Attending to the Subtle Body.
I walk through my days relating to the world through my physical body (sthula sarira); experiencing life through my senses and all of the ways they connect me to the outer world. Often I get stuck there—in this purely gross, physical, tangible sense of “self,” formed by my relationship with the world around me.
Am I more?
What else is there?
Why is it that I feel a stream of awareness behind these base connections to reality?
On my journey through decades of practice I’ve brought more and more attention to the subtle body (suksma sarira). This aspect of self that carries and holds something deeper, older, and wiser than these transient experiences of the material body. This has meant going quiet, paying attention to what’s beneath the conspicuous, leaning into the unknown. It’s had me diving into the five prana vayus (movements, winds) as a way of clarifying the actions of this physical body, and allowing an awareness beyond it to govern my movements.
It’s also asked me to visualize the aspects of my experience that I can’t necessarily see. In that sense, it’s a practice of trust—that I can gather myself, ground myself, and light my own center up through a series of practices that demand my imagination… but that have palpable effects in my lived life.
- prana vayu - This has taken on the aspect of gathering my attention, my energies, my thoughts, my actions back in toward this body. I can spend an extraordinary amount of time rushing from the past, to the future, and back again, while my body attempts to perform several tasks at a time. Prana vayu reminds me to draw my senses and my attention back into my body, this very moment.
- apana vayu - Once I’ve gathered in, I have a whole, collected self to work with. Now comes an active practice of grounding that self both physically and energetically. Apana vayu offers stability, foundation, balance, and steadiness even in our contemporary world that often rewards and pulls us to the opposite—being bigger, grander, higher, more. This practice is humbling, slowing, and ultimately grounding.
- samana vayu - Once I’ve attended to my grounding, I can turn to my center. Samana vayu represents the power of discernment, the ability to burn through my misperceptions. It’s a circulating all of my energies, thoughts, and concerns into my center, into the fire. Through cultivating core heat, awareness, and light, these energies are cleared of clutter and ready to support me in seeing and acting more in alignment with my intentions.
- udana vayu - With the heat I cultivate in samana vayu, I can extend upward to a remembered connection, a shared vision that moves through all times, places, beings. My awareness moves up and lengthens through the back of my neck and just beyond the crown of my head. My jaw and throat softens, which in turn softens some of my grip on the small self—my small ideas about things—and opens me up to a grace beyond certainties.
- vyana vayu - After gathering it all back in, rooting myself deep into earth, circulating it all through the cauldron of fire for illumination, then extending it upward to the wider awareness, now, now I’m ready to emanate out and offer myself in a way that feels whole, grounded, powerful, and expansive.
These subtle practices support me by balancing my imbalances. When I’m too firey or airy or moving in a million different directions at once, they serve to ground, awaken, and allow me a deeper connection to myself and the world around me. In other words, once I’ve tapped into the more subtle aspects of this experience, my experience of the physical body becomes all the more powerful. Even better? They’re available to me—in this very body—at any time.