Q: Sadhguru, what is the subtle body? And why should we imagine it during yogasanas?

Sadhguru: It is the body which is subtler than the physical one! The human system is very complex and beautifully done. It is extremely fragile, at the same time, phenomenally resilient. This life is so fragile: Inhalation, exhalation, inhalation, exhalation… – if the next inhalation does not happen, you’re gone! Between life and death, there is just half a breath, not even a full breath, please see this.

But even though this life is so fragile, it still has this resilience. Human beings can do unbelievable things because this body is structured on many different levels. If it was just physical, if you just held somebody’s nose in their sleep, they should be gone. But that is not how it is. It is in layers. Even if the physical loses its ability to live, if the other dimensions are still alive, the physical could be revived. It happens to you every day: When you sleep, one part of you is actually dead – your personality, your thought, your idea of what you are – but because the other parts are still awake, everything comes awake once again.

Enhancing Perception

Whether you practice a simple asana or any other dimension of yoga, essentially, the only goal is to enhance your perception, because only what you perceive you know – the rest is just imagination. Generally, instead of enhancing perception, people have unfortunately been given teachings. Teachings will only lead to unbridled imagination, which is a sure way of graduating into an asylum. If your imagination loses control, if it is not rooted in reality, you are definitely moving towards insanity.

On the spiritual path, if you take in teachings which are not necessary for you, very easily you will move towards insanity. The danger is always there. If your feet are still firmly on the ground and then you imagine something, it is okay. But if your imagination can take you off the ground, then you have no control over the situation.

Memory and Imagination

Asanas and other yogic practices are essentially designed only to enhance your perception – not to send you on a flight of imagination. As your perception is enhanced, then you know life, you are not thinking about life. Right now, this question has come because there is no experience of the subtle body, but somebody is telling you “please see it,” – imagination. Yes, we are asking you to imagine this because the distinction between what is real and what is imagination is not big. It is a very thin line. The real process is anyway happening. If you assist it with the right kind of action and awareness, the real thing will come into the picture.

Today, it is an established fact in neuroscience that unless you have some memory and imagination, your visual apparatus will not function. You always believed that your eye is a camera – no. Without the computer behind, it cannot function. We are doing what is called natural eye care methods at Isha Rejuvenation, where we use memory and imagination to see better. You can distinctly see if you build memory about something, within a minute’s time you can see things better.

Do not let your imagination run wild. Just a little bit is okay, because if you build this, the memory will play.

Even now, you are unable to see many things about which there is no memory. So we are just trying to build some memory; and you cannot build memory without imagination. You always thought you cannot imagine unless there is memory. No, you cannot build memory unless there is imagination. Without imagination, memory is not possible.

We are asking you to imagine the subtle body. Just make it like yourself, do not make it too beautiful. Do not make your subtle body like a Samson! Do not let your imagination run wild. Just a little bit is okay, because if you build this, the memory will play. Once the memory plays, you will actually begin to see. But do not see it walking all over the place. Only when you are doing the asanas, okay? Those of you who start seeing subtle bodies all over the place, such people should eat only subtle food!

Editor’s Note: Isha Kriya is a free online guided meditation that has the potential to transform the life of anyone who is willing to invest just a few minutes a day. Try it out!

A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower January 2009.