~ this one is for therapists. And those interested in Bunny’s history ~
My early therapy years were spent working with children and adolescents at a residential treatment center. As I entered private practice and began creating my own therapy office – a consistent, calm, welcoming space - I needed a stuffed animal that could be soothing to clients – while I see people of all ages, children and adolescents remain a large part of my clientele.
I’m pretty particular about most things – I like a sturdy fidget spinner and a good Pop-It (has equal sound and push-pop on both sides). So I wasn’t going to just run into a drugstore and grab the first bear I saw. I researched my options, online and in high-end toy stores. The animal had to be soft, aesthetically pleasing – perhaps have multiple tactile options on it’s stuffed body. All the things a good therapy stuffed animal can be.
The first acceptable animal was a very soft, small brown bear. He had imploring eyes and was soothing to stroke. However, I, and one client, were the only people who cared at all about him. No one cared to take him from his couch corner and at the end of each day, I pulled him from between the couch cushions where the daily neglect left him. I had true empathy for that bear and wish I had given him to his one adorning client instead of Goodwill.
The couch was empty.
The next summer at the yearly arts festival I found a blue knitted yarn cat made from repurposed sweaters. She had four long legs and a long tail. I thought Blue Cat’s face was engaging. Clients thought Blue Cat’s face was frightening. Blue Cat went to the bottom of the bookshelf to stand watch, out of sight, over the emotion cards.
Again the couch was empty.
And then I found Bunny.
Actually, that’s a lie. I had my eye on Bunny for a long time. For some reason I hesitated to buy him – fear of failure?????
He is soft. He has long stroke-able ears. His face is engaging but passive. His nose, a cute pink triangle. His butt is a bean bag so he has some heft and sits well. He’s a brindle bunny - a mix of brown, grey, a little black.
Most people love Bunny. Everyone likes him. And not just kids, Bunny’s most fervent admirers are all adults. He is held on laps, his ears are stroked, his ears, arms, and feet are tied into loving knots, his head is petted. He is talked to. Clients inquire about his name, gender, and other personal details. I call him Bunny, but he has multiple names – one of them is Comfort. Even the most hardened and dismissive teenage girl absently strokes his head while she talks. When clients leave the office they make sure Bunny is sitting in a comfortable space with his ears and legs comfortably arranged. They say to him, “goodbye” and “see you next week”.
Recently a woman in her mid-20s, who never appeared interested in Bunny, told me she has a small Bunny she requested as a gift because of Bunny on the couch – she wanted one at home. She said of Bunny in the office, “he is always here, he’s a constant”.
Sometimes people are frustrated and Bunny is abused. But amends are always made. One woman came in and sat on the couch, Bunny was in the way. She knocked him to the floor - “move over” she told him. Then, after a few seconds she sighed and picked Bunny up off the floor, “It’s not your fault,” she told him as she set him upright on the couch next to her.
What is it about Bunny that endures him to people? His ears really are great for self-soothing and absently stroking while talking. But I think it’s the shape of his face and the placement of his eyes. They let everyone know that Bunny accepts you regardless of your faults, your scary secrets, and strange desires. Most importantly, he allows himself to be whomever you need.
This article is a very brief overview and introduction for the vast, complex, fascinating, and controversial subject of subtle or energy body. Many ancient cultures and spiritual traditions have reported the existence of a complex energetic system in the human body. However, south Asian Indian culture has produced the most elaborate and detailed description of the system, which was developed within Tantric yoga tradition. Unfortunately, the scientific community has not been able to fully recognize and embrace the existence of this energy system. However, the application of acupuncture, Reiki, and other energetic healing arts as integrative medicine has brought traditional medical, and therapeutic community closer to understanding, and perhaps accepting the energetic systems and its importance (please see bibliography and references at the end of this article). As you are studying these materials, you might observe similarities between Tantric energy body system, and Chinese traditional energy medicine. This similarity is not an accident. There was considerable exchange of information between these two traditions that makes it impossible to pin point who discovered what. For example, the Nadi and Marma points of Tantra is very similar to Meridian and acupuncture and pressure points of Taoist traditional Chinese medicine.
The material in this article might be slightly dense and perhaps too brief for a topic as vast as the energy-body. However, it is only an introductory to the future articles that will unpack and clarify whatever confusion that might exist after studying this article.
In the west there has been considerable misinformation and misunderstanding about energy or subtle body (These two words are synonyms, and we will use them interchangeably in this article). The purpose of this article and others that will follow, is to clarify and set the record straight regarding this misinformation. This article will examine energy-body from historical, philosophical, and practical aspects that were understood in the ancient India and south Asia. The classical understanding of subtle-body tends to present a much less dogmatic and rigid understanding of subtle-body than the one that currently exists in the West. In this article energy-body will be viewed through Sanskrit language based Tantric yoga sources, and will briefly contrast the classical views with modern views of energy-body that is being taught in the yoga world across the world, and even India.
The energetic /subtle body was introduced to the West through Theosophical society, which is a western esoteric school, and one of the founders of new-age spirituality. The society’s understanding and teachings of energy-body was considerably different that traditional and ancient classical understanding of Chakras. This difference will be briefly explored in this article. The driving force behind establishing historical clarity regarding subtle-body has been scholar-practitioners who are fluent in Sanskrit language and have developed detailed understandings of ancient Indian and South Asian traditions. They are able to make sense of these traditions’ ancient literature, and make them accessible to their western audience. This article has borrowed extensively from works of Dr. Christopher Wallis, Ph. D, who is a scholar-practitioner in the field of Sanskrit and South Asian studies, and his colleagues (see bibliography).
