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Aspects of Past-Life Bodywork: Understanding Subtle Energy Fields Part I: Theory – Roger Woolger (Is.3)

by Roger J. Woolger


A striking aspect of much past-life therapy, when seen for the first time by an observer, is the obvious physical involvement of the client in the story that is being relived. In many sessions the client doesn’t just sit or lie passively recounting an inner vision of a past life with his or her eyes closed. Instead he or she may be subject to the most dramatic convulsions, contortions, heavings, and thrashings imaginable. One client may clutch his chest in apparent pain as he recounts a sword wound, another may turn almost blue during a choking fit as she remembers a strangulation, while yet another may become rigidly fixed with arms above the head as he remembers being tied to a post during torture.

To the inexperienced observer this may appear distressing, if not dangerous. Even trained therapists (more often those using Freudian, cognitive, or purely verbal techniques) will come up to me after a particularly violent demonstration of the past-life technique and warn me of the dangers of provoking a psychotic break.

Yet for many therapists now practicing past-life therapy violent emotional release is not just a commonplace of our work but in many cases an essential part of it. More and more therapists are finding that all kinds of behavioral problems and complexes have traumatic under lays from past lives which are plainly physical as well as emotional. As a result, we are naturally finding ourselves using cathartic methods to release the old trauma. Seen from a historical perspective this kind of emphasis on the reliving of traumatic events and their treatment through abreactive or cathartic methods marks a return to the very approaches Freud abandoned eighty years ago in favor of his later psychology of the ego and its defense mechanisms.

Thinkers listen, tell me what you know of that is not inside the soul?
Take a pitcher full of water and
set it down on the water
now it has water inside and water outside.
musn’t give it name,
lest silly people
start talking again about the body and the soul.
Kabir (Bly, 1973)

As Stanislav Grof has observed in his overview of the history of psychotherapy in Beyond the Brain (1985), many of the more recent therapies—Gestalt, Primal, Rebirthing, LSD therapy, for example—are currently emphasizing the experiential component in reaction to the purely cognitive and interpretive emphasis of much neo-Freudian psychotherapy. In other words, from Grof’s point of view—with which I am fully in agreement—much of the post-Freudian enterprise, and even the Jungian, has been an ineffective intellectual detour in the evolution of practical methods of psychotherapy.

Not all practicing past-life therapists share Grof’s emphasis upon experiential reliving and cathartic release, however. While it is still premature to speak of “schools” of past-life therapy, there do seem to be many therapists practicing past-life regression who systematically avoid excessive expression of emotion and who seem to aim for detachment rather than catharsis. In transcripts of sessions published by Dick Sutphen for example, one frequently meets with strongly worded commands such as: “You Will Become Calm! You Will Experience Everything Without Pain or Emotion.” (Weisman, 1977) As a rule Sutphen uses these suggestions when the subject is undergoing some kind of violence in the past-life story. Generally speaking, Sutphen and therapists like him seem to believe that cognitive awareness of the past-life issue or event is sufficient for healing to take place. Clearly this approach is quite different from what Grof and therapists like me, who hold for experiential catharsis, are advocating.

I raise the issue of these fundamentally different therapeutic strategies—let us call them the cathartic vs. the cognitive —not for polemical reasons but because they radically affect how we proceed with regard to both therapy in general and past-life therapy in particular. One obvious consequence of these differing views is that when we aim for cognitive understanding we tend to neglect the body. By contrast, when as therapists we emphasize catharsis, we must inevitably remain focused in the body for the simple reason that it is in the body that both physical violence and emotion are most vividly experienced.

From the viewpoint of cathartic or experiential therapy the body itself becomes what, for want of a better term, I will call an experiencing subject, or, most strictly, a multiplicity of experiencing subjects. My head may think this, my heart may feel that, my guts may feel something else and so on. Every part of the body has something to say or express. This is what Fritz Perls, inspired both by Wilhelm Reich and by J. L. Moreno’s psychodrama, saw so clearly: that there are all kinds of unfinished monologues, dialogues, and conversations going on in different and often opposing segments or parts of our bodies. The complexes, to switch to Jungian terminology, speak in and through our bodies if we are prepared to give them ear: we are the embodiment of the totality of our complexes.

