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The body and psycho-spiritual process

Dr. Arya Maloney

Editor’s note:

This article is the second in the series of 'Alchemy of the soul' by Arya Maloney. The series continues to explore the hidden facets of the human psyche. The dark past stands in the front. How can this ever heal? We can just stand witness to it and let a truth emerge.

“ In Buddhism we call the body/mind formation namarupa. Namarupa is the psyche-soma, the mind-body as one entity... If we can overcome the duality that sees the mind and body as entirely separate, we come very close to the truth (1). ”

“Body work extends the experiential dimension of dreams and generally increases the possibility for knowing the unconscious. On the other hand, dream work gives body processes a personalized, visual structure which -- as far as I know -- they have never had before in therapeutic work (2). ”

“When this material mentality is seized with an idea, it is actually possessed by the idea and it’s almost impossible for it to free itself. Diseases are just that. It’s the same thing with Parkinson’s disease: this tremor is the possession by an idea, it’s what in the conscious intelligence is expressed as the possession by an idea, a hypnosis accompanied by a fear in matter....AND THE BODY’S CELLS OBEY THAT MATERIAL MIND (3). ”

Body and mind are not separate entities. The patterns of matter and the patterns of mind are interwoven, so that a mental vibration creates a cellular change and a cellular change creates a mental vibration. Mind, body, spirit can be differentiated in this vast energy field only by their particular vibrational frequencies.

This assertion is accepted among modern physicists as well as by those doing psychological and spiritual work.

“We may regard matter as being constituted by the regions of space in which the field is extremely intense...There is no place in this new kind of physics, both for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality (4).”

This paradigm shift -- from perceiving and experiencing the world as an assemblage of solid objects separated by empty space, to perceiving it instead as a vast energy field containing transitory forms of varying vibrations -- necessitates a re-evaluation of all fields of endeavor. Our endeavor to create an integral psychology requires us to see body, life force, mind, soul and spirit as interdependent, co-existing as energetic structures differentiated only by vibrational frequencies. This recognition of oneness will radically change our approach to the healing of mind, body, spirit; and world. Our survival and our ongoing evolution are at stake.

The dreaming body

While teaching a course on the role of the body in psychotherapy, I asked the students to write about a recurring childhood dream and/or memory. Based on Arnold Mindell’s discovery of the intimate connection between chronic physical symptoms and early dreams, this exercise was inspired by the teachings of Carl Jung. Childhood dreams, he claimed, are like personal myths; they serve as blueprints for long-term life patterns. Extending his mentor’s claim, Mindell observed that early childhood dreams not only manifest in adulthood, but actually create symptoms in the body: chronic symptoms can actually be found lurking in recurring childhood dreams! These symptoms, eventually manifesting in our bodies, boldly infer that mind and matter are reflections of one another.

Upon asking the group to share early childhood dreams and/or memories, Liz raised her hand. She related a recurring dream, and an early memory. The dream:

“Dressed up and happy, my mother and I are at the Palace Theatre. The Palace is beautiful, its walls marbled and ornate, its carpeting lush, its mirrors large and impressive. We enter the ostentatious powder room, and my mother goes into a stall as I wait outside. Suddenly, there is an explosive invasion. Men armed with machine guns storm into the room. They shoot through the walls of the stall, and my mother is caught in a barrage of bullets. She screams, then falls silent. A torrent of blood flows downward into the drain in the middle of the floor. I cannot stop sobbing. ”

As Liz related this dream she became progressively agitated, shifting her body, fighting back tears. “Telling the dream, I felt a screw tighten in my throat.” Yet even as the dream re-ignited her terror, her personality discounted her emotions.