Most people believe subtle, or energy-body are mystical, magical, psychic phenomenon that are only experienced by adept practitioners of yoga or some mystical school. That is certainly not the case as we all experience our energy-body, at different times, but are not aware of it. Within the tantric traditions, the energy-body is the psyche as it interpenetrates the physical body. In other words, the energy-body is the mind, in the most wholistic and broadest sense and definition of the word “mind”. In this article, we will use the term psyche rather than the mind, because with it carries a broader and more integrative understanding and could prevent misunderstanding due to different perceptions and understanding of the word “mind”. According to Tantric traditions, mind/psyche interpenetrates the entire physical body. That is the reason, it is called Energy-Body, although it could also be called mental or emotional body.
In this article, we will briefly investigate the main components of the subtle, and in future articles will delve deeper into each its component, their properties, and physical/emotional impacts. These four components are;
Most People understand the relation between mind and body as a form of connection that mind and body influence and interact with each other. In Tantra the relation between mind and body is perceived as a spectrum rather than connection. That means, the mind is the subtlest aspect of the body, and the physical body is the most tangible manifestation and aspect of the mind. This challenges the Western materialistic notion that the physical body is primary and fundamental, and the mind is understood as a byproduct of brain activity, and hence the physical body. Different forms of somatic therapies have indicated Saṃskaras (strong emotional and psychic impressions that could include different forms of traumas) exist in the body, but in yoga philosophy we believe Saṃskaras exist in the energy body (the mental-emotional body), which is the psyche as it interpenetrates the entire physical body. All thoughts and feelings are also currents within the energy body. Therefore, they are also energies with different vibrations. Your mental-emotional body (including all your thoughts and feelings, and subtle sensations) are nothing but different frequencies of light that might be experienced as vibration/light. The energy body is slightly larger than the physical body and extends beyond the skin on all sides forming what some people call “the aura” or “energy field”.
Nadis (channels)-The middle (Madhya) and Two side channels
There are 72,000 naḍis (energy channels) in the body that carry prana (life energy) to the entire body. naḍis carrying Praṇa-shakti (life energy/force) are similar to the way the circulatory system carries oxygen to the physical body. The maps for these nadis varies among traditions and lineages. This is because energy body is a fluid reality of concepts, rather than their current presentations in the west, which are perceived as rigid and inflexible energetic systems. Energy-body concepts such as naḍis and chakras are more prescriptive than descriptive. That means, they are very effective when used in practices (prescriptive), but they should not be considered descriptions of a static energetic structures that is rigid and inflexible. Psyche has profound impact on the energy-body as a whole; therefore, they are highly flexible, and adaptive to yogic psycho-spiritual and meditative practices.
The vast majority of practices that involve naḍis in Tantric yoga, involve the three main nadis;
The madhya-nadi (Middle channel), also known as the sushumna-naḍi (the graceful channel) or the main channel)- This channel runs parallel to the spine, but slightly toward the front of the body. It runs from crown center all the way down to the pelvic floor. This is the most important and is the main channel in the energy-body. It is through this channel that Kundalini energy moves upward and opens different energetic centers. All energy centers are located on this Nadi and major emotions are experienced along the axis of this channel.
The Ida Nandi (lunar left dominant channel). It sits to the left of the main channel.
The Pingala Nadi (solar right dominant channel). It sits in the right side of the main channel.
These last two channels start at the bridge of the nose just under the ajna-cakra (third eye), and they can crisscross, intersecting at each cakra point but still the iḍā (the left channel), even when it’s crisscrossing back and forth, remains left dominant, meaning it’s stronger on the left side. The pingala-naḍi (solar right dominant channel), even when it’s crisscrossing back and forth, is still right dominant. It’s stronger on the right side.
The left channel is lunar and is associated with cool lunar energy. It is pearly white like the moon. The right channel is solar energy and is associated with the hot reddish sun energy.
Bindus (points of energy)
There are 3 bindus that are actually not part of the energy-body. They operate on a more fundamental level of realty and support the energy-body. The bindus emanates from the absolute bindu (anuttara-bindu). The absolute bindu is the point of singularity of non-dual view. Bindus are not separate energetic entities, but they interact with each other, as the entire energy-body is a system of interacting energetic components. These 3 bindus are called;
Lower belly (red bindu)
heart (blue bind)
Head (white bindu)
The Bindu of the Base or Lower Belly (red bindu)
The lower bindu or the red bindu is also called Kanda (means bulb in Sanskrit). It is located half way between genitals and neval. This bindu is the ultimate source of physical manifestation, embodiment, source of sexual energy, and is associated with sensations. It is associated with color of deep red when is visualized during practices.
The Bindu of the Heart (blue bindu)
The second Bindu is also called the blue Bindu, and is at base of the heart and point of the heart center. The bindu of the heart emanates the world of energy which includes tangible and intangible energies of the energy body, the psyche, thoughts and feelings, and other forms of subtle energy that are not physically measurable. The bindu of the heart is visualized as being either cobalt blue or brilliant gold, and it’s associated with thought, emotion, and other forms of energy.
The Bindu of the head (white Bindu)
The head bindu is the bindu of awareness. It emanates consciousness or awareness. It emanates all consciousness, one could say. The bindu of the crown or of the head is visualized as brilliant sparkling white, and as previously mentioned, is it’s associated with awareness.
