In the field of medicine and healing, one of the most recent challenges to our cultural viewpoint has been the introduction of Eastern philosophy into the Western world. In our scientific traditions we objectively analyze data and events external to ourselves; in the Eastern tradition, it is the internal world that is investigated, through subjective means such as contemplation, meditation and body control. The conclusions of the Eastern approach provide models of reality that are very different from those of the West - or so it seems on the surface. Fritjof Capra, in his book 'Tao of Physics', makes an eloquent case for the fact that the further Western science delves into the world of particle and sub-atomic physsics, the more the conclusions drawn begin to look like those of ancient Eastern wisdom.
A key premise in Eastern thinking is the existence of forms of energy that are not recognized by conventional science. For thousands of years this has been conceived as a specific force; in China it is referred to as Ch'i, in Japan it is ki, and in India it is prana. Powerful methods of healing - such as accupressure, accupuncture, reiki, shiatsu and Tai Ch'i - have been derived from the manipulation of the channels or 'meridians' of energy flow within and around the body and connected to universal energy. In the West, Wilhelm Reich identified this energy as 'orgone' and devised ways to channel it for healing, because it is indeed 'life energy' and it's obstruction leads to illness or death.
Kirlean photography demonstrates a clear energy field around the body. More recently, developments in electronics have enabled these subtle energies to be detected and measure, and through biofeedback to be enhanced. In parapsychology, the subtle energy fields offer an explanation for telepathy and psycho-kenesis. All demonstrate different aspects of a subtle type of energy that lies between the coarse nervous system energy and the no-energy of the causal body or spirit.
Some people perceive its presence more easily than others, but this is an ability we all have natively. It comes easier to women, who have slightly less left-right brain differentiation - Aboriginal natives are also very psychic for this reason, and animals. It can be developed through breathing and visualization exercises. When the mind is quiet, and the left-brain chatter-box is still, the native right-brain powers of perception come through more clearly: we sense the humming, tingling or buzzing within our bodies; we see the energy field surrounding another person in its colored aura; and sense the communications flows and beams between individuals, and between the spiritual being and its body, brain and thought structures, and between the being and universal spirit.
Our physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual functions are closely inter-related with the subtle energetic body. In the Eastern yoga practice, seven major energy centers or 'chakras' are described along the spinal column. These vortices of energy coincide with the curves of the spine and skull. The bottom chakra grounds the system to earth; the top chakra, at the crown of the head, connects to higher energy sources.
The subtle body is responsive to changes in a person's physical, emotional and mental state, and to changes in the external environment including time of day, seasons of the year, moon phases and astrological positioning. Energetically the path through life may be seen as a spiral, where we perceive life issues from the different windows of perception of the seven energy centers. We interpret our personal history and our relationship with our parents, family and friends through this portal. In adolescence, for instance, we see the universal issue of each of the chakras - (1 Root) survival needs & fears, (2 Sacrum) sensuality & sexuality, (3 Solar Plexus) personal power & mentality, (4 Heart) compassion & fulfillment, (5 Throat) wisdom & creative expression, (6 Brow) intuitive insight & universal love; and (7 Crown) highest concepts of knowing & enlightenment - through the window of the second chakra. The same issues, the same questions, come up in each period of our lives as we spiral upwards, but have different implications as our vantage points change.
The inherent movement in the spinal chakras is generated by currents moving through the spine from the top down. In the process of individual development, there is a further flow of energy from the base up, described as 'kundalini'. As we improve in health and resolve emotional issues and mental conflicts, the kundalini rises to Energize and balance the chakras, and ultimately fully arouses the crown chakra, helping us to make a breakthrough into enlightenment. If our bodies are impure, or we suppress emotions and hold to fixed ideas, this progression never gets a chance to naturally occur.
In the Hindu system, the theory of chakras is related to a belief in the Universal Spirit of which each individual soul is a part. This unification can manifest if a person is able to transcend maya, the state of illusion and duality that most of us recognize as our everyday reality: a world of phenomena bound by space and time. Through appropriate techniques, one can develop a state of consciousness where there is the experience of non-duality and where time and space have no effect. One transcends subject and object and 'knower, knowledge and the known' fuse into one. This is the ultimate aim of all approaches to enlightenment.