Her words fitful, body shaking uncontrollably, she then related the early memory:

“My father had a fit, shoving my mother, breaking walls with his fists. He sped out of the driveway in our brown Ford. My mother and I were deeply shaken. Would he return before we could escape? We dressed very carefully, mother in blue chiffon, heels, lipstick; I in pumps and a pretty coat. It was a dead Sunday--lipstick; I in pumps and a pretty coat. It was a dead Sunday -- grey, cold, no one in the streets. We were nearly at the bus stop when a car approached. I tugged at my mother, ‘Mommy! Hurry up, run!’ Then I heard his voice, ‘Get in the car.’ Shaking and crying, I hid under my mother’s soft skirts and fell asleep instantly. In my dream, I felt elated. But When I awoke and saw him in the front seat, I remembered with despair my life with them. My mother said it was alright; he wouldn’t hurt us. It wasn’t true! ” Later, in meditation, Liz recalled something she had repressed. “After falling asleep with my head tucked beneath my mother’s soft skirts, I remember being lifted by gentle, invisible hands. Instantly, I felt safe.” Re-living this trauma had revealed to Liz its transpersonal dimension which she had forgotten, but the trauma itself continued to live in the cells of her body. Clinging to her survival self, she verbally minimized the terror she felt:

“I felt as though I was standing on top of a tall building, and the others in the class were on ground level. My shaking invaded my entire body. I was a mess, but said things like, ‘I don’t need help. I help others, and I should shut the fuck up!’

Liz’s mother had impeccably trained her daughter to care for their abuser, but to ignore the abuse. However, as Liz’s body memory now betrayed her, her violent trembling became autonomous.

“It felt as though I was being pulled inward; that my soul was seeking to hide itself in the far reaches of my body. Like a rubbery substance, it bounded back and forth, forcing me to shake.”

Liz spent the remaining class time in the terrifying world of her childhood. Both the dream and the early memory had revealed the co-existence of two radically different worlds. In the dream, the ornate, ostentatious Palace Theatre is the setting of murder. In the memory, she and her mother dally, decorating themselves, when they must run for their lives.

To verify Mindell’s discovery, we focused on the connection between Liz’s recurring childhood dream and her chronic physical symptoms of Raynaud’s Syndrome:

“My fingers go numb and cannot move. The dream and memory have made themselves known in my fingers. The blood drains from my hands: I literally pull it back, the way I pull my spirit back into the recesses of my body. When I feel fear; I go numb.”

Liz’s dream of her mother’s death is the visual blueprint of a life-long psychological pattern of abuse and helplessness. This pattern tries to manifest in her very body. Blood draining from her hands -- Raynaud’s Syndrome -- is visualized in the dream as blood flowing into the bathroom drain. As her life-force pulls inward, Liz’s fingers turn blue. She re-experiences this moment whenever she confronts an authority figure.

Beginning with mental exploration of her early childhood dream and memory, Liz processed all parts of her being -- physical, emotional, mental and transpersonal. When amplification of a life-threatening childhood memory led to a corresponding bodily reaction--quaking, Liz experienced Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching, “Namarupa is the psyche-soma, the mind-body as one entity..(5).”

This trauma also opened her to the transpersonal realm, and she remembered being lifted into a protected world where joy replaced fear. Accessing trauma often leads to realms of the spirit. Working with numerous victims of trauma, I have repeatedly witnessed this ‘miracle’ -- the body in trauma not only a container for terror, but a catalyst for joy.

Liz’s journey traversing the full spectrum of her being, constitutes an integral approach to healing.

Kundalini energy and the body

Contacting the body can rapidly elicit strong emotions -- images from another time and space, energy flows strong enough to create involuntary movements. Maria suffered from a life-time of depression. A creative person, she was unable to work; though loving her husband, she avoided sexual contact. She suffered from muscle pain, severe digestive problems and low energy. During a series of extended process acupressure sessions, however, Maria experienced huge uprisings of energy in the lower part of her spine (first and second chakras), and was startlingly transformed from her depressed, low energy-state to a state of terror. With each jolt, she jumped and shook uncontrollably. Hyperventilation, punctuated by periods of screaming and crying, conveyed the impression of torture. Eventually, these explosions propelled her from a horizontal position into perpetual movement about the room. Wringing her hands, she alternated between pacing from window to window, and assuming a fetal position. She was inconsolable.