Some may object that to say the body can speak is simply stretching a metaphor further than is warranted. Only the mouth can speak and only the mind can produce thoughts, they might say. Furthermore we are traditionally taught that the mind belongs to or is identical with the brain, so it is absurd to say that our feet, for instance, can “say” or be conscious of something. But this is to ignore the whole human experience of gesture, postural formations, and the sensitivity of the autonomic nervous system. Moreover, it is to perpetuate the Cartesian split of head and body, mind and matter that is a root metaphor of one of the deepest problems of western civilization (Woolger, 1983).

We are particularly in debt to Wilhelm Reich for grappling with this pervasive problem. At the very time that Freud was moving away from the physiological implications of his theory of sexual repression and the damning up of libido, Reich was exploring the issue of rigid character structures and how they are expressed by the body. Reich coined the term character armor to describe those rigid patterns of unconscious muscular holding we find in the head, jaw, neck, shoulder, thorax, diaphragm, pelvis, legs, arms, hands, and feet (Reich, 1949, Dychtwald, 1977). What he showed us was that these rigid structures were not the result of physical or somatic stress but direct expressions of psychic trauma, deeply repressed emotions, and a basic unconscious denial of life. All the libido that should be flowing out of the organism and into life, however conflictual that might be, remains locked beneath the musculature. This in turn depresses the autonomic function, affects organic functioning adversely, and often distorts the whole skeletal posture (Reich, Alexander).

To give some examples: if a child lives in fear that he will be hit by a brutal parent he learns to cringe and raise his shoulders to protect his head. If there is no deliverance from that fear, the defensive shoulder armoring is never relaxed, and neither, correspondingly, is his tight “nervous” stomach and apprehensive shallow breathing. After a while the child adapts to being permanently “on the alert” so that the fear remains locked in his organism in the form of chronically raised shoulders, bent back, tight chest, and stomach. Over the years such holding patterns may degenerate further into a certain characteristic posture (Kurtz, 1976).

Or suppose that a young girl has been subject to regular sexual molestation by her father. In this case it is her genitals that will be held tightly, her pelvis gripped in a frozen posture, and her thighs and legs kept rigid by a mixture of fear and rage. In addition, there may be revulsion held in her stomach and shallow breathing. In later years she may well experience urogenital tract infections, deeply inhibited sexual responsiveness, and gynecological difficulties, all due to deep-seated psychic armoring that has now become chronic.

These examples are typical of the way that Reich (1949) and his contemporary followers (notably Lowen, 1977, Pierrakos, 1987, Keleman, 1975, Boadella, 1985, Kurtz, 1976) have all followed the traditional psychoanalytic route of looking for the causal origins of later organic complaints and character armoring in early childhood. Certainly there is no shortage of parental neglect, brutality, or sexual abuse in the modern world. Much of the time, therefore, it is not necessary for therapists to look any further for the cause and the release of the embodied symptoms we have described.

But as more and more therapists are discovering, there are all kinds of neurotic complaints of both an emotional and a physical nature that simply refuse to be resolved through exploring infantile stories, no matter how early we trace them back. Many children, it is now being admitted, are obviously born fearful, depressed, rage-filled, withdrawn, unable to eat (i.e. starving), desensitized, and so on. It is precisely in such cases that past-life exploration is proving particularly effective, now that we are free to ask the very questions that Freudianism and the tabula rasa doctrine of development have proscribed for so long.

Physical Residues From Past Lives

Let me refer to a case mentioned briefly in my recent book (Woolger, 1987). A young woman, whom I will call Heather, suffered since early adolescence from ulcerative colitis. Naturally, every kind of dietary therapy had been tried and in more recent years, psychotherapy. Her psychotherapist, who referred her to me, admitted that she could find no cause of anxiety to account for the ulcers in Heather’s present life, despite many months of probing. So we agreed to try a past-life session.

