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We certainly could do with some color in therapy. But color therapy? That's right. And it is really about healing with something as simple as color.
There is more to color than meets the eye. From time immemorial, colors have been credited with miraculous healing powers. Sages of ancient India discovered how the unique vibration of each color could help heal ailments, and this knowledge was later codified in the Atharva Veda, ancient Indian scripture, as Surya Kiran Chikitsa—healing with the sun's rays. In the Egypt of yore, temples had special healing rooms where the sun dispersed the seven colors of the rainbow. Today, this ancient healing technique is making a popular comeback under the quasi-scientific label of chromotherapy.
But how do colors work their healing power? "The seven colors of the rainbow are associated with the seven chakras (energy centers) of our body," explains Dr M.C. Verma, a chromotherapist. "The muladhara chakra (root center) is related to the color red, and the swadisthana chakra (cross center) to orange. As we travel upward to the manipura (navel center), anahata (heart center), vishuddhi (throat center), agya (third eye center) and finally the sahasrara (crown center) chakras, the colors follow the sequence of yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet respectively. Each chakra, in its turn, is related to a specific gland. So, a proper use of color helps heal the body ailment concerned." For instance, red is used to treat liver disorders, blue affects the pineal gland and green helps treat pituitary problems.
According to Gita Ramesh, director of Kairali Ayurvedic Health Club based in New Delhi, India, ayurveda links certain colors with the three basic doshas (humors): Vata (colic) is associated with blue, pitta (bile) with fiery red and kapha (phlegm) with light and luminous shades of yellow. Ayurveda also recognizes the close relation that the five elements of the body—ether, fire, air, water and earth—have with the world of colors: ether is associated with light blue, water with deep blue, air with green, fire with red and earth with yellow. Any disturbance in these elements leads to an imbalance in the physical, mental and spiritual body that can be corrected by boosting the color concerned.
To do this, naturopaths harness the five elements in colored bottles. "We fill a colored glass bottle three-fourth with water or oil and keep it in the sunlight, exposing it to ether," says Dr Verma. "Air fills up the little space left in the bottle. Thus, all the elements are collected in the bottle."
According to reiki master Damini Singh, this singular technique works wonders. Damini begins her day by drinking water charged in a green bottle and claims that it "harmonizes the nervous system and keeps me active the whole day". Says Damini: "If I don't drink green-charged water for a few days, I feel irritable and disoriented."
You can not only drink but also breathe color. Just put the required colored bottle out in the sun for a couple of hours and then inhale the air within the bottle. If this sounds tame, try sitting inside a thermolium, a wooden cabin with colored glass panes. To keep your vital energy flowing smoothly all day long, you could even wear clothes of naturally soothing colors.
If nature is here, can technology be far behind? Gone are the days when color therapy required the sun. The modern therapist makes use of colored bulbs to give out radiation on infected areas. In fact, Italy has also invented a chromotherapy machine called Chromogei that uses colored gel filters. In Delhi, this machine is used by Joto, a company specializing in alternative healing equipment. "Chromogei," says Neelam Khurana, director of Joto, "is more effective than cellophane-wrapped bulbs as cellophane tends to fade with time."
Colors have as much to do with the physical as with the metaphysical. In his book Ayurveda and the Mind, David Frawley notes that many mantras (Hindu couplets invoking deities) give out vibrations that are similar to the vibrations of some colors. For instance, the mantra 'Ram' should be meditated upon a red triangle.
In Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel writes that the six syllables of the basic Tibetan Buddhist mantra, Aum mani padme hum, are closely connected with the six mystical colors: white, blue, yellow, green, red and black.
In his book Surya Chikitsa, Dr M.L. Kathotia notes that colors can resolve your past karma. The seven chakras of our body are centers of different karma, and the negative karma can be taken care of by proper color visualization.
Color, in fact, has always been an integral part of our lives. Centuries ago, when color was not mass manufactured, buildings and other objects were painted with natural pigments. The Indians of New Mexico trimmed their earthen houses with blue pigments. In India, you have the festival of Holi, where a vibrant splash of color welcomes—and invokes—the fecund power of nature in all its spring splendor.
Colors also trigger varying responses from different cultures. Christian brides, for instance, wear white on their wedding day, signifying purity. In Japan, a bride wears white to signify her 'death' to her family. The same white becomes a color of mourning in India. For weddings, Indian brides prefer the passionate red—symbolizing the awakening of their sexuality.
The rarer the color, the greater its significance. Gold symbolizes opulence and divinity. Purple, on the other hand, signifies high order—so much so that at one time purple clothing was only worn by priests and kings. In Greece, thousands of murex shells used to be crushed in order to get a small quantity of this dye.
Colors, however, do more than look attractive. In fact, it might not take a psychiatrist long to figure out your basic personality from the colors you have done up your room in. Nicholas Humphrey, a British zoologist, links the visual concept of colors to the evolution of colors in nature. According to him, we respond to bright colors, for instance red, with the emotional part of our brain. First, our muscles get tense, then we lean towards the color. Our respiration and heart rate goes up and the blood pressure starts rising. The opposite reactions occur when we see light colors such as blue. Our muscles relax, the heart and respiration rate drops and the blood pressure lowers.
Since bold colors stimulate conversation, they are normally accentuated in living areas and restaurants. Light, relaxing colors are best suited to bedrooms. This link with the psyche also forms the core of chromotherapy.
Notes Dr K.K. Aggarwal, senior consultant in medicine and cardiology at Indraprastha Apollo hospital, New Delhi: "The so-called therapeutic effect of colors is largely psychological. It can't be proven empirically. But then, perhaps this system needs no proof."
Unconventional words indeed from a man of medicine, but the kernel of truth in such a statement cannot be avoided. For, at the end of the day, some questions may not have a so-called rational answer.
What would life be without colors? Where do the sunbeams disappear?