After several such experiences Maria visualized her past-life story,

“I am a young, beautiful woman living in an eastern, or Asian, country. Lavishly dressed, I am a concubine whose only purpose is to please my master sexually. My shoes have turned-up toes and are embroidered with butterflies and flowers. Servants dress me; I am served the best food, massaged and instructed in erotic techniques. Since I am blindfolded, I do not see who is having sex with me; but I am aware that his pleasure extends far beyond mine. I am brought to orgasm and then stimulated until pleasure becomes torture. I remember my room, its large bed embroidered with beautiful white and gold silk fabric. The floors are perfectly smooth. There is a table and a window. Sounds of people reach my ears, but I am not allowed to look out; nor am I allowed to speak to anyone, or do anything other than look beautiful and be prepared for sex with the master. ” Coming out of trance, Maria felt great shame. Unable to look at me, she repeatedly whispered, “I’m sorry. I hate myself.” After a while, she spoke of a psychic who worked for the police who had shed further light, validating her original story,

“He told me that I had a past-life as a concubine in China. Bought at a very young age by a rich master who loved me, still he expected me to be a sexual slave. I hated this life so much that I committed suicide.” At last Maria realized that in defending herself against attack her entire life, veiling her body as well as her creative force, she had avoided contact with others, and eventually become so exhausted that she was unable to work. Amidst diagnoses of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue she dreamt:

“I am living in a city. Everything, including my factory-like apartment, is dilapidated and gray. While attending a spiritual group my qualifications are questioned, but a young man is kind to me. Home again, I take a shower. Then I go into the drab kitchen to get some food from a half-size refrigerator. The whole environment is colorless and dark. The young man comes to visit. He is very loving; he understands me. He wants to help me get accepted by the spiritual group. I am attracted to him. He leaves and I lift my special, long dress, checking a tumor the size of a grapefruit on the inside of my left knee. I had grown so accustomed to it; I had forgotten it was there! It is a bulbous growth, six inches in diameter, with an opening on the top. Peering inside, I see muscle and mucous, its center filled with white pus. Touching it, the mucous sticks to my fingers, forming long gooey strings. I become immobile.” The dream’s dark, sterile environment reflects Maria’s undernourished life. Depression and fear have isolated her -- even from the man she loves. A talented artist, she has blocked her creative force. The kind young man represents her masculine energy (animus) -- the energy that makes contact with the world and reveals one’s vision of life. He offers this energy to help her out of hiding and to pursue her spiritual path -- Tibetan Buddhism. Both her aspiration and the obstacle to achieving it are reflected in her dream.

Maria’s fear of men and the world is exacerbated by her past-life experience as a concubine. She rejects her husband and represses her creative energy. Although attracted to the young man she conceals herself: how could she make love with him? He will see her condition.

The tumor is an obstacle to her feminine and sexual energy. It resembles a phallus, and reflects her disgust for sex. Despite its size, and its effect on her mobility, she has grown ‘accustomed’ to it. Mirroring her habitual repression of the subconscious, her ‘special, long dress’ hides her condition from herself and the world.

I encouraged Maria to draw the tumor, while being aware of the emerging images and feelings:

“As I draw, I am both sick and nervous. The tumor is like a flower bud trying to explode or loom; but it is infected with bugs. Sometimes it feels like an explosion of sexual energy. It makes me weak. It sucks all energy and creativity out of me.”

Maria’s imaginary dialogue with the tumor:

Maria: “What if I shrink you, slowly? What if I kill you?”

Tumor: “I can’t let you kill me. I enjoy my purpose -- to create pain in your legs and feet; to suck your life-energy, and impede your movements.”

Maria: “Get off me! I feel your weight, but I’m not strong enough to push you off. You depress me and I want to kill myself “(as Maria engages the tumor she experiences tremendous energy emerging from between her navel and spine). “I want to move, but I’m afraid. I feel like Siamese twins: one has to die for the other to live.”

Caught between too much energy and none, Maria has battled for her very life. Attempts to dance, to sculpt, to make love, have triggered fear of being out of control. Years of hiding and battling with depression have pushed her dangerously close to the precipice of despair. Physical pain, emotional suffering and exhaustion have almost destroyed her life. A burgeoning energy also threatened her precarious control. As with the ‘tumor’ (cells out of control) in her dream, she went to great lengths to hide it. While she has regained enough strength to work part-time and to garden, she battles each day with patterns that block full engagement with life-patterns inherited from her past-life as a concubine.