The story that immediately surfaced took us to Holland during World War II at the time of the Nazi invasion. Heather found herself as an eight-year-old girl in a Jewish family living in the Jewish neighborhood of a small Dutch town. In the first scene to surface she finds herself happily helping her mother bake bread when the sounds of explosions first reach their ears. The Nazi’s are systematically blowing up and setting fire to the terraced houses to “flush out” the inhabitants onto the streets. The mother, panicking, pushes the children onto the street, telling them to run. The street is full of townspeople running in all directions. There are armored cars and jeeps following them and the sound of gunfire.

The little girl runs down an alleyway, thinking it to be safer, and watches for a time from behind a wall, seeing some neighbors and friends shot, but mostly rounded up by the Nazis. Fleeing farther from the smoke and explosions, she turns a corner and almost runs into a van commandeered by the soldiers. They catch her and shove her into the back of the van with other captives.

Shortly, she and the others are herded out and lined up in front of trenches that have been dug as mass graves. Standing watching lines of people being machine gunned as she awaits her turn, she reports that her stomach is totally knotted in terror.

Eventually her turn comes and she falls back, shot, onto a pile of dead and dying victims. She doesn’t die immediately; other bodies fall on top of her and she finally dies of suffocation and loss of blood. Her stomach remains knotted in terror throughout this appalling ordeal.

My approach during our session was to direct her to breathe deeply and to let go of all the fear and anguish as much as possible. Given this permission she broke into convulsions sobbing, screaming and keening. As the young Jewish girl, she had died, so it seemed, unable to express both the terrible shocks of losing her parents, seeing mass slaughter, and facing her own premature death. Phrases such as, “I’ll never see them again,” “Help me!,” “I can’t get away,” “It’s too late.” surfaced spontaneously and her body went through violent convulsions and dry vomiting for a while.

When it was all over Heather was exhausted and depleted, yet she felt unburdened of a fear she had always dimly sensed and which she now understood. Her stomach condition improved radically after this and a couple of follow-up sessions.

In many cases, once we shift our focus away from supposed early childhood traumas in this life and give the deeper unconscious permission to express itself, we find that the presenting symptom seems to be derived from a past-life memory. There had been no event in Heather’s current life experience remotely severe enough to induce fear symptoms as heavily somaticized as ulcers; in fact her complaint was quite out of proportion to the relatively untroubled course of her current life. Yet immediately the past-life story of the Dutch Jewish girl emerged, we found traumatic images which were entirely consonant with her symptoms. In Heather’s case, as in many others, I was led to conclude that the unconscious fear, which manifested in her stomach as ulcers, was not a residue from this life, but from another.

Every part of the body, it would seem, has in one person or another revealed some old accident or wound. But past-life traumas always have a specific and not a general relationship to the current physical problem. Not all migraines derive from head wounds or all throat problems, from strangling. A similar throat complaint in several people may carry quite different stories from those people: in one it may be a death from a beheading, in another a choking death, while someone else may remember having been hanged. In different people a painful chest or pains in the heart region will bring up memory traces of all kinds of stabbings, gun wounds, lances, arrows, shrapnel, etc. Sore legs and arms remember being broken in accidents or war, crushed by fallen frees, shattered by torture, crucifixion, or the rack, or else ripped off by wild animals. A weak or sensitive belly area may recall cuts, mashings, and disembowelings, or else starvation or poisoning. Sensitive feet and hands have in past lives been subjected to every kind of accident and mutilation, to say nothing of performing horrible acts on others.

How can this be? The skeptic unfamiliar with past-life regression might ask, how can memory traces and somatic reactions be caused by experiences felt and sensed by an entirely different body?

The Problems of Non-Physical Transmission

Some theories have attempted to answer this question—sometimes called “the problem of extra-cerebral memory”—by recourse to genetic inheritance. Yet my own finding is that out of many hundreds of cases involving past lives, only in a handful could the particular affliction possibly have been passed on genetically. The huge majority of stories I have recorded can in no way be accounted for by genetics, which is to say, by ancestral transmission. The cultural discrepancies and discontinuities are for the most part too extreme.

