Monday, November 14, 2011

Am I among the ranks of the "opened"? Some random musings about energetic openings

In her most recent post, sereneflavor touched upon a topic that is seldom discussed (and even when it is discussed, only discussed in passing, in a if-you-have-experienced-it-you'll-know-what-I'm-talking-about kind of way) in the Ashtanga blogosphere: Energetic openings.  Here's sereneflavor's own recent experience of an energetic opening:

"...the teacher moved my legs in two opposing and impossible directions during Virabhadrasana 11 and I felt a scary crack in my sacrum (I think) then, lots and lots of space to stretch in opposing directions!"

I think it's really cool that sereneflavor has chosen to write about this aspect of the practice; of course, it's even more cool that she has experienced such an opening, and is now initiated into the ranks of the "opened". I offer her my heartfelt congratulations.

But having said this, I would also like to use her post as a launching pad for my own agenda :-) I may be wrong about this, but it appears to me that energetic openings are widely regarded as an esoteric aspect of the Ashtanga practice: An energetic opening is something that can only be experienced, and is not something that can be taught verbally. It also appears to be something that sets apart practitioners, so that practitioners who have experienced an energetic opening are almost seen to have been initiated into some kind of semi-mystic experience, and are, in this way, seen as more "advanced." Or, at the very least, as "opened". 

As I said, all this is just my opinion: It could be that I simply haven't had the good fortune of meeting enough people with whom I can talk openly and coherently about energetic openings. But perhaps, as I have often done in the past with other topics, I can use this blog as a launching point to start a little conversation about energetic openings, and learn something concrete about this topic in the process.

Actually, sereneflavor's experience cues me in on a couple of things in my own practice. I think it is possible that, without being aware of it, I may be experiencing openings quite regularly in my daily practice. Here are a couple of examples:

(1) On most days, when I come up into Virabhadrasana I in Surya B, I feel a pop/crack (it's something between a pop and a crack; maybe I should call it a "prack" :-)) somewhere in my sacrum as I fully extend my spine and reach my arms up to the sky. It's not uncomfortable at all; in fact, it's quite pleasant, and I have come to anticipate this prack: I feel that it opens up my lower back in a good way.

(2) Almost every single time I lower into Kapotasana, I feel a prack in my sacrum when I reach a certain point in the backbend. It's not quite as pleasant as the one in Vira I. It's rather uncomfortable, but not painful. And once I get pracked, it becomes possible for me to go deeper into Kapo. It's almost as if my spine is changing gears, and the prack is the sound of the gears changing, allowing the spine to switch from not-so-deep-backbend mode into deep-backbend mode. My experience so far tells me that this prack is a good thing that is therapeutic for my spine (although I sometimes wonder if a chiropractor would disagree with me). Well, maybe my spine needs some transmission fluid to make the gear-changing more smooth... Ha! Think about this: No Transmission Fluid, No Prana!

Anyway, here's what I'm wondering: Are my experiences in (1) and (2) examples of energetic openings? Or are they merely physiological phenomena that can be explained in purely anatomical/physiological terms? More generally, are energetic openings purely energetic or pranic in nature? Or can they also be explained in anatomical/physiological terms? Anything you have to say about this (really, anything) will be greatly appreciated.        


  1. I would not call these phenomenon energetic openings in and of themselves, especially if they come at the hands of another person adjusting you. In that case, they sound like adjustments, much like you would get from a chiropractor.

    In my mind energetic openings happen at the level of the nervous system - actual nerves, meridians, nadis, etc.

    As far as this relates to asana practice, I think energetic openings manifest in a few ways. Sometimes it is simply the sensation of consciously connecting the mind to a certain part of the body that it has been unable to connect to previously. And sometimes this results in something like you are stuck in such and such pose A for weeks and months at the same place and then one day something clicks in your brain, you consciously contract or let go of a particular muscle, and boom you go a lot deeper into that pose than you have ever been able to before. And sometimes these new-found ranges of motion are accompanied by those often wonderful but sometimes not cracks and pops and such.

    And sometimes when a teacher adjusts you they can facilitate this process of an energetic opening by putting you in a more "correct" position helping you develop that proprioceptive awareness that can lead to new or stronger connections between the brain and the body.

    But, in my opinion, if it's really an energetic opening (in the sense of that mystical esoteric experience we all want to have:) those channels between the neurons in the brain and the neurons elsewhere in our meat-skins must be consciously connected.

    Subtle difference maybe, but isn't that why they call Chi or Prana "subtle energy"?

  2. Hello Tom,
    so what's happening to me are probably chiropractic adjustments? Well, that's cool, I'll take what I can get. It seems that I am doing chiropractic self-adjustments in the course of my practice then.

    "sometimes this results in something like you are stuck in such and such pose A for weeks and months at the same place and then one day something clicks in your brain, you consciously contract or let go of a particular muscle, and boom you go a lot deeper into that pose than you have ever been able to before..."

    Thanks for the very vivid description here. I seem to have had these experiences before (I can feel them in my body even as I read your words), but I cannot remember the exact postures or the exact times I had these experiences, although I am quite certain I have had them before.

    Again, thanks for sharing all this. I find this very informative and helpful :-)

  3. Hi Nobel,

    I agree with Tom when he says: "sometimes when a teacher adjusts you they can facilitate this process of an energetic opening by putting you in a more "correct" position". This can be subtle, or not subtle at all; I believe it varies from person to person depending on how much of their awareness is present at that moment.

    During Massage Therapy School I began to first experience the flow of chi, the opening of channels, the neurological pull of polarities. And most of the time this was done through the facilitation of movement from another therapist, other times through our own receptive awareness of letting go of tension and conciously 'allowing', almost 'willing' places to open during a stretch.

    I think either way; the feeling of open; prack or no prack can be greatly appreciated especially during Asana ;) It is when I most look forward to this and yet when it seldom happens.

    Some of us need the assistance to reach this place; others don't.

    Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing Sereneflavor's experience as well.


  4. Thanks for sharing, RV. I really like the idea of facilitating the energetic opening by being placed (or placing oneself) in the "correct" position. I find what you say about chi flow and the pull of polarities very fascinating.

    Speaking of chi/prana flow and the opening of channels, I think I may have had an experience of this sort during this morning's practice. I'll blog about this soon.

    Again, thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow, this post and the comments really touches on some recent experiences and an experience I had with non-tactile adjustments, both verbal and energetic...I'll have to write o post on this, maybe tomorrow.

    And I look forward to your post Nobel on your energetic opening!
    And thanks RV, I've had some similar experiences with healing touch.

  6. Can't wait to read about both of your Experiences Nobel and Tom.. I can never translate mine into words; so it's great to be able to read about it from those who can. ;)

  7. Thanks Tom and RV. See my next post :-)

  8. This yoga is perfect for those who need to move constantly. Some people can't just be and relax. This yoga keeps you moving and in the moment, yet the constant slow movement is relaxing. However, if you want a more meditative yoga with long quiet poses, this may not be for you.