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A Second Helping of Hand Gestures

By Michelle McLemore

Article first published in Crazy Wisdom Biweekly Ezine Issue #132.

The January-April Issue 86 of Crazy Wisdom Community
Journal ran an article called A Handful: Symbols, Faith,
and History. In it, McLemore explored six common hand
gestures used in art across the world in ancient to present
times and discussed how the layer of meanings added
insight for spiritual artwork. This piece follows up with
two additional commonly used gestures across cultures in
art. We have to hand it to artists—they are masters of
communicating much without any words.

Both hands of Shiva are demonstrating Gyan Mudra.

Index to thumb / Gyan Mudra

Growing up my older brother liked to play the “made you
look” game. Do you know it? The concept was to make
the “ok” symbol with your hand and nonchalantly place
it somewhere on display. If your buddy (or little sister)
happened to look at it, then they were “rewarded” with
a light punch. The game dealt with learning to observe
your surroundings without reacting, as well as how to
make gestures smoothly. I can still hear Charles chuckle,
raise his dark eyebrow with blue eyes twinkling, and say,
“Gotcha!” (Later, I saw teenagers playing it in the halls
between classes at our local public school.)

Despite its use as a modern Michigan game (similar to the
“Slug Bug” with Volkswagon Beatles during the 1970s in
Ann Arbor), the okay hand gesture actually has a much
longer history with a variety of meanings.

Rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) used this
same gesture with a slight modification. Joining the tip
of the index finger to the tip of the thumb while leaving
the remaining three fingers relaxed stood for “excellence”
or “perfection” in Roman oratory. Images show the hand
rotated palm upward. Perhaps it was for subconscious
manipulation of the audience as the gesture could have
been coupled with an impeccable example or argument—
at least in the orator’s mind. So, our “okay’s” ancestor was
“excellence.”

The same gesture is known as Gyan Mudra (aka Chin
Mudra) across Buddhist, Hindu, and Yoga traditions. In
Sanskrit, “Gyan” means “knowledge” or “wisdom.” The
thumb symbolizes Brahman and supreme consciousness.
Thus, joining the thumb to the index finger (the Self), is
the enlightenment from ignorance of the self to wisdom.
Surely, enlightenment is excellence.

In Auyrvedic studies, the hand position increases Vayu (air
element) which increases memory, improves the nervous
system, and assists the pituitary gland function. According
to amujayoga.com, it may improve stamina, improve sleep,
and relieve stress as well.

When the gesture is rotated with fingers pointing up,
it is called “Vitarka” and is the gesture for debate or
discussion, often used while explaining teachings of
Buddha. Raising it to chest level, the circle may be called
“the wheel of teaching”—an infinite source of knowledge and as such excellence and truth. This reflects back to the
Greco-Roman meaning of excellence during rhetoric and
teachings though the hand elevation is different.

Apana Mudra, Karana Mudra, and Mano
Cornuta—The Horns

Karana Mudra has many names.

Probably the most diversely used–and controversial hand
gesture I’ve researched–is formed by folding the ring finger
and middle fingers down toward the palm and bringing the
thumb across to their backs, held under their fingertips, or
with the three digits meeting at their tips. This leaves the
index and pinky pointing up. The gesture can be made with
the wrist tilted so the palm faces away from the body, the
palm facing the self, the palm parallel to the ground with the
fingers pointing away from the body or back of palms resting
on the thighs, facing up. Most applications hold the gesture
still.

According to EasyAryuveda.com, Apana Mudra (touching
the tips of all three digits) is said to regulate the excretory
systems and purify the body. The earliest use of mudras in
Hinduism predates sixth century B.C.E. accompanying the
singing of the Vedas. The gesture can be seen in Hindu and
Buddhist statues.

The same finger positioning with right palm facing out
is captured in a Russian Orthodox mural in the “Christ
Pantocrator” on the main dome of the Gračanica Monastery,
in Kosova first built circa 1318 C.E. In other Russian
Orthodox mosaics, the gesture is rotated sideways, palm
toward the body and fingers pointing to a Bible. It is said its
point is to literally point to the passage on the open book.
But I question, why not just use the index pointer finger
which was used for centuries in art for that purpose? Why
such a complicated finger positioning?

A variation of Apana is Karana Mudra. In this position, the
thumb is folded over the backs of the downturned digits
or held underneath. The Karana is recorded as having been
used through the ages to ward off the evil eye. Yep, there it
is again. The same position is called “Mano Cornuta” in Italian
with a literal translation of “hand” and “horn.” Amulets and
charms have been made for centuries in this form to ward off
negativity, bad luck, and ill wishes from others.

Some research suggests it is earlier linked to pantheism and
symbolism of a goat or bull. However, even Biblical excerpts
mention bull and ram sacrifices were made to please the Old
Testament God. A book on superstitions published in 1895
records a sketch of the Mano Cornuta/Karana Mudra in a few
different Christian mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. One from the
sixth century CE shows this hand signal as the hand of God
pointing down from heaven to an altar where Abel stands
on one side and Melchisedec stands on the other side both
lifting offerings. In this example, the hand gesture’s use to
mean “purification” makes more sense than to simply “Hey,
look.” Yet, it shows up in a different image of Saint Luke
with a bull (apparently a symbol for St. Luke) and the saint
is holding Karana Mudra/Mano Cornuta, palm facing forward
away from he and the bull and not toward the scriptures
being held in his left hand. Is he “pointing” to the bull?
Yes, but again, why the two fingers to point? Is he using it
to shield evil from himself and the bull? Possibly. It seems
artists of Christianity and Catholicism used the same gesture
in different ways. So perhaps it was around the Middle
Ages where either purposeful deception and re-teaching of
symbols began, or there was confusion of knowledge due to
disease and widespread war and devastation.

Leap into more modern times, and we find older Italian
citizens used the Karana mudra either with palm out or
parallel to the ground to ward off bad luck. In more recent
times, if the palm down and the wrist is twisted or swayed,
it implies the person of discussion is having an affair. Would
that type of energy be something someone might want to
ward off from themselves or their family? Quite possibly.
We see the same symbol (held with palm out away from the
body) made it into pop/rock music with a 1967 photo of The
Beatles. John Lennon is making the sign with both hands,
right palm facing him and the left hand facing away leading
to much speculation as to what he thought they meant.
From there Black Sabbath began using the sign frequently
and heavy metal goers picked it up from there. Is it a sign
for “The Devil” in Satanism? Someone else would need to
verify that. Still, if so, ironically then it is being used in total
opposite to all the other older meanings.

What can we all agree on? Cultures, religions, and artists
of every type have tried to express meaning through
hand gestures since the beginning of time. Whether you
are making silhouette shadow bunnies on the wall for
amusement, sitting in meditation using mudras to balance
and enlighten yourself, or getting wonky vibes from someone
in the office so you flick protective horns in their direction,
the use of our hands continues to be an interesting and
relevant part of ongoing human existence.

~

A Handful–Symbols, Faith, and History: Ancient Art Reveals Spiritual and Cross-Cultural Connections Through Hand Gestures

by Michelle A. McLemore

First published in Crazy Wisdom Community Journal Jan 1, 2024.

December gave the world a lot to celebrate: Bodhi Day, Day of Our Lady Guadalupe, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanza, Zarathost Diso, and New Year’s Eve. Colorful lights and crackling fires against a crisp winter canvas always help me find time to ponder spiritual connections and how humanity has attempted to make sense of and, perhaps ironically, immortalize our understandings. The written word and art have always been equally powerful mediums for capturing abstract yet visceral emotions. Even tentatively opening the door to a museum or a used bookstore makes me catch my breath in anticipation and reverence for the sheer energetic power combined in one space from so many inspired, deeply affected souls.

I wonder as I wander the aisles: am I understanding what the creator intended as well as appreciating my own reactions? Art may be in the eye of the beholder; however, many artists infuse subtle messages—just as writers may use allusions. For the viewer or reader in the know, these hidden treasures become Easter egg goodies adding richness to the piece if recognized. For others, they are just benign, curious additions. And yet, what is the impact when multiple perspectives can be brought to the same piece for specific features? There may be either enlightenment or argument on which is “right.” And unless you are good with seances, asking the original artist’s intent may not always be possible.

This recent season has led me to seek out spiritual art. In the midst of flowy angels, chubby cherubs, and aura shrouded mystics, I’ve stumbled upon diverse interpretations of artists’ intentions regarding identical hand positions used in a variety of world faiths and artwork from early civilizations.

When I was very young, hands and feet were difficult to draw realistically, so I’d inevitably “run out of space” on the page for the feet. Oops. I’d hide the hands behind hips or objects in order to focus on faces—the ultimate challenge in my mind. I’m certain if a seven-year-old can strategically position hands, then a master most certainly would not haphazardly throw them on the canvas. Hands add emotion for dancers, singers, mimes (sorry—I had to), in addition to general semantic meaning for the deaf or hard of hearing communities. Yet, gestures have also had specific meanings for various groups which go beyond the common index finger pointing for “look there” and the middle finger for “you frustrate me.” Christian clergy, practitioners of Hindu mudras, palm readers, and professional Greco-Roman speakers—among many other peoples—all have specific meanings for very specific gestures used in art.

The question is…was there one original, influential basis for these hand positions, or as different cultures and faiths intermingled in the Mediterranean and Middle East did they influence each other? Is there a right answer for an art piece’s hand portrayal? Were there historical meanings that perhaps even the artists weren’t aware of when composing their piece?

Famous Roman orators, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE) and Marcus Fabius Quintilian (35-100 AD) both record that effective rhetorical delivery covers both enunciation as well as gesticulation of the hands—the latter coming to be called Chironomia. After much nudging, Quintilian published his rhetoric manual near the end of the first century CE. He mentions in The Institutio Oratoria, “No one will deny that such details form a part of the art of delivery, nor divorce delivery from oratory; there can be no justification for disdaining to learn what has got to be done, especially as chironomy, which, as the name shows, is the law of gesture, originated in heroic times… (189).

It makes sense that there would be common gestures for speakers and leaders to communicate across great crowds. For meaning to endure across centuries, gestures would have had to be recorded, taught, and used in a consistent manner even as a part of a commoner’s daily life. Religio Romano, Hellenistic paganism, Egyptian Heka, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam—all pre-Christian denominations—left evidence of gesture similarities in artwork. As time went on, these gestures also began showing up in Christian artwork and ceremonies—some still in use today.

Let’s examine just a few gestures—starting with a simple one—to add layers of perspective per chance you happen upon these gestures in the future….

Finish reading the reading article at at CWCJ home.

The Power of Ancestry and Personal Discovery

By Michelle McLemore

This article was first published in Crazy Wisdom Community Journal September 1, 2023.

Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole? (Figuratively, of course.) Warrens can be exciting–as well confusing. Some leads are dead ends while other passages lead you quite a way from your starting point—almost to the extent that you forget what you were originally searching for.

My sister Lisa and I often joke about our rabbit hole research inquiries. The thrill of the potential finds keeps us searching. What started as separate hobbies eventually merged to combine into writing local history as well as GENMEMS (genealogical memoirs and house histories) for clients. Lisa summed up her genealogy enthusiasm by saying, “It’s like a puzzle, or mystery, to see how everything connects or impacts each other.” That connectivity is what we all need to take a closer look at to understand our inherited (yet transformable) tendencies, how we can gather strength from our ancestors’ stories, and finally, how to keep descendants and future communities in our conscious decision-making.

Let’s start with basic biology. I, for example, was born July 15, 1972 to Loretta Mae (Rang) Coberley. Yet, the story of influences upon me from a biological layer began earlier—and the same is true of you. The egg that would become me, grew within Loretta in her first four months of gestation within her mother, Virginia Ann Estella (Cote) Rang approximately between December and March 1933—early in the Great Depression. (In short, Grandmothers grow their children’s and their grandchildren’s eggs simultaneously.)

We could start here and look for stressors on Virginia, or we could go back another couple generations to see what type of genetic patterns may have been passed to Virginia (as an egg) from her ancestors.

Virginia’s egg was developed during the Great Blizzard of 1888, post Civil War tension, temperance, and other reform furies. Her great-grandmother started as an egg toward the end of 1853 as westward expansion continued and eking life out of the rural landscape of Ohio was the daily grind.  

