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Practical Magic- Energy and the Subtle Body

The Blog

When I teach yoga or practice reiki, I use the term “energy” a lot. But, I have a confession to make: I don’t like calling it that. I learned throughout school, like we all did, that energy means watts, amps, volts, joules, etc. Look it up in the dictionary and you get that definition or this: physical and mental vitality. While the latter is closer to what we mean as yoga teachers, it’s still not quite there. Prana, Chi, Qi… what we sometimes refer to as energy… is actually something entirely separate.

Think of the self as artistic creation. Artistic creation can manifest itself through the very solid medium of a sculptor’s marble. It becomes slightly less tangible when expressed as a painter’s colors. Even more subtle is the musician’s sounds and beyond that is a philosopher’s ideas. The musician’s notes may be far more transient than the sculptor’s marble but it the exact same in its potential artistic expression.

The self is the same. It expresses itself in many ways. In yoga we call these different expressions Koshas. You have your physical body, your Prana (energy), your passing thoughts and emotions, your intellectual and emotional predispositions, and your spiritual predisposition.

The single most powerful thing I see as a yoga teacher and healer is how strongly these different expressions of self are related. When we work in one area, it shows in the others. When heal in one area, we heal in all of them. Everything we are is expressed simultaneously in each of Kosha.

We use this connection all the time without thinking of it. We can tell by the look on a person’s face what kind of emotion they are having. We can tell by a person’s habitual body language, what their habitual mental state is… that guy who’s always down and slumps his shoulders…. that woman talks 63426 words a minute who always seems excited by the world around her.

In my personal life and as a teacher the most powerful practices I’ve seen are the ones that happen on all of the levels. But there’s a catch. We don’t have a lot of language in our society for Prana. When we say “energy” most people think there’s real energy (volts, amps) and everything else isn’t as real. One of the key components easily goes missing.

But just as the painter’s colors are as much an artistic expression as the sculptor’s statue, Prana is just as much a part of who we are as is our flesh and blood. Prana is the bridge between our physical body and our thoughts and emotions. To practice fully takes an awareness of this manifestation of our self. To start to know the energy body you only need to know 1 thing. Chakras. The chakras are the map of the energy body and how it connects to the physical to the thoughts/emotions. This is the map:


Having trouble finding one of the forms of love? Bring a little prana to your 4th (heart) chakra, the area around the center of the chest, with backbends and volunteerism. Want to feel more powerful more of the time? Find practices that stimulate your 3rd chakra, the area just above the belly button; spin class or sit-ups. It really is as simple as that.

You can even work the other way around. Notice that you tend to tense your shoulders and jaw all the time? What can you do to free up energy in your 5th chakra? Relax the shoulders and jaw as often as you can. Practice chanting or singing out loud. Then watch how over time you feel people understand you better and notice how good you get at really hearing others!

As with any yoga practice, the real art of working with your energy is that of paying attention. Notice where you feel your energy flows well, and where you sense it doesn’t as much. Notice what areas of your body are tight and which are open. What’s underneath? Once you find that sense, the real practical magic of yoga is at your fingertips!

-Justin Ritchie

To read more of Justin’s work, click here.

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