Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Energy Healing, Breathwork and the science of life-energy

Two weeks ago I delivered a public seminar on energy magic, at a retreat centre in rural Germany. The thirty or so participants had, by the look of it, at least as good a time as I did, which is saying something.
That's not all, though. After a warm-up and some open-ended playing-around with the glorious sensations of the energy (which for now, we'll call 'life-force'), we got down to the serious work. I called for volunteers who had pain, right now. Three brave people stepped forward, and we broke into three groups to transfer healing energy into their sick parts.
The results were not a little impressive: two healees got instant relief from chronic sinusitis and a nine-month-old strained wrist, respectively. The third sufferer noticed little at the time, but had found considerable relief by the next morning. I followed up all three people for a week, and the healing persisted.

The technique for raising the energy is extremely simple, and came out of my nineteen years experience of connected breathwork (Rebirthing, Vivation and some Holotropic) and consists mainly of an uninterrupted, continuous ('connected') cycle of breath - as soon as you finish an inhale, you start breathing out; as soon as your lungs are empty, you start breathing in. Unlike with most forms of pranayama, you don't hold the breath at any stage. This practice leads rapidly to a shift in your attention, featuring a much stronger awareness of physical sensations and energy flows in the body. Your hands and feet may tingle, and you have a sense that you are in an ESC (Extraordinary State of Consciousness).

In connected breathwork, this attention is used to follow the dominant sensations in your body until 'blocked' sensations are felt to have opened up, resulting in emotional healing and bliss. I noticed years ago that these sensations of energy can also be used to 'direct healing' at other people. I also worked with other experimenters, in the area of not-yet-respectable research known as 'magic', to find out how this sense of energy could be used in group situations. In the late 90s one such group gained some very interesting effects by structuring energy flows through themselves and each other, and came up with the term 'chaotron', for the energy-magic of spatially-positioned people in a group.

Around this time, I learned about George Pennington's Breath of Light circle. A lengthy and fascinating article about this can be found at http://www.lenzwald.de/Artikel/artbreath.html , but basically it consists of a group of ten or more people lying on their backs with their feet to the centre, holding hands and doing intense breathwork for long periods, up to a few hours. As the energy flows build up, participants experience some consciousness of the entire circle of people - for instance, it is vividly obvious not only when someone in the circle breaks hand-contact but also where the break is.

What happens is a souped-up version of the breathwork experience, of which one of the interesting features is that 'energy surpluses' from one person are felt to flow into areas of low energy in another person. The sensation of 'energy surplus' usually manifests as muscular cramping, the (harmless) condition known as tetany, and this usually comes about because the client has started spontaneously hyperventilating. Tetany is somewhat uncomfortable, and the client will need reassuring that it's OK, and tends to be followed by bliss states. The issue of hyperventilation is dealt with differently by different coaches: Holotropic breathwork coaches don't discourage hyperventilation and treat the subsequent process as an 'energy release'. Coaches from the Rebirthing lineage will tend to encourage the client to breathe more shallowly, to shorten the bout of hyperventilation, but also respect the client's process and encourage them to make best use of it to release energy blockages. In the Breath of Light circle, hyperventilation does not tend to lead to tetany, or if it does, to much shorter bouts of it; it is not a problem, but one of the ways in which the participants become aware that energy of some kind is being passed around the circle of bodies, and is going where it is most needed.

Pennington tells the story of the discovery of the Breath of Light as happening when one of the participants at a weekend healing retreat had waited too long for her dialysis procedure, and had gone into a very scary kidney crisis. People in the group were inspired to form this new arrangement, did so and the sufferer was restored to health for at least long enough to get to her next dialysis without mishap.* ,** .

Obviously, I'm not the first breathwork coach to notice physical healing effects apparently associated with the breathing, occurring in clients and in myself, effects which seem to be amplified in group work. So why aren't more people following this work up?
One reason is, no doubt that, like specialists in many other fields, we don't communicate much over the walls between our various disciplines. (We can add to this effect the fact that the number of breathwork coaches in the world is probably a tiny fraction of the numbers of, say, hypnotherapists or Reiki practitioners. I shall be coming back to this issue in these pages.)

So I went on a wall-hopping spree. First, I looked around at the healing modalities that claim to work with 'energy' in their healing, the energy that usually goes under the names of 'life-force', 'chi' or 'prana'. What I was looking for was someone who appeared to be getting repeatable results and had a theory about it that I could work with.

No surprise - I found a fair few schemes involving exotic and often ill-understood notions like charkas and auras, not to mention the - to my mind - more fantastical schemes involving angels and devas. Among these I did, however, find a practical and theoretical scheme which wasn't overburdened with exotic or goofy explanations - Richard Gordon's Quantum Touch Healing. (http://www.quantumtouch.com/). This is a clean machine - for the price of a book Gordon will tell you how to do this kind of healing work.

