What Exactly Is Astral Projection? Here's What To Know About The Phenomena
You've probably heard of lucid dreaming, and maybe even out-of-body experiences, but how about astral projection? The rare phenomena (which we can't actually confirm with science, btw) has been anecdotally recorded throughout history—with lore of how to do it and more recent accounts remaining today. Here's what to know.
What is astral projection?
Astral projection is an intentional out-of body experience (OBE) in which the "subtle" or "spirit" body travels outside the physical body at the whim of the individual. An out-of-body experience itself occurs when a person temporarily feels like their spirit or soul has left their physical body, often the unintentional result of an accident or near-death experience.
Through astral projection, it's said that someone essentially wills an OBE to happen, with common anecdotal experiences including feeling a vibration as your soul leaves your body, seeing your body lay in bed, and even traveling around your home, neighborhood, and beyond. (Some people even say astral sex is possible with another person astral projecting at the same time.)
Your soul never completely disconnects from your body, believed to be always connected by a "silver chord." And speaking of, accounts of an astral plane, astral projection, and this silver chord can be seen throughout numerous traditions, from Hinduism to Buddhism, Christianity to Kabbalistic teachings, and more.
According to Graham Nicholls, an OBE researcher and author of Navigating the Out-of-Body Experience, one theory is that an OBE is "a construct or schema that is based upon sensory information not coming from the ordinary senses1 (extrasensory perception, if you will)." When this happens, he explains, the self or one's consciousness seems to be able to function and perceive independently of the physical body.
What the research says so far.
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 motion1 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 astral projection was possible. He tells mbg 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 difficult to prove.
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 near-death experience 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. And to that end, most people don't know how to astral project, so rounding up a solid sample size for research would be difficult.
These are some reasons why, she says, "There tends to be this split between science and spirituality," adding, "I don't think you can prove or disprove astral projection or out-of-body experiences."
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How to try it yourself:
According to Nicholls, it would be best to learn to astral project with the help of a professional. There are also resources online, such as videos and guided meditations for astral projection that you can try.
More generally, though, Nicholls says you can help induce OBEs through techniques that break down your sense of self. For example, he suggests visualization methods, breathing techniques, and even physical exhaustion, to get to the state of deep relaxation necessary to astral project. Once there, you can follow this sequence:
- As you're laying in bed, start to work with the sensation of your soul separating from your body. You want to be completely relaxed, in a quiet, dark room. (Some say it's easier to astral project when you've woken up in the morning, as opposed to when you're going to bed, because you're more relaxed.)
- From this dreamy state, with your eyes closed, start to visualize your body in your mind's eye, imagining you were moving different body parts, without actually moving them physically. You may start to feel vibration, which is fine.
- From there, you make the move "out-of-body." This can take some trial and error, but once you feel it, look back at your body laying in bed. Explore around the room if you can, and return to your body. Once you've done this successfully, you can start traveling around your home, and even outside.
- Always be sure return to the body when you're done exploring. Additionally, for extra protection, crystal expert Ashley Leavy previously recommended both obsidian and malachite for protection and aid in astral travel, so try holding one (or both) or putting them on your chest while you make the voyage.
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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.