The energetic body or the pranamayakosha is often explained in a subjective and/or esoteric manner. And perhaps this is because we are each unique and our experiences are so individual that a topic such as this requires such an approach. And, perhaps the energetic body is, in its very nature, esoteric. But, after having played with yoga these several years and after having experienced the benefits of acupuncture, I now see correlations that interest me and I wonder, if perhaps, it is possible to tweak the lens through which we have viewed the chakras, ever so slightly, and maybe, in so doing, we could come to understand the energetic body in a manner that integrates more fully with our understanding of the physical body and its workings. This is my attempt at explaining my own subjectivity on the matter.
I believe the correlation begins with the myofascia that weaves itself throughout the body. Myofascia is a taffy like substance that coats and weaves together: the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and organs. Think of it as a pliable structure; like a building made out of extremely strong rubber bands. As a massage therapist, I encounter the myofascia a great deal. Running in 12 distinct patterns through the body, you can see its pull on the muscles and bones after a person has repetitively engaged in certain activities over a period of time. With this repetition, myofascia can become locked long or locked short. It is my belief, and the belief of some of my colleagues, that we work with the fascia far more than we know. I believe that we are working with the fascia when we integrate trigger point therapy. This is a technique where pressure is applied at a “trigger point” and held while sensations radiate to another location of the body and then dissipate or release.
The Ayurvedic system, a sister art of yoga that originated in India, would seem to affect the myofascia with the application of marma therapy. The marma points were discovered during times of war, as mankind became aware of the vulnerable points on the body. Many of these points correlate with the acupuncture points of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) but several of the points are unique to this system. Unlike TCM, however, marma points can be more unique to the individual and the location can vary. Some authors, such as David Frawley, would suggest that trigger points and marma points are one in the same. Marma therapy is where, I believe, we can begin to see a connection between the physical and energetic body that is quite tangible. When I explain marma therapy to my clients, I usually say quite simply that, “marma therapy is like a yogi’s version of acupressure and reiki.” They are, quite literally, where the energetic and physical body meet.
Also connected with the fascia, in my opinion, are the energetic lines themselves. Called Sen Lines in Thailand, meridians in China and nadis in India, Paul Grilley references studies that have indicated evidence that these lines run directly through the fascia. For myself, this suggestion resonates strongly as I have experienced and witnessed very emotional responses when fascia has been released through a yoga practice and also through massage. Drawing from my yoga background, my understanding of the nadis is that they are like empty tubes that are similar to the veins of the circulatory system. And like the circulatory system, they can be blocked, emptied and filled. In other words, they store the prana or chi for the energetic body. We draw prana in through conscious practice and this is where that prana is stored.
And though, the different systems do not match one another perfectly and do not even match the 12 fascial lines perfectly, I think it is a correlation that is worthy of mention and further exploration. The lateral fascial line correlates with the gall bladder meridian. The superficial front line correlates with the stomach meridian. The bladder meridian correlates with the superficial back line. The deep front line correlates with the liver meridian.
If the meridians are like the circulatory system, than the chakras are like the nervous system. In fact, some individuals, including myself, see a very strong connection between the chakras and the nerve bundles that run along the spine. Though yoga teachers tend to focus on the seven main chakras, or eight main chakras for some schools, there are actually chakras occurring throughout the body. This is because a chakra is simply a place where two nadis intersect with one another.
The yoga community has almost deified the chakras and in some cases personified them. But perhaps, in our obsession, we have overlooked the big picture. What if the chakras are like an energetic ear through which we perceive, comprehend and take in information inclusive of what we hear and see but also what we feel and sense? What if the chakras are that part of ourselves that allows us to have that extra sense as we enter a room? What if the chakras tie in through the nervous system and are a part of what makes us emotionally intelligent?
So this is how I see it. The chakras and the nervous system are highly tied in with one another and perhaps on some level, even synonymous with one another. We have come to think of our brain as being something that exists in our cranium and we assume that this is where our mind lies as well. But studies have shown that we have tissue that is similar to brain tissue even in our stomachs and yogis believe that the mind or Chitta, is actually located at the Heart. I believe that it is highly possible, that the chakras and nervous system work together to form a body/mind connection that allows us to feel, perceive and process in an embodied manner. My stomach speaks to me when I am hungry. My eyes send me a message when I am tired. My solar plexus grips when I feel threatened.
In the 20th century, we broke things apart in an attempt to isolate, uncover and understand. In this century, it is about reassembling, integrating and looking for the whole picture. I believe that the chakras work with the nervous system to take energy, emotions and information in through the body. I believe that depending on the information that we receive, that we may experience a bodily response through the muscles and organs yes, but also through the fascia. I believe, that on some level, this information is then stored in the fascia and the meridians which it contains. If certain events are highly traumatic or repetitive, we may even start to see the individual take on the shape that the event incurred. I think of this when I see elderly individuals with slumped shoulders. Our body mind stores the events of our life physically in our tissues.
So how does this hypothesis affect my practice or the way that I work with the chakras? On some level, I feel like it has made what I do on my mat more potent. Let’s look at the heart chakra as an example. If I place my hand over the center of my chest, it rests on hridaya marma. This tangible place on my body connects fascially with the heart and pericardium meridians. Both are meridians where we store or get blocked emotionally. People with depression tend to slump their shoulders forward and often have short huffs when they exhale. Some studies have shown, that if such an individual is challenged in their posture and taught how to open their chest and breathe more fully, they can experience a change in mental outlook. When I work with my students and clients, in such a scenario, I am inviting them to let go of the story that they have been holding in their body mind tissues. I am inviting them to challenge the physical pattern that they have been practicing and encouraging them to practice something new. By challenging the physical pattern that is held in the fascia, we create space around the meridians that run through the front of the chest and more energy is allowed to flow in these regions. This invites a new pattern neurologically too. I guess you could say that when I do yoga now, I see each pose as a way to create a new story and each pose becomes potent, special. Each posture is a form of self acupressure and a way to invite more energy and well being into all the regions of the body while letting go of all the things we have been carrying in our tissues. I still use chakra therapy techniques. I love singing and so mantra is something that really clicked for me. But that is such a small piece. If the chakras are taking things in at all times than it is about nourishing myself with good foods, spending time outdoors, breathing fully, moving my body, surrounding myself with beautiful people, singing Christmas tunes in the shower, dancing in the kitchen and randomly kicking into handstands now and then.
It is about what we feed ourselves; what we allow ourselves to marinate in. If your thoughts are stuck in a negative pattern, look to your body. What is your posture like? How does your breath sound? If you have been hurt and you tend to hold yourself in a particular pattern, how can you challenge that pattern and invite a new posture into your experience?
Stefani Wilton and Contributors
Finding beauty in the midst of joyous imperfection