The unwanted energy creates strong, involuntary movements, hyperventilation, and a transpersonal level of awareness. It is the kundalini energy housed in the base of the spine. Activated in our therapy sessions, the sexual center opened and she remembered a lifetime of sexual abuse. (Depending on identification with or aversion to one’s experience, the flow of kundalini can evoke either ecstasy or agony). Even as the energy flow awakened excitement and pleasure, her fear of torture and death overwhelmed her.

Activation of the kundalini initiates a psycho-spiritual process in the body. Capable of thrusting psychological complexes into consciousness, it can also radically alter consciousness. Once awakened, the energy acts autonomously.

While meditating in the presence of Swami Muktananda, an Indian kundalini master, I myself experienced its unbelievable power. During a meditation, he circulated among the participants, transmitting shaktipat (kundalini energy) through touch, glance and thought. When he came and stood close to me, instantly and involuntarily, I began to hyperventilate: energy coursed up my spine, down my arms and legs and up into my head. This was accompanied by explosions of light, heat and pressure intensifying throughout my body. I had been connected to a high voltage generating station. For what seemed an eternity, the kundalini. held sway over me. She coursed through my body, mind and emotions, -- obliterating boundaries, bequeathing oneness. Gradually, my breathing returned to normal. When I opened my eyes, colors seemed brighter; forms emerged with new clarity; heightened energy coursed through my entire body.

One of the manifestations of kundalini energy is the automatic assumption of certain body postures. These range from classical yoga asanas (postures) to the postures of Theresa of Avila, a Christian mystic who underwent several kundalini experiences, “...convulsions, powerful enough to throw her involuntarily from her bed...levitating...whereby, without the use of her hands, she would spring from her knees to land standing on her head.”(6)

The kundalini is often awakened during body-centered psychotherapy. A young lawyer entered therapy with me because he could not perform in the courtroom. He was relegated to office work while his partner handled the trials. Though unhappy with this arrangement, his fear continued to hold him prisoner.

During acupressure, he experienced an incredible release of energy. As my hands cradled his head, and my fingers contacted his throat center -- the center of expression -- his body spontaneously arched (the back of his head and the heels of his feet his only supports) and a rapid release of powerful energy re-positioned his body: A block had been cleared. In a short time, he was able to return to the courtroom.

Focusing on the mind, many psychologists have ignored the body. Focusing on realization, many spiritual seekers have also ignored it, believing it to be an obstacle on the path. Those, however, who envision interdependence between body, life-force, mind and spirit, believe that it is both a container for our personal history and a ground for our spiritual manifestation: accessing traumatic events often opens the way to contacting the soul. Throughout this series we will demonstrate that processing the journey of the physical body reveals the stories in our personal history, as well as those in the transpersonal realms.

The highest state of consciousness (in Indian spirituality) is ananda or bliss. It is a grace to experience ananda in the physical body. I received this grace during a process acupressure treatment given to me by a colleague. As Claire worked on me, I directed my breath into my heart center and spoke of the central focus of my spiritual work, “I stay in my heart through concentration, breath and aspiration for the truth.” Suddenly, I saw an image of Sai Baba, an Indian yogi, his head tilted to one side. He gazed at me with one eye. Smiling broadly, his demeanor was both playful and mischievous. I focused on his hair -- a giant Afro! He looked like a cartoon character who had stuck his finger in an electric socket. Suddenly, this electricity flooded my body and I imagined flexible tubes channeling its flow from the top of my head through the soles of my feet. Spontaneously, my head turned to one side, Claire asked what I was experiencing:

“I am a baby, my body totally flexible, no bones – a ‘wrap around energy’ undulates through me, and I keep rocking. I feel bliss in my body: I am newborn. No mind; a total awareness in the body. No breaks in the energy flow; the whole body is unified. Joy....”

