, you can understand the ego, which is part of the subtle body. The ego is ‘I am’ plus whatever ideas or emotions we attach to our sense of who and what we are. Each attachment ultimately creates suffering because it is subject to death and decay. You will achieve spiritual liberation when your awareness of the subtle body reaches the sensation of undifferentiated being: the pure experience of “I am.” 

The Gross Body

The gross physical begins where the subtle body ends—the gross physical includes our physical body and the world around us. As noted earlier, the physical arises from subtle matter, the quantum realm, then becomes the atoms and molecules that form physical objects.

The quantum level of reality is a realm of energy, potentiality, and probability. It does not become solidified until there is an observer. There is a fascinating illustration of the significance of the moment of observation in quantum mechanics entitled Schrodinger’s Cat.

Dreams and Reincarnation

"I am" embodies the potential for sensing, thinking, and the elemental vibrations, the quantum level of reality, which merges and combines into the atomic and molecular reality that comprises the gross physical.

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The Indian philosophy, the ancient Greeks, and many metaphysical philosophies believe that the subtle body survives the death of the physical body and then begins a new life by attracting a new gross physical. Modern science is starting to understand the effect of the subtle body on physical reality. 

The science of cymatics demonstrates this process of the subtle body affecting the physical body. Cymatics explores the effects of vibration and sound on the material world.

A classic experiment starts with sand scattered on a metal plate. Next, sound vibration is sent through the plate, which causes the sand to organize into precise geometric patterns that vary according to the note or sound frequency.

The subtle body maintains cohesion as we alternate between waking and sleep, between waking and dreams. Observe carefully, and you will see that the same “you” that experiences the gross physical in the waking state also experiences the subtle physical in the dream state. We feel emotions in the dream state and wake up carrying those emotions with us.  

The subtle body, which carries all of our memories and experiences, generates the world of our dreams. In the same way, the vibrations of our subtle body organize our physical body and the circumstances and situations of our life into ideal opportunities for personal growth.

During our lives, we learn and grow, which changes the vibration of our subtle body.  To understand reincarnation, visualize death as turning off the sound waves in the cymatic experiment. The next lifetime is analogous to a new sound, a new note sent through the metal plate. The sound is different because of all the unique wisdom and learnings the subtle body gleaned from experiences in the last lifetime. This new sound creates a fresh geometric pattern with the sand, the new body, and the circumstances of this next life time.

Explore the Subtle Body

Use these visualizations and ideas as a framework for your liberation. In quiet moments of reflection and meditation, you can experience your subtle body. With repeated efforts, you can go deeper and deeper into the core of your being. 

When you touch the “I am,” you will know it as the direct experience of self-effulgent joy and happiness. 

To learn more about meditation and self-inquiry, check out and subscribe to The Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga YouTube Channel.

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