It is very difficult to write about our inner energy because it cannot be touched, clearly defined, or measured. The type of energy I refer to can only be felt. And, it’s not a fact that we will all feel it the same way. I can write about energy up to a point, and after that point, my experience will be meaningless to you because you will have your own unique and special experience. Despite this, we all do energetic work regardless of whether we know it or not. It’s like breathing: we breathe even if we don’t realize it. In this article, I will begin with my understanding of energy and energetic work, and then focus on how it is related to yoga and Unnata yoga. I write from my own experience and I invite you to take what serves, and leave what doesn’t.
My understanding of energy work is based on the fundamental truth that everything in the universe is made up of energy, that we are all energetic beings in cosmic oneness with the whole universe. While this is an ideal state toward which we are (hopefully) progressing, the reality that most people experience is one of separation. However, we all have an energetic connection with other people and environments. This is not good or bad, it’s just how it is. Necessary for energy work, is the sensing or feeling of the energetic connections between all beings. Once one can feel those connections, it is possible to intentionally engage on an energetic level with those beings. In fact, the Yoga Sutras practically provide a guide to energy work when they explain Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. These concepts are aligned with our way of energetic communication, where Dharana as the first stage is contact, then Dhyana is connection, and Samadhi is union. And it doesn’t matter what the object is – a thing, another person, a place, music, or yourself. We have to go through these stages to achieve true knowledge of the object through unity, overcoming separation.
We can say that this is the path of yoga, but it is also the way of many other spiritual and energetic practices. A lot of really simple things can become tools along the way: Hugging, sitting in silence, mindful eating, stroking your pet or singing/chanting together. When we begin to interact energetically with the surrounding world, the question arises – through what pathway is the energy transfer occurring? Energy transfer through the hands is the most common option, as well as for some people the exchange of energy directly through the chakras, for example, the heart center.
How far we will be able to walk on the path of energy work and where we are on it now, is ultimately up to us. The further we go along this path, the more individual and intuitive the practice becomes. Only by experimenting with different energy work practices can you find what works best for you. And if you really reach the stage of unity, you can observe and influence the real (energy) picture of the world. I really love to think of this as a universal energetic web. If you begin to see/feel this universal energy web, your task is to be its guardian, to monitor and to mend it as much as you can, and contribute your individual energy to it.
So how does energy and energy work relate to Unnata yoga? Energy or prana moves inside our body through different channels and in different directions. The simplest thing to start with, is the energy that moves along our spine. One of the Unnata method’s main theories assumes that misalignment of the spine is very common. In some areas, we hold chronic tension that leads to imbalanced states. By nature our body, mind and spirit are invariably connected, so we have blockages in the same places at the energetic level. And because we become accustomed to these blockages, we perceive them as our normal state. Just as at the level of the physical body we simply do not notice the constant tension of the muscles, at the energy level we do not notice the energy itself. Just because we know in our mind that Prana exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be able to feel it. First we can only notice its movement.
Yoga, and especially Unnata yoga can help us get rid of these blockages. The first thing we need to do is get rid of our tensions in the body, then return the spine to a more or less healthy shape. This will provide an opportunity for energy to move within it. Working with tension is the main thing we are doing in the Unnata method, and as Unnata teachers we know how to use the hammock for this purpose. The first benefit we gain is a change in breathing. All three parts of the breath – the abdomen, chest and subclavian areas will begin to work. The volume of the lungs will increase, and then we become conscious of our breathing and begin to enjoy it. The first step is awareness and observation. Further in practice, we learn to control and to manage our breathing. For example, we can direct it to one lung or to one side during side bends, to the back of the lungs in forward bends, or to the subclavian areas in backbends. These are just simple examples of how we can direct our breath. The most important thing in the beginning, will be to direct the energy through intentional breathing.
How do you take the step from managing your breath to managing and directing your energy? We can start in our regular yoga class whether it is Unnata or Hatha yoga. It is difficult for us to be conscious of the movement of energy inside our body in everyday life in the usual positions of sitting, lying, or standing. But we have an opportunity while in asanas, even simple ones, to direct energy after we have learned how to direct breathing. For example, in Tadasana you can relax completely and let the energy flow down, or push off from the feet to reach up and direct all the energy upward. In Warrior 2, try to collect all the energy from the limbs at the center of the chest, or the opposite – try to spread all the energy from the center to the fingertips, toes, and crown of the head. Interestingly, directing energy at first is easier than just observing it. As my teacher Sri Dharma Mittra says, you can just pretend that you direct energy even if you don’t really understand how it is.
In Unnata, using a hammock gives us the opportunity to learn how to observe the way energy is moving inside our bodies. Hanging from a hammock is a very unusual state and by analyzing this strangeness, you can notice an unusual movement of energy, or a split of the movement of energy in the place of contact with the hammock.
After we understand that energy is moving, we can feel our own energetic state and begin to explore it and influence it. Common examples of this are the use of visualization or breathing techniques to calm oneself down. We already have an intuitive understanding of these energies as when we talk about having high or low energy. It’s important to understand that there is a distinction between the tools (e.g. breath, visualization, sound) that we use to influence our energetic state, and energy itself. Breath is a tool that we use to affect change in our energetic state.
So I encourage you to observe and enjoy. Energy exists. It’s filling you. It’s moving through your body. And at some point, when you would like to go further and do something with this, that is when the energy work begins.
Here are some practical steps to follow that have been helpful to me. Perhaps they will be helpful to you.
- We work with chronic tension to get rid of imbalances in the body. Creating more space inside us.
- We increase the volume and length of our breath, observe and enjoy our breathing, and begin to direct it to specific areas.
- We try to direct energy in asanas – up, down, in, out.
- We try to become conscious of our energy state and use various tools (e.g. breath, pranayama techniques, etc.) to change it.
- We begin to interact energetically with the surrounding world – the environment, people, objects. We are looking for our tools/techniques and ports of transfer.
- We are trying to move from contact to communication to unity. Most important is unity with ourselves.
- We are looking for our purpose/Dharma; the thing toward which we should direct our energy (e.g. healing, providing support at end/beginning of life, tending to the energetic web, etc.)
In the end, we are already sharing our energy, so why not make our relationship with it more intentional? It’s not so important how you teach, what you say, what sequence you bring to this class, because you don’t know what your students are understanding. What’s truly important is the energy you are filled with, the energy you are sharing with your students. So, I invite you to have fun and be curious as you explore the Energy World.
*acknowledgement: to John Neff my energy work and yoga friend for great help and inspiration.