One hears talk of asanas, chakras, and nadis in yoga; of Qi, MTC, and meridians in acupuncture; of calming the mind, third eye gazing, and introspection in meditation... Ever wondered what is the connection?
As a teacher working predominantly with meditative, respiratory, or body-based practices in ninety-minute sessions, it’s easy to take students’ knowledge for granted and assume they know what we mean when we refer to the ‘non/conscious circulation of energy through our bodies,’ mention in passing ‘the harmonious balancing of Ida and Pingala,’ or drop other more or less esoteric phrases such as ‘now connect to your higher self’ leaving the most pragmatic ears in shudders.
In our experience, the number of students regularly attending classes who know nothing about the terminology dropped during meditation, or about the overall purpose of acupuncture is quite stunning, even when people’s exposure to alternative wellbeing methods or information has never been higher. This is partly so due to our western upbringing (more on this below). But the truth is also that it can be quite overwhelming to decide what is or not an accurate source of information when looking up these topics, particularly, given how many of these methods have also been often described as nothing but bogus, hokus-pokus, pseudoscience. We leave it to anyone out there to form their own opinion on the topic; still, we would like to clarify a few points that may spell out the missing links uniting many of these alternative practices.
What we mean when we say ‘science’
When we speak of yoga, meditation, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, expanded consciousness work, or even Ayurveda, to name just a few of the alternative practices out there, we are essentially speaking of different ways of understanding and working with the flow of energy in the human body. Most of these practices have roots in Eastern philosophical or medical traditions developed over hundreds or even thousands of years and emphasizing the existence of an innate stream of life-force diversely referred to as Qi, prana, tide, Atma, etc. This flow of energy, far from being aleatory is conscious and interacts with the different emotional, psychological, and physical layers (or bodies) of our being, transmitting both conscious and nonconscious information. Too esoteric already? Let’s break it down.
Our train of thought here in the West has run quite a different path. Since classical philosophy times, many of our most revered thinkers have spent incredible amounts of time trying to establish the supremacy of mind over body --think, for instance, of Descartes. The reasons for this are varied and can also be traced back to the very historical evolution of western religious thought and its under-appreciation of anything corporeal. The result of this has been the development of a corollary of dualisms (mind: reason, science, objectivity, activity, male; body: passion, myth, subjectivity, passivity, female) whereby our material containers (a.k.a. our bodies) have been for centuries regarded as a hindrance to the development of our true immaterial essence: our mind. As a consequence of this, an entire Western imaginary and science has surfaced that is hierarchical in nature, and that has, until relatively recently, essentially focused on diagnosing the pathologies of the human body without looking at the emotional, psychological, and by extension energetic causes of many physical ailments.
I think therefore I am, therefore I feel therefore...
The superiority of mind over body is still very much alive. Think for instance of the last time you heard people talk of anything as banal as downloading our minds into a computer. Notions like this may seem far-fetched or naive to some, and may even bring forth incredible transformations, but they also attest to an innate desire to get rid of the body and preserve our mind, as if one could easily have the one without the other. The reality, however, is that the bond between mind and body is far more complicated than that contained in any hierarchical relation, and that western science today still knows very little about the nature of the association between mental and physical processes, a lack of knowledge in part also derived from having overlooked both of these entities’ energetics for so long.
When east meets west, or basic mathematics of life
We are all made of energy. In fact, physics tells us that the protons and electrons making up this energy are relational entities in constant fluctuation. They move, they change, they seek one another. Still, there is something to this by now irrefutable statement that remains too abstract for our human intellect to grasp, so let’s bring it back to the initial reference to yoga, meditation, and other alternative wellbeing methods.
Most of these practices emphasize some sort of essential mathematics of life. We all know that, when you breath in once, for example, you must also exhale at least once. If you don’t, too bad! You die! Jokes apart, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, they all participate in a mathematics of biochemical (and therefore, energetic) reactions too numerous, and at the same time too micro, for us to process consciously. But they happen. And what we are is, in fact, the result of all the energetic exchanges we consciously and non-consciously participate into, both with(in) ourselves and with others, exchanges that have the ability to alter our chemistry and affect the way we feel, think, and live. If you doubt it, think of the way you were feeling before and after your last argument with someone you cared about. Able to notice a difference? That was energy being exchanged y’all!
In essence, what all of these alternative well-being methods suggest is that energy exists both inside and outside ourselves; that is, they insist on realizing that we are part of an energetic circulatory ecosystem in constant transformation, in constant re-circulation: the re-circulation of energy about to be given and/or received. This energy, existing long before us, never dies but transforms or so the saying goes. Which is the reason why it becomes so absolutely important to pay attention to the type of ‘energy’ we carry inside us, the type of energy we share with others, and the type of energy we create. Getting esoteric again? Guess it can’t be helped!
What acupuncture, meditation, yoga, mantraing, or any energy-based practice offer is an opportunity for us to relax, inhabit our own skin, and become aware of the type of energetic load we carry. Doing so can help us mobilize stagnant thought-patterns and emotions (a.k.a. energies) and really tune into ourselves. Otherwise, any non-digested experience, any uncomfortable emotion we may have had to withhold or suppress, will haunt us for as long as we avoid dealing with it. So yes! In the end, it all boils down to an essential mathematics of life, a mathematics of energy if you will, not all that different from the yogic concept of ‘karma’ or our “what goes around comes around.” So, be mindful, gentle, and generous with yourself and others and seek the energetic roots of whatever is eating at you either physically or emotionally. And if you can’t fully figure it out on your own, be creative, seek other people’s help, or the benefits afforded by either standard medicine specialists or alternative ones as well.