This article is a very brief overview and introduction for the vast, complex, fascinating, and controversial subject of subtle or energy body. Many ancient cultures and spiritual traditions have reported the existence of a complex energetic system in the human body. However, south Asian Indian culture has produced the most elaborate and detailed description of the system, which was developed within Tantric yoga tradition. Unfortunately, the scientific community has not been able to fully recognize and embrace the existence of this energy system. However, the application of acupuncture, Reiki, and other energetic healing arts as integrative medicine has brought traditional medical, and therapeutic community closer to understanding, and perhaps accepting the energetic systems and its importance (please see bibliography and references at the end of this article). As you are studying these materials, you might observe similarities between Tantric energy body system, and Chinese traditional energy medicine. This similarity is not an accident. There was considerable exchange of information between these two traditions that makes it impossible to pin point who discovered what. For example, the Nadi and Marma points of Tantra is very similar to Meridian and acupuncture and pressure points of Taoist traditional Chinese medicine.
The material in this article might be slightly dense and perhaps too brief for a topic as vast as the energy-body. However, it is only an introductory to the future articles that will unpack and clarify whatever confusion that might exist after studying this article.
In the west there has been considerable misinformation and misunderstanding about energy or subtle body (These two words are synonyms, and we will use them interchangeably in this article). The purpose of this article and others that will follow, is to clarify and set the record straight regarding this misinformation. This article will examine energy-body from historical, philosophical, and practical aspects that were understood in the ancient India and south Asia. The classical understanding of subtle-body tends to present a much less dogmatic and rigid understanding of subtle-body than the one that currently exists in the West. In this article energy-body will be viewed through Sanskrit language based Tantric yoga sources, and will briefly contrast the classical views with modern views of energy-body that is being taught in the yoga world across the world, and even India.
The energetic /subtle body was introduced to the West through Theosophical society, which is a western esoteric school, and one of the founders of new-age spirituality. The society’s understanding and teachings of energy-body was considerably different that traditional and ancient classical understanding of Chakras. This difference will be briefly explored in this article. The driving force behind establishing historical clarity regarding subtle-body has been scholar-practitioners who are fluent in Sanskrit language and have developed detailed understandings of ancient Indian and South Asian traditions. They are able to make sense of these traditions’ ancient literature, and make them accessible to their western audience. This article has borrowed extensively from works of Dr. Christopher Wallis, Ph. D, who is a scholar-practitioner in the field of Sanskrit and South Asian studies, and his colleagues (see bibliography).
Most people believe subtle, or energy-body are mystical, magical, psychic phenomenon that are only experienced by adept practitioners of yoga or some mystical school. That is certainly not the case as we all experience our energy-body, at different times, but are not aware of it. Within the tantric traditions, the energy-body is the psyche as it interpenetrates the physical body. In other words, the energy-body is the mind, in the most wholistic and broadest sense and definition of the word “mind”. In this article, we will use the term psyche rather than the mind, because with it carries a broader and more integrative understanding and could prevent misunderstanding due to different perceptions and understanding of the word “mind”. According to Tantric traditions, mind/psyche interpenetrates the entire physical body. That is the reason, it is called Energy-Body, although it could also be called mental or emotional body.
In this article, we will briefly investigate the main components of the subtle, and in future articles will delve deeper into each its component, their properties, and physical/emotional impacts. These four components are;
Most People understand the relation between mind and body as a form of connection that mind and body influence and interact with each other. In Tantra the relation between mind and body is perceived as a spectrum rather than connection. That means, the mind is the subtlest aspect of the body, and the physical body is the most tangible manifestation and aspect of the mind. This challenges the Western materialistic notion that the physical body is primary and fundamental, and the mind is understood as a byproduct of brain activity, and hence the physical body. Different forms of somatic therapies have indicated Saṃskaras (strong emotional and psychic impressions that could include different forms of traumas) exist in the body, but in yoga philosophy we believe Saṃskaras exist in the energy body (the mental-emotional body), which is the psyche as it interpenetrates the entire physical body. All thoughts and feelings are also currents within the energy body. Therefore, they are also energies with different vibrations. Your mental-emotional body (including all your thoughts and feelings, and subtle sensations) are nothing but different frequencies of light that might be experienced as vibration/light. The energy body is slightly larger than the physical body and extends beyond the skin on all sides forming what some people call “the aura” or “energy field”.