Kundalini energy is the main source of evolutionary transformative source of energy. It is within sexual center on the pelvic floor. The word Kundalini in Sanskrit means coiled. It refers to the nature of this energy which is “coiled” in the pelvic floor, and when it “uncoils”, it expands and moves upward through the central channel (sushmna nadi) and opens all the chakras on its way to the top of the head. It will eventually “touch” the 7th chakra, and descends back down and rests in the heart center. The central channel, where Kundalini is experienced, is in front of the spine in the middle of the body, but spine itself is the mirror of the central channel. This is why many people experience energy running up and down in their spine, but others do not. Kundalini mainly pierces and opens the chakras dense psychic structure that is called Grunthi.
Most people are only familiar with one kind of kundalini, and that is lower Kundalini. However, Kundalini can go up and down (lower Kundalini and upper Kundalini). One rises and the other descends and eventually they become one at the heart center. Many south Asian traditions have put great emphasis on the rising of the Kundalini as the rising of this energy has been associated with openings of chakras, spiritual experiences and realizations, and even “spiritual powers” or Siddhis. Although, full integration of a kundalini awakening may take many years of practice and spiritual integration. The rising of Kundalini is very unpredictable, as well as how it is experienced. For some people this rising can be very dramatic with lots of fireworks, but for others it could be very subtle, and they would barely notice it. In recent years, physical/emotional traumas have been identified as a source of Kundalini awakening. Unfortunately, due to lack of energetic and emotional preparation, this experience tends to create considerable emotional-energetic imbalances and hardship. However, when the Kundalini rising occurs due to years of preparation and practice, it tends to be more subtle and pleasant (although not guaranteed).
In this article, we will pay attention to the less understood aspects of Chakras that are either rarely mentioned, or misunderstood in the current teachings of Chakras. In the future articles a more comprehensive description of Chakras, their possible locations, and energetic application will be presented.
The word chakra can literally mean ‘wheel’ and ‘center’. It is impossible to establish one chakra system, because as previously noted, in the primary Tantric sources, we find many different cakra systems. The smallest number of chakras in a given system is four, and the largest number of chakras in a given system has been twelve.
Prior to Tantra, there were few references to chakras, but with Tantra the difference became dramatic. Tantric Manuals were very detailed and technical compared to chakra reference prior to Tantra. The earliest Tantric source was Kubjika-Mata Tantra of the 10th century that most people are familiar with as the seven chakras system. There are multiple systems of chakras and all are valid. We are not dealing with something like an invisible physiology that is rigid and fixed as it is currently understood within the western yoga world. Chakras are not like fixed organs. They are dynamic and flexible and don’t always stay in the same place or the same numbers. Unfortunately, an unwarranted dogmatism has been developed that dictate “There are seven chakras with rainbow colors”. In the primary sources, the focus was on the effectiveness of the practices rather than theoretical descriptions.
Chakras can be both descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive is related to the fact that human beings experience emotions and intense energies along the central axis of the body. We experience excitation (sexual and otherwise) at the lower parts of the body while anxiety, sadness, and emotional pain are all experienced in stomach, belly, and the heart area.
The prescriptive aspect of chakras is an imagined structure, such as lotus flowers made of light with a particular number of petals with a particular color.
What we find in our Sanskrit sources is different colors for the cakras altogether, and they are meant to be prescriptive for chakras. That means, as meditative practices, chakras could be visualized as a lotus flower made of light with possibly twelve petals in the region of the heart and any color a lineage prescribes. Chakras are imagined structures that are superimposed on the centers where we experience emotional/sexual energy. Please notice Western cakra system, which is exclusively Western, is depicted on many internet sites with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet — this is not found in any Indian source whatsoever. It’s not found in any Sanskrit source, so it’s entirely an invention of the modern West.
Bibliography and References
Harrington, Joan. (2006). Kundalini Vidya: The Science of Spiritual Transformation: A comprehensive system for understanding and guiding spiritual development. Patanjali Kundalini Yoga-Care. Knoxville, TN 37922.
Johari, Harish. (2000). Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation. Destiny Books, Syracuse, New York.
Loizzo, Joseph. (2016). The subtle body: an interoceptive map of central nervous system function and meditative mind-brain-body integration. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1373(1) , New York, NY 10007-2157.
Tantrika Institute. (2021). Intro to Energy Body. https://studentportal.tantrikainstitute.org/courses/intro-to-the-energy-body/.
Wallis, Christopher. (2012). Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition. Mattamayura Press, Chicago, IL 60610.
Dear Friend of Yoga,
On a normal night of a normal day, I mentally check my calendar, and then physically recheck it, as I begin my mental, physical, and spiritual preparation for the next day. But this is not a normal time, so when I habitually move to check and recheck my calendar, I am quickly reminded of the cessation of my need to check the calendar right now. There is nothing there tomorrow that I have to do, and it appears as though there won’t be anything there for the next series of indefinite days. With this realization, I find my breath almost being sucked out of me by the thought that I not only don’t have anything to do tomorrow, but I can’t have anything to do tomorrow because I have been told to “stay at home!”
