Many of us experience that prickly feeling with the body hair standing on end and the skin looking like “goose bumps” time and again. It is usually associated or identified with chills, shivers, and certain emotional states. Less known, however, is that this prickle is informative and effective in the fields of health care and spirituality. This is suggested by both medical studies and the experience of spiritual masters of different cultures.
According to current physiology, goose bumps are a relic of a distant past. When the hominids of prehistoric times were still covered with dense hair, the rise of the hair protected from the cold and made women and men look bigger and more menacing – which is thought to have helped avert combats in threatening situations. Religious and spiritual traditions of non-Western cultures point to a different aspect: prickly feelings are associated with meditative and ecstatic states, often while experiencing a deep devotional love towards a deity. This is not so difficult for us to comprehend if we remember that we know this feeling from very beautiful moments, be it while listening to harmonious music, looking at touching natural phenomena, or feeling one with a person we love.
The Indian Yoga textbook Gherandasamhita classifies the prickly feeling as a phenomenon of bhakti, devotional love (7,14-15). And in the Hindu epics and legends, the hair of the bodies of heroes, yogis and gods raise when they behold divine beings or hear timeless truths – like Arjuna, the hero of the Bhagavad Gita, whose hair stands on end when he recognizes his charioteer, god Krishna (11,14).
In religious literature, the prickly feeling is also mentioned as an accompanying aspect of deep contemplation and meditation. In the Abhidhamma, the most recent part of the Buddhist Pali canon, the sensation of a prickling indicates a certain level of meditation: after the thoughts have ceased to flow, an overwhelming joy (priti) spreads throughout the whole body which may intensify to total ecstasy. The phenomenon is not unknown to some mystics of the Semitic religions: church father Augustine wrote in the 4th century about a holy shiver that suddenly has come over him and let him recognize the invisible nature of the creation of God.
And the 11th century Islamic mystic al-Qusayri connects goose bumps to the state of deep humility (tawadu) and the disclosure of truth. In addition, the prickly feeling is a phenomenon often reported by members of societies that frequently use ritual techniques of ecstasy and trances to achieve altered states of consciousness. We have anthropological data suggesting a close connection between goose bumps and ecstatic states or trance from Bengal, Micronesia and South America, where the tingling is often associated with the presence of super-human powers and certain states of the soul.
If the prickly feeling goes together with devotional love, ecstasy and altered states of consciousness in general, how does this phenomenon bring about healing?
The Ayurvedic teaching understands the prickling as a sign of an increased vata dosha – wind or ethereal – state, and thus as subtle energy. Any prickling with hair standing on end would therefore point to excess energy flowing out of the body on a subtle (vata) level. As energy flows out, it dissolves subtle blockades and slags – just as sweating, urinating and defecating bring about cleaning and cooling on a more material level (pitta and kapha).
Generally, Western academic medicine does not ascribe cleaning and cooling effects to the prickle phenomenon. Rather, it is known as a symptom of various, often infectious diseases, along with cold, faint, dizziness, numbness and other troubles. There are indications, however, that the prickling is, like fever, a defensive reaction of the body. Fact is that certain medicine can cause prickly feelings in patients. Interpreted from the perspective of energy, the active agent of the medicine causes the patient’s subtle energy to flow out of the psychosomatic body through the prickly feeling and, thus, to clear body and mind from the disease.
Furthermore, there are statistical studies suggesting “chills”, usually accompanied by prickling, to have an unexplored health benefit. It was found that fever patients with blood poisoning who have chills show higher survival rates, compared with those patients who do not experience chills. The researchers suspect that, in general, patients with chills are able to respond more effectively to diseases.
If we proceed thinking in line with the energetic-cathartic interpretation, we learn about the cleansing effect of the prickling also on a psychological level. Inner tensions are made conscious and get resolved through the experience of the prickly feeling. In fear situations, for example, it is the energy of fear that we release through our psychosomatic body. This allows us not only to stay calm and centered in such situations, but we can even learn to enjoy this energy – fear loses its emotional power over us.
Also, the prickling in the head, which sometimes is noticeable in states of intense anger, has the effect of a “valve” and allows us to immediately become calm and relaxed. In this way, we have not suppressed the aggression but rather let its energy flow out of our body without being rude or even destructive against ourselves or others – we have overcome the anger.
The same happens with strong affection in love or sexuality. A conversation with a sympathetic human being can cause a relaxing prickly feeling – it enables us to enjoy that moment free from possible oppressive constraints and desires. Also, those who try to convert their sexual energy will increasingly experience hair standing on end, indicating the outflow of transformed sexual energy – by way of an ecstatic full body orgasm, which relaxes and strengthens body and mind and lets us experience a beautiful and joyful environment.
In all these cases, the prickly feeling helps us to become aware of emotional tension, to dissolve and release it as pure energy without becoming entrapped in emotional dependencies. Neuropsychological studies indirectly confirmed this when they found that “goose bumps” are associated with increased attention and positive assessments, as well as with reduced anxiety and aversion in the persons examined. Thus, in the sense of a holistic cleansing or development, the prickly feeling has a healing aspect which is inseparable from spirituality.
Western medicine and physiology are gradually discovering what was known and exemplified by spiritual masters of different cultures and traditions: the relaxing and energy releasing prickling sensation on the skin, which can be intensified to ecstasy by an appropriate lifestyle, makes us confident and lets us affirm and enjoy our lives.
This article was written by the author of:
Mouches Volantes: Eye Floaters as Shining Structure of Consciousness
by Floco Tausin.
The mystical story, Mouches Volantes, explores the topic of eye floaters in a much wider sense than the usual medical explanations. It merges scientific research, esoteric philosophy and practical consciousness development, and observes the spiritual meaning and everyday life implications of these dots and strands.
The name Floco Tausin is a pseudonym. The author is a graduate of the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Bern, Switzerland. In theory and practice, he is engaged in the research of subjective visual phenomena in connection with altered states of consciousness and the development of consciousness. In 2009, he published the mystical story “Mouches Volantes” about the spiritual dimension of eye floaters. You may visit his website at www.eye-floaters.info