To invoke genetics strikes me as a last-ditch attempt to maintain what is essentially a materialist explanation for both mind and memory. It is typical of those theories that would locate all mental events “in” the brain—wherever that is! Personally such an exercise strikes me as about as useful as looking for music in the grooves of phonograph records.

The standpoint that my own casework has obliged me to take is best expressed by the well-known Buddhist dictum, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought” (Dhammapadma). From this radical position it is consciousness that determines material reality and hence the state of our bodies, not matter that determines consciousness, as contemporary materialist orthodoxy would have it.

I have recently proposed (Woolger, 1987) that we talk about inherited psychic contents as “past-life complexes,” an extension of Jung’s description of the complex (Jung, 1934), since it is now abundantly clear that the psychic, emotional, and physical impressions laid down in one lifetime are in some way transmitted to future lives.

Yet regardless of what we call them, how exactly are complexes from past lives transmitted? Is there some psychic substrate or vehicle for this transmission from life to life, from body to body? Jung’s own theory of the collective unconscious, which is a repository of the residues of all of human history, would seem an attractive proposal; yet, in this formulation, its contents, the archetypes, have no personal memories only impersonal forms.

Here again we must, I believe, turn to the East for theories more compatible with our data—to theories that have taken root in cultures that have always been open to the idea of transmigration, unlike the West with its dogmas and priestly persecutions. Yoga teaching, in fact, offers highly sophisticated concepts of both a universal psychic substrate (the akasha) that records and transmits, as well as a vehicle, the subtle body, which transmits individual psychic residues.

It is beyond the scope of this short essay to go into the traditional doctrine of akasha (translated as psychic or cosmic “space” or “ether”), a doctrine that goes far beyond the image of “the akashic records” popularized by the Edgar Cayce readings and Theosophy. Suffice to say that if we in the West truly understood it, the concept of akasha would radically alter our very limited ideas about matter, transformation, and healing.[1] More useful, from the practical perspective of past-life therapy, is the concept of the subtle body.

The Subtle Body in Theory and Practice

Scientific investigation of energy fields around the human body has been very limited to date in the West. Since parapsychology is still held in disrepute by mainstream academic psychology—the American Psychological Association has consistently rejected the formation of a Parapsychology Division, for example—we still have very little to turn to. Nevertheless, Krippner and Rubin (1973) have reported on Russian research into the Kirlian phenomenon of energy discharges around plants and animal organisms and humans in their Galaxies of Life. These energy emanations, which it is hard not to describe as auras, can be recorded by a quasi-photographic process.

In this collection of papers, Moss and Johnson report on the little-known but revolutionary theory of “bioplasma,” which the Soviet researcher V. M. Inyushin has characterized as “the fifth state of matter.”[2] Here is their summary of these findings:

  1. M. Inyushin…has opted for the term “bioplasma body” as descriptive of the emanations and internal structure of the objects photographed, quoting from such authorities on bio-energetics and bio-electronics as Szent-Gyorgy and Presman. In conversation with Inyushin, Moss learned that he conceives of the “bioplasma body” as similar, if not identical, to the “aura” or “astral body” as defined in Yogic literature (Krippner and Rubin, 1973).

Unfortunately the Russian term is obviously a physical metaphor derived from “plasm” which tends to make it a reduction of the psychic realm to the physical. This fits very well within the Soviet philosophy of dialectical materialism but is rather clumsy for those not so committed. On the other hand, we in the West are ourselves still caught in our body-mind, nature-spirit dualisms generated by Christian theology and subsequent philosophy.[3] G.R.S. Mead surveyed alternatives such as “soul” and “spirit” in his valuable book, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in the Western Tradition (1919), but he makes no attempt to encompass modem psychology

A major problem with many terms like “bioplasm” and other even more general terms like “energy field,” as far as psychotherapy is concerned, is that they fail to pinpoint the crucial interface between “energy” and specific feelings and thought patterns. Possibly Reich’s “orgone” theory is the only western attempt to date to do this. By stressing the idea that repressed emotional energy is also repressed life or orgone energy, he was able to show how fixed neurotic patterns lead to the degeneration of organic systems.