I suspect that most people who have been tethered to a work-schedule or a retirement-routine are, like me, more than a bit thrown off by this “forced seclusion.” Ironically, most of us have also long-desired an extra day in our week, or savor that one extra hour each “fall-back” time change we get in late autumn; but this “blessing” of extra time just seems overwhelming! (Of course, the loss of income is no small concern either!) When it first fell upon us, I truly viewed it as an amazing opportunity: the Great Mystery/the Divine/God/the Universe (yes, whom or whatever!) was offering human beings an opportunity to step away from the mean-spirited, self-centered, market-focused mentality that has rippled across the globe, and to rediscover the kindness, the compassion, and the connectivity that could unite us all. While countries, especially our own, were adopting a more isolationist approach, a virus comes along that says, “Oh, so you want ‘isolation’? Try this on for size!” And in this time, yes, are we not seeing (okay, alongside some hoarding hysteria) new “heroes” and servants of kindness stepping up from all walks of life? But underneath the generosity and sacrifice of volunteerism, there is the more challenging opportunity “to face one’s self,” and one’s very existence.
There are so many neglected projects about my home that I could likely spend a whole year busying myself over things that I have long said that I want to do but never have the time for. So here it is – that time – but to just “busy myself” seems to squander an important part of this “blessing” we have unwantingly received. Yes, there is extraordinary goodness in stepping up and being of service to the needs of others, but as this virus has moved us toward isolation, perhaps we should also better realize the opportunity for self-care, at the deepest and most important spiritual level. And here is where so many of us trip and fall into the oblivion of this indefinite period of quietude.
Our present reality reminds me of the throes of starting a practice of meditation. At its deepest level, meditation is the slowing down of thoughts, the emptying of the mind that allows the soft voice of the Self (yep, our connection within to that Great Mystery) to be heard. But such cessation of mental activity, much like the forced cessation of physical activity that we know right now, takes time, and lots of discipline! So, one can begin with “mindfulness” where, instead of emptying the mind, one simply, calmly, and even graciously acknowledges and accepts the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that course through the mind and body incessantly. In this state of mindfulness, however, one might also reach a plateau of awareness from which the observation of these feelings, thoughts, and sensations, leads one to the realization that all of this “busyness” is not as important as one once thought it to be; and so begins the more difficult challenge of letting go of the busyness, setting it aside so that we “hear, feel, and experience” what is truly important.
In a way, perhaps, your practice of yoga has given you the start-up tools for this deeper settling in that has fallen upon us. The practice of yoga invites you, automatically, to take that step of “letting go of the busyness” and to just be present to the movement and the sensations of your practice. But that is the “mindfulness” of our period of isolation. After your practice of yoga, beginning even with your period of Savasana, try to just be still and empty enough – no judgments, no “looking for” – so that as the noise of busyness peels away, perhaps that soft voice, like a subtle incense, will waft up from within, offering you the rhythm of a melody from which you can live more truly. You and I have probably spent the better part of our lives filling our calendars with doing; right now, we have an opportunity to return to our Self, to close the planner and sit still, and to be a human, being.
Adapt - to make suitable for new use or purpose; become adjusted to new conditions (merriam-webster.com)
COVID-19 has brought disruption to everyone’s lives in so many different ways. I never imagined my life and daily routines would be so drastically altered in a week. My kids are at home all day now instead of going to school and will probably finish up the school year interacting with their teacher and classmates through Zoom and being semi-homeschooled by myself and my husband. We can’t go to restaurants or workout at the gym, and a trip to the grocery store feels like a wild goose chase trying to figure out what store stocks when and who will have everything on my list.
My therapy practice has drastically changed as well. Hardly anyone, clinician or client, is in the office, which is normally bustling. We had to shut down our yoga studio, and I haven’t been able to practice in the space that has been my yoga home for years. In just a few days, I had to figure out how to meet with clients remotely in case either one of us is quarantined. Teletherapy never was a platform I wanted to use because of the nature of the trauma work I do, but at this point, it isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity.
In short, everything is turned upside down and what was the norm a week ago, feels like ancient history and who knows if it will go back to that way of life ever again. I spent the last few days grieving and feeling like I was living in crisis mode, trying to make sense of everything and finding a stable footing. I know my family is fortunate; my husband and I both still have our jobs and the ability to work from home, we have our health and endless resources. Our theme for life today is adaptation, and we must find new ways to adjust to these new conditions.
Take time to grieve and have a breakdown. There is so much turmoil and uncertainty now; acknowledging this can help you cope with these feelings. And it’s okay to be sad about the more superficial changes like not being able to stop by Target randomly or having a mid-afternoon cappuccino at Starbucks. Take the time you need to experience and process these feelings.
Be mindful and stay in the present moment. Even with all the stress and chaos happening around us, there are so many positive moments that we could miss. It could be your kids laughing and talking as they are playing Minecraft together or hearing the spring peepers at night. By being mindful and paying attention, we can strengthen the importance of these positive moments.
Limit social media and the news. It’s so easy to get caught up in minute by minute updates in the news and all of the commentary on social media. It’s beneficial to stay informed but do so in small doses to avoid vicarious trauma.
Find control in the things you can. There are so many restrictions being placed on us right now in regard to where we can go and who we can be around. Businesses and restaurants are being told to close, people are losing their jobs, and normal resources are scarce. This can trigger a feeling of not having control, and it is important to find control in the things you can. It may be as simple as setting a time to get up in the morning or when to eat meals. Take the initiative to turn off the news and limit social media and go outside for a walk.