Why does gestational egg development matter? Research has established that psychological stress immediately preceding conception and during the initial stages of pregnancy can impact the growing child with preterm births, early deaths, mental complications, and can cause compounding problems in four successive generations. That’s right, the next four generations.

Studies from 1999 to 2017 show strong evidence that psychological stress on a pregnant mother (such as depression or intimate partner violence (IPV)) caused a variety of additional effects such as increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and anxiety-related disorders in increasing complexity with each next generation.

Simplified, the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical stress of your grandmother and mother may have programmed you to be inclined to anxiousness or depression; it may have rewired your immune system and brain to react in certain less-than-healthy ways.

So, let’s take a closer look at my family models. For the sake of space, we’ll explore just two generations, though our research revealed at least four generations of economic challenges.

Grandma Virginia was conceived in 1914 in times of hardship, the third of nine children. Virginia’s family experienced poverty, scarcity, and uncertainty before it became fashionable in the Great Depression.

Whooping cough, Scarlet Fever, and Dyptheria worked through the entire family in 1919. December gifted the measles for Christmas. Virginia’s father fell off a garage in 1924, landing on his head. Then in November fell and was laid up for two years with internal injuries. Foreclosure was a continuous mid 20s concern. In 1927 a house fire destroyed the clothes room and all of Virginia’s clothes. By 1930 they lost their home and moved into a shack. They wore castoff clothes, shoes, and picked up coal along the railroad that had fallen off the railcars . All the children dropped out of school as soon as they could hold jobs. A nephew recounted that when they came to visit, the children would even eat the bones because they were so famished. The constant instability no doubt left lasting impressions on Virginia. Yet, frugality, determination, and faith—lifelong lasting values—saw her through.

In 1932 at age 18, Virginia married Earl Rang. The Great Depression was in full swing when they conceived my mother, Loretta in ‘33. The feelings of scarcity again left their mark on this first child. Later in life, Loretta would occasionally let slip kernels of wisdom to us such as, “When you squeeze your ear, you forget you are hungry… for a little while.”

In 1938 Virginia’s sister Rita and husband Clarence were laid off and living in a tent in Virginia and Earl’s back yard for the summer. To support themselves the aunt and uncle worked in farm fields picking and pitting cherries and gathering potatoes at a neighboring farm. They earned three cents a bushel while Virginia’s brother Charlie earned 15 cents per hour to load baskets into the truck.  Each family member helped out the best they could.

In 1941, Virginia joined Willy’s-Overland Women’s Motor Defense Corps. This club trained women for duties with the Army. They learned skills such as first aid, nutrition, and driving motor vehicles. As part of this, Virginia and her sister Rita received firearms and training by the Toledo Police Department. They also completed classes on the principles of automobile construction, maintenance, and operation to be qualified as proficient motor vehicle technicians. Virginia even went on to teach a class on carburetor repair. She did not let her female status limit her ability to serve or prepare to help her nation in times of need.

Draft letters to married men went out in 1943 and husband Earl joined, training in California. Yet, by the next summer, Virginia was in the hospital and Loretta age ten and her two younger brothers, Charles and Richard, were forced to go live with another family. Earl received an honorary discharge in 1944 so he could return and take care of the family.  No doubt there was rejoicing when the family was reunited. Still, what kind of uncertainty and anxiety had worked into the children’s psyche about abandonment or fear of being orphaned by one or both parents? Mom never spoke of this separation.

Loretta attended school, doing fine but frequently felt “ill” during Latin class and had to report to the nurse’s ward, befriending the nurse and caring for others.  She would find solace from the no-nonsense parenting of her mother by helping at the horse farm where her horse was boarded.

Things began looking up. Loretta married local boy LeRoy Coberley in 1952 at age 18 and by 1956 they purchased a farm in Michigan. Then, Loretta’s father Earl died of a sudden heart attack. A year later, her brother Charlie died in a head-on collision with a semi returning from a visit at the Michigan farm. Loretta was heart-broken and had PTSD-type reactions driving past where the accident occurred for many years.

Virginia went to work building an impressive Stanley Home Products marketing and distribution group supplying the remaining two children, and herself, with the basics they needed. She refused to play the victim or depend on the government. She was always dressed to sell, having learned the hard way that one’s appearance will sway how others view you. Even in the last few months of her cancer battle, Virginia wanted her nails painted. My mom grimaced uncomfortably when one of the brothers tossed a ball cap on Virginia’s head in attempts to be funny in her last days. A ball cap was never part of  Virginia’s style.

We could wonder if Loretta’s migraines, scratching anxiety habits, and fibromyalgia were ingrained by the stress during gestation or the strain of life. However, attitude-wise, Loretta inherited the will and grit to endure and keep going—a balance no doubt demonstrated by observing her extended family. 

My mother, Loretta, bless her, was definitely a child of the Great Depression, her mother’s expectations, and the yearning of someone with big ideas but little  self-confidence.

Loretta was a thing-saver—because you never knew when something could be re-used, upcycled, or gifted. She taught us early that “good clothes” were for going out in and immediately upon our return home, “home clothes” were to be put on in order to make the good clothes last as long as possible. Home-sewn and second hand were normal. Loretta made the bridesmaid dresses for all of her daughter’s weddings in addition to prom dresses and costumes. She saved what money she could get from her own Stanley Home Products sales or what Dad gave her as an occasional allowance or groceries. She knew banks could fail. And yes, when she passed, we had to go through every book, stack of linens, cannisters, and the like because she had hidden away her own stock and store for emergencies.

From the lean years, Loretta learned charity, kindness, and community service was important. She helped at school and served others through church and 4-H. She even gained enough signatures to make an intersection near her home a four-way stop for safety. She participated in every election even though she joked she probably cancelled out Dad’s vote.

As a stress management coach, teaching my clients that generational stress patterns are real helps them to feel less “crazy.” Examining ancestral stressors can help us understand systems built on fear, anger, victimhood, or the healthier patterns of resilience and determination. The research shows that not every child born during extreme stress develops stress-induced negative behaviors. This speaks to the power of the ancestors’ grit and resilience—how they evaluated challenges and worked to create manageable living expectations…and modeled those proactive strategies for their children. The genes may be there, but the family witnessed positivity and therefore character strength prevailed.

The Seventh Generation Principle is a philosophy across many different indigenous groups. The ancient Haudenosaunne (Iroquois) speak of it as responsible living. To practice it requires making decisions with forethought so that each decision will lead to a sustainable world for the next seven generations. In thinking this way, what to buy, sell, build, plant, create, recycle, trash, or destroy all carries a much heavier responsibility and diminishes the potential for rashness, selfishness, and hedonistic tendencies.

History is a teacher with both scars and gifts, if we will listen to it. We should add to it as new facts surface, and keep in mind enlightenment is a constantly evolving state of existence. 

To learn and remember what one’s ancestors endured, struggled through, fought against, and rose above, can offer a fountain of grit, endurance, and hope. We can identify problems yet refuse to cave to disillusionment. We can give grace to ancestors as we learn why they came to be the people they did. Talk to the family member, or neighbor, you disagree with. Better yet, listen. Find the commonality you both share. It exists. Build on it for your health, your families, your community, and your world. Then, share your story. The history you make today is just as vital as the history which came before.


Valuing Night Vision

By Michelle McLemore

First published December 23, 2022 in Crazy Wisdom Bi-Weekly.

The winter solstice will occur on Wednesday, December 21, eastern standard time in the northern hemisphere. It officially marks the beginning of winter with the shortest amount of daylight and thus the longest night. Children and anyone struggling with depression or anxiety may see the lengthening darkness as something to dread. However, it could be viewed as a rich opportunity for self-discovery and fun.

How we view night, sleep, and more specifically, dreaming, is initially shaped by our family. Some cultures and faiths have been overt in honoring the act of dreaming. They have explored dreams for wisdom for centuries.

Father Paul Ragueneau journaled what he learned about dreams from indigenous interviews in 1648: “The Huron believe that our soul has desires other than our conscious ones…made known to us through dreams which are its language. …Most Hurons pay attention and address the messages first thing on awakening.”

Did you grow up discussing your night’s dreams over breakfast?

Other people barely contemplate dreams nor practice their recall. This leads them to the fallacy that they rarely dream. Consistently, sleep studies record a generally healthy person has four to six dream segments nightly in the R.E.M. state alone. If you’ve ever watched a dog or cat sleep, you can tell when it is dreaming by its body movements, changes in respiration, rapid eye movement, and vocal utterances. The benefit we have over our furry dreaming friends is our ability to reflect on the dreams and discern gifts from their occurrence.

Benefits

• At base level, dreams can be entertaining. Have you ever dreamt you were in a foreign country and yet spoke, and understood, the language perfectly? How about dreaming in a musical format? Groups literally breaking out in song or dance? Or perhaps you’ve had one of the most common dreams—flying, gliding effortlessly over valleys, lakes, or towns? It’s even possible to have high tea with a dragonfly or be teased by faeries.

• Processing dreams are another benefit. Elements from your day, or emotional and mental concerns may present themselves. You may find yourself in a similar dilemma that is occurring in your waking life, and then within the dream state, you are enabled to act either in a way you never would in real life (to vent or release emotion) or to actually try out potential solutions. Perhaps you crave comfort. You might dream of being held in an embrace or engage in playtime with a fluffy pet.  

• A dream may literally supply you with art, stories, songs, and inventions. Author Richard Bach claims the entire narrative for Johnathon Livingston Seagull played out for him like a movie over the course of two nights.

• Finally, dreams can enable communication with others in the same physical realm as well as in other dimensions/planes. You might see, hear, or get a hug from a deceased loved one. Or you might have a dream meet-up with someone still alive.

Some people purposely avoid dreams because of distressing scenes. If this is your case, you need to understand that the body and mind are always working toward homeostasis and better total health. This means the subconscious will keep bringing the visions needed to encourage you to find truth and peace regardless of if you consider them nightmares. A dream coach, or a psychologist versed in Carl Jung’s theories, can help you find the meaning of dreams, create understanding, and move beyond a particular nightmare.

If you haven’t given much merit to dreams in the past, you can start today and build supportive habits.

• Talk about the benefits of dreaming and set an intention to remember. Honor the visions or messages.

• Read or discuss others’ dreams, and how they analyzed and utilized them. You can use religious, indigenous, or friends’ text examples, or even examples from movies. (Though, I’d avoid the movie Inception…at the start.)

• Institute consistent, healthy sleep preparation to increase recall along with the benefits of quality sleep for overall health.

• Create or buy journals or find other recording devices. For someone who doesn’t like writing, a voice recorder or voice-to-text app could be useful.

• Prioritize time to briefly record dreams first thing upon waking. Sketches or key word lists work wonders to prompt the mind later when there is more time to flesh out the dream, analyze purpose, message, and any needed conscious actions.

• Dig deeper by reflecting upon personal, familial, cultural, religious, and national symbols possibly present in the dream. Consider colors, time of day, locations, objects, characters, etcetera.

Honoring dreaming can increase your personal insight and energetic frequency. You are being given information around the clock. Acknowledge it. Contemplate it. Utilize it, as you were meant to, in order to live your best life.  

To learn more about dream states, interpretation, how to nurture a more effective dream state, or use dreams to improve your waking state, email energy@michellemclemore.com or call 517-270-0986 to work with Michelle. She synthesizes her training in psychology, energy therapies, and various wellness modalities to personalize sessions for each of her clients. 

The Cutting Edge of Energy Medicine and Latest Science

by Michelle Mclemore

First published in Energy Magazine, July/August Issue

Between the years I taught psychology and my work in energy therapy, the two words I have come to disdain most are “pseudoscience” and “placebo.” They have been used to dismiss what Western medicine has yet to prove, disprove, or acknowledge—especially in terms of energy medicine. When the community does not understand an unplanned positive result, they say it is placebo—just a mental trick.

And when technology or controls cannot be established for consistent study replication, it must be sham science instead of acknowledging limitations of technology or our limited understanding (at the present moment) of the nature of the topic.

