S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 7 - 2 Fa l l 2 0 2 1 1 5 Mark Westmoquette movements. When we held our hands apart with eyes closed and concentrated our awareness on the palms, I felt a mag - netic kind of resistance and attraction between them. I now know many people can feel this (see e.g. , Kam-Chuen 1991, 75; Jahnke 2002, 100; Cohen 2018, 207), but this was my first undeniable physical experience of Qi energy – and it forced my rational, scientific self to take notice. On the retreat we did yoga nidra (Rama 1986; Desai 2017) every day. During this daily practice, Daizan introduced us to the practice of allowing the digestive fires of the belly to blaze up through the central channel and melt the cool nectar from a point known as bindu in the head (Mallinson 2004, 113; Tracy 2020). After some days of working with this, the instruction was to let the nectar melt down into the fire. At the point for me when the nectar connected with the fire, I experienced a totally unexpected, very pleasurable – almost orgasmic – ripple of sensation through my body, and my back convulsed with a series of jerky movements. In the years that followed, I worked with various other yoga teachers in developing my practice. Through them I started to hear about, then come across, others whose bodies would jiggle and convulse during their practice – sometimes in the spine, sometimes in the legs or arms. All this again blew my mind! These pivotal events were irrefutable – I’d felt them and seen them for myself. But (in my experience) modern physics or biology had nothing to say about what might have caused them. In yoga, Qigong and Zen, they’re understood as being caused by energy – prāna or Qi – but what exactly causes the feeling of magnetism, the spinal convulsing, or the intense pleasurable feelings? And what kind of energy is this? These questions prompted me to begin a deep inquiry into the possible nature of Qi and pr ā na, and how to square it with concepts of energy that exist in physics. I’m positive I haven’t got to the end of this inquiry, and I acknowledge I may not reach a fully satisfactory conclusion in my lifetime, but I’d like to explain where I’ve got so far. 2 The Natural Sciences’ Perspective on Energy The Sanskrit word prāna and the Chinese word Qi (also Chi ) are often translated into English as “energy”. However, the original words are very difficult to define and consequently translate into one equivalent word. The poet William Blake takes the view that “ energy is eternal delight ” (Blake 1975). In the book Energy Medicine East and West: A Natural History of Qi , the editors (Mayor and Micozzi 2011, 321) compiled a list of the words most used within the book in association with Qi or pr āna and came up with the following: flow, circulation vs. block, energy, balance or homeostasis, life force or vitality, breath or wind or cloud-vapor, heat, movement or dynamic. I think this list well describes the range of meanings we find in Eastern teachings about Qi or pr ā na. Let’s now look at what energy means from a Western stand - point. Strangely enough, the meaning of energy in English is also hard to pin down (perhaps just as much as Qi). The Oxford Dictionary of Physics defines energy to be “ a mea- sure of a system’s ability to do work, measured in joules ” and that it “ can be classified into two forms: potential and kinetic energy ” ( Oxford Dictionary of Physics 2003, “energy entry”). The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “ the power and ability to be physically and mentally active ” as well as “ the power from something such as electricity or oil that can do work, such as providing light and heat ” ( Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictio- nary 2008, “energy entry”). Other definitions include “ the ca- pacity that an object has for performing work ” and that “ work is done by a force acting on an object ” (Halliday et al . 2010, 183; Malone and Dolter 2010, 94). Thus, we find a similar range of associated terms relating to the Western concept of energy: power, ability, doing work, capacity, force, transference, heat, and light. In physics, we learn that energy can exist in a variety of forms, such as potential, electrical, mechanical, or nuclear. It’s been found empirically that energy can be converted from one form to another, but seemingly neither created nor destroyed (a finding that’s been enshrined in the law of conservation of energy). Let’s examine the types of energy known to physics that are found in the human body. I’d like to note that nuclear energy is not mentioned here since it’s not found in body – thankfully! (Nuclear energy arises from fission, decay, or fusion of an atomic nucleus, and is distinct from the energy of other atomic phenomena such as ordinary chemical reactions, which involve only the orbital electrons of atoms.)