The subtle body: an interoceptive map of central nervous system function and meditative mind-brain-body integration

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Jun;1373(1):78-95. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13065. Epub 2016 May 10.


Meditation research has begun to clarify the brain effects and mechanisms of contemplative practices while generating a range of typologies and explanatory models to guide further study. This comparative review explores a neglected area relevant to current research: the validity of a traditional central nervous system (CNS) model that coevolved with the practices most studied today and that provides the first comprehensive neural-based typology and mechanistic framework of contemplative practices. The subtle body model, popularly known as the chakra system from Indian yoga, was and is used as a map of CNS function in traditional Indian and Tibetan medicine, neuropsychiatry, and neuropsychology. The study presented here, based on the Nalanda tradition, shows that the subtle body model can be cross-referenced with modern CNS maps and challenges modern brain maps with its embodied network model of CNS function. It also challenges meditation research by: (1) presenting a more rigorous, neural-based typology of contemplative practices; (2) offering a more refined and complete network model of the mechanisms of contemplative practices; and (3) serving as an embodied, interoceptive neurofeedback aid that is more user friendly and complete than current teaching aids for clinical and practical applications of contemplative practice.

Keywords: contemplative neuroscience; meditation; mindfulness; neurofeedback; subtle body; yoga.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Meditation / psychology*
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical / physiology*
  • Yoga / psychology*