Spirit travel is a very old term sometimes used to describe astral projection or out-of-body experiences. The idea that a person’s spirit can travel outside of their physical body and into non-physical realms of the psyche and spirit has formed the basis of spiritual practices in dream yoga, shamanism and other traditions that train practitioners to achieve spirit travel reliably. Many recorded mystical and religious experiences in traditions all over the world up to the present day have out-of-body travel in some kind of spirit realm as a component.

Spirit travel, or astral projection, is categorized differently from dreams and even near-death experiences on two counts, although spiritual travel can share some aspects of lucid dreams. Unlike regular dreams, in spirit travel you often enter a disembodied point of view from a calm waking state, such as that created by deep meditation: the person will find themselves separating from their bodies without any intervening loss of consciousness. In astral projection, the surrounding environment often seems hyper-real and vivid, in contrast to the muddied sensations and distorted perceptions of a mundane (non-lucid) dream.

Spirit travel also differs from near-death experiences in the amount of control the spirit traveler has over the experience: near-death experiences are out-of-body experiences reportedly had by people while their physical bodies were undergoing a medical crisis or clinical death. While near-death experiencers often report the same sensations — rising out of their bodies and perceiving a hyper-real environment— as deliberate spirit travelers, near-death experiences are usually not under the person’s control: they may meet a guide or find themselves being drawn down a tunnel of light. In contrast, during spirit travel you can consciously direct your journey. Also, the kinds of places and things people encounter during deliberate astral projection are often more varied than the elements of the classic near-death experience.

According to many guides and accounts of spirit travel, there are three main realms one can access through astral projection, each one successively less like the waking world and more abstract in form:

-Physical world: also called etheric travel, this is basically spirit travel in our waking world; what you’ll probably see immediately after rising out of your body. Although you won’t be able to manipulate objects in the physical world as a spirit traveler, people who have succeeded in reaching this level of astral projection state that you can teleport anywhere in the world (or even the larger universe) just by thinking about it.

-Psychic world: this is a world that’s very close to the one we visit in dreams, albeit unconsciously. Because you’re not normally consciously aware inside dreams, the psychic world feels very real and unchangeable during a normal dream; however, to the conscious dreamer or spirit traveler, the psychic world is actually very malleable and changeable. You could say that lucid dreaming is a form of conscious travel to this psychic plane where, in the full awareness that you are dreaming, you can practice changing aspects of the dream world and your own dream body. In lucid dreaming and spirit travel, you’re generally much more aware that you’re dreaming or otherwise in a non-waking state, yet you can often achieve the same leaps of logic, free association and non-linear thinking that make lucid dreaming a powerful creative state. Spirit travelers may experience changes in personal identity and instances of noesis (knowing something without knowing how you know it) in the psychic realms, much as we do in ordinary dreams.

-Spiritual world: here we enter the realm of mystical experience, as the spirit traveler enters worlds that are often only describable as realms of pure joy, love, light, peace, emptiness, contentment, etc. These spiritual realms are often seen as the goal of spirit travel, the place any serious practitioner is ultimately trying to get to. Although it’s often impossible for people who have reached the spiritual realm to describe their experience visually, I’ve heard that sometimes people have taken back impressions of things it’s hard to imagine in the waking world: hyper-real, crystalline landscapes, mountains of flowers, oceans of music or emotion that the spiritual traveler finds themselves adrift in. What’s especially intriguing about the spiritual realm is that many of the images and concepts associated with it also appear in anecdotal accounts of things people have seen during near-death experiences.

Spirit travel and lucid dreaming overlap in ways you can use to turn a lucid dream into an astral projection experience. For one thing, the practices that go into successful lucid dreaming, such as meditation, reality checks, and dream journaling, will improve your moment-to-moment awareness and control in your dreams. By becoming aware or “waking up” in your dreams and controlling or altering parts of your dream world, you will be gaining the skills of conscious self direction that also go into successful spirit travel.

Furthermore, both in dreams and spirit travel, your sense of embodiment is often distorted or absent: successful spirit travelers often describe feeling as though their physical bodies have transmuted into pure energy, accounting for the sense of intense vibration that almost always accompanies astral projection. Though you also might find yourself able to shape shift into other forms, more commonly people simply transcend physical form during spirit travel. Many practitioners say this is good practice for accessing the spiritual realms of in which whole worlds of pure emotion, energy and will seem to exist.

No one is quite sure what the connection is between dreams, spirit travel or astral projection, and near-death experiences. Whether these are worlds our minds create, or other dimensions we somehow access through the experiments in consciousness represented by lucid dreaming and spirit travel, what we do know is that anyone can discover how to let their spirit wander with some confident, dedicated practice.