Astral projection (or astral travel) is a term used in esotericism to describe a willful out-of-body experience (OBE) that assumes the existence of a soul or consciousness called an "astral body" that is separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside it throughout the universe.
The idea of astral travel is ancient and occurs in multiple cultures. It is sometimes reported in association with dreams, and forms of meditation. Some individuals have reported perceptions similar to descriptions of astral projection that were induced through various hallucinogenic and hypnotic means (including self-hypnosis). There is no scientific evidence that there is a consciousness or soul which is separate from normal activity or that one can consciously leave the body and make observations, and astral projection has been characterized as a pseudoscience.
The expression "astral projection" came to be used in two different ways. For the Golden Dawn and some Theosophists it retained the classical and medieval philosophers' meaning of journeying to other worlds, heavens, hells, the astrological spheres and other imaginable landscapes, but outside these circles the term was increasingly applied to non-physical travel around the physical world.
It is used to represent the sense of being "out of the body" in the physical world, whereas "astral" may connote some alteration in time-perception This etheric body is usually, though not always, invisible but is often perceived by the experient as connected to the physical body during separation by a "silver cord". Some link "falling" dreams with projection.
We can describe a domain that has no parallel to any known physical setting. Environments may be populated or unpopulated, artificial, natural or abstract, and the experience may be beatific, horrific or neutral. A common Theosophical belief is that one may access a compendium of mystical knowledge called the Akashic records. In many accounts the experiencer correlates the astral world with the world of dreams. Some even report seeing other dreamers enacting dream scenarios unaware of their wider environment.
The astral environment may also be divided into levels or sub-planes by theorists, but there are many different views in various traditions concerning the overall structure of the astral planes: they may include heavens and hells and other after-death spheres, transcendent environments, or other less-easily characterized states.
The subtle body is a universal human experience, and apparently part of our standard human design like toenails and kidneys. It is this subtle body that projects astrally and is active during unconscious and lucid dreaming; astral projection and dreaming often go hand-in-hand as “out-of-body” experiences, or OBEs.
The subtle body, when cultivated, can survive the physical body as a matrix for consciousness, and astral projection and lucid dreaming are part of spiritual training paths for subtle body cultivation. Neophytes confuse the subtle body with the soul or spirit, two additional aspects of multi-dimensional humans.
The OBE can be intentional or involuntary, as with near-death events when people report finding themselves floating near the ceiling of their hospital rooms, perhaps observing medical staff attempting to revive them. Trauma, illness, or water and food deprivation, as with Native American vision quests, can trigger OBEs. Lucid dream states are opportunities for intentional OBEs. For the purposes of this article, OBEs may be spontaneous, and astral projection a conscious choice, though some would argue otherwise.
Essentially, the OBE begins with an experience of leaving the body and consciously observing it from a detached perspective. With practice and lucidity, awareness can be directed to locations or activities like flight. Yes, flight. If you’ve had flying dreams - literal flying, no 747 required - or being in the sky, you’ve had OBEs. Some say that we have regular OBEs during sleep, often hovering a few inches over our physical bodies.
Neuroscientists are puzzled - while the experience is no longer dismissed out of hand by medical professionals, science holds the view that OBEs involve neurological or brain dysfunction.
The tantrics mastered lucid OBE and dream states to overcome the fear of death by learning that we are not our “bodies.” They also discovered that the physical body can experience deep healing during OBEs , the mind can be tough on the body. And rather than losing time to practice meditation during sleep, yogis continued working through the night while the body rested.
Some athletes learn lucid dreaming to practice and visualize their game. By working in a dream or out-of-body, not only do they visualize, they have a “felt sense” of their practice, and can actually acquire the muscle memory for winning habits. Others benefit from the opportunity to explore past lives as well as accelerated personal development.
It is our energy, or subtle body that comes and goes from our physical form.
There are dozens of methods to learn conscious OBE and astral projection. There are two approaches - one is to keep the mind awake while the body falls asleep. It’s tricky - the mind wants to do what the body is doing. The goal is to take the body into deeper and deeper states of relaxation without drifting into unconsciousness. Yoga Nidra is one method. Once the body enters sleep state, practitioners simply “roll” out of their physical form.
Ancient yogis would tie two frogs together before sleep. Once tied, the frogs would continuously croak- a yogi would use the sound to anchor awareness as the body drifted into sleep, and either leave the body, or enter lucid dream states. If, during a dream, the yogi could no longer hear the frogs, he/she knew lucidity had been lost, and could “wake” again within the dream.
The idea that humans can leave their bodies during dream states is ancient. Countless people, from New Agers to shamans around the world, believe that it is possible to commune with cosmic intelligence through visions and vivid dreams experienced during astral projection, also known as out-of-body experiences. Surveys suggest that between 8 and 20 percent of people claim to have had something like an out-of-body experience at some point in their lives - a sensation of the consciousness, spirit, or "astral body" leaving the physical body. While most experiences occur during sleep or under hypnosis, some people claim to do it while merely relaxing.
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