Energy Centers in the Body : Culture and History Overlap

Several eastern systems of religion and thought describe energy centers in the body that determine our health and can be accessed and supported with activities to improve our physical and mental state.  If this sounds like complete hogwash to you, rest assure that western culture, medicine, and modern takes on our religions do not support it either.  At best, they entertain the possibility of its existence but are on standby until some “proof” is offered.[hr]

Here is why their position is valid.  These energy systems cannot be cut into, dissected, seen under magnification, or captured as a specimen.  Going further, it is experiential – meaning that you need direct experience to feel it and then have to try to explain your experience through language alone, not data.  True scientific discovery is validated by large scale studies and the ability to replicate results.   So western medicine and beliefs are not wrong.  They are just limited by how they define proof.

Know that professionally I am a researcher and I spend most of my day living in this very concrete world.  For every 10 theories I work on, 9 go on to the trash heap or are shelved because I cannot replicate my results.  I owe it to my community to not release results until I have undertaken “the burden of proof.”

energy centers in the bodyTechnological advancements such as the fMRI are now enabling these energy fields to be seen and even captured as adepts manipulate, move, and enhance their energy fields.  I am excited by this, but am not going to lie to you and suggest that we are even remotely close to accepting these findings within our culture.  What I will share is that these systems have been studied, advanced, and improved for many years (thousands).  There is vastness in the diversity of cultures (pretty much every culture) that had some sense of these energy systems and transmitted the ideas through writings or folklore.  Let’s take a look at a few and then deep dive into a few that are pertinent to your progress in mastering your mind.

Science, History, and Folklore about the Energy Centers in the Body

energy centers in the bodyWestern scientific inquiry trying to define the powers of the brain span scientific text, mythology, and folklore.  Here are just a few expanding across all of written human history:

  • Galen (ca. 130-ca. 210 CE), a Greek medical doctor first describes the pineal gland in his 8th anatomical book: On the usefulness of the parts of the body.
  • Posidonius of Byzantium (4th century CE): imagination arises in the front of the brain and memory to the hind part.
  • Nemesius of Emesa (ca. 400 CE):  anterior ventricle is the organ of imagination, the middle ventricle the organ of reason, and the posterior ventricle the organ of memory.
  • Qusta ibn Luqa (864–923): On the difference between spirit and soul– the brain controls the flow of animal spirit between the middle and posterior ventricles.
  • Descartes (1596–1650): Fascinated with the pineal gland, Descartes wrote two books desribing it as the “principal seat of the soul, and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.”
  • Magendie (1828): the central brain is “a valve designed to open and close the cerebral aqueduct.”
  • Today: A few endangered species (tuartara lizard) and fossils from ancient creatures feature a sockets in their skull.  Because of the pineal gland’s direct connection to light and sleep, several independent studies hypothesize that the pineal gland served primitive versions of us as a dorsal third eye. (Zrenner 1985).

energy centers in the body

Spiritual Connection to Energy Centers in the Body

Here is where West and East divide.   This “Third Eye” has long been seen as a link between the spiritual and physical worlds.  Western cultures thought about it.  Eastern cultures thought about it, and actually did something with it.  Within their spiritual traditions we find tactical steps to access the healing power of the limbic system and leave the negative chatter behind.

The Chakra System

energy centers in the bodyIn Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, there are 7 centers of energy called Chakras that run from the base of the spine to the top of the head.  Each energy center in the body is believed to create health and energy when open and create unhealthy mental and physical states when closed.

The 6th Chakra is located in the brain at point between the eye brows. It is known as Ajna, or the third-eye chakra and is credited with giving us clear thought, and allowing us to “see” life from the view of an observer.  This is to say, removed from our emotion and thinking.

The 7th Chakra, the thousand-petaled lotus, is located on the top of the head.  Meditation and concentration on this point enables us to raise our energy level to a heavenly state.  To experience Nirvana.

energy centers in the bodyThe Three Dantians

Chinese martial arts and spiritual systems such as Taoism divide the energy system of the body into 3 Dantians.  These “elixir fields” are focal points during moving and sitting meditation to clean, engage, and improve the energy in the body.

The Upper Dantian is located at the forehead between the eyebrows or third eye and is related to our spirit and/or consciousness.  This area is considered a cauldron where spirit (thought) is refined into Wu Wei or emptiness.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  Similar to the Chakra system, you cultivate thought and then transmute it through the upper point in the head, the Ba Hui.

Bai Hui

energy centers in the bodyBai Hui roughly translates to “hundred convergences” referring to the gathering point on top of the head where energy channels in the body meet. The use of “hundred” in Chinese is the equivalent to saying “many” and this point is also used in acupuncture for treating the “hundred diseases,” by clearing the senses and calming the spirit.

The Bai Hui corresponds to a physical place on the skill.  The small, circular, soft spot on top of  the head of a newborn is called a fontanel and fuses as a baby grows.

Sensing and feeling within the brain

Whether you accept the spiritual or historical arguments or not, there is a huge world tradition dedicated to studying and accessing the energy systems of our body to improve our mental, physical, and emotional state.

Why should you learn about this and why have so many people gone through all the trouble?  Because the reported benefits include bliss, intuition, concentration, clarity, and decisiveness.

Again, western science cannot categorically prove what is written here.  But history and tradition have provided us with tactical steps for you to experience this “blissful emptiness” with relative ease.

Are you interested in developing your sensitivity to the three dantians and increasing your energy?  Check out Good Morning – Good Evening Qi Gong


Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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