Certain followers of Reich who have attempted to extend his radical perspective have, like Inyushin, been struck by the resemblance to Yoga and subtle body phenomena such as perceivable “auras.” John Pierrakos’ method of “core energetics” (1987) works with the auric field in psychotherapy as does David Tansley’s healing system called “radionics” (1977). The work of Christopher Hills (1977) with subtle body healing should also be mentioned. All three of these researchers draw upon logic concepts of the chakras and subtle layers of energy surrounding the body.

Tansley’s use of Alice Bailey’s version of the Yogic subtle body theory (1953) is one I have found especially valuable, particularly since it clearly defines three distinct levels of subtle energy — thought, feeling, and life energy — and shows how they interpenetrate. Bailey used the Yogic terms for these subtle bodies but in an approachable fashion. In summary they are:

  1. The Mental Body: this very broad energy field is the most subtle of the three and is the locus of all powerful mental contents or fixed thoughts. These thoughts may be conscious or unconscious and can radically influence an individual’s overall life patterns or self-image (e.g. “I’ll never make it.” “Don’t trust people” etc.). Such thoughts can be the residues of negative past-life experiences. They do not necessarily affect the lower bodies, but if they do, their influence is extremely strong.
  1. The Emotional Body (sometimes called the astral body): this energy field adheres closely to the physical body by a radius of about two to four feet and is the locus of the feeling residues from past events, including, like the mental body, past lives. These may be sadness, rage, disappointment, apathy, etc. This energy level may be strongly affected by negative thoughts from the mental body. Physically it is denser than the mental body. When its feeling contents become highly charged and not released, it will affect the lower etheric energy body adversely.
  1. The Etheric Body is strictly the equivalent of Inyushin’s “bioplasma body” (not the astral body as reported to Moss and Johnson) and the energy systems of chi in Chinese medicine, and prana in Yoga. It is also close to Reich’s orgone The etheric body or energy field is the densest of the three subtle bodies and is physically perceptible to many people as heat emanating from parts of the body. It radiates out from the physical body about one to two inches and is the field worked with in such healing practices as therapeutic touch and hands-on healing.

This field can be affected electrolytically by cold water, mineral baths, sunlight, and certain colored filters. In it are many of the residues from physical traumas such as accidents and surgery, as well as past-life traumas. Repressed feelings from the emotional body will lodge at the etheric level to produce organic problems.

The important principle that may be gleaned from this highly condensed description is that there is a descending order of influence from higher to lower among these three bodies. In Heather’s ease we looked at earlier the following pattern can be discerned:

  1. The unconscious thought: “I am in danger” (mental level) makes Heather feel perpetually anxious (emotional level).
  1. Heather’s perpetual anxiety (emotional level) creates constant tension in her abdominal region (etheric level).
  1. The constant tension in Heather’s abdomen (etheric level) affects the gastrointestinal system to produce ulcers.

Since the subtle causation of these symptoms is descending, it is broadly true (though there are many variations) that healing follows the opposite direction, a movement upwards from the etheric to the mental. So, for example, in the case of someone with a past-life trauma associated with the legs, we may observe the following pattern:

  1. Physical message or manipulation releases etheric energy (experienced as heat, tingling, etc.) in the legs.
  1. The etheric energy flow brings up incoherent feelings of fear.
  1. The feelings of fear lead to images of being chased as a child, then of being hounded in a past-life story, and finally the thought, “I’m always running away.”

It may help to conceive of how the three levels of subtle body energy relate to one another if we take the analogy of the different states of water. When it is frozen, water is dense, solid, and hard to manipulate without smashing it or cutting it up. When water is fluid it can be moved around easily but still has substantiality and it can still penetrate and erode. When water is evaporated, as cloud or steam, it is at its lightest most subtle, and most pervasive.