Nadis (channels)-The middle (Madhya) and Two side channels
There are 72,000 naḍis (energy channels) in the body that carry prana (life energy) to the entire body. naḍis carrying Praṇa-shakti (life energy/force) are similar to the way the circulatory system carries oxygen to the physical body. The maps for these nadis varies among traditions and lineages. This is because energy body is a fluid reality of concepts, rather than their current presentations in the west, which are perceived as rigid and inflexible energetic systems. Energy-body concepts such as naḍis and chakras are more prescriptive than descriptive. That means, they are very effective when used in practices (prescriptive), but they should not be considered descriptions of a static energetic structures that is rigid and inflexible. Psyche has profound impact on the energy-body as a whole; therefore, they are highly flexible, and adaptive to yogic psycho-spiritual and meditative practices.
The vast majority of practices that involve naḍis in Tantric yoga, involve the three main nadis;
The madhya-nadi (Middle channel), also known as the sushumna-naḍi (the graceful channel) or the main channel)- This channel runs parallel to the spine, but slightly toward the front of the body. It runs from crown center all the way down to the pelvic floor. This is the most important and is the main channel in the energy-body. It is through this channel that Kundalini energy moves upward and opens different energetic centers. All energy centers are located on this Nadi and major emotions are experienced along the axis of this channel.
The Ida Nandi (lunar left dominant channel). It sits to the left of the main channel.
The Pingala Nadi (solar right dominant channel). It sits in the right side of the main channel.
These last two channels start at the bridge of the nose just under the ajna-cakra (third eye), and they can crisscross, intersecting at each cakra point but still the iḍā (the left channel), even when it’s crisscrossing back and forth, remains left dominant, meaning it’s stronger on the left side. The pingala-naḍi (solar right dominant channel), even when it’s crisscrossing back and forth, is still right dominant. It’s stronger on the right side.
The left channel is lunar and is associated with cool lunar energy. It is pearly white like the moon. The right channel is solar energy and is associated with the hot reddish sun energy.
Bindus (points of energy)
There are 3 bindus that are actually not part of the energy-body. They operate on a more fundamental level of realty and support the energy-body. The bindus emanates from the absolute bindu (anuttara-bindu). The absolute bindu is the point of singularity of non-dual view. Bindus are not separate energetic entities, but they interact with each other, as the entire energy-body is a system of interacting energetic components. These 3 bindus are called;
Lower belly (red bindu)
heart (blue bind)
Head (white bindu)
The Bindu of the Base or Lower Belly (red bindu)
The lower bindu or the red bindu is also called Kanda (means bulb in Sanskrit). It is located half way between genitals and neval. This bindu is the ultimate source of physical manifestation, embodiment, source of sexual energy, and is associated with sensations. It is associated with color of deep red when is visualized during practices.
The Bindu of the Heart (blue bindu)
The second Bindu is also called the blue Bindu, and is at base of the heart and point of the heart center. The bindu of the heart emanates the world of energy which includes tangible and intangible energies of the energy body, the psyche, thoughts and feelings, and other forms of subtle energy that are not physically measurable. The bindu of the heart is visualized as being either cobalt blue or brilliant gold, and it’s associated with thought, emotion, and other forms of energy.
The Bindu of the head (white Bindu)
The head bindu is the bindu of awareness. It emanates consciousness or awareness. It emanates all consciousness, one could say. The bindu of the crown or of the head is visualized as brilliant sparkling white, and as previously mentioned, is it’s associated with awareness.
Kundalini energy is the main source of evolutionary transformative source of energy. It is within sexual center on the pelvic floor. The word Kundalini in Sanskrit means coiled. It refers to the nature of this energy which is “coiled” in the pelvic floor, and when it “uncoils”, it expands and moves upward through the central channel (sushmna nadi) and opens all the chakras on its way to the top of the head. It will eventually “touch” the 7th chakra, and descends back down and rests in the heart center. The central channel, where Kundalini is experienced, is in front of the spine in the middle of the body, but spine itself is the mirror of the central channel. This is why many people experience energy running up and down in their spine, but others do not. Kundalini mainly pierces and opens the chakras dense psychic structure that is called Grunthi.
