Understanding the Chakras in Yoga
(published Feb. 2004 in Enlightened Practice Magazine)
"Close your eyes and listen," our teacher instructs as he plays Beethoven's Fifth. "This is the energy of the fifth Chakra." Then he plays a drum beat percussion like an Indian war dance. "This is the root Chakra," he says.
A skilled teacher, Tom Skorpua of Kansas City, next led us through a series of Yoga poses that he felt stimulated these "spinning wheels of light" called Chakras.
Tom adjusted my stance in Warrior pose (Virabhadrasana II). At that time in the 80's, newer to Yoga, I collapsed my belly into my pelvis. He asked permission to adjust, moving the back thy bone deeper back and the root of the other hip forward. When he said to lift my organs up and back, I felt the breath (Prana) fill my pelvis (1st and 2nd Chakras) as if it were a sponge. My love affair with Yoga deepened and I wanted to know everything I could about the Chakras.
Yoga is both science and art, says master teacher B.K.S. Iyengar. The Chakras, esoteric or abstract in nature as opposed to scientific, are cloaked to this day in much mystery and mysticism.
For example, in the l977 text by James Hewitt, The Complete Yoga Book, he writes that the Chakras are literally "wheels" said to be vortices of Pranic energy, each associated with special powers awakened by contemplative meditation. He offers three brief theories to consider. The first talks of the astral or "auric" body; the second of the nerve plexuses and glands; and the third a Sufi concept which claim the Chakras as concentration points whose activation is theoretical only. Hewitt says the Buddhist Trantrists recognize only four Chakras, symbolized by the cobra head on artwork and statues. He mentions that Kundalini Yoga describes the sleeping serpent as a symbol of the root and describes the seven symbols of the Chakras and their association.
This is where many theories on the Chakras begin to merge; agreeing on the seven centers within the body.
Probably the most popular book in recent times is Anodea Judith's Wheels of Life: A User's Guide to the Chakra System (1997 Llewellyn Press). She writes in her intro: "At the inner core of each one of us spin seven wheel-like energy centers called Chakras. Swirling intersections of vital life forces, each Chakra reflects an aspect of consciousness essential to our lives. They are centers of activity for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of life energies."
As a meditation practitioner for 20 years, when the energy of the prana began to move, I felt it! Often tingles in my crown, like warm fingers tickling my hair, made me wonder what was happening. When I discussed this with a senior Yoga teacher, he said, "Don't worry. It will go away." From that moment, it became evident to me that many systems of Yoga and their teachers did not share common knowledge or have the desire to understand the Chakras. Since the existence of these energy centers is more of an art than a science, it lends itself to a vast array of interrelations, making it difficult to understand, and even more complex to teach.
Still, I wanted to know more. In Carolyn Myss' book Anatomy of Spirit she shares her knowing of Chakras as an intuitive healer. Her body of work continues to grow, now well-regarded in holistic circles. Next I was led to a body of metaphysical work produced by Concept: Synergy called the Lazaris Material. In the audio "Healing: The Nature of Health," in plain and understandable language, the nature of the Chakras is explained along with how they impact the health of the body.
I imagine the wonderful hieroglyphic symbols of the Chakras are valuable gifts from the ancient texts. I belief the symbols stimulate the unconscious mind to bridge the gap to conscious mind. Having never heard it from anyone, I received this insight during a workshop I led on the Chakras: Perhaps the symbol of the Caduceus used in modern medicine could easily be interpreted as left brain/right brain or yin/yang. The intertwining of the serpents symbolizes balance. In modern medicine, which applies as well to Yoga teachers, Hippocrates formed the pledge "do no harm." Perhaps modern medicine traces its message to ancient healers and this mysticism.
To create no harm, I think especially in yoga, means each of us take responsibility for our health in what we say, what we choose (such as diet and exercise), what we think and feel, our attitudes, and our beliefs. In yoga, harmlessness thus gives us the grace of health and balance in the mental, emotional, and physical bodies.
Here is the good news. All Yoga poses effect the health of the three bodies, some more than others. Agreement as to which Yoga postures are the most effective is disputed among teachers. I've noticed in teaching classes for over a decade that when I share poses for specific Chakras students respond well. For example, someone who is tense and anxious always seems to feel better with standing postures which move the energy of the third Chakra or "gut" level responses.
