"Healing and Teaching: Three Forms of AlternativeHealing and their Implications for Teaching"
This approach to healing is based on the view that a special energy moves through all things--a life energy that is the creative impetus for the universe, for all matter, and for the moment to moment feelings of each human being. This energy moves in pulsating rhythms that make up the seasons, the stages of the life cycle, the developmental phases of growth, the tidal rhythms of breath, the drumbeat of the heart, and the vibratory dance of the smallest particles inside each cell. Seen in terms of energy, the body consists of
According to this school of thought, when energy circulates freely, people are healthy, happy, in touch with themselves, in direct energy-level communication with one another, and in tune with the universe. This energy has been called many names--"magnetism" in the early 19th century by Mesmer. The Yogic name for it is "prana." In Taoism and acupuncture, it is known by the Chinese term "chi" or "qi" (Japanese "ki"). Wilhelm Reich called it "orgone."
Each theory of healing has an explanation for the nature of human difficulty and disease. In this theory, for a multitude of reasons, life-energy readily becomes blocked in human beings. The channels through which it flows can be stopped up, weakening the energy in one part of the body, building it to excessive levels in another.
Each healing system also proposes a cure: When life-energy is blocked, it must be freed in order to bring about a healing of the problems caused by that blockage--problems that include acute and chronic diseases, personality disorders, mood afflictions, psychological aberrations, anger, frustration, depression, cruelty, addiction, anxiety, indecisiveness, and all the adaptations we make to these conditions.
Life-energy may be released and rebalanced through a number of means. Acupuncturists use needles, pressure, and the precise application of heat to balance the flow of "chi" through elaborately mapped pathways called "meridians." Applied kinesiology and polarity therapy rebalance the energy through precise touch. Tai chi and chi gung build, release, and balance life-energy through elaborate, gentle movements and prescribed postures. Hatha yoga uses physical postures, breathing, mental exercises, and diet to build and balance the centers of "prana" and their channels.
Reichian therapy (which I practiced for six years) and bioenergetics release blocks and cultivate the ability to experience the fuller flow of organismic energy. Reiki and theraputic massage manipulate muscles and move energy with the hands, not to remove muscular tension in a mechanical sense, but to clear the deep energy pathways of the body. The "healing hands" movement among holistic nurses uses touch and also works with the energy field that surrounds the body.
In the ancient method of the laying on of hands, healing energy is transmitted from one person to another by touch, to reenergize or rebalance the afflicted part. (Note 1.) The energy of healing hands can also be transmitted to others at a distance, and it can be transported by means of charged objects or a glass of charged water. Some healers use crystals to attract and focus this energy.
Perhaps the most direct method for cultivating life energy is through working with the breath, breathing in pure energy, breathing out blocks, inhaling the energy into special centers, breathing it from there into all parts of the body. Breath exercises can be found in yoga as well as many recent healing methods.
Consider the claims of energy healing: A life-energy runs through all things. Its free flow leads to greater health and happiness, clearer thinking, more loving relationships, and even, according to some practitioners, to a good society. Its blockage leads to illness, misery, emotional problems, alienation, and violence. --What implications would these beliefs have for education? How could a teacher use these concepts?
You cannot teach well unless you take care of your most important equipment--yourself. So the most important thing is for you to work on your own energy. Finding some healing method that enables you to keep your own energy more free and flowing. Develop the awareness necessary for identifying tension and other blocks and methods for releasing those. As your own awareness grows, you will be better able to feel and work with the energy of others and the energy of a group. Hatha yoga and tai chi are widely-taught methods for helping your own energy flow.
Study what helps free your energy. Is it singing? Going for a walk in nature? A good talk with a friend? Deep relaxation to music? Some form of meditation? --Cultivate the things that help and faithfully maintain a regular practice. Set up a support group among colleagues and friends who understand. Practice until you can choose to touch someone in a manner in which energy touches energy, without any overtones of coercion, need, sex, or even personality. It is easy to teach friends how to exchange shoulder rubs or foot massages, and your students will benefit from the relaxation these bring you.
Movement could be integrated into education in a way that helps free
the flow of energy through the body, release and express emotions, integrate
mental knowledge with body knowledge, and honor the rhythms of the body
and the day. (This I understand to be the purpose of Eurythmy in Waldorf
education.) Most students probably learn better when that learning is integrated
through movement--though normal classrooms are not well suited to working
But even if there is not space to have students dance, create dramas and rituals, or do tai chi in a classroom, you can find room to do simple physical activities to energize, release, and balance. These might include stretching, bending forward and back, twisting side to side. Breathing is essential, and so is awareness. Exercises designed to build inner awareness and energy can be found in a number of books. (Note 3) Most drama teachers can teach you warmups and theater games that mobilize energy, breath, voice, and feeling--and all of these mobilize learning. At least once, you should try blowing up twenty balloons, one by one, and asking students to keep them all in the air, while at the same time conducting a normal, orderly class discussion of the subject you assigned.
