Yoga Nidra and Subtle Bodies

Most of the relaxation sessions on Gillian’s CDs are based on the ancient Indian practice known as yoga nidra or psychic sleep.

The soul is not in the body but the body is in the soul.
Meister Eckhardt

The healing power of the deep relaxation practice known as yoga nidra is best understood using the Eastern model of subtle energies and subtle bodies This time honoured model sees us as having not just a physical body but a number of non physical or ‘subtle bodies’. This is a strange notion of course for the average Western mind, which is steeped in the materialism of a Newtonian universe.

The most tangible of these subtle bodies is known as the etheric body. The etheric body carries the life force energy or ‘qi’ energy that acupuncture and martial art practices tap into. In yoga it is known as prana. Most people these days have heard of the special energy centres on the spine known as charkas. Chakras are structures in the etheric body that act like gateways between the physical body and the more subtle bodies that infuse and surround it.

Acupuncture points (tsubos) can be understood as mini charkas. There are thousands of them on energy channels known as meridians that carry the life force (prana, or qi) to the vital organs of the body in much the same way as arteries and veins transport blood. Meridians can be experienced in deep meditation and often in yoga nidra, as fine lines of energy flow and can be felt by sensitive practitioners of shiatsu (finger pressure) massage.

The health of the body of qi or prana ( etheric body) is essential to the health of the physical body. The etheric body however is constantly agitated by our thoughts and emotions. In the Eastern model these mental agitations belong to what is known as the ‘astral body’ In order to maintain adequate levels of qi throughout the physical body, the etheric body needs to be regularly released from the wear and tear imposed by our astral (mental/emotional) ‘body’.

We could use the analogy of a moistened sponge to illustrate the interactions of these bodies of energy with the sponge as the physical body. The water in the sponge is the qi of the etheric body. The mental and emotional agitations of the astral body are like a hand squeezing the water out of the sponge. The endless stimulation of modern life means that the astral body not only continuously distorts the sponge, it also dries it out over time. The flow of life giving qi becomes blocked and depleted causing exhaustion to the physical body, an acceleration of ageing and a weakening of the immune system.

This whole process of qi deterioration is also exacerbated by our diminished connections with the natural world. Our etheric bodies have always been nourished by the energies of nature. In city living we can so easily become like a plant in need of water.

Ideally our night time sleep releases the etheric body from the grip of the astral and helps to restore our life force energy. In other words, during sleep the sponge is allowed to regain its shape for a while and absorb more water. However, more often than not, the relentless excessive stimulation of the astral body in our modern world means that it doesn’t adequately release its grip even during sleep. Our natural sleep patterns are disrupted with restlessness and, all too often, anxiety induced levels of insomnia.

In the face of all of this, the healing and rejuvenating benefits of any practice of conscious relaxation are hardly surprising. I would go so far as to say that a daily deep relaxation practice is essential for the health and well being of anyone living in the modern world. In other words, healing, or, better still prevention of, serious eroding of our etheric body requires us to consciously release it from mental and emotional agitation for a reasonable length of time each day.

Scientific Scepticism

Most of this of course is very strange, if not absurd, for those who are conditioned into a traditional scientific worldview (as indeed I was until I discovered yoga). In the microscopic world of quantum physics however energy fields rather than particles of matter have become the substratum of the physical world.

The metaphysical implications of such discoveries have not yet been adequately addressed by our scientific masters. Most of them refuse to see any parallels between their revelations and those of the ancient sages of the East. Conventional science continues to remain adamantly opposed to any notion of subtle energy or ‘life force’ and hence to any notion of an etheric body let alone an astral one.

I have the utmost respect for scientific models and the amazing technology that has flowed from them, but in the end, they are only models and in the inner domain we can all be experts. The etheric body can be experienced quite tangibly in states of deep relaxation and meditation, not to mention the energy flows that can be felt acupuncture and shiatsu treatments.

Any experienced yoga or martial arts practitioner can tune into his or her flow of qi. In the East wholistic healing systems have been built on the reality of life force energy and are rapidly gaining respectability in the West because of their proven efficacy.

One of the delights of yoga nidra for me is that it brings me in touch with my subtle energy. After years of yogic practice and meditation and of course a daily yoga nidra, my etheric body has become as real to me as my physical body. Anyone applying themselves to the discipline of yoga nidra will soon appreciate what I mean. Yoga nidra becomes like a self administered acupuncture treatment. You can consciously feel and release energy blockages in your body while you are in your state of deep relaxation.

Beyond the etheric and astral bodies, we are immersed in what is known as the causal body, or causal sheath. It transcends space and time and death. Ancient Hindu scripts (known as Vedanta) speak of the causal body as being made of bliss consciousness. It carries the blueprint of the Self or our Divine Source.

This shines forth through us when the physical, etheric and astral bodies are healthy and free of blockages:

If right now you and I were in virtual reality, I would show you the highest peak of the Himalayas, then all the oceans of planet earth as seen from space, and then the sun, the Milky Way and gigantic clusters of galaxies. And I would hammer in the eternal message: this-all this! is nothing compared to what you are. You, the real you, is infinity.

How could you-you, infinity- end up believing that you are only this ridiculously small body?
Samuel Sagan