By analogy with water, then: the psychic contents of the subtle body are hardest to work with when “frozen” in the physical body as postural patterns, organ weaknesses, and disease. These conditions may be easier to influence when they are more “fluid,” experienced as feelings and emotions that can be undamned. But even more subtly it may be possible to perceive pervasive thoughts underlying these feelings which, once identified, can now be totally evaporated. Bodywork then may be imagined as a way of “melting” residual psychic conflicts from this life or a previous life that have become fixed and rigid in the total psychosomatic being of the individual.

Morris Netherton (1978) was the first psychotherapist to document a series of cases where past-life traumas underlay severe chronic illnesses such as ulcers, migraines, epilepsy, and more. (Earlier, Alice Bailey, in her Esoteric Healing, had outlined the principles for the karmic inheritance of severe illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, but she had offered no suggestions for therapy). Meanwhile Stanislav Grof has emphasized, from findings during LSD and experiential therapy (Grof, 1985), that we all carry major unconscious imprints where we have suffered a physical accident or trauma from this life.

It would appear then, that all operations, sickness, broken limbs, deprivations, or minor hurts leave some degree of residue in the etheric body. Physically these may be perceived as “cold” spots or blocked energy meridians, or else as poorly functioning chakras.[4] But at the same time, because these energy fields are multi-dimensional or holonmic,[5] there will frequently be past-life imprints of physical trauma also present, often directly overlapping in the same region of the body.

While using deep breathing work to help a woman client to release trauma buried in the region of her uterus from a recent hysterectomy, we found ourselves suddenly in a primitive past-life sacrifice where her belly was being ripped open. Similarly, in working with a young man who had had several difficult knee operations following a skiing accident, we found no fewer than three past-life traumas involving a shattered knee; on two occasions he had lost a leg beneath that same knee in battle. Again the principle holds that subtle body imprints at the etheric or bioplasma level are multiply determined or layered.

It seems quite apparent that certain areas of the body will be inherently weak and prone to further accident, disease, or malfunction because of these old imprints in the etheric body. It is a useful practice in an initial psychotherapy interview, to ask about recurrent illnesses, damaged parts of the body, typical physical fears or weaknesses, hospitalizations, and so on. Often chronic headaches, backaches, a weak bladder, low blood-sugar, indigestion, bad eyesight, and so on, are major clues to etheric or bioplasma scars and hence to the residue of past-life traumas to that area of the body.

When a past-life complex lodged in the etheric or bioplasma body is mostly the residue of a physical trauma, it will often be enough to rerun the trauma and in some eases prescribe some kind of etheric rebalancing — aura work, energy running, therapeutic massage, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, or reflexology can be very effective adjuncts. In a case described in another issue of this journal (Woolger, 1986), a woman’s arthritic-like pain in her joints was released when she relived being dismembered in a bomb explosion. The therapy group in which this happened did a laying-on of hands afterward, which effectively completed the healing of her limbs and cleared the etheric body permanently.

Not all physically held etheric or bioplasma imprints disappear as quickly as this. Some may represent the accumulation of a number of past-life traumas with an overall karmic meaning that may require many years of meditation to be relinquished. As he lay dying of tuberculosis, D. H. Lawrence recognized in his disease the need for “long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake.” Sometimes, as we know, the Higher Self has chosen for us to be crippled, deformed, or subject to an irreversible disease because of what we have inflicted previously on others. Here our etheric imprints are forms of self-inflicted—or rather Self-inflicted—penitence and have a symbolic or karmic meaning.

But when we are ready to let go of old pains and even old self-inflicted punishments, the etheric or bioplasma body can begin to cleanse itself over a short or long period of time, depending on various individual factors. Often, when a crucial story is released from the etheric or bioplasma body, there will be extraordinary discharges of subtle energy in the form of shaking, vomiting, tingling, hot and cold flashes, vibrating, and even the release of strange odors from the body. Such movements of energy, called kriyas in Yoga and “streaming” in Reichian work, are little understood by Western science but are all part of the rebalancing of the subtle energy system at the etheric level.

