Skeptics on experiencing a chakra energy exchange
January 9, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

A chakra worker friend performed an energy exchange with me yesterday. I'm not entirely skeptical about the chakra system, nor am I a total believer in having physical sensations caused by someone focusing their mental capacities on certain areas of you in a healing manner. Yet I distinctly felt a warm, tingling sensation directly on my stomach a few times during the exchange. I watched her perform this exchange with several others, and she appeared to 'experience' some of their stronger emotions, particularly those that were more negative. It seemed she didn't internalize any emotion, she merely trafficked/channeled it. I trust the sensation I felt, but can't explain it rationally. If you've experienced sensations in different chakras, how would you describe it? And not to harp too much on HungryBear9562, but what does it mean?
posted by monichacha to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, who is HungryBear?
posted by atrazine at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2011

A youtube user who uploaded footage of (and his outlandish reaction to) a double rainbow in 2010 and has since achieved notoriety among viral meme enthusiasts:
posted by monichacha at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2011

How did you know she was experiencing the emotions of others? What does it mean to traffic an emotion?

If you could see what she was doing, it's entirely possible that you somehow psychosomatically caused the temperature sensation yourself. That's this skeptic's first hypothesis.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:16 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

All the "chakra worker"— really, a kind of con artist— did was wave their hands around and charge you a bunch of money. Anything that happened was entirely in your head and was shaped wholly by your expectations of the process.
posted by Electrius at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

This may seem pedantic, but it really is not: a person does not experience sensations in their body. They experience their brain's generated mental map of their body. This is a construct, one that the brain does such a good job generating that it rarely even occurs while it's happening.

This experienced map is generated from stimuli that's actually a lot more sparse than you might think, for all that it seems continuous and richly-detailed; this is an amazing trick that the brain does with all sorts of things. For instance, you don't take in your entire visual field as a whole; mechanically, your eyes are flicking from point of focus to point of focus in saccades that you're not consciously aware of in most moments; this is assembled into the experience of a unified whole.

The brain is neat. It does a good job at this kind of thing, but a far from perfect one; it does a good enough job most times.

Somatic sensations are the same. Nerve density varies across the body--high in fingertips, for instance, much lower across the back, for instance. This is why people can read braille with their fingertips, but have difficulty with things like that party game of trying to tell what letters someone's tracing on your back. It's why "where do you feel that pain" is only part of a medical diagnosis, instead of the whole of it--sensations can get transferred to entirely different parts of a person's mental map of their body. An abscessed tooth can present as a headache, an ache in the jaw on the opposite side, assorted weirdness of that nature.

Your mental map of experience is not wholly about just your body, either. "Mirror neurons" are getting more pop-sci reporting in recent years. You know how you'll flinch in sympathetic reaction if you see someone get hurt? At a usually low and abstracted level, that observed pain is being incorporated into your own neurally constructed experience. This is a natural part of what the brain does, too--people are social animals; it's useful. Empathy's not just about being able to understand others' mental states, but their physical ones as well.

Now: all of this kind of stuff ties together into that people can generate their own sensations. They're not generating them in their body; they're generating them in that brain-generated map of themselves, that's why it works. Chakras have nothing to do with this; they don't exist. But if you think about the purported structure of them, the way they're said to exist and where they're said to be located in you, your brain can integrate that information (for all that it's not real information) into your experienced body at various levels. So you can make yourself experience, say, a tingling sensation. Any sort of structured visualization can make this kind of thing happen. For instance: every day, start thinking about how energy flows down from your brain to your hands. Hands are so important for being human, obviously that's because "human energy" is channeled to them, right? Think about that, keep thinking about it. Every day, concentrate on that imagined flow of energy, how it spreads down your arms to your hands, into your fingers and out into the world every time you make something, fix something, manipulate something. In very rapid order, you'll be able to have moments where you can make your fingers feel like they're tingling, or that they're warmer than normal, or similar.

"What does it mean?" is, again, just this: the brain is very neat. But people misinterpret the ways in which it is.
posted by Drastic at 9:41 AM on January 9, 2011 [53 favorites]

People have a powerful capacity for experiencing what they want to experience and believing what they want to believe, objective reality notwithstanding. Usually this is involuntary and subconscious.

You can take your reaction to the procedure as an education - it informs you of what you subconsciously wanted to experience/believe, something that isn't always obvious.
posted by tempythethird at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding that brain is neat

I've never tried any chakra work, but I can say from my experience in relaxation biofeedback that it can be surprisingly easy to raise the temperature of your own body parts. (You can try this yourself with some temperature-sensitive adhesive dots for your fingers. Once you get the hang of it, it's a snap.) I often felt a sort of buzzing tingle as I did so. I'd guess that your friend is pretty good at getting people to focus on specific body areas for relaxation, and that you yourself may have a previously-unsuspected knack for doing it.