In a nutshell, QTH involves doing connected breathing (no pauses or holds), and additionally, making the length of the outbreath much longer than that of the inbreath. Typically, the breath rhythm is 2-6 or 1-4. This breath very rapidly fine-tunes the sense of energy experienced in connected breathwork, to the extent that it is easy for most people to locate a steady awareness of energy flows, especially through the palms of the hands and the fingertips. This is the breathing pattern I taught at my recent seminar in Germany and that experience, taken together with experimental work I've done before and since, convinces me that this breath pattern is a major contribution to the techniques of hands-on healing.

My next Google frenzy arose from a back-in-the-day TV memory, a programme about Chinese traditional yuan qi healers who work alongside modern scientific medics. They showed tests in which a yuan qi practitioner could alter at will a flux of microwave radiation emitted from the palms of his hands. Some very interesting connections turned up, making me realise there's a whole new kind of medical research going on out there.
However, this was the point where I had to turn back. We only have so many hours in the day to do what is important to us, and I could see in front of me a rabbit-hole which I could only navigate with a lot of time and some familiarity with a few different fields. Then I would be able to discriminate in favour of the good stuff that is no doubt out there. On this note, I request anyone out there with good links on a 'hard science' treatment of chi or prana to please leave a note. In the meantime, I've put a paper entitled 'The imprinting and transmission of mentally-directed bioinformation' somewhere I can read and attempt to make sense of it when I've got the time.

Some readers might find the 'hard science' approach disrespectful to their favoured models of energy work. Myself, I side with the pragmatism of the Chinese researchers who are just interested in getting better medical methods out there into the world. If there is going to be a paradigm shift in medicine, in which hitherto-unthought of energy transactions take part, involving perfectly measurable (respectable!) kinds of energy such as microwaves, we need to interface our models. If 'chi' is, in some contexts, measurable as microwaves, then how does that work in the body? Why does an acupuncture point on my foot affect my liver function? Imagination takes flight: transceiver nodes in the skin, specific microwave frequencies generated by some organ or other and transmitted along waveguides through our flesh... The world of the body promises an even greater cornucopia of unsolved puzzles. There will never be a shortage of mysteries to seek.

*The principle of the energy-group and the breath circle must have been known to shamans for years. At least one of the paintings of Pablo Ameringo, Peruvian visionary artist and ex-shaman shows circles of healing surrounded by structured light; clearly the participants have consciously or spontaneously arranged their positions to generate healing flows of energy. (Check out http://headoverheels.org.uk/ especially the painting 'Los Archontes Volares'.)

**Unfortunately, opportunities to experience such an event are few and far between. Those who are interested might wish to join a weekend event I'm organizing in November this year in Glastonbury, Somerset, called 'The Conscious Breath'. Details at www.chaotopia.co.uk/TCB.html

Monday, 6 September 2010

Paddington Farm and the Counterculture

Back in July I visited Paddington Farm in Glastonbury (http://www.paddingtonfarm.co.uk/) to check it out as a venue for my forthcoming weekend of breathwork - The Conscious Breath (www.chaotopia.co.uk/TCB.html).
My friend who helps run the charity events there told me about the farm's countercultural history, gleaned from records held at the farm and stories from those who'd stayed there. In 1985 the farm, then called Greenlands at Maidencroft Farm, was owned by an extraordinary old lady who opened some of her fields to festival travelers, ignoring the protests of her neighbours. (Apparently, the incident is still talked about in that area). My girlfriend Judy immediately suspected it was the farm she'd stayed at, in the orchard at the bottom of the lane, when she was on her way to Stonehenge Free Festival in 1985. She went to look at the orchard, and indeed it was.

Those of you who are countercultural history buffs will recognize 1985 as the year of the Battle of the Beanfield, the brutal attack by unnumbered, unidentified police on a field full of travelers' homes at the Stonehenge site. I left the Henge festival early that year, before Thatcher's uniformed thugs, possibly some of the same scum who occupied mining villages like invading troops during the coal strike, arrived, so I didn't witness the gratuitous attacks on children, pregnant women and anyone else they could find to terrorize.

Anyway, it turns out that those not arrested had moved on to Glastonbury and were given sanctuary by Greenlands' generous owner. Some more of the history emerged when I posted The Conscious Breath up as an Event on FaceBook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=150275014996498 - but would somebody please tell me what happened to all those posts, they seem to have been wiped?), when Alistair Livingstone (check out his blog at http://greengalloway.blogspot.com/) added some of his memories of those weeks of refuge.
If anyone else out there has any of that history, I'd be interested to hear it. If those who lived these events don't record them, they will be lost.