Tuning In to Your Subtle Energy

Everybody's talking about chi. Here's a basic primer on the life force we all have within us.

In China it's called chi, meaning life force. In India it's referred to as prana or shakti. In Japan it's ki. In the Khalahari desert, the aboriginal Kung call it num. In the Christian tradition it's known as the Holy Spirit. In the Jewish mystical tradition, it's known as nefesh.

The concept of a radiant subtle energy and spirit underlying the physical world is almost universal. So is the idea that this energy can be harnessed for profound transformation and healing. More than two thousand years ago, the Chinese created acupuncture, a system that uses needles to influence the flow of chi through the body's energy meridians. In India mystics have been transmitting prana or shakti from master to student, changing consciousness, for at least as long. The Khalahari Kung raise num through ecstatic all-night dances, in which they perform healings and receive visions.

These and other spiritual traditions perceive subtle energy as affecting both the mind and the body. For instance, if you improve the flow of chi or shakti to a person's physical heart, that person may also feel more "open-hearted" or compassionate. If you are suffering from a liver ailment, part of the cure in Chinese acupuncture or subtle energy healing might require you to release stored-up anger so your energy can flow. If you have a hypo-active thyroid, you may need to work on speaking up for yourself to open all the energy channels.


If this all sounds too fantastical, I can relate. When I began investigating subtle energy and healing more than a decade ago, I was a skeptical journalist. I didn't know if subtle energy could exist. It was quite a shock to discover that not only did it exist, but that the energy--something I couldn't then see and scientists still can't directly measure--could nonetheless have a profound effect on my life.

The first experience I had with subtle energy didn't make me a believer. For a magazine assignment, I sat in on a healing by Barbara Brennan, a one-time NASA scientist turned energy healer. To begin she asked the 150 students in her sophomore class at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing to focus and enhance the spin of their chakras, vortexes of energy located along the spine. These chakras are said to feed energy to organs and glands in the body and also regulate our emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Looking and feeling like energy whirlpools, they bring in energy and information from the environment.

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Diane Goldner
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