Sai Baba had given me a gift. It persisted throughout that evening and the next day.
As I continue to explore the mysterious reaches of the body, I am aware that kundalini energy is often spontaneously activated, and can accelerate the psychotherapeutic process. One does not have to practice kundalini yoga to experience it; it can be activated spontaneously through bodywork and breathwork.

Trauma and Transcendence

There are those who have suffered traumas so deep, so enigmatic, that most mental and emotional psychotherapeutic approaches are ineffective. The body itself must tell the story. Twenty-three-year-old Dustin was too traumatized to initiate a phone call. His mother (whom he lived with) made the appointment, revealing that he was unable to keep a job; suffered severe muscle spasms and mental confusion. Our first session was difficult. Engaging Dustin in conversation was challenging. He responded with a word, punctuated by silence. He squirmed, shifting as though tortured. When he spoke of his constant pain it was without emotion.

Slowly, I unearthed some of the developmental milestones in his life. At age eighteen, he had experienced a ‘personality change’, had become confused about sexual preference and, undergoing intense pain, had withdrawn from social contacts. His mother described him as a very happy, loving child (even through her nervous breakdown when he was three-years-old). At four, however, he attended a day camp where he was “roasted by both children and adults.” Dustin remembered the camp as a place of physical and sexual abuse -- a realm of terror. During this time he also remembered seeing the devil.

This experience radically altered the course of Dustin’s life. Once a happy, outgoing child, he became withdrawn. His terror was amplified by his father who, at times, raged uncontrollably. When left alone with him, Dustin screamed and cried until his mother returned. While his parents felt guilty for causing his condition, they also humiliated him for it.

Dustin’s bodily signals became the pathway to his mind, emotions and spirit. Through process acupressure, I met another side of this paralyzed young man. When I applied pressure to the acu-points, his whole body trembled. Despite great efforts to remain motionless and silent, he grimaced constantly. Eventually, cries and shouts accompanied perpetual movement.

For one year, I worked with these explosions of energy until at last the iron web of contracted muscles gradually gave way to the advancing energy. During this time, however, no memories, mental images or emotions manifested. Great mental confusion continued to exhaust him, and we were forced to trust the wisdom and power of the body’s circuitry. Then, ever so slowly, the spasms diminished and Dustin was able to describe the kundalini energy’s ascending route. Beginning in the sacrum, it amplified constriction in the spinal lumbar region, piercing through his abdomen into his heart. This sudden invasion evoked moans and cries as powerful jolts lifted Dustin’s legs and pelvis off the table. An intense heat invaded his spine. That year, progress was measured by the energy’s influx into new areas of Dustin’s body. This influx advanced from sacrum to abdomen to lungs; down the arms, into the hands; towards the legs and feet. As each rusty area was released, I felt as though I was oiling the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz. Exhausted and confused, Dustin’s mind and emotions still remained unable to integrate his bodily process.

After the first year, however, he was able to cry, express anger and verbalize his experience. Memories came into consciousness. He enjoyed greater clarity of mind. But with the energy’s conquest of new territories, a major blockage arose in his neck. Heavily armored, it was very sensitive to touch. He often screamed when I made contact. As I concentrated on the neck area, Dustin visualized an image, recurring throughout our work. “I see my head being chopped off.” Two traumatic events emerged. The first took place at the camp he had attended when he was four. Many scenes of sitting alone arose. Then, he recalled staring at gravel; hiding in a large drain pipe; being sodomized. He relived humiliation and physical abuse. Someone stepped on his head and neck while a crowd laughed.

The image of a second traumatic event surfaced -- that of a man in a hospital bed who had broken his neck and become paralyzed. Suddenly, he recalled his mother’s repeated comment that he walked “like an old man” and his own realization of being disabled. Following the process of these synchronicities, dreams and inner experience, he re-lived a past-life as a wounded soldier, paralyzed from the neck down. The intensity of our acupressure sessions escalated. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Dustin vibrated uncontrollably. The lightest touch on his neck evoked shrieks of agony: The more he was able to receive energy and express his feelings, the more his neck released. Finally, explosions of light-energy reached his head. With this victory, a bridge was built between Dustin’s head and heart. Mind and emotions began to work in concert. Bodily pain retreated. He began to study Hatha Yoga and meditation, slowly, gradually overcoming the effects of his trauma.

