We love colour. Bright, splashy paints. A flash of a fuchsia or turquoise pashmina. The rose of a new lipstick… But did you know that whenever you choose what to wear, or a colour for your hallway, you’re instinctively using its ability to influence your state of mind? We’ve been fascinated, over the years, to discover how colour is also employed in physical healing, from the medical use of coloured light to the more esoteric ‘chakra therapy’.
So: look around you. Can you see anything that isn’t coloured? Think of your sense of wonder (and satisfaction) when you see a rainbow, or, on a smaller scale, the enchanting dappled light when sunlight shines through a window pane on to a white wall. There’s a huge range of invisible colours, too: the sun emits shortwave ultraviolet light, for instance, and white light is a mix of every hue.
Doctors use coloured light for skin conditions, including psoriasis, and also areas of pain: a recent study shows its effectiveness in hand, knee and ankle pain. Many practitioners of traditional and alternative medicine systems (most originating in the East) incorporate chakra therapy into their work. Chakras are centres of energy, ascending from the base of your spine to the top of your head. Each of the seven major chakras is linked to one of the colours of the rainbow, going from the red base chakra up to indigo at your crown. Chakras – the word means circle or wheel – were first identified by yogis in ancient India, more than 4,000 years ago. They may sound mystical and ‘New Age’ but, like the meridians (the energy lines used in acupuncture), they are now beginning to be validated by modern science.
Leading neuroscientist Dr. Candace Pert dazzled the scientific world with her discovery of the opiate receptor in the brain in 1972, which allowed her to map the pathways between our minds and bodies. (For more about this, read her compelling book Molecules of Emotion.) Her research also led her to investigate the chakras. In physical terms, she says, the chakras correspond with sites of ‘very important peptides’ or VIPs (in fact, they’re vaso-intestinal peptides), chemical messengers that are crucial in connecting the brain and the immune system. Dr. Pert describes the chakras as ‘minibrains’ – key points of electrical and chemical activity where information is received, processed and distributed from and to the ‘bodymind’.
A little story to explain why Sarah takes chakras seriously. After a terrible riding accident in 2002, she was given morphine for several months for the pain. The combination of the psychological trauma and the opiate drug catapulted her into black holes of suicidal depression and appalling panic attacks. She tried everything. Nothing really made a difference. One day, she saw an alternative therapist who worked on her chakras. Driving home later, she felt for the first time a glimmering of her old self – and hope – returning. The therapist (Gillian Hamer, who is also a health sciences lecturer, nutritionist and reflexologist) told Sarah that her base chakra – which is associated with a sense of self, physical survival and stability -was totally depleted and others partially so. Gillian used various techniques to replenish the energy of the chakras. For Sarah, it was a turning point, which led over several months to a full recovery.
So you might want to take care of your chakras, we think. There are lots of lovely meditations based on the rainbow colours of the chakra system. We like this one, which was given to us many years ago.
- Sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair, preferably wooden.
- Have your feet a hip width apart, flat on the floor; hands loosely on your thighs.
- Shut your eyes and breathe gently. Let your shoulders and jaw soften.
- Now imagine that an arrow of white gold light is travelling through your body, replenishing each chakra; visualise the colour, making certain that each is charged with its energy. (Some people ‘feel’ the chakras as warm, then hot, or ‘see’ them pulsating with energy.)
- Start with the violet crown chakra, indigo in the middle of your forehead, the sky blue one at your throat, move down to the green chakra at your heart, the yellow below at your solar plexus, the orange just underneath the navel, and finally the red fiery base.
- Now visualise all of them for a few moments, breathing rhythmically.
- When you want to stop, see the silver arrow of light slowly travelling up your body, through each chakra, leaving it in a resting state.
- Now surround yourself in white gold light: you can see it as an eggshell all around you so your energy is protected and no harm can come to you.
Colour breathing therapist Alison Bourne (who came to us via a consultant gynaecologist who was impressed by her work) devised chakra disks, which she uses to help people learn to relax. Each chakra is represented by a beautiful big circle of colour, on a stand-up card, which you focus on as you breathe. They are used in schools and hospices, among other places, as a simple way of meditating. (Interestingly, 13 and 14 year old school boys loved using them when they were trialled at schools in Portsmouth, England.) Alison suggests keeping a set next to your computer at work: take a break from looking at the screen to absorb your favourite colour. Trials show they help people concentrate and think more clearly. (For more information, www.colourbreathing.com)
TIP: COLOUR TRICKS Colour light therapist Colette Prideaux-Brune suggests choosing green if you’re feeling jangly and unbalanced; ‘wear any shade or take a walk in a park’. If you’re feeling mentally tired and have a lot of brainwork to do, sit in a yellow room or put a bunch of daffs (or at this time of year, yellow freesias) on your desk. On a dark joyless day, go for orange: a bowl of fruit, a candle or a silk scarf will do the trick.