A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Christopher Dow
There are rare individuals who claim they can see auras of light surrounding other people. Skeptics scoff at such a notion, but perhaps we can look at the phenomenon with Tai Chi eyes. Auras are usually described as egg-shaped energy fields that surround the human body and that manifest visually in various colors dependent on the psyche and personality of the individual. So, there are two questions: 1) Does the human body produce an energy field? and 2) Is it possible that such an energy field can be detected by some human eyes?
Regarding the possible existence of such fields, the fact is that the human body is a biological electrical generator, and nerve impulses are nothing more than a flow of bioelectricity—in the form of ions—along the nerves. The major flow of nerve impulses occurs along the spine, in the brain, and through the enteric plexus located within the digestive system, which contains more neurons than the entire rest of the nervous system, including the spine but not the brain. The flow of energy through these structures forms a loop, or complete circuit, inside the torso and head—a loop known as the Microcosmic Orbit. Any electrical source produces an electrical field around itself, and electricity that moves along a conductor or through a complete circuit also produces an electromagnetic field that flows with the current. Therefore, there must be an electrical/electromagnetic field that surrounds the human body, and such a field will be egg-shaped rather than spherical due to deformation caused by gravity, which affects magnetic and electromagnetic fields as much as it does matter.
Another scientific fact is that any energetic action that excites electrons, which are the basic components of electricity, casts out photons, or light, even if most of us can’t see it without special equipment. Infrared light, for example, emanates at frequencies that are too low to be seen by the average human eye, but it can be registered by infrared cameras or goggles. Ultraviolet light, which lies along the electromagnetic spectrum above the average threshold of sight, also can be made visible via special equipment. Even more sophisticated equipment can detect X-rays, gamma rays, and other even more energetic portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Many animals, however, have natural visual structures that allow them to see farther into either of the extremes of infrared or ultraviolet than humans can. Often this is associated with night vision, as with cats and various nocturnal animals. And as we all know, while we might like to treat all people with equal respect and opportunity, humans have a wide variety of characteristics, not all of which are equal in all people. Some people have smarter brains, some have stronger muscles, some hear more acutely, and others see more sharply.
But the human eye is not simply a telescope that functions better in some than in others. It is a complex structure whose components, such as the photoreceptor cells that gather incoming photons and translate them into nerve signals, while generally adhering to a basic blueprint, actually have a range of weaknesses and strengths. Some people, for example, see sharply enough but are colorblind to one or more frequencies of light and cannot see the full range of color available to the average person. Such people are at the low end of the spectrum of color perception. Likewise, there undoubtedly are people whose range of color perception extends beyond that of the average person, either into the infrared or the ultraviolet. Some artists, for example, have been noted for their sensitivity to ranges of color most of us can’t define. It is possible, then, that such people might be able to perceive frequencies of light emanating from the energy fields—auras—surrounding other people that the rest of us can’t see.
It would be very interesting to listen to a description of a Tai Chi master performing peng, say, from a person with the ability to perceive auras. How would the Tai Chi master’s field alter—in shape, color, or other characteristic—during the gathering and expulsion of internal chi energy that peng entails? Or how would the field of a chi kung master whose powerful chi is in full circulation—or even radiating outward—appear to a person who can see auras?
While auras apparently can be visually perceived by some people, the true nature of auras is often misunderstood by people who have heard about them but who can’t perceive them directly. Much Christian religious imagery, for example, shows saints with halos floating just above their heads. These halos are simplistic depictions of the powerful auras projected by such people as interpreted by artists and others ignorant of the nature and presence of these biological fields, which surround the entire body, not just the crown of the head.
Furthermore auras aren’t just visual. For those of us whose eyes function within the average range of color perception, they can be perceived in other ways. In Tai Chi, it is said that a master can sense changes in an opponent’s field and react accordingly, even before the opponent has moved. It is said that such a master can “feel” the opponent with his skin. The skin—and particularly the hairs protruding from it—is the first tangible layer that exists between a Tai Chi Chuanist and his opponent. And if chi is principally the internal flow of the body’s electromagnetic energy and the field that is subsequently produced around the body, it makes perfect sense that the hairs would be sensitized by alterations in an opponent’s field since bodily hairs are sensitive to electromagnetic fields and charges—think of how a static electrical charge can raise the hairs on your arm or head and prickle the skin beneath.
Tai Chi, chi kung, and other chi-based exercises work to relax the body enough to allow the practitioner to feel the flow within, and the more this occurs, the more sensitive the practitioner becomes to the sensation of external fields impinging upon the practioner’s own body and field. In fact, Tai Chi’s dynamics include both physical and energetic movements that operate in conjunction. The practice increases the output of the body’s field, and the movements of the limbs act to create swirls, whirlpools, and waves within the practitioner’s own field and within the field of the opponent, as well.