You are not alone. No one on this planet is immune to what is happening right now. In different ways, everyone is affected by this pandemic. My hope is that we, as a global community, find solidarity in this. It is a time to come together and find strength in this shared experience. If you feel that you are the only one overwhelmed, anxious, angry, remember, you are not alone. We are all learning how to adapt, and we are all in this together.
My St. Patrick’s Day celebration yesterday registered a pretty quiet blip. Although I had been raised with an awareness of my Irish heritage, and later received the genealogical findings of my ancestors, I never felt any strong cultural and familial affinity until I was almost thirty years old. I can almost envision the exact moment that it hit me; I was sitting on the curb with my two oldest children, who were then but a wee lad and lassie, watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Columbus, Ohio. It’s not much of a parade as far as fanfare goes, but I recall thinking how cool it was that on this day, every year, people of Irish descent, and so many others celebrating the culture and spirit of Ireland, could and would shut down central streets in major cities, just to join together and to celebrate “who they are.” I have never just “watched” a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever since.
“Being Irish” is certainly not “who I am,” and while I do not feel that it, or any legacy ought to give anyone some sense of superiority, knowing some things about my heritage is both intriguing and comforting. I am always fascinated when imagining the struggles and decisions that my ancestors must have made; and the simple, but fundamental, awareness of my “belonging” provides me quiet support. As I have come to a deeper appreciation of the genetic influences of my Irish heritage, I have also experienced, more importantly, the significance of my physical and metaphysical grounding.
We want and need balance in our lives - in all of its aspects – and good balance needs good grounding. The grounding, of course, doesn’t have to start with one’s heritage, but it is a deep and rich place to begin if it is accessible. But grounding can be, and hopefully is experienced by all in a variety of large and small communities, as well as in the more private encounters with our deepest Self. Of course, yoga helps to foster all of these. Standing on my mat in Tadasana, Mountain pose, lifting my toes up to draw more deeply into the earth of my mat with the balls of my feet and my heels, I can discover a physical manifestation of “being grounded.” This is where and how I stand. But, where do I stand? And for what? And why?
The ensuing movements and poses of my practice, the challenges and the successes, the fire and the flaw – all of these can sometimes draw me toward the answers to those important questions.
Knowing something about your roots can provide you self-understanding and self-compassion; and knowing where and how and why you “stand” can be the grounding of your stability and courage. Keep standing in your practice of yoga, and notice how it will move you toward firmer ground.
For those of you of (any!) Irish descent, a belated happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! And for all of us, may our individual practice of yoga support us with the grounding of stability, and may we as a community of yogis support one another by being the stable grounding that each of us likely needs in such a challenging time.
Dear Friend of Yoga,
Yesterday was my day off, my “Sabbath” day, if you will, the one day a week that I do not teach yoga somewhere or have some other task to fulfill. Of course, as you might well imagine, quite suddenly this week, every day looks like that. Prior to this period of isolation, however, I most often did all that I could to keep my Thursday “holy,” by not agreeing to take on another task, and by holding fast to my commitment to give myself some space and time to rejuvenate my energy. Usually, that means getting outside, exploring woods, hiking a trail, taking a long bike ride, or paddling a local waterway in my kayak. Nature always provides me a balm, and it is the one counter-weight that never fails to bring me back into balance.
Almost forty years ago, an intriguing indie film of only music and time-altered imagery was released, entitled Koyaanisqatsi, a word lifted from the Hopi language, roughly translated as “life out of balance.” The entire film, a rather mesmerizing menagerie of nature, humanity, and the relationship between them, seemed to say that the turmoil of our modern world calls for another way of living. Today, this global experience of Covid-19 that has made so many of us stand still seems to be a devastating new manifestation of koyaanisqatsi.
Meanwhile, today is also the first full day of spring (and, my goodness, has it arrived with a thorough washing!), a time when we typically think and act in aspects of renewal. Yesterday’s vernal equinox (a day earlier this year than normal due to the leap day last month) has long been a special reminder and encouragement to me to correct the koyaanisqatsi of my life. Every month, the moon reminds us of our “true Self”: a full and vibrant light; and twice a year, with the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the universe provides evidence that balance is possible, however fleeting, as the day and the night find equanimity.
Every day I step on my yoga mat, I am also seeking balance. Standing on two feet, Tadasana, is an act of balance. Raising one leg into Stork (Padahastasana), or Tree (Vrksasana), or Dancer (Natarajasana), or Warrior (Virabhadrasana) III, I challenge the foundation of that balance as I reach up and/or out, while holding myself up on the base of one leg. Some days those efforts come more easily than others, and isn’t that just like our lives off the mat. Cosmologically, each year, no two days are the same in any and every way, and for each of us, though they may sometimes feel like “the same old, same old,” no two days are ever exactly alike.
Most of us spend a tremendous amount of time doing, and very little time just being. That is a fundamental koyaanisqatsi of our lives, and it is why a “Sabbath Day” of some sort is so important for each of us. Yoga can be, in some small way at least, part of the balance that your busy and energetic life needs. Interestingly, this virus is forcing many of us to be more than to do. Oftentimes, when we are busy doing, we have to make or find time to be with our yoga practice; for those of us who might find ourselves just being a bit more these days, perhaps we will gift ourselves with the opportunity to do our yoga practice more regularly!
This spring when life, for many of us, seems more out of balance than ever before, look to the universe for inspiration. It’s the equinox, a time of cosmological balance! Yes, in the chaos of it all, and on the mat, we can still discover our balance.
