I like things that make sense. It makes sense to me that practicing yoga will improve your posture, because practicing holding a straight spine will strengthen the muscles that hold you up, making it easier for you to sit up straight. Right? I’ll generally act on my own logic (which, I’ll admit, may be a little distorted) over my emotions. I don’t want to say that I don’t believe in things that I can’t see, touch or explain, but it’s tough.
So why, then, did I once leave a deep hip opening class, and proceed to yell at everyone who crossed my path that day? Why have I cried in Child’s pose, a gesture of deep reflection and surrender? Why, after the death of a close friend, would my shoulders get so tight that I could barely move?
If yoga is the architecture of the body, the chakra system is the architecture of the soul. It’s a conceptual map of how the world works.The chakras are energy organization centers in your body; they receive, assimilate, and express based on what has happened to us and the way we choose to operate. There are seven major chakras located along your spine, starting at the base, moving all the way up to the top of your head. The same way rooms in a house have different functions, you wouldn’t use the bathroom for the same purpose as the kitchen or the bedroom, the chakras all hold different types of energy.
Unfortunately, this actually explains my reactions to practicing those poses in my physical body. Opening my hips allowed me to feel emotions I had been suppressing, and apparently that was quite a lot of anger and frustration. Child’s pose encouraged a surrender to my own intuition. The grief I was feeling from loss caused my muscles to literally contract around my heart to try to protect and heal myself. So even though I can’t see my chakras, I can feel them in my body. I recently had the opportunity to spend a week at a workshop lead by Anodea Judith at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Anodea is one of the country’s foremost experts on the chakra system. I learned a lot about myself in the 30 hours I got to spend with her; she provided me with the information I needed to make this make sense.
The first chakra, “Muladhara,” or “root support,” is located at the base of your spine, although it extends all the way down through your legs and your feet, much like the roots of a tree. More than just your roots, though, it’s your body as a container, so it’s also in your bones. Your structure. It’s about finding your way into your body. It’s the first chakra to develop in infants, so the energy of this chakra tends to reflect your childhood, your home, your family. It all starts with the foundation, right? The element of this chakra is earth, the demon that haunts it is fear. This is where you hold your beliefs about your right to be here, and to take up space.
The second chakra is in your hips, called, “Svadisthana” or “one’s own.” This is where you hold your ability to feel, which is really essential for navigating through life. It’s also where you hold a lot of your emotions. This chakra is about balance and duality, the ebb and flow of life, the energy between polarities. Being that it’s located in your hips, you can definitely charge and discharge this chakra (bring energy in/out) by opening up the hips, but it’s element is water, so moving fluidly in a way that feels good is also a great way to honor and acknowledge the energy held here.
“Manipura,” or “lustrous gem,” is your third chakra. Located between your low sternum and your naval, where your ego identity, your personal power, and your will reside. Will requires intention as well as energy, and the alignment of the two, in order to fulfill. The need for power or control would indicate an excessive third chakra, or one that holds a lot of energy, whereas the inability to make decisions or take control could indicate a deficiency, or lack of energy. It’s element is fire, so consider twists and core strengthening poses to access this chakra. Consider allowing yourself to shine.
Your heart chakra is called, “Anahata,” “ana” meaning “not,” and “hata” meaning “struck.” Love and gratitude live here. As we move up the chakras, we start to dissolve the boundaries of individuality, thus moving into less solid elements. The element of your fourth chakra is air. You can’t touch or see air itself, but you can feel it on your skin, see it move the leaves in the trees. You can’t touch or see love, but you can feel it in your heart, see it in people’s actions. This chakra is located in your heart space, but it extends all the way out through your shoulders, arms and hands. The demon of this chakra is grief, which can be anything from a breakup, to a friend moving away, to the loss of a loved one. Grief sits like a hot stone on your heart, it can hurt so much it’s hard to breathe. As it turns out, deep sobs actually stimulate the diaphragm, to help you breathe when you feel broken. Aren’t our bodies magical? We’re really somethin’.
The fifth chakra resides in your throat, and also affects the ears and the mouth. It’s called, “Visuddha,” or “purification.” The demon of this chakra is lies, it’s element is sound. This chakra is really about speaking your truth, so not necessarily talking all the time, but being true to yourself and then expressing that true self. This is where the inside comes out. When you quiet yourself enough to listen, what do you hear?
“Ajna,” or “command center,” is your sixth chakra, located pretty much between your eyebrows, or your “third eye.” This is your intuition, your insight. The demon of this chakra is illusion, so practicing visualization and using imagination can help to activate this chakra. It is said that there’s a hollow place in your brain above the pineal gland, referred to as the “cave of brahma,” where your witness sits. Visualize this place as a kind of sacred spot, it could be a throne, the top of a mountain or a tree, a penthouse with glass walls. Mine, of course, is the crow’s nest of a pirate ship. Allow your witness to share with you what they notice about you as you go about your day. Your witness simply observes without judgement. Is there anything they see that you don’t? Thank your witness for their insight.
The seventh chakra is consciousness. It’s called “Sahasrara,” and it’s about learning to still the body and mind. So, again, where the root chakra is your body as a container, it’s limiting, your crown chakra is limitless, it’s infinite. It’s our connection to the divine, it’s about knowing. The demon is attachment- it fixates consciousness and keeps it from being infinite. Beliefs, on the other hand, are structures in consciousness the same way bones are structures in our bodies, and interpretation is the filter that makes the infinite fit into our beliefs. That’s why we try so hard to understand everything all the time, we’re looking for structure, to make the world make sense to us. What we make it mean tells us what to do about it.
Coming back full circle, my interpretation of my chakra system tells me how to take care of myself. Noticing when I have tight hips makes me reflect on what’s going on in my relationships or what emotions I’m not emoting to cause that tightness. Noticing the way I stand with my third and fourth chakras slightly back and my shoulders hunched tells me I’m probably deficient in those areas, and allows me to step into my power with awareness and bring my attention back to how grateful I really am for everything that has happened to me.
Your body will always know how it is and what it needs before your mind does. Listen to your body. I share my ideas with you with hopes of shedding some light on your experience in your practice, and I invite you to play around with some of the things discussed here, just explore. See if it makes sense to you. It may not, and that’s really the beauty of yoga, right? Everyone’s in a different place on their path, and everyone’s on a different path.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
May all beings be happy and free