Conscious Living – Yin/Yang Yoga Teacher Training Program
Thesis Presentation at Yyoga (Brussels) November 9, 2019
From Goosebumps and Random Shivers to Spiritual and Psychic Chills
Hijacking Flight or Fight for 21st Century Enlightenment
I want to bring our attention to goosebumps, little moments of tingles and chills throughout the body, which can come from a variety of sources and might have a lot of information to communicate to us. Perhaps you can remember the last time you had chills? It could be that you were sick or cold, and your body was trembling with fever or shivering to warm itself up… but these aren’t the kinds of chills I’m talking about. What about the last time you sang the mantra Om? Or the last time a song was sung to you during savasana? A song that touched your heart and gave you goosebumps all over. I hope you have many sensorial memories like that. Or perhaps just walking around in daily life, seeing something beautiful like a tree in the sunshine, or hearing a favorite song, thinking of someone you love, or perhaps while reading an powerful aphorism from the yoga sutras for the first time… these moments of aesthetic elation and insight are much closer to the type of goosebumps I seek to bring our attention to. These goosebumps, which come from moments of inspiration and awe, can be seen as a vital forms of energetic transference, both within our own bodies, and between our bodies and our surroundings. I believe that it is through the practice of yoga, as we begin to tune in to these subtle sensations and connect more deeply with our subtle bodies, that we cultivate the conditions for the enhanced reception of goosebumps.
If you ask western science, goosebumps are little more than an inherited evolutionary response to fear. They are triggered by threats in our environment as part of the fight or flight mechanism, part of the sympathetic nervous system, which lies beyond the bounds of conscious control. It turns out a lot of our physiological responses to the modern world are beyond conscious control. So, what can we do about them? What are goosebumps anyway and what really causes them? According to Scientific American:
Goosebumps are tiny elevations of the skin that resemble the skin of poultry after the feathers have been plucked. These bumps are caused by a contraction of miniature muscles that are attached to each hair. Each contracting muscle creates a shallow depression on the skin surface, which causes the surrounding area to protrude. The contraction also causes the hair to stand up whenever the body feels cold. In animals with a thick hair coat this rising of hair expands the layer of air that serves as insulation. The thicker the hair layer, the more heat is retained. In people this reaction is useless because we do not have a hair coat, but goosebumps persist nevertheless.
In addition to cold, the hair will also stand up in many animals when they feel threatened – in an attempt to [appear bigger].
So, goosebumps evolved in mammals as a way to stay warm and intimidate one another. But we also know that in humans they can be triggered by intense emotional experiences, from rites of passage, like standing on the podium at your graduation or walking down the aisle at your wedding, to random encounters that trigger fond memories of sacred joy. Apparently, this is all caused by the release of adrenaline, but adrenaline is often accompanied with various other undesirable physiological symptoms, including: sweaty palms, trembling hands, increased blood pressure, a racing heart, and butterflies in the stomach. So, let me say once again, quite certainly, these are not the kind of goosebumps I’m talking about. The ones I’m talking about feel nothing but amazing. So, perhaps, what I’m really talking about here are spiritual chills: moments of high vibration, when energy is passing through the body, little tingles and wisps from the beyond.
So, what are spiritual chills? You could google yourself into a New Age rabbit hole, but let me save you the trouble… according to the Mystic Raven:
Getting chills that aren’t at all cold or illness related are a common sign of spiritual activity. When I’m talking about chills, it’s not like you’re shivering… But more like an energy flows in, which causes a tingling, a slight shudder, and maybe even goosebumps.
Spiritual chills are often a direct sign from your guides or angels. Chills can act as a validation that you’re right on track, or they can signify a yes answer, confirming an underlying truth. Spiritual chills may also occur because your spirit guides or angelic friends are reaching out and touching you, and the surge of their pure spirit energy physically manifests through you as chills.
Spiritual chills and goosebumps are often one of the first psychic senses to open up for those on a spiritual path. Next time you feel the chills, shift in the mode of the observer. Notice what was happening around you leading up to the spiritual chill, take a breath, and ask “What am I supposed to know or understand?”
So, spiritual chills can be seen as a good omen and object of meditation, subtle metaphysical sensations reminding us to act on our intuition, or simply to note the present truth and continue forward with awareness. But don’t worry, I’m not asking you to believe in angels. In fact, in accordance with the true spirit and science of the tantric arts, I encourage you to not believe anything that you have not tested with your own body and experienced as truth from the inside out. So, while we may draw inspiration from rational western journals or from slippery mystical blogs, the true work of yoga is to connect the dots within our own bodies as part of a continued process of inquiry and self-study. At the very least, we can acknowledge these types of goosebumps as subtle energetic phenomena reminding us to pay attention to our unfolding experience.
So, what might yoga really have to say about goosebumps? What about the feeling of holding a ball of chi in your hands, or the sensation of kundalini energy rising and flowing throughout the body? Of particular interest to my continued research is the notion of koshic alignment and resonance, and how through the practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation, we may begin to bring the various koshic layers of our body into cosmic union: our physical body in line with our breath body, in line with our mind body, and eventually in line with our intuitive body, to connect with our inner most bliss layer. Perhaps, as we do this work and things begin to fall into place, we can witness the manifestation of goosebumps as evidence that we are on the right path.
Also, of particular interest is the notion of sattva, one of the three gunas or qualities of the material world. Sattva is a quality of nature associated with luminosity, harmony, and consciousness, a fleeting state in which true and lasting transformation is possible. I suspect that the cultivation and embodiment of sattva in the various koshic layers of our body is an integral precondition for the facile reception of goosebumps. Perhaps little light waves of sattvic wind are tickling us when we have these goosebumps – the universe is literally tickling us to remind us that there is much more to it than what meets the eyes.
Patanjali states is sutra 3.26: Being absorbed in the play of the mind’s luminosity yields insight about the subtle, hidden, and distant. He notes that the attunement to the sattvic aspect of experience greatly enhances one’s sensitivity. But at the same time, ten aphorisms later, he warns us to not be distracted by the phenomenological world – the point of yoga isn’t to chase goosebumps, with perpetual hunger for the next hit or spiritual high. Angels are super great too, but what we really need is discipline.
Through the discipline of yoga we may begin to hack into our deepest evolutionary response mechanisms and reorient them, away from fear and suffering, towards something greater, towards a more 21st century form of enlightenment based on compassionate union. As we do the work to awaken the energetic body, we might discover that we become more antenna-like, tuning into subtle sensations and allowing these forces to move us. This is how we come into flow, and begin to reflect back to the universe the light from which we were born. And while my kind of goosebumps are inspired by love and awe, I know that they might also be a bit scary for the ego, as little shimmers from beyond the veil of separation. So, we have to be kind to ourselves, and simply remember to listen to our unfolding experience with radical acceptance and an open mind. Now, this is all just speculation on my part, and I hope to discover much more as I continue my path. But no matter where it goes, I will always follow the path of goosebumps.
Bubenik, George A. “Why do humans get ‘goosebumps’ when they are cold, or under other circumstances?” Scientific American, 2003. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-humans-get-goosebu/
Cama, Phirroza. “Have you ever experienced spiritual chills? Here’s what they mean:” Mystic Raven, 2017. https://mysticalraven.com/spirituality/9277/have-you-ever-experienced-spiritual-chills-heres-what-they-mean
Hartranft, Chip. “The Extraordinary Powers” The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, 2003.
Makroczy, Robbie. “Subtle Body & Energetic Anatomy” Conscious Living, 2019.