As a student of Dr. Claudia Welch, I’ve deeply admired her ability to swiftly unpack complicated Tantric philosophy and Ayurvedic medicine into spunky one-liners. One of my favorite is written on a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. “Fear blocks the channels.” Fear, worry, anxiety, stress, spinning—it’s all the same. It’s any emotional state that constricts us, preventing the experience of joy and freedom in our lives.
What are channels?
The human form, both physical and energetic, comprises a complex system of channels called nadis. There are channels that move blood and lymph, channels that move breast milk, channels that move emotions and information from the brain to the heart and back again, as well as channels that move sexual fluids and sexual energy. There is even one big channel that connects you to the Earth below and to the vast expanse of Cosmic Everything-ness above.
These channels are constantly shifting. Sometimes they expand, and other times they contract. Channels can get blocked, overflow, and even get punctured. Simplistically, we can say that any time there is fear, stress, doubt, or heartbreak, a constriction occurs. Anytime there is love, sweet stillness, compassion and grace in the experience, the channels are opened and receptive. Our channels expand when we have an insight, an emotional release, or a good massage.
Because of the interrelatedness of the nadis, a heartbreak can shrink your appetite, and stress or fear can make you constipated. We can see physical manifestations of a lack of juiciness flowing through the channels in dry skin or exhaustion. Mentally and emotionally, constriction can result in mental patterns that alter our perception of reality in a negative way, leaving to a closed mind.
This also relates to our ability to hear and intuit on the spiritual realms. If your diet or lifestyle is causing constriction, it’s harder to hear the voice of your Soul, chronic anxiety and worry often result.
A tantric approach to keeping the channels open
Be in your body. If you are mentally spinning out, it’s difficult to will yourself out of the spin. It may be more useful to sit down and ask your breath to slowly inhabit the soles of your feet. Once you become aware of sensation in your feet, feel them relax. Move the breath into your legs and as you do, notice the relaxation response. Work up the body, all the way to the head, and sense the calm that comes from inhabiting your own skin. If the old pattern of worry arises, breathe back into your feet, and work your way up again. The relaxed softness is a result of your focused sweetness.
Carry a sharp sword One of my favorite Tantric goddesses is Durga. The symbol of ultimate freedom from fear, this hot mama rides a tiger and carries a sword, slicing the heads off of her enemies. And who are her enemies? Fear, grief, worry, sadness, and anger. If anxiety or fear creep into your day, sit quietly and imagine yourself as Durga. How would this beautiful, strong and infinitely confident goddess rise to this occasion? Would the nagging worry or doubt bother someone with resiliency and the limitless capacity to overcome limitation? The more you spend time seeing yourself as her, the more you will embody her fierce compassion, courage, and might.
Use sound Tantra offers us three bija (seed) mantras that are particularly useful for worry and fear. For more stability, repeat the sound lam (pronounced LAH-M), silently or out loud, and direct your focus into your tailbone and pelvic floor. For more ease and sweetness, repeat the sound vam (pronounced VAH-M) and direct your focus into your lower abdomen. For more self-confidence, repeat the soundram (pronounced RAH-M) and direct your focus into the space behind the belly button. Practice each one for one or two minutes minutes, or choose one that you need that day and steep in that sound for five or so minutes.
Surrender We’ve all heard that if we can just surrender and let go, we will be less stressed out. I have found that it’s not enough to intellectually conceptualize the act of surrendering. Surrender is a state of being that is an end result of having done something else. Tantric practice offers us an actual technique to get there. The teachings say that the Divine Energy of Deep Surrender can enter into our hearts in the space between two breaths. To feel this, lay down on your bed or the floor. For a few minutes, just relax and watch the rise and fall of the breath at your navel. Then begin to search out the space where your exhale ends and your inhale begins. Keep focusing on the pause at the end of the exhale. Do this for at least 5 minutes and watch how the pause on the exhale causes subtle shifts in your emotions and your physical body.
Go Inward How do you know when you are anxious or afraid? We know because we can feel it. Anxiety is not a thought pattern, but a kinaesthetic experience. When anxious or afraid, I find it super-soothing (and empowering) to draw my focus directly into the epicenter of the feeling sensation in my body. I sit with it, holding it like a sweet baby as it changes and moves. With time, I sometimes find that the fear is just blocked love.
Say it! Try stating what you are afraid of. Sometimes this alone can shift the worry. Keep it down to one-line sentences such as, “I am afraid that I will lose my job and end up homeless,” or “I am afraid that I will die alone, surrounded by cats.” You may find that by speaking your fears out loud, you can bring unconscious, worrisome thoughts into the conscious realm. Oftentimes what we are really afraid of is actually pretty funny or highly improbable. By bringing these unconscious drivers into the light of our attention, they can begin to dissolve and hold less power over our daily lives.
Don’t miss what’s in front of you Tantra says that this human life is a gift; a unique Golden Egg that should not be wasted. When we worry and fret, we throw the golden egg down the toilet. The next time you feel yourself in the spin of fear, stop. Be aware of what actually occurring in present time. Ask yourself, “Am I rushing through brushing my teeth, and missing out on the excellent sensation of the bristles on my gums?” “Am I so caught up in this to-do-list, that I’m missing the beauty of the beads of water forming on my skin in the shower?” Am I feeling such a longing to be with someone else that I totally miss out on the person in front of me?” In the end, every moment, every person and every experience, is a potential gateway into being with that Golden Egg opportunity called Your Life.
This article was originally published in the Yoga Journal Blog on May 17, 2012.
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