Because of the resistance to study that which seems invisible, research studies on energy medicine have had a long-term struggle to gain legitimacy for funding and publication. Yet, through the years, devotees kept pushing on and because of it, have made discoveries noteworthy for anyone working with energy therapy. From influencing tools to ruling out placebo excuses, highlights of when energy therapy has yielded significant results, and the latest finds in the energy anatomy of meridians, these highlighted studies may provide a therapist more confidence in why the work is legitimate.

Secondary Intercessions

One of the early studies, by Dr. Bernard Grad of McGill University, demonstrated successful transference of healing intention to tools. In these studies, healer Oskar Estebany held a bottle of saline for fifteen minutes with the intention of inhibiting its properties. Normally applying one percent solution to barley seeds would retard the growth of the seeds. When the intentionalized, or energy-charged, solution was applied however, the seeds experienced no damage (Grad, et al., 1961).

For me, this is a reminder that items in an environment which may hold risk, may be neutralized, or even modified to transfer positive results for the body. In this vein, I send gratitude and purifying intentions to my water and food (as often as I remember)—a blessing of the gifts as some say. How might this research be expanded to show what other materials and structures may be influenced? Could prescriptions be influenced to lesson side effects and maximum the benefits?

In a second study, fibers were influenced by Estebany. Researchers gave rats goiters for this experiment. Estebany sent intentional healing properties into cotton and wool which was then placed in the experimental rats’ cages for one hour, morning and evening, six days a week. These rats’ thyroids grew slower than the control group. Additionally, when returned to normal diets, the experimental group’s thyroids returned to normal quicker than the control group (Grad, et al., 1961). This suggests it is possible to store healing intentions in a secondary source which may then influence a body just by its proximity for some period of time.

Distance, or Remote Healing

For skeptics regarding remote healing, these studies from 1968 and 1981 may help. In one study, ten subjects attempted to inhibit the growth of fungus cultures by intent. Each participant had fifteen minutes at a distance of 1.5 yards from the cultures to send their intent, or energy, after which the cultures were incubated for several hours. Of 194 total culture dishes, retarded growth was evident in 151 samples (Barry, 1968). In a replication of the same experiment in the 1980s, remote sending of intention was tested from 1 to 15 miles away from the cultures. One group yielded the same significant results in 16 of 16 trials (Tedder, 1981).

Of additional interest, a study was done to check influential ability by subjects who held no claims of healing abilities. Sixty volunteers were asked to set intentions to alter genetic ability of the bacteria Escherichia Coli in test tubes. Of nine test tubes, three were designated for attempts to increase mutation from lactose negative to lactose positive, three for decreased mutation, and three to be left as controls. The results showed the bacteria was influenced in the direction asked of the subjects (Nash, 1984). This suggests that (as Healing Touch training outlines) the average human has the inherent power to exert intentional influence (both healing as well as eroding) on other natural organisms. In simple words? We are born with the ability to intervene in a discriminating, precise manner.

In 1993, Larry Dossey, MD, released an enlightening book called Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. He highlighted various research studies and, one, I believe, should be pondered by all energy workers. Dossey summarized the work of a researcher name Schmidt who successfully proved that past subatomic events are capable of being intentionally altered—even if they have already occurred, as long as they have not been consciously observed. What does that mean?

As Einstein theorized in his 1905 Theory of Relativity, time does not exist in a linear fashion. However, consciousness fixes reality, be it by human, dog, goldfish or other cognizant entity (Dossey, 1993). So, what in the past could we influence that has not been observed? Could health conditions be reversed or healed before medical tests observe and diagnose something? Could time be designated personally or in retreat formats for self-reflection to predict potential imbalances and send energy to the past moments of strain which may have unconsciously initiated health imbalances? They could be a type of proactive past-corrective retreat.

Ruling out Placebo or Self-induced healing

In 2008, Dossey summarized in Healing Research: What We Know and Don’t Know, studies with highly significant effects done on bacteria, yeasts, fungi, plants, and animals at the molecular level disprove the placebo “participant intention or mind-set” tampering excuses of old. Surely bacteria cannot “decide” to believe in healing it doesn’t know is being sent. The study also suggests there is some design element in nature enabling intentionality to change matter. From preventing or reducing tumor cells in vitro, to influencing DNA replication and states of DNA helix, to expediting arousal of rodents from anesthesia in repeatable trials, the research continues getting stronger in design and is demanding its rightful spotlight time on the global scientific stage (Dossey, 2008).

Direct Subject Intervention

By 2010, the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine published a study summarizing biofield therapy successes in reducing pain in cancer populations, decreasing negative behaviors in dementia, and decreasing anxiety in general hospital patients. The review additionally noted biofield therapies impacted fatigue, pain, and quality of life for cardiovascular patients (Jain and Mills, 2010).

The same year, another study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, found that Healing Touch sessions helped protect and preserve the body’s natural killer cell cytotoxicity (NKCC) during cervical cancer treatments of chemotherapy in contrast to the control group. Participants in the experimental group received four sessions a week for six weeks. The supplemental HT treatments also produced decreases in depressive moods in contrast to the other test groups (Lutgendorfa et al., 2010).

Multiple studies, with varying sample sizes, can be found summarized on the Healing Touch and Healing Beyond Borders’ websites. One example is a study on chronic and severe pain from a spinal cord injury. During the study, participants who received Healing Touch showed decreased pain in contrast to the control group who received muscle relaxation (Wardell, D. et al., 2006). Another study conducted a randomized controlled trial of Healing Touch and guided visualization producing statistically significant results for reducing PTSD and related symptoms in a returning, combat-exposed active-duty military population (Jain, S. et al., 2012).

The variety of when and how energy work has made a positive impact on a subjects’ health is impressive. So much so, that when a client asks, “What can energy therapy help?” I honestly reply, I don’t know if it has limits.

Meridian Transmission

The acupuncture community in Traditional Chinese Medicine is another useful research realm to watch. As they make gains in producing studies showing energy movement through a physical system as well as electromagnetic fields from Qi Gong practitioners, the data has relevance to hands on and off intentional energy healing.

In 2005, researchers proved a meridian-type network exists in humans. By stimulating BL 2 acupuncture point of the Bladder meridian (the tip of the medial eyebrow), an infrared camera observed a warming of point BL 67 of the same meridian located at the outer side of the fifth toe in the foot on the same side of the body (Narongpunt et al., 2005). They clarified the nature of the network was still a mystery; they simply had proven one existed.

Acupressure uses the same points as acupuncture. And some of the hand techniques used in Healing Touch, such as the mind clearing technique, line up on these same points as well. Direct electrical manipulation of the body could be occurring through the same networks.

And one of the largest discoveries? A University of South Korean research team discovered physical evidence of a new anatomical system they named the Primo-Vascular System. Location proximity to the acupuncture points and traditional meridian lines are leading inferences that this may be the Chinese meridians long sought after. Stefanov and associates published an in-depth study of the implications and where all throughout the body the network has been identified along with a description of the fluid movement, unique cells and DNA structures within the fluid, and more (Stefanov et al., 2013). Another researcher in the U.S. contributed finding the network also in another mammal (Martin, C. 2016).

Now does this also address the Indian Medicine view of nadis? Continued research is needed.

To Conclude

When I find the urge to make a cup of tea and research for research studies, I joke about “getting my geek on.” The truth is you don’t have to be intimidated about reading research studies. We don’t all have degrees in physics, chemistry, or biology so sure, some of the terminology may be daunting. But understanding a few basics can help you gain access to the information.

You will come across two main types of research papers: a literary review (which examines a bunch of other people’s studies) and actual research studies (like experiments). Reading a literary review can catch you up on the research history of a topic. Reading the actual study allows you to know for sure what was reported versus someone else’s take on the study.

Take confidence that studies are written in a consistent format. The first paragraph, the abstract, is a summary of the entire paper. Read that. Sometimes that is enough. Nearing the end of the abstract, it will summarize the results of the study. Does it use the phrase “statistically significant”? That’s a lottery winner for a researcher. In the design does it mention, “randomized,” “blind” or “double blind” study? That gives it more legitimacy in the scientific community as it is believed less tampering and less bias is involved because of these measures.

That’s it. Explore the basics. Consider setting up research-sharing circles with other energy workers. We cannot expect the average Western person indoctrinated by a life-time of commercials from Big Pharma to suddenly look for holistic, natural healing options. And just as important, perhaps knowing the research will help you understand your energy work in a new, or deeper way.

References

Bader J.M. (1986). Acupuncturists stung to the quick [in French] Sci Vie, 823(4):54–59.

De Vernejoul, P.A. and lbarède P Darras JC. (1985). Studies of acupuncture meridians by radiotracers [in French]. Bull Acad Natl Med ., 169(7):1071–1075.

Dossey, Larry M.D. 1993. Healing words: The power of prayer and the practice of medicine.

Dossey L. (2008). Healing research: What we know and don’t know. Explore, 4(6): 341- 52.

Grad, B., Cadoret R.J., and G.I. Paul. (1961). The influence of an unorthodox method of treatment on wound healing in mice. International Journal of Parapsychology, 3: 5-24.

Jain S. and Mills P.J. (2010). Biofield therapies: helpful or full of hype? A best evidence synthesis. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine,17:1–16.

Jain T. et al. (2012). Healing Touch with guided imagery for PTSD in returning active-duty military: a randomized controlled trial. Military Medicine, 177(9): 1015-1021. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23025129.

Lutgendorf, S. K. et al. (2010). Preservation of immune function in cervical cancer patients during chemoradiation using a novel integrative approach. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 24(8): 1231-1240. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S088915911000173X.

Martin, C. (2016). Auburn scientist discovers microstructure of primo-vascular system, revealing possible foundation of how Acupuncture works. Auburn University. cm.auburn.edu/newsroom/news_articles/2016/12/auburn-scientist-discovers-microstructure-of-primo-vascular-system.php.

Narongpunt V, Cornillot P, Attali JR, et al. (2005). Infrared thermographic visualization of the traditional Chinese acupuncture meridian points. ACU , 16(2): 32– 37.

Nash, C.B. (1984). “Test of psychokinetic control of bacterial mutation,” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 78(2): 145-52.

Semyachkina-Glushkovskaya, O. et al. (2021). Lymphatic window from and into the rain: new concept of lymphatic/Primo-vascular pathways of drug brain delivery. Second International Symposium of Primo-Vascular System. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 14(3): 116-125.

Stefanov, M. et al. (2013). The Primo Vascular System as a New Anatomical System. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 6(6): 331-338. doi.org/10.1016/j.jams.2013.10.001.

Tedder, W. and M. Monty. (1980) Exploration of long-distance PK: a conceptual replication of the influence on a biological system. Research in Parapsychology , 90-93.

Wardell, D. et al. (2006). Pilot study of Healing Touch and progressive relaxation for chronic neuropathic pain in persons with spinal cord injury. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 24(4): 231-240.

Out of the Maze — Deeper Into the Path

by Michelle McLemore

First published 5/27/2022 by Crazy Wisdom Bi-Weekly, Issue 87

https://crazywisdomjournal.squarespace.com/biweekly-87

I just happened to see the white word “labyrinth” against the bright blue sign on the way to a doctor’s appointment. It stood out against the gray of the trees in the still beleaguered shades of Michigan in March. Note to self—a labyrinth on my literal path. I knew what I was going to do when I finished my appointment.

Ironically, I was headed to an appointment to find answers. I had tried Googling but got nowhere. I was embarrassed to need assistance, felt vulnerable, almost talked myself out of the appointment. And yet, there I was in the car, big girl panties pulled up, working on the deep breathing, and dabbing at the occasional nervous tears when they arose. The appointment went fine—anticlimactic really. Still, I would soon find parallels in the morning’s emotional path and my next literal and spiritual walk.

I watched for the blue sign again and turned into the drive for Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church. A penned potential community vegetable garden was out front, children’s play area in back, and gardens waiting to blossom around the perimeter. A man was busy in back transferring mulch from a great mound to various garden spots on the property. He didn’t seem bothered by my presence, so I simply called out a greeting and proceeded to the garden paths.