P.S. I am close to offering a live stream of a class from my home. I will try to work out the kinks today, and will get back to you if it looks like a workable offering. My hope is to offer you something this weekend. I’ll be back! :
Unknowingly, but not actually surprisingly, I held my last yoga class at LA Fitness for an indefinite period of time last Sunday. Before class began, there was some discussion about the “what ifs” and the “where will we” when the next hammer from this unprecedented experience of the Coronavirus comes down upon us all. I talked then - just two days ago! – with hope about, perhaps, finding some space for those who need and want to continue their yoga practice together. Today, that tone of hope is considerably less confident. Yea, I have probably done a rebellious thing or two in my lifetime, but right now, with all due respects to the “situation at hand,” I find myself bowing to the mandates of “those in charge.”
As I have often said before or during a class, what we do, in this case, yoga, can be done on your own; it is not like some game or competition that needs a team, and certainly not an audience! But what is gained in “sharing a practice with another or others” is not unsubstantial. While it is not unique to yoga alone, there is a rare confluence of energy that emerges from a shared yoga practice. One’s effort in a practice is always personal, but when that practice is shared with or alongside others, that effort creates and becomes part of a larger stream of energy upon which each individual can glide, ride, or surf. Imagine the flow of a strong, energetic river that is fed by innumerable streams that both empty into as well as weave in and out of that river’s surge. The stream of one’s individual practice can flow with clarity and grace (or, amble over rocks and fallen limbs), but alongside others, the energy often swells, and not only buoys one’s physical effort, but also uplifts one’s emotional and/or spiritual well-being, so that when our stream cuts away from the larger flow at the end of class, the momentum carries us further and deeper into our experience of Life. Contributing to and sharing in that outpouring of energy is what many of us will miss most about a suspended “shared practice,” no matter where it might be.
For me, leading a yoga class is far more than simply guiding people through a series of poses and movements. Perhaps more importantly, I try to create and hold a space where that shared energy can more easily come together and be experienced. The practice of yoga gets us “out of our heads” and more into our bodies, and when the play of movement and breath supersede the distraction of negative thoughts and the noise, confusion, and concerns of the outside world, again, that exercise feeds not only our bodies, but our “hearts” as well. So, since we are not allowed to get together, I thought that I might try to encourage you from afar during this interim of cessation by sending out some reflections that might be of help to you or others in getting out of our head, and more into our body and spirit. If you would prefer I not do that, just let me know, and I will simply remove you from this email list I have assembled and/or received – no judgments; of course, you can simply hit the delete button on my emails as well!
So, for now, I encourage you, at least for awhile, to turn off all of the alarming information streaming toward you every and all day, roll out your mat in some “special place” in your home, and step or sit or lay down on it. Then, remembering the variety of folks with whom you have shared the practice of yoga, keep breathing in and out, slowly, deeply, and fully. Breathe in the goodness of all that Life truly is, and breathe out the best of your own Light and Goodness to all of those yoga friends on whose collective energy you have sometimes been lifted. I promise you, I will continue to do that for you!
Practicing Ahimsa in EMDR Therapy: Yoga Skills for EMDR Therapists By Anna Schott, MA, MSW, LISW-S, ERYT-200
Practicing ahimsa, non-harming, is intrinsic to EMDR therapy and can be woven into the 8 phases of EMDR therapy as a tool to help clients re-regulate and treat themselves with loving kindness. Ahimsa is defined within the context of yoga as having respect for all living things and avoiding violence towards others and self. Ahimsa falls under the Yamas, or moral restraints, in the eight-limb path of yoga. Yoga includes not only the physical postures, but also mindfulness, mindful breathing, meditation, and a moral guide to use within the context of yoga and in life in general. The Yamas are part of this moral guide and are yoga’s self-regulating behaviors that teach us how to relate to others and take care of ourselves. Yoga, as a whole practice, aids in healing trauma and when used in conjunction with EMDR therapy, miraculous changes can occur.
Ahimsa does not just inform our work with clients but also how we take care of ourselves as therapists. In the clinical setting, we practice Ahimsa in the words and actions we use with our clients to create a trauma-sensitive setting. We also counteract the effects of our own countertransference, vicarious trauma, and burnout as we take a non-harming approach with ourselves. The whole framework and modality of EMDR therapy embodies Ahimsa as we help our clients heal from trauma and cultivate a peaceful therapeutic setting.
Practicing Ahimsa in phase 1 of EMDR therapy influences the process of history taking with our clients. As clinicians, we must be mindful of how we conduct a mental health assessment and talk to our clients about their past to avoid retraumatization through asking about unnecessary details in regards to their traumas. Because of the fragmented nature of how trauma memories are stored, clients may not be able to identify an accurate timeline, or when they do start recounting specific memories, the proverbial can of worms opens and clients become flooded with trauma memories. We can avoid this by slowly exploring clients’ histories and not worrying about getting the exact historical details. We must remember what matters in history taking is the client’s perspective of their experiences and how they’ve integrated these memories into their view of themselves. Because of the triggering nature of our clients’ pasts, we may need to wait to obtain a full history (and this may not ever come to full fruition) and allow the conversation to be client directed. Though there are certain nuggets of information necessary to obtain to form a diagnosis and identify a treatment plan, it is more important for the wellbeing of our clients to practice Ahimsa by not asking for too much information too fast.
