Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!
I am firmly convinced that a number of Eastern modalities do indeed work, independently of their respective philosophies and/or religions. One such is Yoga – it is increasingly prescribed for physical therapies to aid athletic injuries. Another one is Tai Chi (being an avid practitioner of this art for 16 years, yes, I do have a bias here). There are studies that catalog a degree of efficacy for this set of exercises.
One of the factors that gets lost in the New Age hooey is that breathing affects the individual’s physiology. Longer inhales/exhales have a much different result than hyperventilation, for instance (easily tested at home). And holding different postures during controlled breathing has a distinct impact on circulation AKA the body’s chemistry. The high is quite akin to a ‘religious’ experience, trust me. By regulating the oxygen flow to the brain, one can bring oneself to an alpha state.
As a rule, most of the simpler exercises (Yoga or Qiqong) are harmless. However, for every silver lining, there’s usually a dark cloud accompanying.
The American Psychiatric Association now includes the Chinese correlate to Kundalini activity of "qi-gong psychotic reaction" and disorders of dhat, jiryan, sukra prameha, and shenkui in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -IV Appendix I.
Researchers affiliated with the fields of transpersonal psychology and Near-death studies (see references below) have suggested some common criteria that describe this condition, of which the most prominent feature is a feeling of energy or heat rushing up the spine. Other sensory and motor symptoms may include the feeling of cranial pressures, the perception of inner sounds, experiences of inner lights, vibrating or tickling sensations in the lower back, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), spontaneous trance states, changes in breathing, spontaneous bodily movements, sensations of heat or cold moving through the body, localized bodily pain that starts and stops abruptly, vibrations and itching under the skin.Mental and affective symptoms include fear, anxiety, depersonalization , intense positive or negative emotions, spontaneous slowing or speeding of thoughts and experiencing oneself as larger than the physical body.
A few theorists within the transpersonal field, such as Greyson, refers to this symptomatology as the Physio-Kundalini syndrome, while other Western academics use the description Kundalini-experience/awakening. Transpersonal literature emphasizes that the overview of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for amateur-diagnostics. Any unusual or marked physical or mental symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical professional.
Even though the symptoms at times may be dramatic and disturbing, theorists such as Sovatsky and Greyson tend to interpret these observations in favor of viewing the unfolding symptomatology as largely non-pathological, maturational, and of evolutionary significance for humanity. According to Scotton Kundalini-symptoms may, or may not, be associated with psychopathology, but are not reducible to any psychopathology. He also thinks that it is important to differentiate between the signs of Kundalini and the symptoms of pathology, and not subsume the signs of Kundalini under a pathological diagnosis. Other writers, such as Kason, tend to view the broad scope of the process, with the accompanying symptoms, as resulting in a "psycho-spiritual house-cleaning".
Now, this is not to say that you should immediately stop intoning “Om” while seated in the Lotus position, or ignore your physical therapist when s/he hands you a set of yoga postures to practice while rehabilitating an injury. But be aware that there are darker sides to just about anything you do in this life – glutting on sugar can induce diabetes, whereas the occasional indulgence in the sweet tooth is relatively harmless.
I cannot help but think that there’s a great similarity between some of the symptoms listed above and some of the experiences related by the fundies. Chew on this: many religions have adherents chanting or praying a specific pattern. In large groups, the chemicals flowing, the group members experience this connectedness, almost a unity of thought and feeling. And in an alpha state, the human animal is extremely suggestive.
There are even crazy folk who think that specific exercises invoke jinns, as shown by this particularly scary fundie. Not limited to Islam, Ron Rhodes does a write-up on these items, and of course, his magickal thinking gets in the way of the facts. Both of these fellows fall prey to the nuanced xenophobia that is common among the religious.
“Eenie meenie chili beanie, the spirits are about to speak,” as Bullwinkle was wont to say. Gimmee a break.
No. It’s all chemicals. The human body can be used like a large scale chemistry set. Of course you can’t accidentally blow yourself up through a set of breathing exercises, or accidentally create hydrochloride acid, but you can alter the state of your consciousness. You just have to be careful.
Masticate on that, get back to me.
Till the next post, then.