I was intrigued to see so many signs denoting various plants, shrub, and tree varieties. (The gardener, Allan Jensen, one of the parishioner volunteers, excitedly told me their gardens were home to roughly 200 native species. Momentarily bypassing the cement sidewalk to the point of the visit, I wandered freshly mulched paths to see various bird feeders and eclectic art pieces, absorbing the flowing walkways. (Curves always seem gentler on one’s tired spirit and magpie mind than sharp angles and constricting straight lines.) It seemed everything flowed gently among these light woods. Then, the path I was on veered toward the stone labyrinth.

Modeled after the pattern used in the 12th century Chartres Cathedral in France, this labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, an 11 circuit with the path three pavers wide outlined in red block. I stood at the entrance noting the quiet hum of vehicles going by on Old US Highway 12 countered by birds softly chirping nearby. I felt a moment of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the pattern. Was there a right way to enter? Was there a penalty if I quit early or broke the path?  (I had foregone reading the lovely pamphlet provided at the entrance to the labyrinth.) I took a breath and began.

Within a few short moments, I realized I had to slow down. The frequent turns required a different approach to avoid dizziness. A flush of anxiety reared, had I messed up my steps and got off on the wrong path already? I kept walking and the path led me to a different section of the larger picture. Then a new panic—I wasn’t even halfway (to the center/goal), and it dawned on me, I couldn’t predict how long the walk would take. It was a weightier commitment than I had known when I casually decided to engage. The air was growing colder, and the indifferent wind was rising. (In hindsight I don’t know why I didn’t stand and trace the path with my eyes. It seemed impossible but to walk, breathe, and focus on my steps.) I noted spongy moss growing between the rocks, seemingly perfect and offering gentle healing support to temper the stone walk.

I was amused that just as I thought I was getting closer to the center, another turn would surprise me. My thoughts had moved away from the morning’s panic and doubt about the right way to proceed and were replaced by more even breathing and observing. Then, my mind asked, “Is there something I’m supposed to be doing with my free time? Am I supposed to keep serving others? (I’d retired from teaching January 2020 and was holding a few parttime jobs.) BAM. The center was suddenly right in front of my toes!

I hesitated. I took a breath, stepped in (my inner child imagined jumping in) to the center of the six-petal design. My eyes began scanning the central design. Then, before I could take another breath, my cell phone rang. I looked at it, sighing, not recognizing the number. After a scant second contemplating not answering, I said, “Hello?”

“Michelle? This is Carla. Is there any way you’d make a dish for a funeral this Saturday?”

Did I mention I don’t believe in coincidences or chance?

I chuckled, assented, and hung up. I turned and began winding my way out. Along the walk more wisdom came through: You can have fun and serve. Yet…visions of dour martyrs and innocents suffering intolerable “chance” injustice rose to mind. Do we have to suffer and be miserable in our service? No. We have choice. Maybe not choice in all of life’s circumstances, but choice in our reactions.

Is it easier to choose misery? Well, I know it’s easier to choose not to exercise, my smart-aleck side mused. Then, what does it mean to choose joy? This answer was direct and objective: to make conscious decisions and know you don’t owe anything to anyone else—you don’t have to live to please others. BAM. Living in kindness is not the same thing as living to please others.

I was back to the start. Following the path back to the entrance seemed shockingly shorter. One step and I’d be out of the labyrinth. I don’t have to please others in words or deed and yet I should continue practicing unconditional kindness? Had I confused the two ideas somewhere along the way? Others may choose peace or to be offended—but that is their choice on their walk. My quest is to be watchful and charitable for when people need assistance…not to please them nor to pacify them. Not to help when they want someone to do the work for them, but when they need help or support.

I took a breath and stepped back into this world. Then I read the lovely informative pamphlet: “In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds healing and wholeness.”

This labyrinth was a collaboration by Baptized for Life, a discipleship initiative, and the small but dedicated congregation of St. Barnabas. Thirty parishioners committed to an approximate $50,000 project as a leap of faith to support spirituality for anyone of any creed. Visit Stbarnabaschelsea.org to learn more or contact Kathy O’Connel at 734-358-0345 or klo6134@hotmail.com.


Write Time

February 2022, I offered a writer’s retreat–a two day get away at my home where folks could have dedicated time to gather with others interested in writing. We set goals, shared experiences, and worked through questions. There were optional opportunities to explore creativity prompts, craft critiques, discuss markets, script writing, free verse , and characterization. Independent time was used for writing, reading, walking the gardens, meditating, doing yoga or anything else that nourished the body and creative spark. And of course, we fed them… we fed them well. The group was so delighted that even before the first day was over, they had vocalized their desire for a second retreat.

We just wrapped up our Spring Write Time II retreat May 14-15. This time mini-lessons covered creative thinking prompts, query writing, agent-attainment, and manifestation goal wheels. There was still time for focused drafting, garden walks, optional yoga, and individual nurturing which fed the body, spirit, and mind. And again, we ate well. This time, the group decided to set a mid-summer meet up for accountability and celebration and set a date for a Fall Write Time III two day retreat.

What has it come to mean for me? Utilizing my prior teaching and editing experience, I initially had simply hoped to nurture adult writers in their chosen projects–to offer a sanctuary of time and space for focus with a like-inspired community. I had not predicted the palpable energy generated from so many minds joyfully composing. Walking from room to room checking on the writers’ needs, I was delighted feeling the wash of their expanded biofields and excitement of creation.

There is something special about the act of creation. Sure it can be painful. It can have an unpredicted flow of stops and starts and unpredictable floods. Regardless, be it through words, art, cooking, birth, music, dance–creation is clearing for the sacral chakra and liberating for the emotions and mind.

Even if you do not consider yourself a writer, you have multiple stories to tell. Tell them, for your sake, at minimum. Whichever format or medium appeals to you, will probably be the best for your drafting. Then, if you feel like doing something else with it later, you can always rework it.

Has it been awhile since you have allowed your creative side to play? Consider joining us for the fall retreat or a one day workshop focused on opening and balancing the sacral chakra. Watch the events page for dates and details. Until then, write on!

Moving Meditations and Comparative Prayer Forms

By Michelle McLemore. First published in part January 2022 in Crazy Wisdom Community Journal.

One day while teaching Tai Chi—somewhere between forms—I was no longer cognizant of my body, my students, the studio, not even time! There was suddenly nothing except delightful whiteness, bliss, and an ethereal consciousness. When I came back to the immediate physical surroundings, I admitted to my students, “mmmm I lost count. Was that two or three Part the Horse’s Mane?” We all laughed. Later, I recalled having had other similar experiences during movement as well as sitting/lying inert.

In 2022 we are seeing the full circle of spiritual exploration finally expanding in the West. Yoga, Tai Chi, dance, and other practices advocated by the doctors the last fifteen years for their physical benefit and “non-religious ties” are now being explored at deeper levels—specifically for the spiritual origin. People seem to be seeking now, more than ever, internal health and peace in addition to physical health.

Come along on an exploration comparing the positive benefits and movements across Yoga, Islam’s Salaat, Sufi whirling, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong to discover we are more similar than different in motion and mind.

Spiritual vs Religious

From 2012 to 2017, the Pew Research Center noted a significant increase of spiritual affiliation. 19 percent rose to 27 percent by 2017 in a U.S. survey tracking spiritual, but not religious-specific affiliations. The article highlights “only 54% of U.S. adults think of themselves as religious – down 11 points since 2012 – while far more (75%) say they are spiritual….” Still, 48% say they are both religious and spiritual. That brings the total to 75% of those surveyed, identify as spiritual in belief (Lipka and Gecewicz, 2017).

Additionally, there is a growing body of research showing connections between spirituality and physical health. Research by Koenig, McCullough, and Larson in 2000 cited statistically significant results suggesting “…elderly people who pray or attend religious serve regularly enjoy better health and lower rates of depression than those who do not.” Another study from 1989 by Levin & Vanderpool—and reviewed in 2005 by Wilkins—note “studies have shown that having a religious commitment may also help to moderate high blood pressure and hypertension.” So, faith is good for the body and the soul? Huh. Shocking. Or not so shocking for those of us who daily work to create balance and health across the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy facets of a person.

So, what are the common traits of the “spiritual-minded”? According to the Pew Religious Landscape Study (2017), of the slightly over 5,000 people interviewed, 91% of those who identified as spiritual, claim to be fairly, or absolutely, certain in a God. 69% seldom or never attend a formal religious service while 13% attend once a week. 73% of those who are spiritual feel a spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week. Another 12% say once or twice a month. Additionally, 80% say they feel a sense of wonder about the universe once or twice a month, if not weekly. 52% believe in a heaven and 12% are unsure. However, 61% of same group do not believe in a Hell.

Most major religions and faith backgrounds agree on basic principles: give up the ego, appreciate but don’t attach to worldly aspects, be present in the present experience, feel—and offer—compassion. And how about in physical practice? Prayer and meditation seem to be the self-sustaining actions involved by the spiritual majority. 57% of people surveyed pray daily while another 12% pray weekly. 58% say they meditate at least once a week with another 11% who meditate once or twice a month.

Meditation basics

An often quoted saying, first made famous by Edgar Cayce (The Sleeping Prophet), isPrayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God.” Swami Adiswarananda, minister and spiritual leader of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananada Center in New York explains further: “Meditation ends in absorption with the divine…. The seeker does not attain a state of meditation, they are overtaken by it. Like sleep takes over the sleepy.”

This delightful state can occur both in seated, still postures, but also during movements. Adiswarananda states there are three states of spontaneous transcendence:

  1. You lose yourself in state of inner absorption; You transcend the idea of time and become oblivious to the lapse of time
  2. You transcend place, become oblivious to your surroundings
  3. You transcend I-consciousness and any thoughts about self. You become like an empty stage with the lights on. Detached from the body consciousness. This becomes another state of consciousness – Turiya – state of the self & Atman. A place of peace and bliss.

To clarify, this is a different state of consciousness than what people experience while driving a well-known path. Have you ever suddenly realized you don’t recall the last few miles of a drive and your mind had drifted off to visualizing either potential or recent events? Psychology explains this as automaticity. When a frequently practiced skills becomes ingrained through muscle memory, it becomes a habit. Then, the brain does not need to consciously focus on that activity and can instead focus on other thoughts. Driving is one example of this and has happened to so many people that it was dubbed “highway hypnosis.” The key difference between automaticity and transcendence through meditation is the merging with a higher state and losing the sense of self identity and self-concerns.

Does this form of unattached bliss always occur during meditation? Of course not. Many people struggle to simply still their minds or stop focusing on everyday tasks and worries. Meditation practice relies upon breath focus and not following pop-up thoughts.

Regardless of if the blissful state is achieved, meditation research studies have produced impressive results. Several studies now conclude that even a few moments a day of meditation for two weeks makes an observable difference in the brain. Over time, it actually increases gray matter (which normally reduces during aging). It has also positive benefits on “attention, memory, verbal fluency, executive function, processing speed, overall cognitive flexibility as well as conflict monitoring and even creativity (Lutz et al., 20082009Colzato et al., 2012Gard et al., 2014Lippelt et al., 2014Marciniak et al., 2014Newberg et al., 2014).” A study at Johns Hopkins also determined it has the same efficacy to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain as antidepressants (Goyal et al. 2014).

Additional research studies say meditation is useful in treating ADHD and helping parents manage stress of families (Harrison, Manocha, & Rubia, 2004). Many people stop using drugs after taking up meditation (Alexander, Robinson, & Rainforth, 1994). Meditation may increase the effectiveness of the immune system (Davidson et al., 2003). Regular practice increases increased sensory awareness, sense of timelessness, well-being, peace with self and universe (Hameroff, kaszniak, & Scott, 1996). Breathing seems to replenish vital energy flow through the body and balance any disturbances in the energy anatomy (Bruce, Lindgren & Dlitt, 2000).

Regarding prayer specifically, a long-term study with a sample of 4,000 participants in men and women above 65, yielding results that “praying and attending divine service regularly seem to result in a 40 percent reduction in the likelihood of high blood pressure” (Koenig).

Brain changes during higher states?

