Thursday, June 8, 2017

Energy, Chakras and Yoga

Often, the Chakras are viewed through the lens of extremes, and balance or imbalance, comparisons— healthy, unhealthy, but here I will focus on the various elements which may surface without necessarily glorifying or vilifying either manifestation but seeing them rather as natural states and fluctuations, of normal human expression and stages of evolution, ebb and flow. 

To me, although these energy centers do exist and can be felt by the sensitive, the Chakras are metaphors for the human experience, and can be a port of reference.

Many Schools of Thought focus on energy as it relates to the body, and to its function and varying degrees of physical and metaphorical as well as psychosomatic manifestations, well being, or dysfunction. This energetic expression is referred to as Chi, or Prana, energy or even the Spirit itself. That which animates us subtly as well as outwardly, depending on its level of expression, stagnancy or activity. 

The Chakra System is an energetic representation which reminds me very much of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: Physiological, safety, love and belonging, Esteem, and Self Actualization; meaning. We are all searching. The Chakras, or energy centers within the body represent “needs" and the interplay so to speak with the world and whether those needs are being met. 

The Chakra System discussed in many yoga settings which is easy to grasp when relating to poses and generally thought provoking as it relates to life, consists of seven main areas of focus. It can be introduced during class and the student may choose to ponder its implications as they relate both to their time on the mat, their self awareness in general as well as their relationship to others; or might find it simply an interesting side note. Its introduction might offer an opportunity to become aware of the status of that energy center in the moment and in the general time frame they are living within, as well as an awareness of choices and decisions and physical practices and behaviors which can affect the health of those energy centers within the body, toward a dynamic and vital state of ongoing being. 

The Chakra system is one way of assessing and bringing awareness to the body and its physical functioning, as well as how one sees himself.  This can also be achieved by mindfulness meditation. To study it, offers the individual perhaps a tool of understanding, within a framework. The topic of Energy, and Energy medicine, vibrational healing, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, et al., are large ones, but for this purpose and my personal purpose as it relates to my eventual role as a Yoga Student who Practices with other Students and leads a practice, I will briefly discuss the seven Chakras, as I would personally mention them in a class setting, or simply choose poses that address them all.

 The seven Chakras I will discuss (although there are other systems which include additional ones beyond the physical form and outside of the midline) are considered to be within the subtle body, not the physical body per say, and are housed within channels or nadis and relate to and are affected by one another. 

The Sanskrit word Chakra itself means wheel, but also refers to the movement or spinning quality of that center. Often the chakras are depicted in Mandala type visual representations and have specific colors associated with them. As they reside within the subtle body, so too is their interpretation, I have noticed over the years as they have been introduced to me via typical classroom settings and workshops and as a massage therapist exploring music as it relates to the body, and having studied Reiki, and observed the natural world. Attending Reiki Shares, each person uses different language and descriptors for what they experience when sensing the expression of energy in an individual. And in my own experience, it’s not cut and dry.  Yes, the Chakras resonate to different notes. As one becomes more aware, she may begin to notice how certain musical notes resonate in the body. Sound healing is a viable and very current evidenced treatment modality, utilizing Crystal bowls, tingshals, Didgeridoos, conch shells, bells, drums, rain sticks, rattles and other instruments in yoga studios, and therapeutic settings( such as hospitals) aimed at directly affecting the chakras as well as relaxing the mind and body as a whole, or as a byproduct.

In "hands on" (or slightly above the body) Energy Healing Modalities like Reiki, these centers are focused on with the intention of first assessing the state of a chakra by noting the quality of movement within it, and then with intent, directing or smoothing energy fields individually or as a whole to enhance overall wellbeing when the body is undergoing physical or emotional assault; and for general upkeep, and sweep! Much variation can be found in practitioner style and sense, and they are indeed encouraged to follow what the client or student’s body suggests rather than a rigid guideline. Empathy is paramount and non-judgment important when approaching the person, to whom you are attending, without attaching a characterization or label, (or your own interpretations.), and is real discernment and requires self-control.  The call is to lay hands on for the highest good, and trust that the energy knows where to go. Much like when using essential oils. We use them with the expectation that they will normalize the body with it’s own intelligence.

The sign of a true healer, is one who is willing to be a conduit, not one who 'knows’ what’s needed, but one who surrenders to what spirit knows.