Bodies and emotions are connected in some interesting ways, and so many of us are walking around as if we're poised to take a blow to the gut. It wouldn't begin to surprise me if people had emotional responses to letting go of long-held physical tension. The kind of empathy I think you're describing as "channeling" may make it easier for people to let go further, letting them feel understood and not alone.
posted by sculpin at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can make each of my chakras tingle and feel warm in sequence - I often do it while meditating. But it doesn't mean anything other than my brain is good at making sure its expectations get met (and that I'm far too unevolved for simple breath-counting to work as a focus aid.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may be interested in Carl Sagan's awesome book Demon-Haunted World for more information about how to think skeptically.
posted by Lobster Garden at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Adding to what others have said above, it's educational to pay attention to energy field and chakra work because it helps you uncover things about your own brain and body that you might not otherwise have discovered. To my mind, it's sort of like tarot readings done well - yes, you're finding an interpretation of the cards that meets your own experience, but that's kind of the Point, to think about your own experiences and make sense where you can.

But I'll also add that I've experienced all sorts of sensations during energy work that I don't understand at all, and I have No Idea what they mean. Tingling, warmth, oozing... I just figure nerves are interesting. Overall I usually feel a little better for it, though, and it's always been free, so at my most skeptical I just treat it as extra meditation time.
posted by ldthomps at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

When people have the sensation of delusional parasitosis, we don't hypothesize that there are actually mysterious energy insects crawling on them, we look for an explanation in the fact that neurological events can feel like physiological events occurring elsewhere in the body.

So, yeah. You are told that someone is working on your chakras and you have certain physiological sensations occurring at the areas that you identify with your chakras. Occam's Razor suggests that the above would be a completely sufficient explanation.

As for the practitioner, my guess would be that she is not someone perpetrating a conscious fraud, but rather someone who is a very good cold reader and lay psychologist who also believes in the chakra theory as a conceptual framework.

One of the beefs I have with some of the prominent skeptics, particularly Michael Shermer and to a lesser extent Penn and Teller, is that they generally argue that everyone who thinks they have psychic/"energy field"/whatever powers is a conscious fraud.*

My own experience of people who have strong beliefs about those practices is that they tend to be excellent lay psychologists and cold readers who attribute their successes in understanding and helping others to their conceptual apparatus rather than to their observational skills.

Clarke's comment that "any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic" is helpful here. My dad's neurologist diagnosed him with Parkinson's on the basis of his handshake. That wasn't magic; that was 30 years' worth of trained observation, and the annals of medicine in all specialties are full of stories like that.

* (Kevin Nealon's short-lived TV show featured an embarrassing episode where Michael Shermer barked at some nice old ladies who thought they were psychics that they were obviously frauds who were ripping people off, when it was completely clear that they were good lay psychologists who were simply misattributing the sources of their skills--one of the ladies said "Well, I can tell when someone comes into my studio and they're recently bereaved" and I thought "Yes, so can most good psychologists and social workers!" and Shermer was all "Oh, you're a fraudster taking advantage of bereaved people" which seemed completely orthogonal to what was going on.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

There's two things going on here, which may or may not be related.

First, there's the sensations you're feeling. These may or may not be connected to her channeling.

From a scientific standpoint, there's some sensations which are completely physiological - if you press palms to eyes, people see lights and patterns as their retinas respond to the eye shape changing, or if you press major arteries for a couple of seconds, then release, people feel a massive warmth rush through the appropriate area. (or, zinging pain when getting acupuncture- which means they've hit a nerve!!!) These kinds of things are often incorporated into healing practices without an understanding of what's happening and assumed to have powerful effects beyond what's really happening. This may or may not be what you're experiencing.

Second, there's sensations which as far as Traditional Chinese Medicine is concerned, is working with chi or life energy. Warmth, tingling, pulsing - these are the general responses, and can be experienced in completely different parts of the body than what's being worked on, or even without direct contact. TCM as accepted in China understands this to be a physical response, not a "spiritual" one, though you can find lots of proponents that chi can lead to immortality or magic powers.

Other practices - Ayurveda, Yoga, many forms of chi gung, etc. work specifically with chakras and generally have their own descriptions and numbering systems for the different chakras and experiences. As far as I've experienced - you can work with your own chi systems, but I haven't seen anyone able to work with "other's chakras" to replicate the experiences they describe, though I'm not deep into those systems.

As far as her channeling? Well, there's lots of systems that state they're able to pull out emotions and such, though I haven't seen it. The closest I've seen is people being able to read "intent" (not the same as movement) via martial arts, which isn't the same as personally experiencing the emotion, only recognizing that it's occurring.

Maybe she's actually channeling out energy, maybe she's just reading emotions and expressing them for others and they get catharsis through it, maybe she's just doing some basic chi work and emoting and people assume the two are actually tied together.
posted by yeloson at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

what does it mean?