Body and Spirit

The dance of therapist and client transpires within the same energy field. Fear and trauma impact both, sometimes in very dramatic ways. I had been working for several years with a victim of ritual abuse when an extreme barrage of murder, rape, and torture surfaced. Coupled with extended therapy sessions, this depleted my strength.

After a session, in which terror was palpable, I returned home, exhausted, and submerged in a hot bath. Half-an-hour later, walking to the bedroom, I was inundated with a great weariness. As I fell onto the bed, I felt my life-force draining from my body. The muscles on the right side of my face and neck suddenly became flaccid, and I began to drool, uncontrollably. Fear and desperation drove me into a sitting posture. “Was I having a stroke?” Rushing to the bathroom, I gazed into the mirror. I still looked normal, but could not form words to alert my partner: I could barely utter a sound. At last, I managed a whisper. We were off to the emergency room.

I was immediately hooked up to several machines, while doctors shone lights into my eyes and stimulated different parts of my body. After four hours my speech returned. I was in the hospital overnight for observation, then referred to a neurologist. I found myself dwelling now on my client who had suffered ritual abuse. Through her, I had confronted evil. Had I also suffered an occult attack?

MRI day arrived. Warned about claustrophobia, I reclined uneasily within the machine. Then, magically, all thoughts and feelings vanished as the vision of my spiritual teacher, Sri Aurobindo, arose. As he scrutinized the right side of my face with his steady gaze, I felt an inexplicable radiance. I enjoyed his divine Presence for the entire time I was in the machine, even experiencing his fragrance (rose petals and sandalwood).

Several days later, I met with the neurologist. Absolutely no signs of physical impairment! In response to my “Why”, he replied, “Sometimes we just don’t know why these things happen.”

Limited by the perceptions of the sensory mind, the body at first appears dense and impermeable. However, the stories shared in this chapter reveal untold pathways between this solid frame and more subtle levels of our being. Somatic therapists even agree that direct access can be gained to the mind and the emotions through touching the body:

There is a substantial difference between approaching the psyche through touch and approaching the psyche through talk. Much of what may take several sessions of therapeutic dialogue to achieve often can be done in a few moments using touch. (7)

While there is a growing consensus that the body can be used as a vehicle to the mind and the emotions, this is not the final frontier. A spiritual energy -- of the kundalini -- of even higher vibrational frequency than mind or emotions can arise within the body. It has the power to unveil both subconscious (trauma) and superconscious (past-life recall) formations. While the body can help us access the furthest reaches of consciousness, psychology must evolve even further if it is to truly heal. The triumvirate of body, mind and emotions must inevitably be joined by the fourth force -- the spiritual ground upon which they all stand. In the following chapter we will explore the interdependence of body, mind, emotions and spirit in formulating an integral psychology.


1. Thich Nhat Hanh. Anger. New York; Berkeley Publishing Group, 2001, p.14.
2. Mindell, Arnold. Dreambody. Boston; Sigo Press, 1982, p.199.
3. The Mother. quoted in Satprem. Mind of the Cells. New York; Institute for Evolutionary Research, 1982, pp.86-7.
4. Einstein, Albert. quoted in Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics. Boston; Shambhala, 1991, p. 211.
5. Op. cit. Anger. New York; Berkeley Publishing Group, 2001, p.14.
6. Irving, Darrell. Serpent of Fire. York Beach, ME.; Samuel Weiser, 1995, pp.197-8.
7. Ford, Clyde. Where Healing Waters Meet. Barrytown, N.Y.; Station Hill Press, 1989, p.122.

Dr. Arya Maloney is the cofounder of the Mindbody Centre in Kingstom, New York and holds three graduate degrees in chemistry, theology and psychology. He has been teaching in colleges and universities.

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Dark past


Body and mind


Arnold Mindell

Dead Sunday

Raynaud’s syndrome


Kundalini energy



Fear of men


Kundalini energy


Swami Muktananda


Sai Baba




Sri Aurobindo


MRI day


Integral psychology