Another interesting physiological mark of meditation is that the brain waves literally change. A review written by Cahn and Polich (2006) found several studies proved meditation creates lower frequency alpha waves and theta waves. According to brainworksneurotherpathy.com, Alpha waves run 8 to 12 Hz and signify a resting state aiding in calmness, mind/body integration, and being present in the moment. Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz) occur in deep meditation connecting to learning, memory, and intuition. We can access information held deeper than our awake consciousness. Some studies have picked up the rare gamma waves (38 to 42 Hz) during meditation studies. Researchers discovered it is highly active in states of universal love and altruism…a greater presence of gamma relates to expanded consciousness and spiritual emergence.”

Additionally, during that sought after blissful transcendent moment, the parietal lobe of the practitioner becomes dormant—showing zero activity. It was documented several times with experienced meditators. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, recorded this phenomenon over ten years in Franciscan nuns as well as Tibetan Buddhists. Interestingly, the parietal is the area of the brain that is related to sensory information and helps form our sense of self. Research by ShimadaHirakiand Oda suggests “the superior portion of the parietal lobe is essential for maintaining one’s own body image.” It stands to hypothesize, if the parietal shuts down during deeper meditation, it would explain why the sense of self dissipates. Then the question becomes similar to the chicken and the egg conundrum. More research will have to be done.

Me geeking out on the science-side aside, let’s move into the practical application.

Perform an Internet image search for “meditation” and you will download pictures showing someone in lotus pose. Hands may or may not be positioned in a mudra, held at heart center, or resting gently on the folded knees. Eyes are partially or fully closed. The stillness suggests a requisite part to attain an enlightened state. Undoubtedly, it is safer to be stationary while merging with Divinity; however, I propose the early spiritual leaders (consciously or subconsciously) had one’s full health in mind while offering moving forms as another method of Divine connection.

Hindi Yoga Background

The first reference to yogic principles appears to be in the “Upanishad,” or last chapters of the Veda (ca. 1300-900 BCE). It is a synthesis of over 200 Hindu scriptures detailing meditation techniques to help someone attune to his or her true Self or Atman. Modern yoga talks about eight limbs or principles:

  1. Yama (restraint) covers non-violence, truthfulness, non-covetousness, continence/chastity, and declining gifts/favors.
  2. Niyama (observance/discipline) studies cleanliness, contentment, austerity, and study of sacred texts, and surrendering all fruits to the Divine.
  3. Asana (posture) explores the various stretches, postures, and flows for physical health.
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from their objects)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation) moves from through stupefied, restless, distracted, to concentrated and suspended states.
  8. Samadhi (contemplation/absorption) is when the mind merges in object of meditation.

As one can see, the principles cover more than just the physical asanas demonstrated in many westernized studios. However, yoga—similar to martial arts—maintains that in order to control the mind, we must control the body and the senses. Asanas are often practiced prior to meditation to help raise prana (energy) to the crown and quiet the mind.

B.K.S. Lyengar is considered one of the foremost yoga gurus of the world (b. 1918, d. 2014 India). In his 2001 manual Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, he wrote “When there is perfect harmony between body and mind, we achieve self-realization.… Spiritual awareness flows into the student during phases…. One moves from the physical practice (arambhavastha) through merging phases to reach the fourth phase of nishpattyavastha– the state of perfection where “I” ceases to exist.

“The ultimate goal of yoga is the union of the individual self (jivatma) with the universal self (paramatma). Self-realization is Samadhi. Samadhi involves jnana marg (path to knowledge –what is real vs unreal), karmamarg (selfless service), bhakti marg (love and devotion), and yoga marg (path to whole mind and actions brought under control).”

Physical Benefits

In a 2011 review published in the International Journal of Yoga, Catherine Woodyard summarized the numerous studies which found significant physical gains from practicing yoga. They included that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life. A 2021 article in Yoga Journal additionally noted that yoga improves flexibility, builds muscle strength, prevents cartilage breakdown, increases blood flow and bone health, drains the lymph nodes, boosts the immune system, decreases pain, and improves emotional balance.

The most known yoga flow:

An ancient practice was the Sandhya-upasana, or the dawn and twilight sun salutations. This flow (taught as part of a typical vinyasa flow class today) “strings together (sutra) body, breath, mind, and soul with the healing and nurturing forces of the sun, and infuses life with serenity and inner awakening” wrote Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and Sandra Anderson in an article for Yoga International.

Four cycles of the sun salutation is common and, Tigunait and Anderson claim, doing so “fans your digestive fire, energizes the nervous system, balances your pranic flow [internal energy flow], activates both the lower and upper extremities, and influences your moods.”

The asanas traditionally associated with the salutation consist of mountain/namaste, overhead stretch, standing forward fold, lunge, plank pose, eight-point pose, cobra pose, downward facing dog, lunge, standing forward fold, overhead stretch/mountain, and namaste.

For the full spiritual minded yoga practitioner, there are mantras associated with each asana of the sun salutation. See medindia for the list of the 12 mantras.

Local Yoga Practitioner Perspective

Elisabeth Sötebeer, yoga teacher at the Rudolf Steiner School and Sequoia Senior center in Ann Arbor, agreed to share more on the physical, energetic, and spiritual aspects of yoga.

In teaching classic hatha yoga, “we follow the lineage of ancient wisdom with a pure form of yoga. We begin with relaxation, visualization, special breathing techniques (pranayama), poses, and gradual stretching so we warm up before deeply stretching. Through breathing we relax into the poses.”

She continued, “Depending upon the group, I may introduce the 8 branches of instruction. However, I use gentle terms on how we incorporate it. I may discuss meditation, relaxation, good deeds, nature, and how yoga postures open the chakra centers (energy portals) and inner gateways named nadis. Of the 72,000 nadis in the body, we focus on the opening up of the major ones along the spine so the wheels [chakras] can spin in the right direction to move the incoming energy upwards from the base of the spine toward the head.”

“When we offer yoga, we focus on asanas (postures) which focus on positivity. We use affirmations to raise the energy [from feet to] above the head. “At the lower energy centers, we work out releasing feelings of greed, resentment, anger. At the heart we feel it begin to open with joy, expression, enthusiasm, wanting to give. When we move to the throat: a center of creativity, we open up channels for creativity and speech. As we move up to the forehead, Anja chakra, we connect with peace within, a quietness of mind. By the time we have raised the energy to the crown, there is the feeling of “I am just the way I am” – no attachment to anything from the outside. It is a beautiful place to be—to radiate calm, peace, and joy at the Crown chakra, Sahasrara.”

Does all yoga always bring the energy flow all the way through the crown? She laughed. “Are we always there? No – that would be enlightenment. We have moments. We can remember these spaces of bliss, recognize, and desire to return. It urges one to put in the effort and move forward. Yoga helps to have a life of meditation, more moments in the day you notice you are improving, more calm, more aware of what you are doing, mindfulness, the connection with the Higher Self and Universe. When you tune in to that, it flows. You know when you are restless, you are holding things. When you offer yoga—you release points which you are holding.”

When asked about specific poses that may assist chakra opening or heightened states of transcendence, Sötebeer explained Child’s Pose helps connect the 3rd eye to earth in the bowing down to your higher self, you release and open. Resting poses, like Child’s Pose, “are as important as active poses. They help bring about the balance.”

Sötebeer first found her way to yoga after a relationship ended and a sudden decreased ability in her right leg. Despite medical consultation and physical therapy, she was still shuffling after three months. Something nudged her to take matters into her own hands. After a year of yoga and reiki she became pain free. Since then, Sötebeer has been practicing for over 40 years and, since her training in 2004, has been teaching ever since. She was trained through the School of Royal Yoga and has taken additional trainings on Reiki, meditation, health, wellness, and how to connect with the higher self/universe.  

She offers meditation guidance by phone and in person and is willing to travel to the client’s home or a common space for the sessions. Some of her classes are chair yoga for seniors while others are mat classes. Additionally, she is open for Reiki sessions and also teaches Reiki 1 and Introduction to Meditation. She can be reached at elisabeth.sotebeer@gmail.com or 949-433-9116.

Islam’s Salaat/Salat/Salah Background

The general agreement is that the principles of Islam coalesced in the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century (approximately 613 AD when he began preaching). The Qur’an/Koran—believed to have been written by Muhammad’s scribes shortly after his death in 632 AD—establishes the practice of praying at five specific hours of the day (Stijn Aerts, 2013).  The Qur’an compiles information from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as well as sacred revelations taught to Muhammad through visits with ArchAngel Gabriel.

Salat Moving Prayer Form

There are five pillars of the Muslim faith, with Salat (the moving prayer form) as the second main pillar. (Salat/Salah originates from the Arabic word ‘Silah’. The translation is “connection with The God.”)

  1. Shahada: to declare one’s faith in God and belief in Muhammad
  2. Salat: to pray five times a day (at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening)
  3. Zakat: to give to those in need
  4. Sawm: to fast during Ramadan
  5. Hajj: to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during a person’s lifetime if the person is able

Each of the day’s prayer sequences are very similar, only varying in the number of units (repetitions of cycle), or Ra’kahs. Each Ra’kah unit is comprised of 7 to 9 postures. The early morning prayer (Fajr—just prior to sunrise) has two units, the two afternoon (Zuhr –just after noontime and ‘Asr—late afternoon) and night prayer (‘Isha—anytime at night) has four units and the sunset prayer (Maghrib—just after sunset) has three. “A practicing Muslim if he offers FARD (Compulsory) Salah alone, repeats these Rak’ah a minimum of 17 times every day. The number of total Rakʿah is approximately 48 Raka’a per day which includes all mandatory and optional Rak’ah” (Kamran, 2018).

Most Muslims can complete a series of two Ra’kah in in 3-6 minutes. Researcher Ghakan Kamran discovered, ” For an 80 kg person, the energy cost of daily prayers was about 80 calories per day, and could be considered a form of physical activity that enhances fitness [3]”.

Research Studies on Physical Health Benefits

Though less studies have been done in comparison to the effects of yoga, the numbers of studies regarding the impact of Islamic yoga is increasing. One study (carried out by University Malaya’s biomedical engineering department) showed that the ‘ru’ku’ and ‘prostration’ positions helped to relax the spinal canal and reduced the risk of pressure on the spinal nerve. Improvement occurred in subjects within the month.” [13].

Additional studies reveal Salat makes muscles contracts isometrically and isotonically (Jing et al., 2012) and that followers of the Muslim faith have a range of motion of 139.5° in comparison to non-faith followers who have typically a 102.5º of range (Nazish and Kalra, 2018). Also, heartbeat rate proved to be able to be reduced by 10 times a minute during prostration (Azman and Ahmad, 2016).

Analysis of Salat ul-Fajr, the early morning prayer flow, shows the basic, yet meaningful, postures and poses involved: Takbir, Qayyam, Ruku, Qayyam, Sajdah/Sujud/Sujood, Jalsa/Tashahhud, Sajjdah/Sujud/Sujood, Jalsa/Tashahhud, and Salam.

Interestingly, the remarkable similarity between salah flow and yoga forms has been noted by the international research community and now multiple studies have found similar health benefits—enough to give rise to the term “Islamic yoga” by members of the Islamic community. Several Muslim-authored articles are advancing the idea that practicing Salat, even without the prayers, will provide similar physical health benefits for any practitioner and should be considered as a viable physical fitness routine for anyone around the world akin to Yoga or Pilates.

How do the two forms align?

SalatYoga
Takbir (standing with hands by ears)Tadasana aka Mountain (Standing pose with hands at sides or above head)
Qayyam(Standing arms crossed at heart/waist)Namaste (Standing pose/ hands at heart center)
Ru’ ku(bow/ half forward fold)Ardha Uttansana aka half forward fold
Sajdah/Sujud/Sujood (7 point prostration)Balasana aka Child’s pose (a 7point prostration)
Jalsa/Tashahhud (sitting back on feet with toes activated)Varjasana aka Thunderbolt variation/Toe Squat/Rock pose variation (sitting back on feet with toes activated)
Salam (turning head to wish “peace”)Neck stretch left and right

Accompanying prayers & spiritual/energy aspects

Just as there are prayers or mantras to say during traditional yoga asana flows, for the practicing Muslim, there are set prayers for each position as well. More in-depth explanation of the symbolism of each position can be found here.

