What Exactly Is An Out-Of-Body Experience—And Can You Make One Happen At Will?
An out-of-body experience occurs when a person temporarily feels like their spirit or soul has left their physical body. It's often the unintentional result of an accident or near-death experience. Astral projection, on the other hand, is an intentional out-of body experience in which the subtle body travels outside the physical body at the whim of the individual. Some say astral projection is very much possible, while others say it's not. We dug into this mysterious spiritual phenomena to learn more about what its believers have to say and if they could ever be validated by science.
What kind of research has been done on this?
There are tons of online forums where everyday people describe their experiences entering the astral plane at will. But, for obvious reasons, very little scientific research has been conducted to see whether it's actually possible to mentally detach from the physical body. Matters of the soul are incredibly hard to study in a laboratory setting.
There is, however, one 2014 case study out of the University of Ottawa's School of Psychology in which a woman who said she could astral project was put under a fMRI machine. The patient was physically stationary for an hour but guided in and out of astral projections in which she was prompted to move her nonphysical body in different ways. Researchers monitored the activity in different regions of her brain throughout the exercise and found that they did show activity that correlated with motion during the times she claimed to be astral projecting. "The existence of such a case and its presentation raises the possibility that this phenomenon may have a significant incidence," the study reads. "This would be reminiscent of the discovery and eventual study of synesthesia."
Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon, has also been the subject of research on out-of-body experiences and astral projection. In 2008, an inexplicable brain infection left Alexander in a weeklong coma. When he awoke, he claims to have had profound memories of a journey deep into another realm. Since then, he's dedicated his life to exploring the mysteries of human consciousness. Though his near-death experience was not voluntary, it did cause Alexander to think that astral projection was possible. He says that he now uses binaural beats-based audio recordings to travel beyond the five senses and explore nonphysical aspects of consciousness.
The problem when it comes to declaring astral projection "real" or "fake" is that much of the information about it is anecdotal. Pinning down human consciousness within the realm of modern science has proved a very difficult (and potentially impossible) task.
Why it's so hard to prove one way or another.
This is because when it comes to Western science and medicine, the burden of proof is heavy. Psychiatrist Roxanna Namavar, D.O., who completed her residency at the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies (where Alexander's own NDE was actually studied), explains "Fundamentally the scientific community in this country is very Westernized, very much based in 'What does the evidence say?'—and that can sometimes pull away our curiosity for things greater than ourselves."
Plus, she adds, there is no real way to definitively measure astral projections or compare them to a control group. Not to mention, studying these things requires someone with funding to have interest. These are some reasons why, she says, "There tends to be this split between science and spirituality."
So‚ is astral projection a real thing?
Well, we may never know for sure. "I don't think you can prove or disprove astral projection or out-of-body experiences," Namavar says in closing. Whether you choose to believe in astral projection or not will ultimately come down to your own experiences and beliefs in the potential of human consciousness.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.