The practice of bodyweight calisthenics brings a number of benefits among them functional strength, joint mobility and the pleasure of pushing the limits of human body movements. But there is one more benefit that is rarely explored by its practitioners and that is its connection to energy healing.
As a martial artist, I believe that the healing arts complement the fighting arts and that a true martial arts master must know not only how to kill but also how to heal. I’ve seen this true in the Chinese martial arts and Filipino martial arts. Traditional Chinese gung fu masters know acupressure, acupuncture and herbology in addition to their fighting skills. Many escrima masters of yore on the other hand, were also adept in hilot, which is the Filipino art of bone-setting and therapeutic massage. Both healing traditions operate on the concept of energy meridians, which is present in other Asian healing arts as well. The energy that we are talking about here is the universal life force energy—chi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, pneuma in Greek and prana in Sanskrit. As long as universal life force energy is flowing freely through the body,optimum health is maintained.
The scope of my exposure to energy healing encompasses hilot (I was practically raised by a manghihilot), pranic healing, reiki and chi kung.
As a practitioner and teacher of bodyweight calisthenics, the aforementioned plays an important role in my choice of routines. The core of the bodyweight curriculum I teaches are three exercises namely the dand or Hindu pushup, the baithak or Hindu squat and the shirshasan or headstand. The first reason why I picked these routines is because Indian wrestlers, including The Great Gama, have used them for centuries to develop stamina and strength. The second reason is their connection to energy healing.
Two movements of the dand according to traditional Indian medicine, activate certain charka or energy centers in the body. The face up dog posture activates the throat or vishuddha chakra while the face down dog posture activates the base or muladhara chakra. Spiritually, the vishudda or throat chakra is connected to self-expression and creativity. Physically, it is associated with the thyroid gland and the human endocrine system, which is responsible for the release of hormones. Being the most basic chakra, blockade in the muladhara prevents prana from moving further on in the chakra system. The base chakra is associated with the adrenal gland.
In Indian physical culture, dand and baithak fall under the category of vyayam (physical training or exercise) and not yoga. Besides the clear-cut spiritual agenda of yoga, the other difference lies in the nature of movements of the two disciplines. Joseph S. Alter in his excellent book, The Wrestler’s Body: Identity and Ideology in North India, offers the following explanation on this distinctions “Unlike yoga, however, vyayam emphasizes physical strength. Where Hatha Yoga concentrates on the harmonization of all aspects of the body, vyayam builds on this harmonization through calisthenic and cardiovascular exercise. As with yoga, a key concept in vyayam is the holistic, regulated control of the body. In yoga, however, the body is manipulated through the practice of relatively static postures. Vyayam disciplines the body through strenuous, patterned, repetitive movement.”
Alter’s book also mentioned the healing capability of the dand, and it reads, “Dands also cure all kinds of illnesses relating to semen loss (impotence, infertility, and spermatorrhoea) and faulty digestion (1974: 19).”
To me, the healing component of the baithak is connected to the absorption of ground prana; the distinct life force energy radiated by the earth. The late pranic healing master Choa Kok Sui said that ground prana enters the body mainly through the soles of the feet. Traditional Indian wrestlers do their workouts in the soil pit of the akhara (Traditional Indian wrestling school) half-naked and barefooted. Sometimes while doing baithak, they will intentionally pick up soil with their hands and slap it on their bodies. Alter wrote that Indians look at the akhara as a place of healing, “People with minor ailments—constipation, arthritis, backaches, skin infections, bruises, and sprains—came to the akhara hoping to effect a cure. Wrestling-pit earth and akhara well water are both regarded as tonics which help to cure a host of common ailments. In many ways the earth pit functions much like a mineral bath that has a reputation for healing. Many wrestlers I spoke with claimed that they had at one time or another suffered some debilitating illness—rheumatism, consumption, heart weakness, high blood pressure, kidney stones—and that after visiting an akhara and lying in the earth had been restored to perfect health.”
The connection of the shirshasan or headstand to energy healing is relatively easy to explain. Since we are standing for most parts of the day, the energy in our body tends to be bottom-heavy hence we equalize this imbalance in energy distribution by doing the headstand, “Wrestlers often stand on their heads—as in the dhakuli routine—both to strengthen their necks and to increase the flow of blood to their heads. This is said to clear the mind of impure thoughts and to bestow a general sense of health and well-being. It is generally recommended for all young men who suffer from spermatorrhoea or who show symptoms of emotional distress,” wrote Alter.
So how do you infuse your practice of bodyweight calisthenics with energy healing? First is by recognizing the existence of universal life force energy. Read and educate yourself about it. The good thing is this thing is no longer considered voodoo stuff and there’s so much promising scientific research being done on energy healing. The next step is to actually experience it. The most basic way to actually feel this energy is by bringing your palms close together and being aware of a ball of energy formed in between them. As you concentrate more, you will feel a sense of resistance and a sense of attraction created by the energy bubble. This is universal life force energy radiating from your palm chakra. Lastly, practice outdoors whenever you can. Choose a place that is close to nature like under the shade of a big, old beautiful tree. Most big trees are said to be rich in prana and you will easily know one because it will give you a sense of well-being and calm just by being near it. Do your bodyweight calisthenics barefooted while wearing clothing made of natural materials (100 percent cotton is ideal). The reason for the latter is that synthetic clothing interferes with the body’s absorption of prana. Your breath is your connection to the universal life force energy so respire with intent. Consciously take in fresh healing energy as you breathe in and expel stale energy as you breathe out.