Amira Ayad explained in a 2018 article for About Islam, “Prophet Mohammed PBUH said: ‘Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.’ ‘Piety resides here” and he pointed to his chest. The word piety or Taqwa in Arabic comes from the root wiqaya, which means to protect, prevent, or avoid harm. Being pious is consciously performing good deeds and avoiding all evil acts seeking Allah’s content and satisfaction. ‘The entire philosophy of prayer in Islam is that it is a way for the individual to elevate his or her mind to seek God.’…And again, to keep this heart balance, we need constant reminders, and what could be better than Qur’an recitation and constant dhikr Allah” (Divine remembrances).

This focus is emphasized by the Qur’annic term Khushu—being fully present (body, mind, and spirit) before the Divine Presence in prayer. It is such a conscious objective that once prayer and the flow begins, there can be no interruptions or distractions of even the mind, else the practitioner must begin again.   

(Though there is some disagreement among Muslims about the existence of the subtle energy anatomy (chakras, nadis, etc.), researchers in the community have been publishing about the impact of Salat on the energy anatomy. The International Journal of Science Culture and Sport summarized in that, “Even each (Salat) positions is having some similarity with corresponding yoga position and the positions together ‘activate’ all seven ‘chakras’ (energy fields) in the body as per yoga practices (2016). “Each of the chakras correlates to major nerve ganglia that branch forth from the spinal column” (Roaf et al.,2014).

“Sujud is said to activate the ‘crown chakra’ which is related to a person’s spiritual connection with the universe around them and their enthusiasm for spiritual pursuits. This nerve pathway is also correlated to the health of the brain and pineal gland. Its healthy function balances one’s interior and exterior energies” (Roaf et al.,2014).

Researchers Nazish and Kalra (2018) focused on brain changes before, during, and after Salat and revealed (similar to yoga research cited earlier) the occipital and parietal regions were influenced on the parasympathetic index. This study concludes that regular Salat practices may help promote relaxation, minimize anxiety, and reduce cardiovascular risk.

“During Prostration, specifically, dissipation of the electromagnetic energy accumulated from the atmosphere takes place by the grounding effect at regular intervals resulting in a calming feeling. A recent study investigating the alpha brain activity during Muslim prayers has reported increased amplitude in the parietal and occipital regions suggestive of parasympathetic elevation, thus indicating a state of relaxation” (Doufesh, 2012). Awareness of frequency changes and the need for grounding the electrical nature of the body has also been explored by Kanat Eleyoun. By using a turba (wooden disc or item from nature) at the forehead, it helps reset the body during Sujuud, making the posture even more healthful physically and spiritually.

Participating in the multiple moving meditations throughout the day seems to keep Muslim practitioners in better physical health than those with limited movement and offers a higher possibility for reaching calmer states of mind.

Sufism Whirling Background

Though there is a discrepancy in if Sufism arose specifically as a mystical pursuit of Muslims or if it had origins predating Islam, the early Umayyad period (661-749 AD) have several recordings of Sufis demonstrating their anti-worldliness. Sufi (which came to mean ‘mystic’), in fact, comes from the Arabic word ṣūf for wool which followers wore for simplicity. Known for renouncing worldly possessions, Sufis came to be known as the poor/ fuqarāʾ. In Arabic–faqīr, in Persion darvīsh–hence the English words fakir and dervish (Brittanica).

According to Understanding Islam: The complete Idiot’s Guide by Yahiya Emerick, there are four basic principles:

  • Faith in God can be experienced by the devoted believer through a program consisting of meditation, changing, selfless love for others, and self-denial.
  • Worldly possessions, if not kept to a minimum, can corrupt a person’s soul. Frugality is the key to spiritual wealth.
  • The path of Sufism requires its followers to develop patience, thankfulness to God, and a complete reliance on God’s knowledge of the future.
  • In addition to the Qur’an and hadiths, another body of wisdom is contained in the teachings of the great Sufi masters. These consist of poems and wisdom stories that have hidden meanings.

Just as other religions have grown and changed, Sufism developed different branches. “Universal Sufism” came to the Americas in the 1920s with Inayat Khan (a Sufi leader of the Sufi Chishtia lineage). Inayat Khan, however, taught that “Sufism and Sufi practices pre-date Islam and have their root in multiple ancient traditions such as Christian mystics of Syria and Egypt, the Essenes, the ancient Pythagorean orders, and the mystery schools of the Egyptians and Zoroastrians, among others” (The Origins of Sufism.) Khan, thus, referred to Universal Sufism as “the wisdom of all faiths.” 

There are several sister or sub-orders within the Inayati umbrella, such as the Raphaelite healing order and the Sufi Order International. Another offshoot is the Sufi Ruhaniat International,established by Murshid Sam in California in the late 1960’s. Murshid Sam established the Dances of Universal Peace.

Achieving enlightenment by a Sufi practitioner incorporates four main points:

  • Chanting God’s names and praises in unison while seated in a circle or standing and turning slowly (the whirling meditation)
  • Fasting, Qur’an reading, and meditation in remote, natural places often in the early morning  
  • Prayer at night with frequent supplications for knowledge and forgiveness
  • Sitting at the feet of a shaykh (leader) listening to his or her teachings and stories, and then contemplating the meanings

Moving Prayer Form

The spiritual meditation most often associated with the Sufi, is the whirling dervish ceremony. Sufi mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi of the 13th century is said to have begun the moving meditation. He supposedly told his followers in Konya, the Turkish Empire capital, “There are many roads which lead to God. I have chosen the one of dance and music.” He would fast, mediate and then dance to reach a state of unparalleled enlightenment. By the 15th century, the order had established rules for the ritual which had come to be called “Sema.”

According to Nurhan Atasoy in her book Dervis Ceyizi , even the clothing selected for the meditation is rich with symbolism. “Dancers wear long white robes with full skirts, which symbolize the shrouds of their egos….On the dancers’ heads sit tall conical felt hats called sikke, ranging from brown to gray to black depending on their sect; these represent the tombstones of their egos. Over the robes, the dancers wear long dark cloaks, which embody the wearer’s worldly life and these are cast off during the ceremony. When the dancer is finally wearing only his long white robe, he is assumed to be without fault and ready to start the mesmerizing complex whirls that define the Sema.”

Cara Tabachnick, witnessed a sema in person and described it for Washington Post readers: The dancers, who fast for many hours before the ceremony, start to turn [counter-clock-wise] in rhythmic patterns, using the left foot to propel their bodies around the right foot with their eyes open, but unfocused. Their whirling is fueled by accompanying music, which consists of a singer, a flute-player, a kettle-drummer and a cymbal player. As the dancers turn, the skirts of their robes rise, becoming circular cones, as if standing in the air on their own volition. A team of researchers found that the edges of spinning skirts experience accelerations ‘of about four times Earth gravity,’ reporting that the skirts “carry cusped wave patterns which seem to defy gravity and common sense.”

Per a video of a demonstration done at the Galata Mevlivihanesi Muzesi in Turkey, the ritual begins as a leader brings a prayer mat into the circle. Each dancer performs a Ru’ku (half forward fold) at the entrance to the dance arena. When the dancers are in line at the side, the leader performs Sujud toward the high balcony. The others alternately offer additional Ru’kus to the center and bows to each other, then crossing arms across their chests, they take places around the room.

This moving meditation, like the others, is a model example of dhikr—an invocation done with one’s entire being. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee explains in her book Catching the Thread, “Individually, each dervish, or semazen, is turning toward the truth, opening to it. Head tilted to one side, out of the way. One arm is held high in another world and another held low in this world. With each turn, he or she says silently, “Allah, Allah.” The dervishes orbit one another, recreating the movement of the heavens.” It is both, at once, grounding and expanding of the individual physically, energetically, and spiritually.

In Man Seeks God, Eric Weiner interviewed a dancer, Shams Shirley, who elaborated on the transcendent feeling which occurs during the turning: “You turn in your heart. When you are in it, really in it, you have one foot in this world and one foot in another. You feel like you can do it forever. You rip open from the inside out. It can happen very slowly or sometimes it feels like a fast fall.” He went on that after so many experiences, you turn [inside] while sitting still.

Energetic Aspects

In Arabic, universal energy flow is called “Qudra”—the human body’s light. It was recorded as visible and oft referenced by the Prophet when he asked Allah to regular the light in his body and or increase it for him (33:45-46).

Beyond the apparent posture and balance necessary to complete repetitive turns, Amanda Solk of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers, claims the dance “stimulate[s] the activity of the pineal and pituitary glands, releasing endorphins and serotonin. Such effects on the brain reduce the need for mood-elevating substances and cause a sense of ecstasy to occur” (Prince M Mohamed,2020).

The pineal and pituitary glands are physically located in the area of Ajna, the brow chakra in Yogic subtle anatomy—associated with intuition and foresight. Sufi tradition outlines some similar and some different energy portals in what is known as the Subtleties—Lataif-e-sitta—associated with soul (Rooh) health. Similar to chakras, the Lataif are centers of energy intake in the body and vital for balance within the body systems. Also similar to Islam, each Lataif center is associated with a Qu’ranic established

prayer time as that is when the point is “most active.”

Depending upon the Sufi tradition, there are mainly between 5 and 7 subtle energy centers recognized. For example, in one tradition, the crown chakra (Sahasrāra in Sanskrit, known as “the bridge to the cosmos”) is named as Akfha—the location of beatific visions from Allah, love and kindness. Ajna (the Sanskrit brow chakra/3rd eye of intuition) is known as Kafhi. It has connotations of peace, stillness, and perception. Then, comes the major difference: whereas the Hindu tradition is the chakras align vertically up the spine for optimum health and moving kundalini energy up the spine to Divine release at the crown, Sufi recognize power centers across the mid-chest, heart region. “Sirr” (the ultimate secret), Qalb (the heart), and Ruh (the soul). Sirr is the bridge between the physical and the metaphysical. Spiritual advancement here requires putting contrictions on nafs (similar location to the solar plexus and sacral) and Qalb. Master these and Ruh and its spiritual mysteries will open.

But as is the nature of mysteries, they are built upon further mysteries. A 1982 research paper by Marcia Hermansen, explores a more elaborate subtle energy system outlined by Shah Wali Allah.

Was it purely to distinguish their energy centers differently than the Hindu yogic tradition which is considered haram (not acceptable) by many clerics? Or did the Sufi identify additional chakras and focused only on the ones, in their opinion, related to higher spirituality? More research is necessary. For instance, Valerie Hunt identified frequencies at the traditional chakras higher than could be attributed to the brain, heart, or any organs. Testing for unusual frequencies at the Sufi sites could add more legitimacy and cause other esoteric groups to more focused study of these spots.

Local Practitioner Perspective

Judy Lee (Nur-un-nisa) Trautman has led Dances of Universal Peace in the Universal Sufi tradition in Ann Arbor. She explained, “In the 1960s, Disciple Samuel Lewis had a vision from God to minister to the Hippies. He created five dances, led groups in his garage, and 50 years later we’re dancing over 500 dances created globally.” Trautman continued they are “simple folks steps based on traditional folk dances and influenced by modern dance which was being created at that time.” After Sam’s death, four people met to codify the dances to keep the authenticity, similar to how prior Sufi leaders wrote down the Sema to keep it unified in practice.

To become a certified dance leader, one must go through training and retain a mentor, but does not have to be a Sufi initiate. Trautman explained her process. “I was mentored for three years and certified. My mentors in Ann Arbor moved back to California and they gifted me the dance circle – a great honor. She became the group’s fifth leader. She has since started a second dance circle in Toledo, Ohio.

What philosophy is brought to a dance? “I try to reflect the authenticity of the dances but also the world religions they represent” Trautman shared. Prior to Covid, she led first Friday dances in Ann Arbor. Then, during the uncertain initial times of the pandemic, offerings moved online. She laughed. “It’s kind of nuts to lead dances on Zoom where everyone has to dance in their living room but after 4-5 months, a small courageous group formed. Between meditation, dances, reflections, sharing from the soul, praying for each other, we discovered over Zoom we could still be [spiritually] intimate and greatly helpful to each other.”