As we move into phase 2 of EMDR therapy, we can work with our clients to identify resources they can utilize throughout the therapeutic process and which embodies a way to direct our clients to practice Ahimsa. This can start as early as the first session as we explore the resources clients already have in place and can utilize in therapy. Exploring resources in addition to history taking can help counteract possible retraumatization in phase 1. The main purpose of resourcing is to help clients tolerate processing the traumas identified during history taking. During this phase of treatment, we can teach our clients coping skills and resources that will help them stay in their window of tolerance without self injury in thought or deed. Through guided visualizations of the Light Stream, the Calm Safe Place, and the Container Exercise installed with BLS, we strengthen our clients’ internal resources to enhance Ahimsa. As a further way to practice Ahimsa, we can also offer to install other individualized positive resources with bilateral stimulation, such as positive experiences, relationships, and achievements.
In phases 3-6 in EMDR therapy, we help clients practice Ahimsa by identifying targets to process and then engaging in bilateral stimulation to desensitize the memories and reprocess the associated negative beliefs. These beliefs perpetuate internal self-injury in the messages clients tell themselves and external self-injury in the form of harmful coping mechanisms, drug and alcohol abuse, and even cutting. Flooding and abreactions can occur during processing with clients who are extremely traumatized, pushing them outside their window of tolerance. Though we want to keep pushing forward to help clients move through these memories, we must practice Ahimsa to help them stay within the space of being comfortably uncomfortable. This can occur by drawing upon their previously installed positive resources, utilizing different cognitive interweaves, and knowing when to slow the processing train down. It also involves an understanding of when to integrate modifications into phases 3-6, such as having a client open their eyes during processing, integrating grounding techniques in between sets, and utilizing the container when clients are flooded by memories. By desensitizing these target memories, our clients practice Ahimsa by living peacefully in the present instead of through the lens of past traumas.
Traditionally, in the practice of Ahimsa, we tend to think of non-harming in the physical sense. This is certainly a reality for many of our clients who engage in physical self-harm through cutting, drug and alcohol addiction, and eating disorders. However, self-harm can present as an internal self-injury through negative self-talk. As clients desensitize their traumatic memories, the associated negative cognitions reprocess, allowing for the integration of positive cognitions, which is then installed with bilateral stimulation. This allows clients to let go of negative cognitions that do not serve them and minimizes negative self-talk and coincidental internal self-injury. Through this, our clients are actively practicing Ahimsa by listening to their positive internal voice.
A further practice of physical non-harming occurs in the body scan phase in EMDR therapy. We ask our clients to scan their body and notice any disturbances while thinking about the target memory and positive cognition. Any residual disturbances they may report can be lingering somatic experiences of the traumatic memories, and reprocessing these can lead to further healing. Though this phase of EMDR therapy may seem extraneous, it allows for some of the deepest processing due to trauma memories being stored at a very base body level. It is often the very last fibrous roots of trauma memories that need to be weeded out. The body scan offers an in-depth way to heal physically from the traumas, leading to a continued state of peace and calm in which to continue practicing Ahimsa.
EMDR therapy is based on the three pronged model of addressing and reprocessing past, present, and future targets to help clients reach optimal functioning. Reprocessing past and present targets offers a way for clients to heal. Installing a future template lays the groundwork for an ongoing mindset of practicing Ahimsa. By visualizing positive ways to handle related situations, clients automatically create an internal positive environment to respond to new and different situations. This is also a way to carry their installed positive cognitions into future scenarios to which they will respond. This will help them to strengthen their practice of Ahimsa as they continue to install and strengthen their positive cognitions and strengths.
As EMDR therapists, we hear trauma all day long. Reprocessing these memories leads to so much healing for our clients but can take a toll on us as therapists through countertransference, vicarious trauma, and burnout. It is imperative as clinicians to practice Ahimsa ourselves. This may manifest as taking a mental health day, limiting the number of clients seen back to back, making sure to take a quick break in between sessions to eat, drink water, and to answer the call of nature. It should also include a rigorous self-care routine outside of work in which you engage in activities that ground and replenish you. In sessions, staying grounded and mindful while practicing Ahimsa will help you to stay present with your clients without absorbing all of the emotions and energies they are outputting as they process their own trauma. Having a self-practice of Ahimsa will enhance your abilities as a clinician and assist in staying engaged with your clients.
Practicing Ahimsa guides us in living in a peaceful way within ourselves and within the world. Not only does non-harming refer to refraining from physically and verbally hurting someone else, it also applies to how we treat and speak to ourselves. As EMDR clinicians, we are teaching our clients to practice non-harming through reprocessing their traumas in the 8 phases and installing positive cognitions that inform how they live their lives moving forward. Through Ahimsa we discover the light within ourselves that directs us in our lives.
Almost all of us are seeking more contentment and happiness in our lives. Unfortunately, it seems, the more we seek this elusive happiness, the less we find it. However, the key to long standing happiness and contentment might be closer and easier than we would expect. Actually, the secret might be hiding in plain sight. According to almost all wisdom traditions, happiness will not be found anywhere but within us. These wisdom traditions also insist the key to discovering the happiness is through regular daily meditation practices. The question arises, “is there any scientific basis for these claims and evidence that could support the validity for these assertions?”