Most people are only familiar with one kind of kundalini, and that is lower Kundalini. However, Kundalini can go up and down (lower Kundalini and upper Kundalini). One rises and the other descends and eventually they become one at the heart center. Many south Asian traditions have put great emphasis on the rising of the Kundalini as the rising of this energy has been associated with openings of chakras, spiritual experiences and realizations, and even “spiritual powers” or Siddhis. Although, full integration of a kundalini awakening may take many years of practice and spiritual integration. The rising of Kundalini is very unpredictable, as well as how it is experienced. For some people this rising can be very dramatic with lots of fireworks, but for others it could be very subtle, and they would barely notice it. In recent years, physical/emotional traumas have been identified as a source of Kundalini awakening. Unfortunately, due to lack of energetic and emotional preparation, this experience tends to create considerable emotional-energetic imbalances and hardship. However, when the Kundalini rising occurs due to years of preparation and practice, it tends to be more subtle and pleasant (although not guaranteed).
In this article, we will pay attention to the less understood aspects of Chakras that are either rarely mentioned, or misunderstood in the current teachings of Chakras. In the future articles a more comprehensive description of Chakras, their possible locations, and energetic application will be presented.
The word chakra can literally mean ‘wheel’ and ‘center’. It is impossible to establish one chakra system, because as previously noted, in the primary Tantric sources, we find many different cakra systems. The smallest number of chakras in a given system is four, and the largest number of chakras in a given system has been twelve.
Prior to Tantra, there were few references to chakras, but with Tantra the difference became dramatic. Tantric Manuals were very detailed and technical compared to chakra reference prior to Tantra. The earliest Tantric source was Kubjika-Mata Tantra of the 10th century that most people are familiar with as the seven chakras system. There are multiple systems of chakras and all are valid. We are not dealing with something like an invisible physiology that is rigid and fixed as it is currently understood within the western yoga world. Chakras are not like fixed organs. They are dynamic and flexible and don’t always stay in the same place or the same numbers. Unfortunately, an unwarranted dogmatism has been developed that dictate “There are seven chakras with rainbow colors”. In the primary sources, the focus was on the effectiveness of the practices rather than theoretical descriptions.
Chakras can be both descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive is related to the fact that human beings experience emotions and intense energies along the central axis of the body. We experience excitation (sexual and otherwise) at the lower parts of the body while anxiety, sadness, and emotional pain are all experienced in stomach, belly, and the heart area.
The prescriptive aspect of chakras is an imagined structure, such as lotus flowers made of light with a particular number of petals with a particular color.
What we find in our Sanskrit sources is different colors for the cakras altogether, and they are meant to be prescriptive for chakras. That means, as meditative practices, chakras could be visualized as a lotus flower made of light with possibly twelve petals in the region of the heart and any color a lineage prescribes. Chakras are imagined structures that are superimposed on the centers where we experience emotional/sexual energy. Please notice Western cakra system, which is exclusively Western, is depicted on many internet sites with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet — this is not found in any Indian source whatsoever. It’s not found in any Sanskrit source, so it’s entirely an invention of the modern West.
Bibliography and References
Harrington, Joan. (2006). Kundalini Vidya: The Science of Spiritual Transformation: A comprehensive system for understanding and guiding spiritual development. Patanjali Kundalini Yoga-Care. Knoxville, TN 37922.
Johari, Harish. (2000). Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation. Destiny Books, Syracuse, New York.
Loizzo, Joseph. (2016). The subtle body: an interoceptive map of central nervous system function and meditative mind-brain-body integration. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1373(1) , New York, NY 10007-2157.
Tantrika Institute. (2021). Intro to Energy Body. https://studentportal.tantrikainstitute.org/courses/intro-to-the-energy-body/.
Wallis, Christopher. (2012). Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Mattamayura Press, Chicago, IL 60610.