When someone loses a loved one to death or divorce, I suspect the root Chakra and the heart Chakra will be vulnerable, perhaps damaged, but never closed down. There may be literal "pain" in the heart from the emotional trauma. Child's pose will calm the upset and all standing postures will help ground and re-direct the energy to ease the pain in the heart. All back bending movements lift the energy of the heart Chakra; counter the rolled-in shoulders common to depressed people. Succinct information follows:
At the base of spine or tailbone. Revolves around the basic question of being. Do I have the right to be here? Am I safe? Do I have enough money, good relationships, and health? Health challenges: obesity, hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatic, arthritis, bulimia and bone issues. Recommended Yoga Poses: Child's pose (Adho Mukha Virasana); Seated Hero (Virasana), Mountain (Tadasana), Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
Point below navel. Core of the self, interpersonal emotions and relationships: family, intimacy with self and others. Feeling valued; happiness in living life; and pleasure of all kinds - physical, mental and emotional. Health challenges: impotence, frigidity, bladder infections, stiff low back, kidney trouble, acne. Recommended Yoga Poses: All forward bends.
The solar plexus region and largest center. Gut response to feelings; sense of esteem and true self emerging. Ownership of thoughts/choices/attitudes/beliefs. Idea of "oneness." We are all in this boat together. Health challenges: knees, ulcers, acid reflex, and diabetes. Recommended Yoga Poses: All Standing Postures.
The heart area described as a bell, which has not been rung (un-struck sound or air element). A yearning within that knows to love and be loved in the most important point of life. That love connects us with other human beings with compassion and respect. Health Challenges: asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease. Recommended Yoga Poses: All Backbend Postures with appropriate contraindications.
The throat. Voice. Involves creative honoring of inner guidance to support our mission/vision. Called purification because we begin to start cutting out beliefs that hinder the intuitive messages. When open, trust strengthens and communication flows freely. Health Challenges: sore throat, stiff neck, colds, thyroid problems, hearing problems. Recommended Yoga Poses: Bridge (Setu Bhanda) & Shoulder Balance (Sarvagasana).
The pituitary or third eye or intuition. Wisdom as a point of command, feeling and believing in ourselves from the inside. That vision or intuition becomes our home. Health Challenges: few but possible headache, tumor of head, eye problems. Recommended Yoga Poses: All Twisting Postures, some say inversions.
An ideal. Tells us what our ultimate nature is, no separation. God/Divine Love/Union. Health Challenges: depression, boredom, apathy. Recommended Yoga Poses: Head Balance (Sirsasana); Waterfall or legs up wall (Viparita Karani); Full Arm Balance (Adho Mukha Virasana), Mountain (Tadasana); and Lotus (Padmasana). Joseph LePage, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy, who offers regular presentations on the Chakra systems for health, says Yoga is about accepting the human condition.
"Avoid playing your Yoga into perfectionism," he says. "Our role as teacher or student is to accept all aspects of being a human. Yoga is a vehicle for living at all levels of body/mind/spirit/emotion at one time. The charkas are a guide to opening those parts of ourselves which may be lost or blocked."
Guided Meditation to Balance the Chakras
Sit quietly in reclining or seated meditation. Begin breathing. Take your time to feel safe, loved, and protected. Use savasana techniques to relax. Beginners may need more time to relax than practiced students.
Now let your senses become alive. What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell and taste? What does your intuition say? Allow images and messages to come without the inner-critic. Ask your high self, soul, and spirit to hold the high watch and protect you from negative ego and anything unlike love. Visualize a rainbow of light descending around your body. See or "pretend" like watching a movie in your mind red light washing over you, at the tailbone; then orange the navel; next yellow, in the solar plexus; now emerald green in the heart space; sky blue in the throat and shoulders; deep purple/indigo in the center of the brain; white violet diamond shimmering light at the crown of the head. Sit quietly and be with the experience without judging it. Return by deepening your breath.
References in this article: The Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, PhD; Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith; Yoga and Chakras, notes from Lecture with Joseph LePage, Integrative Yoga Therapy, Kansas City, 3/01; Original work of Suzette Scholtes Evolving Woman Magazine's Body/Mind/Soul column, copyright l996-2000, all rights reserved. The Many Benefits of Meditation by Suzette Scholtes.