When asked, Trautman acknowledged they do a couple of dances similar to the whirling dervish order. “It is amazingly spiritual the connection those dancers have. But, it takes a lot of practice to twirl and whirl for an hour without getting dizzy and keeping rhythm with musicians.” However, she finds the Sufi or Peace dances her group does are very healing.

For example, on most New Year’s Eves her group comes together to dance. “As the group leader, I am fortunate to be in the center for much of the dance. In the center you get the reflected glow of everyone. The faces of the dancers glow enough to be captured in photos.” The healing dances are ones choreographed by Murshid (teacher) Samuel Lewis. Trautan explained, “During the circular flow, I invite each person into the center which is the receptive position. It takes awhile, but we carry it on long enough to allow all participants to stay as long as they need.”

Many indigenous traditions hold that when an individual or a group moves in a circle, it generates energy. Focusing that energy collectively into the center, the recipient would be bathed in higher frequencies from all angles and planes.

For Trautman though, what states of spiritual enlightenment did she find through dance? She graciously explained. “I meditate through movement and sound. That’s why I’ve grown into the dances so readily. I have an active monkey mind so sitting quietly doesn’t work for me. But if I’m moving, singing, and responding to music, then it happens. I transcend the mind and body stuff and I just go there.”

Still non-movement meditation has fed her insight for dances. One day she was supposed to be reading and meditating for 20-30 minutes. Trautman admitted, “During this time, I cheat. A tune comes to me and I sing it in my head and that helps me. One time, sitting in meditation, I heard a tune I didn’t recognize. It was stunning. I listened to it and tried putting the words ‘meta sutra’ (loving, kindness) to it, but it didn’t it. I sat with the tune and was led to use the Arabic words for Sufism: ‘There is nothing but God’ and that worked. So, then I was singing it in my head and inventing a dance. I could hardly wait to get home and write it down. It became the most complete dance I’ve ever created. I taught it to my circle and they loved it. It was all very sweet. The dances have done that for me. It is a community experience.”

In addition to leading the dances, Trautman has become more involved in leading services. “My life’s work currently is a founding member of the Ohio council. For 20 years we have been gathering the diverse faith traditions of NW Ohio together.” The goal is to “transcend the borders that religious traditions built. I always felt it was the mystics among us that always met in the center somehow. We may use different forms to access the Divine, but we have something genuinely in common. We witness that in universal worship.

So, what does a Universal Worship service look like? There are 8 or 9 different authentic groups who do readings, music, and poetry in a service. We do a theme each month and it is amazing to hear similar words coming out of the different religious representatives. We experience it. We don’t have to be told it [how similar we all believe].”

She laughed and explained as an ordained minister, doing it on-line [during the shut-down] was easier than dancing on-line. Her website has reached 4,000 viewers over 15 months. However, they are optimistically hoping to return to in person soon. Trautman clarified: “I’m not looking for fame. I just want hearts to come together.”

Trautman is the Chairman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio and greater Toledo Compassionate Community. She is also a minister of the Sufi Ruhaniat International which is one branch of Universal Sufism founded in the lineage of Inayat Khan. Trautman is also an honorary board member of the North American Interfaith Network. Additionally, she is currently mentoring in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at (419) 475-6535 or emailed at jltrautman@sbcglobal.net.

Taoism, Tai Chi, & Qi Gong basic history

Termed the philosophy of “the people” Taoism is said to have developed from various religious and philosophical traditions (like shamanism and nature religions) in ancient China as far back as 4th century BCE. The main emphasis is living in harmony with Tao, or The Way—the source and substance of all that exists. Influential texts where Taoist principles can be found include School of Yinyang (Naturalists) the I Ching (Yi Jing), The “Legalist” by Shen Buhaif, The Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), attributed to Lao Tzu, and the writings of Zhuangzi.

Depending upon the particular Taoist school or branch, there may be some variance in ethics or basic principles, but most align with the following:

  • Wu Wei (action without intention)
  • naturalness
  • simplicity
  • spontaneity
  • The Three Treasures: compassion, frugality, and humility.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi are the two Chinese moving meditations most widely known and are both part of traditional Chinese health regimen and martial arts training. Sources disagree on the actual earliest origin of Qi Gong. Some advocate its elements are present in the Huangdi Neijing book of internal medicine which itself has caused claims that its authorship falls between 400 BCE and 220 CE. The Taoist Sanctuary proposes Qi Gong originated in dances of early Wu shaman to induce trance states for communicating with the spirit world. Later it is hypothesized Hua To’s “Frolic of the Five Animals” synthesized the Chinese Medicine Theory of Channels (meridians) and the “Three Burning Spaces” (today called the Dantiens).

Energy & Spiritual Aspects

“Qi” in Chinese translates to breath/spirit/energy. When the mind, heart, or body refuses to let go, tension, worry, and angst block the Qi flow and thus causes health concerns.  “Qi Gong” is breath/energy work. There are both passive and active practices incorporating exercise postures and breath work. Some say in Taoism it is a way of attempting physical and spiritual immortality.

Tai Chi is one of the traditional martial arts in China. It is named after a philosophy term meaning, “in all changes exists Tai Chi, which causes the two opposites in everything.”

Tai Chi is sometimes described as the moving form of Qi Gong. Whereas yoga asanas are done to prepare for meditation, Qi Gong is often done prior to Tai Chi. The eight brocades are a series of active Qi Gong exercises, each one focuses upon clearing a different energy meridian in the body. Tai Chi, on the other hand, is a continuous flow that works the entire body.

Buddhist temple monks were believed to practice Tai Chi for both health and protection as a self-defense. Important families each held and passed down their own Tai Chi sequences. However, according to Tom Rogers, President of the Qi Gong Institute, “Qi Gong is not the pursuit of metaphysical or transcendental experience. It is a state of mindfulness and awareness.” The sharpening and awakening of presence in the present is the objective.

In 1956 the Chinese Sports Committee asked four Tai Chi teachers to collaborate and create a shortened 24 Form of Tai Chi for the populace to help with universal health.

Moving Form

Regardless of if you are doing a moving form of Qi Gong, or Tai Chi, the goal is to sink one’s Qi from the Tan Dien/Dantien into the earth. There are three Tandien/Dantian energy points. Each is believed to be an energy harnessing and storage site. The three locations are the lower Dantian which is just below the naval, one at heart level, and the upper Dantian at the brow or between the eyebrows. Good posture is aligning all three of these over the soles of your feet and remaining relaxed. Learn more about Dantians here.

There are five main Tai Chi styles based on the founding family or teacher. Depending upon the style, the number of forms in a sequence also varies from 24 to up to 108. Qi Gong also has options of flows and lengths.

Slightly similar to Whirling, Wild Goose Qi Gong uses circular and spiral movements. It is meant to be a fluid, nearly effortless continuous movement. Dance-like it is meant foster peace, relaxation, and joyful meditation while activating the acupoints of the feet to assist energy flow through the major meridian paths.

As a dance-like flow, comparing postures to other cultures is limited. However, Yoga’s Tree is similar to Marching pose as a Tai Chi warm up. Standing Palm Tree (Vrksasana) and Forward Fold (Uttanasana) can be seen in Wild Goose’s 64 movements. In Tai Chi, Form 13 Kick with Heel is similar to Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Additional forms incorporate similar moves to yoga such as Lunges, Goddess pose (Utkata Konasana), and Warrior I (*Virabhadrasana). Others have also compared Mountain pose (Tadasana) with Qayuum in Islam Salaat and “Return to the Mountain” in Tai Chi. Thus, we would expect similar physical benefits across platforms.

Physical Benefits

Research studies have found several physical benefits for incorporating Tai Chi into one’s life: improving balance, preventing falls, pain reduction in rheumatoid arthritis cases, coronary disease rehabilitation, improving breathing for those with long-term lung problems, stress-management. An additional study has shown that physical exercises like Tai Chi, increases cognitive function and delays deterioration connected with dementia (Allen T.C et al, 2016). And for the calorie conscious? According to the Taoism for Dummies, Tai Chi burns 280 calories per hour. For a comparison, downhill skiing is said to burn 350.

A growing body of research on QiGong also shows benefits: depression reduction, stress-management, reduction of chronic-fatigue, improved mental functioning, improved immune functioning, and balancing mood (Cleveland Clinic).

Local Practitioner Perspective

Master Wasentha Young is the owner and instructor at the Peaceful Dragon School in Ann Arbor which has been offering programs and classes in Traditional Chinese Health Arts like Yang Style Short Form Tai Chi, Qi Gong, energy work, self-acupressure, meditation and more since 1990.

Young explained, at the creation of both Tai Chi and Qi Gong, there was “no separation between reaching higher potential, spirituality, and artform. Comprehensive Qi Gong covers four schools or frameworks: Martial, Buddhist, Taoist, and Medical.”

  • Martial – bringing energy mass to its highest potential    
  • Buddhist – bringing mind into the presence
  • Taoist – connection with nature, movement & experience, and breath work
  • Medical – the natural systems such as acupuncture, acupressure, herbology, fens shui – all that affects health and longevity

Young clarified, “Some religions do not count nature while others discuss everything as divine. Qi Gong looks at connections and energetic connections. You study body mechanics, then mind mechanics, and then spirit mechanics.”

Regarding the difference between Qi Gong and Tai Chi, Young used this metaphor: “If went to light switch and turned it on and off – that’s Tai Chi. It’s a user of the energy processes. Whereas Qi Gong knows why the switch works, where the energy comes from, the function, the interconnectivity. Qi Gong is more like an engineer if being comprehensive. If just meditating, then one doesn’t process all that information. You might be an electrical engineer or the architect, but not able to see the full picture. We need all the specializations. However, medicine includes all these things.”

As we talked, the depth and breadth of Qi Gong became clearer. “In studying, you have to take a comprehensive approach to it. Some students expect limited aspects; but that is only part of the elephant.” Young’s affinity toward the Way came through in gentle waves.

“Qi is more complex than the periodic table. If looking at body and talking about Qi there is the muscle Qi, the flow, the mind Qi, the human spirit Qi. But if practicing as a movement, such as Wild Goose Qi Gong, it adds in the connection of Divine Qi and Nature Qi, and Earth Qi.”

“It is not a religious indoctrination and yet if you experience all the difference types of Qi then there is a responsibility. You begin to feel the disharmonies. What is your role within that? If you notice something [an imbalance] you have a responsibility to bring yourself back into harmony.”

“Wild Goose Qi Gong is a moving practice through ritual of connections.” Young explained, “When you finish there is a sense of renewal—a sense of perspective, more spaciousness. There is a core connection and strengthening. It is inwards and outwards to muscle mass and connections outside of one’s self. Spirit is there and higher energy is there but just connected with. Nameless. In terms of Taoism – ‘the name that can be named is not the eternal name.’”

Master Young has been a practitioner since 1968. She is a founder of the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors, and has taught at Omega Institute, Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Rec and Ed, and for several other institutes nationally. In addition to training by Grandmaster William CC Chen and Professor Chengman-Ching disciples, she studied also with Trungpa Rinpoche and Gia-Fu Feng along with earning a master’s degree in Transpersonal Studies. For additional joy, she writes poetry and creates mosaic art. To find out more information about classes or seminar possibilities, email Youngwasentha@peacefuldragonschool.com or call (734) 741-0695.

Bringing it Home For You

Space doesn’t permit the additional similarities to Jewish prayer, Catholic mass and Liturgy of the Hours, a Mayan morning mediation, and walking meditations. However, I trust you can imagine now, how body movement has always helped align and commit one to a full presence for deeper, higher peace and health.

Looking for the benefits of a brief moving flow, but not wanting one based on a specific philosophy or faith? Try a combining the most common poses with relevant positive affirmations or optional spiritual mantras. Used in a small research study, one participant shared, “within days I could tell there was an increase in flexibility.” Note, any affirmation that is difficult to vocalize, identifies a subconscious area to work on as well as a possible compromised chakra.

Insert table of flow direction OR just include a link to my website with it there?