The same thing it means when I point my fingertip at your forehead, just above your nose, and say 'I'm not touching you'. Hell, I probably don't even need to do it - just have you imagine it.

Or when I talk about head lice, and how maybe your scalp is feeling a little tingly, maybe itchy, just near the top, a little to the back...

Or when I put your hands either side of a mirror and stroke them simultaneously, then one at a time, and eventually you can feel me stroking the hand reflected in the mirror when I'm not touching it at all.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:10 PM on January 9, 2011

If you've experienced sensations in different chakras … what does it mean?

Alright, I am struggling to sum this up and failing. I am by no means an expert. The pre-school explanation would be something like they are energy valves, and each valve is the controller for a different kind energy, from 'rich' to 'high octane.' Valves get clogged and the energy-worker is a well-meaning valve technician, there to scrape the grut off your controller so it can again function with maximum efficiency. The sensations are that of the grut being freed.

If you would like some reading material on this, I recommend chapter eight of Esoteric Anatomy by Bruce Burger. It is dense and scolarly; digs into the vedic sciences in plain english that is still going to take a few readings to grok. Looks like you might be able to read the whole chapter in google; if no, memail me.

Other responders of an 'its crap!' nature: I respect your beliefs, and your right to state such. I do not, however, concur.

I guess my life has been such where I allow for a great many things that defy certain trends of current modern empirical catagorization: trends that says all things 'woo-woo!' are to be discounted as inauthentic, non-experiences that couldn't possibly be a difficult-to-articulate perception of the complex, energetic dimension we inhabit.

I value skepticism! I think it makes for a healthy intellectual bend! But wouldn't a true skeptic have no investment in the outcome of an intellectual investigation one way or another? If you already believe 'something isn't so' is your debunking of it skepticism? Or bias, masquerading as objectivity?

metafilter: slightly hostile to nearly everything, except for the few things it is entirely hostile towards.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 2:20 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

But wouldn't a true skeptic have no investment in the outcome of an intellectual investigation one way or another? If you already believe 'something isn't so' is your debunking of it skepticism?

If someone presented scientific proof for the existence of chakras, it would certainly change my opinion of that concept, and perhaps of the experience described by the OP. To date, no such proof has been presented, so the most parsimonious explanation to me is one which uses phenomena that have been scientifically proven, i.e., the stuff that Drastic discusses.

And no, that is not "bias". Saying that I am not going to take on faith the existence of phenomena in the natural world that are scientifically unproven is hardly "bias".

Anecdotes are not actually scientific data. This is the big shoal upon which most "Skeptics are already biased!" arguments founder.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2011

It feels very nice to have someone hold their hands in the air near your body. A friend gave me a Reiki session and it was very pleasant. I personally don't think there is anything supernatural involved in the process, but I chose to suspend disbelief and clear my mind to enjoy the experience.

When a friend broke her foot I came to visit, and while we were joking around, held my hands over her foot in a dramatic jesture and ordered it to heal. She said "Wait, do that again!" So I held my hands over her foot and she said it made her foot feel better. In fact, after that, she pretty much insisted that I keep my hands suspended over her foot while I was there, and I was pretty happy that I was helping her feel better.

Hands are warm, friends are loving, and there is nothing wrong with having someone hold their hands over you... and there is nothing wrong with feeling and enjoying the accompanying sensations. Enjoy it. Maybe try it yourself and see what happens.
posted by abirae at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2011

If someone presented scientific proof for the existence of chakras, it would certainly change my opinion of that concept, and perhaps of the experience described by the OP. To date, no such proof has been presented … Anecdotes are not actually scientific data. This is the big shoal upon which most "Skeptics are already biased!" arguments founder.

Fair enough, Sidhedevil. I had already answered my rhetorical question in formulating that grardump, and examining what I thought the definition of 'skeptical' is. Your clarification is further clarifying! I was conflating 'skeptical' with 'open-minded intellectual inquiry' where the definition is actually 'only accepting as knowledge that which can be and has been defined through current tools and methodology of western science, and furthermore accepted by a jury of western science peers.' I stand corrected, edumacatted, and schooled!

monichacha, forgive me if suggesting that seeking clarification with regard to your chakra questions from the cosmological system that spawned these beliefs, the vedas, was inappropriate for a question with 'skeptics!' in the title.

I did forget to make another, non-scientific (but perhaps in the realm of psychology and interpersonal relationships, and, I hope, pertinent) suggestion:

Have you asked her further questions about your session? Her motivation in undertaking this practice? I'm not saying her answer might not be full of what strikes you as 'woooooo!', especially if this is a thing she's just started doing. But she could point you toward who her teachers are. She could talk about her intentions, the experiences in her life that made her think this would be a good idea.

Getting an empathic grasp on where she's 'coming from' (especially if it is a radically different angle from where you're 'coming from') might be the best way to settle your curiosity about the experience; an answer which could bypass the need to posit the non-existence of chakras.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:34 PM on January 10, 2011

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