Pulsing through all of nature, animating each and every one of your cells, is a radiant energy. We need this energy like the air we breathe. Without it, our lives become mechanical. This energy is in every cell of our body and it does not want to be limited. It’s a force to reckon that wants to flow freely.
This life force is known by many names. The yogis call it prana and activate it through breath and postures. Acupuncturist call it qi and balance its movement through a network of pathways. Martial artists also call it chi and learn to cultivate it through years of disciplined practice. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is known to run along meridians. In yoga, the energy centers are called chakras. While in the west, scientist refer to it bioplasm or bioenergy. More recently, scientist believe it runs through the network of connective tissue that holds our body and gives us shape.
By whatever name, these words all describe the same thing: the basic energy that runs through life. Anodea Judith calls it “charge.” What I like about the word “charge” is that it is accessible and part of our everyday language, something even the skeptics can relate to such as in having “a charge” about something. I lean toward simply calling it “energy.”
“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”
Go with the Flow
To be healthy, we need a balanced flow of charge running through our body. Additionally, we need to be able to generate this energy as required by our various systems. Most of all, we need our chi to flow for the deeply human experience of being alive and connecting to one another.
All emotion is accompanied by some degree of qi. Anger is a fiery force that wants to move outward. Sadness is a heavy energy that moves inward. When you’re afraid, you can feel your muscles tightening, you mind becoming hypervigilant – signals to fight or flee. While these reactions may be triggered by an emotion, they are all fueled by life force.
When we suppress an emotion, we block its charge. We can also lose energy by expressing too much emotion. We do this by discharging it onto a friend, partner, or unsuspecting object. Consciously or unconsciously, all blocked energy diminishes our life force.
When charge becomes blocked, it doesn’t go away. It gets locked in the body, outside of awareness. If it is repeatedly activated and simultaneously blocked, it can become physical pain. Or it might be experienced as unexplainable fear, confusion, or anxiety. Point being, it needs to go somewhere.
Over time, the blocked prana becomes the new normal. The mind gets bored it and turns its attention elsewhere. The problem with relying on this as a coping strategy is that it only takes a small trigger, such as being criticized, to bring that repressed energy up to the surface. Before you know it, you’re packing your bags over spilt milk.
Charge wants to flow freely. That is the nature of energy. When charge moves through the body, it can only flow as far as the next block. If your lower body is free and open, the charge might rise through your belly before getting stuck in your chest. If you’re trying to ground, the charge might get stuck in your legs. When I see a client struggling with a trauma memory, I’ll invite them to move their legs (as if running) or press their feet into the floor to help release the block.
We come by our stuck places honestly.
Our blocks were put there to protect us. Maybe we spoke up and were shut down, so now we have a block in our throat. Perhaps we were told we were “too much” and learned to rein it in. If someone broke your heart, it can be terrifying to open it again. More often than not, we are unaware of the block until we feel the prana pressing against an edge. The sensation can be quite uncomfortable. It’s natural to pull away from it.
When charge pushes up against a block, all the fears of the original situation begin to arise. Because this happens outside of awareness, we haven’t a clue why we feel so “off.” This causes us to tighten even more, which compounds the block. We pay for this protection with our aliveness.
Leaning Into Discomfort
A more helpful way to deal with discomfort is to welcome the sensation. I teach my clients how to do this by leaning into discomfort. We softly yet firmly go right up to the edge of discomfort. In our culture, we spend a lot of time avoiding or bracing against discomfort. Therapy is a safe place to soften into the subtlety of our interior landscape.
To help clients turn inward I’ll ask, “What is the sensation of that discomfort? Where do you feel it in your body?” In the beginning, it may be hard to tell. Initially, a big part of the work is discerning and listening within. The body is a great intelligence. We use it as an ally by becoming curious about the sensation, magnifying it, and see what it has to say.
“My heart is pounding in my chest.”
“My gut is clenching.”
“I want to run…get out of here…not deal with this.”
“I feel like I’ve done something wrong…like I’m in trouble.”
In all cases, the charge is pushing at the block which creates a physical sensation – usually discomfort, though not always. Sometimes it’s relief, or a powerful insight. Either way, the present-moment experience highlights the beliefs and attitudes associated with the block. Repeatedly visiting the edge of is how we expand into a larger version of ourselves and break the confines our limited, small self.
Window of Tolerance
Cultivating a wide window of tolerance helps increase resilience. The broader our threshold, the more easily we hold tension and manage anxiety, as well as experience states of deep relaxation and periods of solitude. To live freely with ease and grace, we need to move past our comfort zone. But here’s the caveat: we stay within our window while gently leaning into our edge.
Healing happens at the edge of our comfort zone – not beyond it.
“Window of Tolerance” is a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel to describe normal brain/body reactions. The idea is that we have an “optimal arousal level” within the window of tolerance that allows for gradation. For our window to widen, we brush up against our edge without exceeding it. The idea is to expand our boundaries, slowly and mindfully, not push past them.
It’s never too late to learn how to master your vital life force. As long as you’re alive, you’ve got time. The whole point of balancing our subtle energy is to learn how to live resiliently from our center. Our core is our innate, vital self. While it is made of universal energy – meaning we all have it – the form it takes is as unique as each one of us.
When I was a kid, I read that we are the some total of the five closest people to us. While perhaps overly simplistic, there is truth to it. We organize our core in relation to the energy within and around us. This is why it’s important to not only do personal “inner” work, but to be mindful of our environment as well.
One of the best ways to work out our blocks and enliven energy is through mindful embodied healing modalities, such as yoga, Essentrics and somatic psychotherapy. Regulating and aligning energy is the medicine for what ails us. If energy is the interface between mind and body and soul, then it follows that energy influences holistic health. You can do this solo, but for optimal results hire as many helpers as you can.