Many subjects can be taught kinesthetically--by having students talk, move, make gestures, use their hands, make things. Use gestures and dance as a way of interpreting readings and as a prelude to writing. (Note 4) Touching is vitally important to students of all ages, though it can be difficult to touch adolescents in a manner that does not engage sexual energy. People read one another by touching; the whole quality of a teacher can be communicated in a single touch.
If you choose to teach students openly to develop greater awareness of
energy, some exercises can help. With high school students you might try
this experiment in interpreting energy. Brainstorm a list of 6 scenarios
in which the identical gesture would happen--a hand placed on the shoulder
from behind. Scenarios might include warning someone not to tresspass farther;
comforting someone in grief; congratulating a winner; etc.
Have students pair up. The one behind chooses one scenario, vividly imagines it, then places her hand on her partner's shoulder. The one being touched "reads" the touch and guesses which scenario it is from. The toucher then chooses a different scenario and places the hand identically on the shoulder again. And so on; you see how it goes. If students get good at this, make it harder by having the "toucher" bring his hand one inch away from the partner's upper back, without touching, and see if the energy of intention can still be read.
Here is another example of the kind of activities you might use to teach energy awareness. Have students sit quietly, comfortably straight, with eyes closed. "Imagine a pearly white cloud of silky energy floating over your head. Effortlessly, imagine a soft shaft of that energy shining down on your head, through your head, through your chest, to a glowing ball in your solar plexus. Breathe in the energy and feel it grow in your middle."
After a few breaths, "Continue to breathe in the energy, and as you exhale, send it out your arms for several breaths." Then up to the head. Then all around the chest and belly. Down the legs. End with a shower washing all the energy out through the feet. Give them a moment, then ask them to open their eyes and write about the experience. Discuss, and find out if any felt more clear and energized afterwards. (Note 5) Through exercises of this kind, students and teachers alike can develop better vocabulary for describing energy-level experiences.
Energy can be released and rebalanced through art, and almost any subject
can be approached through drawing. The Waldorf method of "form drawing"
can do wonders in helping focus the students' scattered attention, bringing
them into their bodies, and giving them the most fundamental of all relievers
of stress: focus on an intriguing task. (Though it was designed for use
with elementary students, I know of one course in which form drawing was
used to help junior college students focus.)
If you have older students who are reluctant to draw, ask them to draw with big crayons using their unaccustomed hands (i.e., if right-handed, use the left). Invite (or, using a more direct paradoxical approach, require) them to draw badly, to write badly, to speak clumsily; some of the energy blocked by fear of mistakes and by perfectionism can be released this way. (Note 6)
One of the most serious and reliable means of mobilizing hidden energy is humor. (Note 7) Try electing a class clown each week, who gets five minutes a day to make everyone laugh. Designate one day each week for the clowns to make fun of teachers, parents, and other authority figures. Organize the humor interlude carefully and always bracket it with the same ritual, to facilitate returning to the business of the class afterward. Make a specific contract with students about when the clowning will occur, then always remember to honor it. Once or twice a month, discuss the humor and student responses.
Few activities free energy, open emotions, and connect people as readily
as singing. If this is feasible in your setting, enlist students to identify
songs that fit the subject you are studying and have them teach the class
to sing them. Chants are also powerful, either unison or call-and-response.
Encourage students to express the emotions the feel toward the subject they
are studying. Emotions are the fundamental way energy assimilates experience.
And nothing is neutral; even the learning of mathematics elicits emotional
responses ranging from anger to ecstasy.
The most direct way to connect with energy is through conscious breathing. Take occasional breaks to ask students to stretch, yawn loudly, and breathe deep. Yawning helps on several levels: it brings in oxygen, activates the autonomic system, relaxes, and lets students and teacher make gentle fun of each other.
Many of the activities I suggested throughout this article work best when repeated and cultivated. It is a good idea to bracket off a section of the class period just for such exercises. Enter them through a single, standardized procedure--a simple ritual, perhaps based on stretching, breathing, relaxing, and centering. And end always with the same steps that return the class to the day's business. Writing for five minutes helps make the transition from an inner activity to the outer world.
There is always something you can do to free the energy of a class without calling attention to the fact that you are doing it. For example, you can:
Do these things while conducting class normally; do them with the part of your mind that is usually busy planning dinner, worrying about bills, struggling with student judo, or tempting you to daydream about winning the lottery.