Whether a yoga practice leader chooses to use touch or not in the classroom is a personal choice, which ideally, will suit both the personality and comfort level of the individual student, the leader, and class as a whole. 

Yoga is an embodiment of concepts and a reflection of what’s already embodied, and results in expression or voice.

The 1st Chakra, known as the Root Chakra, is called Muladhara, and is associated with the color red. Found at the base of the spine, at or around the coccyx, or tailbone and associated with the Anus, and elimination. The legs and feet, the base, are an extension of this first and very important energy center. Without the stability here, other chakras and their functions are unable to fully live and breathe. It relates to safety and security: connectedness or Rootedness. Stability. It relates to the fight or flight mechanism in the body when a threat is perceived. Anxiety, worry, rumination, habit. Fear is a potential element as safety is a main theme. Protection, self-preservation, and guardedness: groundedness,   stability and safety. Comfort and ease in general.  Faith. Holding on or letting go. The 4 petaled Lotus Flower is the visual. Lotus flowers are rooted deep in the mud, but unfurl spotless and beautiful. Such is the case that when we feel safe, we enjoy a general state of ease, and grace, as do we with individuals whose intentions and motivations are pure. Experiences in formative years with those whose intentions are not, can result in trust issues, and feelings of doubt. A Pose associated with the Root Chakra would be any seated pose, sits bones evenly placed on the ground. Mountain pose, or Table pose, Cat and Cow, where we have four feet or bases, equally supporting the frame, and moving between the two expressions while balanced is a safe exploration, as the floor is readily near and available as a safety net. Playing with Balancing, alternating arm and leg raises builds balance, which is related to a feeling of groundedness. Tree Pose against the wall is a good safe conversation with balance that can be found with less than ideal circumstances.  In Posttraumatic stress, this energy center is involved. Low rhythmic tones, Drumming. 

Element: Earth
Song: “New Shoes” By Paolo Nutini, “Why Don’t We Just Dance” by Josh Turner

The Second Chakra is the Sacral Chakra, or Svadhisthana, located at the sacrum, on the back of the body and the Pelvis, genitals on the front. It encompasses sexual energy, and the shakti, or energy of creation. Here creativity, creation, and movement reside. Artistic expression. Expression in a larger sense. The Birthing, in the literal and figurative sense. Beginnings, potential, possibility. Ideas, concepts, seeds. The color associated with it is orange and it is symbolized by a crescent moon within a lotus.If we think of the orange fruit, its outside is a thick dappled protective skin, but the inside is filled with juice, seeds. I have twice come upon a grapefruit whose seeds inside had sprouted within it! There is a great deal of potential that when given nourishment, cannot be stopped.  The sacral chakra governs the reproductive system, and is where Joy springs. Movement and Water, as in birth, create a state of flow. When this chakra is balanced one entertains a state of general flow in life and movement. Issues with sexual organs and reproduction physically may arise with an imbalance in this energy center. Relationship issues, relating, inertia and initiative are themes of note. Reproductive dysfunction. Reproductive function. Sensuality. Pleasure. Pain. As are shame, guilt, repression expression. Boundaries. Intimacy and emotions in general. Goddess Pose is representative of the second Chakra as it relates to the power inherent in the Goddess, and its male and female counterparts. When we take on this pose, we are rooted into the ground, look fierce almost with our arms as Goal posts, Protective, Divine Female, framing the space between them. The goddess protects, creates, and acknowledges, nurtures growth and exhibits a certainty. Bridge posture is also a sacral oriented pose as the pelvis is exposed. And the movement in and our of the pose rolling down on the spine provides fluidity. Without ability to root in the first chakra, the flow of the second chakra is difficult, as fear in letting go prevents the opportunity of riding the wave and trusting the process that the organic quality of (creative) expression requires. Element: Water, akin to blood and circulation. Steady movement.

Element: Water
SonG: “You’ve Got to Move, by Mississippi Fred McDowel

The Third Chakra is Manipura, at the Solar Plexus, or the navel perhaps the true center of the body, where we bend. The color associated with it is yellow. IT is the Chakra of self. Personal power. Will, impetus, self-esteem, worth, value, and validity. It is the center point of the gut. The Gut brain, perhaps where much knowing resides. Sick to your stomach, regurgitating, angst, Self Confidence. Pride. Knowing oneself. To thine own self be true. Energy Vampires. Dignity.Jealousy.Envy. Demanding respect, inability to recognize individual value. Grace. Comparison. Posturing. Shyness, Boisterousness. Acting. Speaking up. Talking Down. Perceived power/powerlessness. Personal Responsibility to self. Agendas.Vulnerability. Validation, self respect, self esteem and assertive action reside here, as does personal truth. Identity. Influence.Conscience. Free Will.  It is said that the moment a newborn takes its first breath of air is the moment the ego, begins forming, as it separates from its mother and takes on its own identity. It is also where true leadership resides.