Common NameAffirmationMantra
Three steps forward.  
Low hands MountainI stand ready & am supported.”“I stand ready before you.”
Fan hands upward to prayer hand Mountain, lower prayer hands to brow. Lean slightly forward.“I honor and join with Divine vision.”“I connect with your vision.”
Lower prayer hands to heart. Lean slightly forward more.“I am loved and give love unconditionally.”“I am grateful to reside in your Love.”
Half-forward fold/Ru’ku“I bow respecting the greater good.”“I bend my will to benefit the All.”
Forward fold to table, to Child’s pose/Sujuud“I am grounded and hear universal wisdom”“Forgive my weakness” OR “Help me to …”
Rock pose/ Tashahhud“I am understood and communicate clearly.”“I seek to understand and be understood.”
Return to child’s pose/Sujuud“I am grounded and listening.”“I listen and rest in you.”
Pull palms to sides of head, lift into downward dog.“I am flexible in thought, action, and relationships.”“Flexibility provides more peace than attachment.”
Step/hop forward. Low hand Mountain Stance.“I stand ready and am supported.”“Thank you. I stand ready to serve.”
Raise one hand to mouth, turn neck to side. Repeat other side.“Peace to all.” 2x“We are one. Peace to all.”
Three steps backward. Optional bow.  

How and where are you brought closest to your Divine connection? For some, it is nature, for others it is within ancient tabernacles carved from stone. And yet the world’s foremost religious texts advise simply to go into a closet alone, to a desert, or isolating yourself in order to be free from distraction. Unlike real estate slogans, physical “location, location, location” is not the key to Divine connection. Unity of heart, mind, and body may be the answer you seek.  

Understanding Energy Modalities & Myself

By Michelle McLemore

First published in #78 Issue of Crazy Wisdom:

What’s in a Name? That which we call energy therapy by any other name would be esteemed the same. Or would it? History, Hollywood, and cultural bias has long pitted healing philosophies against each other and, in some cases, ostracized or executed (in some countries even today) for even a suspicion of one’s involvement with energy manipulation.

Educating myself (and my clients) about the different forms of healing practices has been important. Labels casually thrown about by family, friends, clients, and strangers have revealed ignorance, stereotypes, and my own squeamishness based on not wanting to misrepresent truth nor step on any cultural toes.

In the first year of energy training, the initial conundrum was to wrap my farm-girl, Catholic-raised mind around the fact that an average person—like me, like you—could provide pain relief and sometimes relieve all symptoms of illness for a client. The term “healer” and “healing” was used in classes. Healing, I could see and believe. But, to call myself a “healer”? That didn’t sit well. I made peace by defining myself as a healing “guide” since healing belongs ultimately to a client. My goal was (and is) to assist healing and then educate clients in building their own healthy proactive strategies. My internal conscious meter relaxed—or so I thought.

At some point I attended a group angel reading out of town. When the intuitive’s eyes lighted upon me, she quickly called out, “You are a healer. You need to quit being afraid of people calling you a ‘witch.’” In less than 30 seconds, this stranger had identified, called out, and dismissed a harassing thought. It was true. I was encountering accusing vibes from Christian friends and locals which made them hesitant to reap the benefits of a session. They had no context for understanding healing facilitated from a simple girl next door. So, I began pondering how best to educate fearful people that energy healing was not anti-Divinity?  

Training and years went on. I chose to explain the science and research aspects. This helped turn an abstract concept into a more comprehensible idea. The best explanation, of course, was simply when someone tried a session.

Then, a new label arose. Several times in one year, I was appraised (each time by a stranger) and it was declared, “You have Native American blood.” Then, the individual would ask, “What nation?”

I stammered. “Mmmm, no. We’ve no genealogy support of that. Though, my husband is one eighth Cherokee.”

In each instance, the person was not deterred even momentarily in their stance. “No. You definitely have it in your blood.”

What to say to that? I’ve had training by indigenous teachers, but training does not suddenly change one’s genetics. Add to this a friend, familiar with my energy work, one day pronounced he believes I am a Shaman. Inside I recoiled slightly. I quickly clarified, I have not had appropriate training or teaching for that title. He scoffed and said my opinion didn’t match my work.  

Time went on. Sessions and casual labels by others continued. My husband and a client friend, Dee, occasionally gave impromptu testimonials to folks. Both jokingly referred to the helpful “Vodoo” that I do.

One day Dee and her sixteen-year-old football player grandson came for his first appointment. They had just seated themselves at the dining room table. Normally, we’d begin reviewing the new client’s health history and set goals. But first, I felt I needed to make a distinction.

“Okay, before we get started, Dee, did you bring the chicken?” Both of their faces went blank with confusion.

“You know, for the blood sacrifice.” The young man’s eyes grew wider and his head jerked to look at his trusted grandmother. Dee was chuckling and shaking her head. “Okay. I get it now,” she laughed.

I broke into a grin and apologized to the young man. “And that’s one of the reasons this is not Vodoo. Everybody clear?” Color came back into the stocky boy’s face, and he began to breathe easier.

People psychologically create labels for others to help make sense of the unfamiliar and to categorize threat levels in society. It is the primitive brain’s normal strategy for safety of evolution. It is also where stereotypes begin. With new information, or repeat encounters with something or someone different, the advanced healthy brain should reinforce or revise its initial labels and concerns. With increased encounters, usually there is a decline in fear and a decline in the prejudice which are typical side effects. But, if someone doesn’t have encounters, they borrow what other people tell them or what they’ve seen from Hollywood, regardless of its accuracy.

Am I personally worried about being confused with a witch, a native American healer, or a Voodoo queen? No. But, my heart is also very clear on not claiming titles that do not fit what I do or who I serve. “Guiding” resonates with my heart. It will be sufficient regardless of how I do the job.  

And for the record? Of all the nick name labels I’ve been given, I like “Jedi Master” best.

——-

What is your understanding level of the various energy-moving modalities and religions? Can you match the type to its description?

__1. Healing Touch            __4. Louisiana/Creole Voodoo

__2. Witchcraft                  __5. Shamanism/Native American healing

__3. Usui Reiki                    __6. Christianity

A. A three-level energy healing program passed down from a Buddhist monk who was given healing power during a meditation. Students are given a hands-on “attunement” in which the specific healing power is passed, or shared, between the teacher and student. Sessions focus on balancing the energy anatomy system using both light touch, hovering hands, and drawing symbols in the air or on the body to focus the healing.

B. A five-level specific energy healing program designed by American nurses and endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Association. Sessions focus on balancing the energy anatomy system, removing blocks, and using both light touch or hovering hands to balance chakras, clear meridians, and clearing the biofield.

C. A religious or mystical expert (male or female) in early societies who functions as a healer, prophet, and custodian of cultural tradition. Beliefs include respect of the land and an omnipotent deity. Healing practices include powwows, music, smudging, storytelling, sweat lodges, the pipe ceremony, and use of herbs.

D. A combination of Catholic saint reverence, a Christian omnipotent good–but distant–God-belief, calling upon deceased family/friends, and following or developing a kinship to an Iwa (a spirit). The connection or veneration helps channel the principles and energy of the Iwa into this world to help. The devotee might channel the Iwa so others can interact directly with the spirit.

E. A belief in one omnipotent God, a spirit able to heal as well as give power to heal and punish, and a demi-god son. An opposing evil entity is also viewed as powerful. Focused prayer to any of the three is believed to make physical and situational healing possible if aligned with the God-plan. Devotees can place their hands on the body of another and, with the additional thought or words, facilitate healing.

F. A practice incorporating an affinity for nature, casting spells, and performing rituals to impact people, situations, or the environment with intention; rituals often observed around seasons or cycles. Practiced with great variety across the world; may or may not include Wiccan beliefs of male and female deities, white or black magic (supernatural power). 



A slow blink

By Michelle McLemore

~First published in Crazy Wisdom Weekly, August 13, 2021.~

You don’t know what you don’t know…until you know.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to consider that what you were taught K-12 is not all encompassing. That what professors tried to bring to your awareness in college, advanced coursework, tech colleges, and on the job trainings are still only a drop in the proverbial ocean of knowledge that exists about a species, its environment, world, universe, dimension, and so on. Still, the expression on someone’s face when they have an epiphany is truly spectacular to witness. There is a combination of childish delight in discovery, amazement of how the next piece fits the puzzle, the wonderment of how the design exists, the surprise of how one’s reality can shift in an instant and yet reflect on what you were so sure of just seconds before and now…knowing you can never go back. For if you do, if you deny the experience, or attempt to bury it, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your future, and all whom you would come in contact with.

I was helping at local vendor’s show when I saw a woman gimping painfully about. Her face grimaced each time she set her right foot down. She explained that a few weeks prior she had gone to bed fine and simply woke up with excruciating pain and a knot in the back of her heel. Apparently, it had not gone away as it had arrived — on its own. I suggested she sit down and let me try a little energy work on it for free. (I really dislike seeing people in major discomfort.) She brushed it off: ” no time” and “if I sit down now, I won’t want to get up and finish what I have to do today.”

How often have we said, or heard, those same rebuffs? When all we expect is continued pain and discomfort, the tv commercials about arthritis pain is what resonates in our mind — or maybe it was physics class? “A body in motion stays in motion.” The reality, however, is that sometimes, a few moments of stillness and intercession can fix the irritating problem that “suddenly” appeared in our lives, and we can be back up and running, sprinting, or sailing as is needed.

I smiled, said, “No problem — it is your pain and your choice.” (Yes, I was a little more cheeky than normal.) I handed her my card and said, if you change your mind, give me a call.

One week later, I received the call–about ten o’clock in the morning.

“Michelle? I really can’t stand it any longer. [No pun intended, I’m sure.] I am the point where I’m now irritating my husband and myself. Will you come over?”

I did my preparatory clearing and grounding work, prayed, and asked for guidance on what oils to take with me. I had her sit on the couch with her right leg extended and we began. Her husband soon wandered by the room entrance–all casual with side glances and small talk. I’m not sure if he was expecting a witch’s hat or wild chanting and swaying, but the vibe was of definite curiosity. I invited him to sit down with us, so he didn’t overheat outside. (Better for both of them to see what I was doing, so they could talk about it later.)

Because she hadn’t slept well from the pain and due to the high level grating her nerves, I did early work balancing and clearing around her head, neck, and shoulders. The effect was almost immediate. I tried not to giggle as her entire face relaxed and her eyes began to get drowsy. I knew from her delayed responses to questions that her mind had also relaxed significantly. I suggested she let her head settle against the back of the couch — that it was entirely okay to rest and even sleep.

Linda had judged her pain at the start at a 7. Within about 30 minutes she was at a 4 and it was still dropping. I finished her leg and ankle work and gave her instructions to stay put and rest for at least 30 minutes. (I was pretty sure she was going to fall asleep and it would be a bit longer than that.) Additionally I asked her to drink some water, and after about 4 hours to do an epsom salt bath just to finish treating anything left over. (Water–and salt water especially–are both wonderful clearing agents at many levels.) I told her I’d call the next day. She smiled, a bit groggily, but much more comfortable and I saw myself out.

I waited until midday to call her. “Hello, Linda. How are you?”

“I feel great!” was the strong response.

I hesitated. “Are you being sarcastic?” The enthusiasm in the voice was much more than I had anticipated.

She laughed. There was no pain. “I feel like a brand new person!” she exclaimed and then as I was expressing my gratefulness for her relief, she interrupted to say, “I owe you an apology.” I was caught off guard. What possibly could this woman, whom I only knew casually from local community meetings, have said or done to need to apologize?

She said, “I really didn’t believe it would work.”

Any confusion and hurried anticipation that had been building in my mind, floated away with my laughter. There was no need for apologies. Even if she had thought or expressed vocally to someone that I must be crazy or a charlatan, those were still simply her guesses about something she had no knowledge. She simply didn’t know any reality except the one she had lived up to that point. And isn’t that both scary and exciting at the same moment? We don’t know what we don’t know.

So perhaps instead of dismissing that which we personally have not witnessed, just perhaps we should listen to others while dismissing the need to evaluate or judge as they share their realities. What a shame it would be to miss out on leveling up when given the opportunity. What a pity to miss experiencing the awe of a deeper level of creation and how we are designed to literally ebb and flow with each other and our environment for all our highest and greatest good.