Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In 2000 I reported the following case of out-of-body experience. This happened to a 32 year old Scottish woman who was running to train to compete in a marathon:

“After running approximately 12–13 miles … I started to feel as if I wasn’t looking through my eyes but from somewhere else … I felt as if something was leaving my body, and although I was still running along looking at the scenery, I was looking at myself running as well. My ‘soul’ or whatever, was floating somewhere above my body high enough up to see the tops of the trees and the small hills” (Alvarado, C.S. (2000). Out-of-body experiences. In E. Cardeña, S.J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of Anomalous experience, 183–218. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2000, p. 184).

Varieties of anomalous experience

I just published a paper discussing similar cases in which the OBE took place while the person was walking, talking or engaged in some other physical activity: “Out-of-Body Experiences During Physical Activity: Report of Four New Cases” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2016, 80, 1-12).

Here is the abstract:

“The occurrence of out-of-body experiences (OBEs) is generally associated with states in which the person is inactive. This includes states of unconsciousness, relaxation, or sitting or lying down. Although most cases conform to this pattern, a minority take place while the individual is engaged in physical activity such as talking, driving vehicles, walking, and playing musical instruments. In addition to summarizing previously published cases of this sort, four new cases are presented. The cases are discussed in light of previous reports. Such OBEs are similar to automatic behaviours encountered in daily life and in dissociative states. It is suggested that future studies might focus on the features, psychology, and physiology of OBEs that occur under conditions of physical activity.”

In the introduction I put the topic in historical perspective:

“OBEs have also been associated by many writers with relaxed, death-like conditions, or passive circumstances in which the experiencer was lying down and physically inactive . . . William Stainton Moses wrote that the experience happened when the persons in question were ‘employed in some occupation compatible with quietness and passivity, e.g., reading, meditating, or quiet conversation’. . . Several other nineteenth-century writers referred to this topic.

STAINTON MOSES

William Stainton Moses

“Occultist Gérard Encausse (1890 . . .) mentioned that when the astral body leaves the physical body the latter stays motionless . . . The well-known French spiritist writer Gabriel Delanne stated in his book L’Ame est Immortelle [1899] that for the soul to separate from the physical body it was necessary that the latter ‘was immersed in sleep or that the links to which it is ordinarily attached are eased by strong emotion or disease’. . .”

Delanne Ame

Interestingly, case collection and survey studies show that “inactive states or low-level physical activities are more frequent in OBEs than states involving more physical activity.” In addition “the association of OBEs to inactive periods of the physical body has been reinforced by the popularity of near-death experiences . . . , a phenomenon that has the OBE as one of its main components . . . It may be speculated that such research has unintentionally promoted the view that when someone feels they are always out of their body they are unconscious and, consequently, inactive.”

I presented in a table 22 previously published cases of this sort published in places such Muldoon and Carrington’s The Phenomena of Astral Projection (1951) and Celia Green’s Out-of-the-Body Experiences (1968). But I suspect more have been published. These involved, among others, physical activities such as talking, driving a vehicle, and walking. I wrote about one of the cases reported by Celia Green: “Riding a bicycle. Physical body continued riding. When bicycle stopped came to him/ herself.”

Muldoon Carrington Phenomena Astral Projection 2

Green OBE

One of the four new cases presented was reported by a 63 year old English housewife who said that she was once walking “when suddenly I felt a buzzing in my head, then a sudden forceful rush of wind, which came from my entire body. I heard what seemed to be something unwinding. Then I found myself above the wire over the hedge looking down. At first I wondered who that person was below me, I quickly realized I was actually looking down at myself!”

I concluded:

“Similar to other cases summarized in Table 1, and like reports of some dissociative experiences . . . , the actions the experiencers were performing in the cases presented here may be considered to be repetitive or even automatic . . . At this point one can only speculate about the significance of these observations . . . As mentioned before, while the OBE (and altered states of consciousness in general) may happen during physical activity, cases are less frequently reported during these states, and in one study it was found that cases taking place in inactive states had more features that the cases reported in active conditions . . . This suggests that inactivity facilitates the process that produces OBEs, which is consistent with age-old ideas of the importance of stillness in the production of some altered states of consciousness. Such observations are also consistent with observed positive relations between cognitive activity such as imagery and inactive physical conditions . . .”

“If one assumes that the OBE is related to the individual’s cognitive resources . . . , one may hypothesize that the more frequent relaxed conditions provide better ‘access’ for the utilization of the cognitive resources to create and maintain an experience than conditions of physical activity. Of course, both extremes may produce the same result, just as altered states of consciousness can both be produced by physical activity (such as running) or by relaxation (such as that produced by meditation). As argued by Tart in States of Consciousness (1975), there are many ways by which our cognitive system may disrupt the conditions that maintain our so-called ‘normal’ state of consciousness. But some ways may be more efficient than others in creating this disruption.”

Tart States of Consciousness

“However, perhaps cognitive processes are not the whole story. It is interesting to notice that those writers whom I have cited before that supported a projection view of the OBE saw the inactivity of the body as an aspect of the phenomenon . . .”

“More recently OBEs have been conceptualized as disturbances in proprioceptive and vestibular processes . . . Such processes may be favoured by low physical activity; something that deserves more exploration.”

“At this point all of these ideas, while interesting, are too general and vague to be taken as serious explanations of the topic in question. Regardless of their validity, or capacity to generate research, we need to be aware that we still do not understand the OBE. It is not clear how the OBE is actually produced and even less what factors determine the specific features of the experience . . .”

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