the subtle body

NEWS FLASH: Western society doesn’t exactly value “the subtle”. 

We are taught that hardwork is the key to success, wealth can buy you fame, sickness should be cured with drugs, and happiness is driven by self-esteem and positivity. 

We know it, too! The go-to sarcastic reply to something outrageously obvious? 

🙄 “Wow. Subtle.” 

This may be the reason that the subtle body, the ninth light body, is the second-most widely taught concept of the 10 body philosophy in Kundalini yoga (the first is the physical body, of course). 

Yogis often sense the importance of the subtle – the things we can’t see, but can sense – when deepening a physical practice. Sometime along this path, it becomes clear that we’re something more than just a physical body. But what, exactly, are we? By gaining a deeper understanding of the subtle body and how to access it, we can become better yogis and teachers, and access stores of powerful energy contained in our being. 

What is The Subtle Body in Kundalini Yoga?

The subtle body represents our energetic and intuitive experience of reality. It’s often used as an umbrella term for the various homes and movements of prana (or life force) through the body. In the subtle body, there are thousands of nadis, or energetic channels, through which our prana flows. As one of the highest bodies in the ten-body system, the subtle body requires a more dedicated spiritual and intuitive practice to access than some of the lower bodies, like the neutral mind.

Origins of The Subtle Body In Yoga 

History lesson! The use of the words “subtle body” extend back to the Upanishads, yogic texts written in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Upanishads discuss five coexisting bodies that we now refer to as the koshas. These are coexisting layers that exist simultaneously within our being, and they formed the basis for the 10 bodies theory that Yogi Bhajan brought to the US in the 1970s. 

They are the Annamaya Kosha (the physical layer), the Pranamaya Kosha (the vital energy layer), the Manomaya Kosha (the mental layer), the Vijnanamaya Kosha (the wisdom layer), and the Anandamaya Kosha (the bliss layer). As we develop our subtle bodies, these five koshas progress you from the Earth-bound physical body and bring you more towards your true nature. 

The Subtle Body & The Chakra System

My favorite way to connect with the subtle body? Definitely through practice that aligns with the chakra system. Within Sushumna Nadi (the energetic central-axis in our bodies), we have seven energetic centers – known widely as the seven chakras! Each of the chakras gives us a different lens through which to view the subtle body. In this regard, it’s helpful for us as teachers and spiritual seekers to have “steps” to evolutionary consciousness. If you’re very new to the subtle body and it all seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry!! The chakras will help you open a whole new dimension to your yoga practice. I walk you through it in this 7-day chakra program that will boost your confidence on and off the mat. 

the subtle body in yoga

Characteristics of The Subtle Body

Affirmation: I am an energetically intuitive being. I am connected to the infinite nature of reality.

Qualities: The qualities of the subtle body are deeply connected to our more intuitive and spiritual nature. These include:

  • Ageneral sense of calm
  • Deep connection with intuition 
  • Insightfulness
  • The ability to foresee long term consequences of events
  • Connection to the Akashic records

Those who are deeply connected with their ninth bodies often come across as deeply intuitive. They are able to remain subtle and calm, even in difficult circumstances, and are not reactive, but steady, thoughtful, and expansive. Those who are deeply connected to their subtle bodies want to see the bigger picture. They also have a deep understanding that everything is connected, and can move beyond the limited perception of separation – into the divine truth of unification. 

Balancing Your Subtle Body (Ninth Body)

If you want to live a more mindful and joyous life, check your ninth body! Yoga teachers will find that balancing their own subtle bodies will have a powerful ripple effect on the progress and capacity of their students.  

Signs of Balance: Those with a balanced ninth body will be able to maintain balance and calm. Here are some other strong indicators of balance in the Subtle Body.

  • The ability to see your true Self clearly and project it 
  • The ability to clearly communication insights
  • Feeling a sense of purpose and connection with the universe

Symptoms of Imbalance: Sensing an imbalance in the ninth body can be difficult for anyone new to the ten bodies philosophy. After all, an imbalance in the subtle body doesn’t show up in the physical body (although it can influence how you feel in your body). Here are some indicators of a potential imbalance in the subtle body:

  • Being easily misled or overly naive
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Feeling misunderstood and often frustrated
  • The inability to balance your own thoughts & emotions with those of others

How to Access the Subtle Body 

Dedicate 1,000 Days To Practice

Pick any meditation and kriya, and do it every day for 1,000 days. If this seems intimidating, that’s kind of the point! This is the most traditional “prescription” for an imbalance in the subtle body. Keeping a dedicated practice for a prolonged period of time is a great indicator of personal dedication – tapas, according to the niyamas. The driving force behind this practice is to shift our perception of the mystery of consciousness towards mastery of the practices of consciousness.

If you’re like, “wow – that’s almost 3 years of daily practice!” You’d be right ☺️ If that’s way beyond your current practice routine, start with five minutes of silent meditation every day. You’ll probably find that the more you practice, the longer you’re inclined to sit and meditate. As you do, take time to notice any changes you see in your mental health or your abilities to cope with stressful situations. 

practices for the subtle body

Wahe Guru Kriya

According to Kundalini tradition, this practice strengthens and tones your nervous system. This helps us to move into a space of nonattachment and ease that is pertinent for the ninth body. The next time you have a big decision to make, try this practice for a few minutes to regulate your subtle body beforehand. 

  1. Take a seat on the floor with an upright spine and close your eyes. 
  2. Start with your hands resting on your knees, bring the tips of your thumb and index finger to touch. 
  3. Flip your palms up and extend the rest of your fingers straight. 
  4. Take your inhale in 10 equal parts or ‘sniffs.’ 
  5. As you inhale, release the mudra and move your hands in 10 short, sharp movements towards your forehead with each segment of the inhale. 
  6. At the top of your inhale, cover your eyebrows with your palms.
  7. Then, with one long, smooth exhale, slowly bring your fingertips together like a teepee, keeping the palms separated.
  8. Bring your hands down the center line slowly as you exhale.

Kundalini Pranayama Breath Series for Glandular Balance 

This practice is perfect training your ability to see beyond the illusion of reality; a key capability of the well-tuned subtle body. This is how to do it:

  1. Begin in a seated position. 
  2. Inhale in 16 short sniffs, pulling your belly button in towards your spine with each one. 
  3. As you sniff, repeat the mantra “Sat Nam” in your mind. 
  4. Exhale in 16 parts, again vibrating Sat Nam in your mind. 
  5. Do this for 5 minutes. 
  6. After you’re finished, come to rest on the back and stretch your arms out long above you. 
  7. Inhale slowly as you raise your legs up about six inches above the ground. As you exhale, release your legs and bring your chin in towards your chest. Continue this for three minutes. 
  8. Rest in savasana for two minutes.
  9. Return to your seat. Fold your arms across your chest and take hold of your opposite elbows. 
  10. As you exhale, bend forward slowly and bring your forehead to the ground. Inhale to come up slowly. Continue this for 3 minutes.
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