Much more complex, and therefore somewhat harder to work with, are cases where the past-life residues in the emotional body penetrate and deform the etheric system or the bioplasma, and with it, the physical body. These are the clients who somaticize their emotional problems, carrying them, as it were, in different parts of the body.

Figure 1 is a composite representation drawn from many typical cases. It shows how the etheric/bioplasma and the physical systems may be afflicted by past-life complexes when these manifest in the emotional body as feelings or deeply felt thoughts. The unconscious thoughts that gave rise in past-life stories to the complexes are shown outside the circle, since they belong to the more subtle mental body. (Perhaps it should be emphasized that none of these complexes belongs specifically to any one part of the body; a depressing thought can as easily be held in the back as in the head).

To take some of the examples in the diagram:

A person may experience recurrent sick headaches combined, when carefully interviewed, with a general feeling of heaviness, especially around the head. Exploration of these feelings may reveal a predominant metaphor or image of “heaviness,” which, when exaggerated, might produce the thought: “It’s weighing me down, it’s always oppressing me.”

Such a thought may easily prove to be the point of entry into a past-life story fraught with guilt, such as. “I ran away from the massacre and never returned. Maybe I could have helped my brothers, my family. I can never stop thinking about it. It’s always with me, weighing me down.”

Another person may have extremely tight hamstrings in his legs, with accompanying stiffness in the joints and difficulty walking. When explored, the tightness may reveal that tension and anger are held in the legs. A simple bioenergetic exercise (Lowell, 1975), or an opportunity to kick freely, may reveal images of being dragged away to be thrown in a dungeon and the thoughts, “How dare you do this to me! You have no right. Get off me.” Here, rage at some unjust incarceration is being held in the legs.

Yet another person may experience extreme stiffness of the ankles, combined with actual memories of breaking his ankles on different occasions. Probing may reveal gloomy thoughts of failing, of not trying hard enough and of shame somehow associated both with the accidents and with the ankle region in general. In pursuing these thoughts we find that the person died bitterly in battle in a past life in the ancient world as a young untried soldier and that he had been dragged, ignominiously pierced through the ankles, shortly before he died.

Further examples may be reconstructed from the diagram and it may be noticed that the different feelings pictured as belonging to specific parts of the body are by no means fixed. Our soldier in a past life might well have died from a blow to the head or the chest leaving his ankles unscathed, in which case his gloom and sense of failure would be lodged in one or both of those regions instead. Every story, as well as every wound, is very specific and needs to be treated as such. Also, since afflicted areas of the etheric or bioplasma body are multiply determined on the past-life level, there may be several stories, each with differing shades of emotion, to be unlocked. In addition, there may be interfaces with current life-birth trauma and with accidents or illnesses from childhood on, all seemingly revolving around certain core feelings which characterize the issue as a past-life complex (see also Woolger, 1987).



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Woolger, Roger J. “Imaginal Techniques in Past Life Therapy,” Journal of Regression Therapy, Vol. I, 1, Riverside, California, 1986.

Woolger, Roger J. Other Lives, Other Selves. New York: Doubleday, 1987.

[1] “Modern science with the atomic theory admits that all matter is composed of the same prime material–electricity. But where this oriental theory differs with Western science is when the Hindus claim that this prime material–Akasha–can be changed by means of the mind, not by mechanical methods.” Idries Shah, Oriental Magic, p. 127.

[2] The four states of matter are: solids, liquids, gases, and plasma. Inyushin’s classic statement is his paper “Bioplasma: the Fifth State of Matter?” (n.d.) which can be found in White and Krippner’s Future Science (1977).

[3] I know of only one work which addresses the western philosophical problem of body mind dualism in terms of both the subtle body and modern psychology; that is Roberts Avens’ excellent Imaginal Body: Para-Jungian Reflections on Soul, Imagination, and Death (1982).

[4] A chakra is the Yogic term for a subtle energy center in the etheric body. See Tansley (1977) and Pierrakos (1987).

[5] See Grof’s valuable explanation of this principle in psychology in his Beyond the Brain (1985). See also the present author’s chapter The Multi-Dimensional Psyche in Other Lives, Other Selves. (Woolger, 1987).