When I started meditating 35 years ago, I would not have dreamed of meditation becoming a mainstream therapeutic intervention within psychotherapy and psychology fields. All I knew, was the fact that I felt better when I meditated, and my friends noticed the difference, but within the last 20 years mindfulness meditation practices have become the most researched psychotherapeutic intervention through hard science and neuro-imaging techniques. Daniel Goleman, and Richard Davidson summarized their findings regarding their research in the neurobiology of meditation and mindfulness practices in their book "Altered Traits". Both of the authors of the book have been long term daily meditation practitioners and active researchers in psychology and neuroscience. They have published numerous scientific and neuro-imaging studies on the subject of psychological and neurological impacts of meditation and its long-term benefits. After reporting the summary published studies, they have concluded; long term regular practice of meditation will have a positive profound impact on people’s inner experience, and what we call happiness.
If indeed people can feel better by just "Meditating", and not necessity needing a better car or a bigger house, and if indeed the wisdom and ancient traditions were right, then what is it that we are supposed to do, and what is meditation in the first place? Unfortunately, a lot of people think meditation is only a religious practice, and they have to adopt to certain religious or cultural values in order to learn how to meditate effectively or even being allowed to attend a meditation session. Sam Harris, a radical atheist, and neuro-scientist philosopher, who has been a meditation practitioner builds a case for practicing some form of mindfulness practice. In his book "Waking Up”, he suggests that it is very possible for an atheist, such as himself, to develop a spiritual life without becoming religious. That is certainly true about myself. Although I am not an atheist and have practiced my own spiritual path for many years, I do not consider myself a religious person. Even though almost all meditative techniques were developed within certain religious or spiritual tradition or context, they do not have to remain within that context in order to produce beneficial results.
The realty is meditating as a basic technique is relatively easily. Even though there are hundreds of meditation techniques that are taught by different teachers, they all fit within 4 categories:
2- mindfulness presence practices
4- active/dynamic meditations.
Many people get confused about the difference between concentration practices and classical mindfulness practices, which many traditions consider true meditations. Concentration practices, as their name indicates is about focus on an external object that holds your attention, and examples could be a candle, river, ocean or even someone that you have positive feelings for. You can also concentrate on your own internal experiences such as; observing your breath, or different bodily sensations, or even your heart beat if you are able to feel your heartbeat. The key with these practices is not to get discouraged when your mind starts to go somewhere else or think about something else. In meditation circle, it is called monkey mind, because of our mind’s tendency to jump from one subject to another. Just gently bring your mind back to the subject of your attention. Like any other skill, the more you concentrate the better you get at it. These kinds of practices are great for people with attention, anxiety, or stress related issues. Practicing 15-20 minutes a couple times (when you just wake up in the morning, and right before going to bed) would be great. However, if these are too much, start what you can, and DO NOT make meditation another chore on the top of all your other daily chores. The object is to relax, and look forward to your practice, and do not feel you have to sit in a certain yogic posture to meditate. You can even lie down if works for you, and do not fall asleep.
Mindfulness meditations are slightly more challenging for a beginner practitioner. In these practices you pay attention to the totality of your practice at any given moment without judging the experience, and wanting more or less of it. This practice requires an open-minded, non-judgmental attitude toward that practice, and becoming an observer of your experience and thoughts from moment to moment without trying to intervene or changing them to something else than they are at any given moment. This practice tends to be beneficial with people who might be having depression or personality related issues.
The reality is, meditation is like medication. The reason there are hundreds of meditation techniques is exactly for the same reason that there are thousands of medications on the market. There is no single medication that is able to cure all ailments, and there is not one single meditation that is capable of responding to everybody' emotional or spiritual needs. If you are interested in learning more about meditation, Jon Kabat Zinn’s book “Mindfulness for Beginners” would be a good place to start. You can also try a few introductory meditation classes that are offered in different yoga studios or mediation centers around town. Please try several of these classes before you make up your mind about meditation and if meditation is really for you. Everybody can engage and benefit from some kind of meditation. If you are an active person who has a difficult time sitting still for more than a few minutes, some form of active or dynamic meditation might be very useful to begin with. Yoga, tai chi, dynamic dance, and walking meditation might be great places to start, and eventually progress to some form of sitting silent meditation. On the other hand, if you are someone who is essentially introverted and contemplative, starting with some form of breath-oriented meditation that requires focusing on your breath might be the place to start, and eventually balance your practices and life with an active meditation. walking meditation, yoga and Tai Chi would be great additions to your sitting practice. The key is having a balance between silent sitting meditations, and active/dynamic techniques. This combination tends to produce the best result for maximizing relaxation and over all emotional wellbeing.
Bear in mind, all of meditation classes have their own cultural flavor, and way of doing things that could be vastly different from each other. Do not think you have seen them all after going to a few studios, and not liking their method of their practice, or the way they do things. Your needs as a practitioner will also change as you progress and demands of your life change. This should impact your meditative practice as well. Hopefully by then you have found a competent teacher that can suggest some useful techniques. If after 3-6 months of regular practice, you are not seeing any benefits, it is time to consider changing your practice, and re-evaluate your desired goals. Sometimes what we are hoping to gain from a practice is not what we really need at that point in our life, and that creates unnecessary tension, sabotaging our progress. It is essential to choose practices that are designed to produce the kind of results we are looking for, and we should always approach the practice with an open mind. Be receptive to whatever experience presents itself without expecting immediate results and attaching to the outcome. Paradoxically the more you “try” to make it happen, the less it will happen. If you just allow the process and technique to work, you will eventually benefit the result you are looking for.