In this article, I’d like to focus on the term ‘energy’ and what it means to me in relation to what I practice and teach.
I’ve found that in the context of health/wellness, this word can be a bit woo-woo for some people. The minute you say you’re dealing with energy, people may say ‘Oh, yeah…’ with an eye-roll. They might think you’re going to be getting into some New Age stuff or something very esoteric… which is not necessarily true.
I know that some people are not turned off by the term ‘Energy’, but since I teach and work with all kinds of people, I started to think about this. I wondered how I might explain this in non woo-woo terms to describe what is, in fact happening in Thai Yoga Therapy. In holistic healing circles many people talk about energy, but they also use words like Chi or Prana. In Traditional Thai Medicine, they use the word Lom to describe something similar.
If we’re going to look at all these terms from a more practical and down-to-earth perspective, then I would just call them all ‘life force’ on a very rudimentary level. We can say that our job in Thai Yoga Therapy, is to optimize the movement of this life force throughout the body. Which is like going through a house and turning on all the lights. Just turn on all the switches everywhere… and that’s what we do, keeping in mind the channels or meridians – called, Sen – along which this life-force travels most efficiently.
In Acupuncture, they’re much more specific about which switches they turn on or off. They’re going to put needles into certain points and it’s going to affect you like this or that like in certain corresponding organs, that will move the chi in very specific ways. But in the traditional forms of Thai Massage, it’s more about getting the whole system flowing more optimally… Another analogy would be traffic flowing smoothly and optimally along all the roads in the freeway system around a city.
What is this ‘energy’ or ‘life force’ really?
At the risk of oversimplification, let’s look at ‘life force’ or ‘energy’ as oxygen because for us human beings, our most basic component, the basic thing that gives us life, is oxygen, as opposed to plants, for whom it’s carbon dioxide, right? Plants use photosynthesis and take in carbon dioxide and then they release oxygen. But for us, to the extent that we can get oxygen moving through our bodies, we are going to feel better. And then, by the way, we expel carbon dioxide, which in turn feeds the plants again… in a very cool circle of life!
How does this oxygen travel through the body?
First of all, breathing and thus getting air/oxygen into our lungs is very important. A good breathing practice is valuable, because you’ll be breathing in a way that gets the maximum amount of air and oxygen into your lungs. That’s the first step.
But then the oxygen has to get from the lungs into the various parts of the body, like the extremities such as fingers and toes. The way oxygen travels through the body, is through the blood, the circulatory system. And so, if we can stimulate circulation everywhere, then we’re also going to get more oxygen moving through the whole organism.
When we experience aches and pains in various parts of the body, it’s usually as a result of the nerves in those areas being deprived of oxygen to some extent, which irritates them. When people have migraines, for example, it’s because for whatever reason, there’s not sufficient blood flowing into the area around the back of the neck and between the shoulders. Or for that matter, wherever aches and pains are experienced in the body… maybe you tighten up after running very far or climbing a mountain or something, and you get cramps and achy muscles. That’s mainly because when you stop moving, limbs get kind of rigid and immobile, due to fatigue or injury, etc. then there’s also not enough oxygen getting to the nerves in the area.
Then what we can do as Thai Yoga Therapists, to relieve this pain, is our acupressure techniques of rhythmic compression and release, along with assisted stretching, traction, flexion, torsion and joint mobilization; all of which stimulates blood circulation and thus increasing the supply of oxygen to that area.
If you’re treating somebody who has a pain in their foot, if you start rubbing it, it’s going to stimulate blood flow which is going to bring more oxygen and they’re going to start feeling better, and the foot may not be hurting as much, anymore, and it’s all mainly because the nerves are being calmed down.
You can see that this process of stimulating circulation is a critical part of our practice that includes assisted stretching; acupressure or the rhythmic pressing kind of bodywork that is the main part of Thai Massage; and then joint-mobilization that includes rocking, shaking, jiggling, jostling, etc.
When we are talking about ‘Balancing Energy’, it’s this objective of moving blood and oxygen, or life force into as many parts of the body as possible that’s the key factor to keep in mind. And that’s why it’s the first of the core values that I always talk about and that you’ll find right up front, on the homepage of the website www.deonthaiyoga.com.
It’s about Maximizing Mobility. If you stay mobile and to the extent that you’re mobile, you stimulate blood circulation. But if you sit in a chair all day long and you don’t move and your shoulders are just locked into a certain position, which is making you even more tense, or if you’re sitting on plane and you don’t move, circulation slows down in that areas that aren’t moving. Oxygen deprivation starts to happen in the nerves, called “ischemia”. And then before you know it, you start getting real aches and things start to hurt. And that could be the beginning of things like sciatica or migraines, etc.
If people are not conscious enough, they won’t realize that this is what is starting to happen and that their body is tightening up, and eventually it’s going to lock up and send more pain signals, to eventually get their attention…
Ideally, if possible, they will get up, stretch and start moving around… just like cats and dogs do after a nap.
If we are conscious of this process, before we get into this situation of serious pain, we can actually be doing stretches while sitting or standing in place, or just wiggling our head and toes, or squeezing the back of the necks with our own hand or something like that and it will prevent this from happening.
So you can see how you can use mobility to avoid all these kind of problems. But if you don’t you know the importance of staying mobile, you’re going to get less and less mobile, and then we find stuff like frozen shoulders and sciatica, etc. They all come about because of some sort of immobility and then there’s an injury and then even less mobility, because now it hurts when we move.
At first you move less, but then your willingness to move becomes less and then eventually your ability becomes less and so things move less and less and everything becomes less. And that’s exactly why constantly increasing mobility is so important. Whether you are doing it yourself, or if you have a practitioner move you around… That’s what stimulates energy, moves it around and eventually balances it into a more optimum harmony in the body.
I think that pretty much sums it all up. And I hope it gives people a way to think and talk about what’s actually going on without getting hung up on talking about Energy, Lom, Chi or Prana, in case they might be turned off by that kind of thing.
Also, as a therapist, you have to be able to this ‘energy balancing‘ to yourself somehow. Obviously to be able to a good therapist, you have to be very mobile and if you have aches and pains, you have to find a way that you can make that situation better all by yourself. Unfortunately, you can’t constantly be getting effective massages from someone else.
It’s also beneficial for the clients, people that are used to receiving treatments and bodywork, to understand why it’s good for them to do certain Yoga asanas or Tai Chi moves or Qi Gong in addition to receiving treatments from you. No matter how much body work a person gets, there’s always more opportunity to use this flow of life force by yourself than you can get by only relying on other people to do it to you.
And that’s why I will keep showing a few of my favorite exercises for the benefit of the therapist, or the aspiring therapist, but also for anyone in general, who’s interested in improving their immune system, health and well being. If you’d like to see some of my favorite solo practices, check out my video here!