There is a theory on influence and leadership; as exampled by people getting up to dance at a music festival demonstrate: 

The first guy who gets up to dance at a festival is brave, but unless others want to emulate him and support him, there will be no communal dance. Once the leader has a lone follower, they are a team: equals. The leader makes it easy for the first follower. And the power of the equals working together, with equally valid contributions, invites more to follow. It’s actually the second guy, who supports the first dancer, who has more influence. And the ones that follow, in fact aren’t emulating the original leader any more, they’re actually emulating the other followers. All of the dancers on the floor are equals, and since they observed that in the leadership, they’re willing to join in. The Ted Talk, called "How to make a Movement” demonstrates this theory.   The element of fire is related to this chakra in potential and impetus. It is a natural extension of the second chakra-- the movement and Momentum of creation --the friction that is birthed in the sacral chakra, turns to  fire in the Manipura. Anything that builds and maintains heat. Like Ginger tea. It can be cleansing and purifying. I imagine Ayurveda would have something to say about that. A strong pose to focus on the Solar Plexus Chakra is Warrior one or two. It is fierce, strong and balanced. Confident and steady. Firm. Also, Dancer pose: balance and Grace and focus. 
Element: Fire
Song:” I Got the Magic in Me” by B.o.B.

The Fourth Chakra, Anahata, is at the Breastbone, or Sternum, what is known as the heart center. The heart Chakra. The physical organ of the heart keeps the body alive and steady. It’s beat steady. Consistent. It provides a rhythm that is a perpetual loop back on itself, and has the potential for resonance. A magnetic quality when acceptance is presence. Like attracts like. Like sees Like. Opposites attract. Apathy. Understanding. others to self to being part of the solution. It is associated with the color green, which has to do with giving. And alternately, also pink, which has to do with receiving. Love, affection, unconditional love, trust, loneliness, attachment, detachment, sadness, self love, other love, unity, and dynamics are themes of this center and involve the individual, couples, families organizations, races, and humanity. A sense of Belonging, commitment, responsibility, and perhaps Dharma itself. Belonging. Feeling part of the whole. Life Purpose, meaning and calling, Physical ailments of the heart, stress, broken heart,heart attack, passion romantically, and passion in a universal sense for a greater good, causes or projects. Desire.Palpitations, atrial fibrillation—irregularities or inconsistencies. Compassion, empathy, gentleness, tenderness, Generosity. Kindness. All one. Camel pose would be a heart opening pose, as well as Child’s pose an honoring and protective pose. I think of the Kermit the Frog song here: “It aint easy, being green.” Love is complex. Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets was a soft soul, but he knew much about the complexity human emotion, and about the simplicity too. A Frog can Fall in love with a Pig, and somehow, it works out just fine. “Oh, Kermie!” 
Element: Air 
Song: “The Rhythm of Love” Plain White T’s,  “Everybody” By Ingrid Michelson

The Fifth Chakra, Vishuda, is the chakra of voice. Known as the throat chakra, it governs expression in all manner, be it art, speaking, writing, reading, synthesis, even listening and being heard. Knowing others and being known. Its associated color is blue- like the sky. Expansive. Being a Presence- Honest expression, lack of assertiveness, frustration, not speaking up about things to maintain or gain approval avoiding giving honest feedback for fear of disapproval; interpersonal communication, group communication, email and texting instead of phone calls; phone calls in general, public speaking anxiety, perhaps anxiety itself and depression can be linked to blocked expression, or not making our needs, desires and truths heard. It is connected much to the heart as it is to the solar plexus and will, or lack of will, worthiness to speak, to disagree when the majority may feel otherwise (not just disagree but to make the disagreement known, or even alternative points of view, not necessarily opposing views. This chakra is intimately tied to all others as expression is a necessary component in feeling safe, sexual and creative relations, power and identity, expression for the sake of expression, and as we will see in the 6th and 7th chakras, our relationship to inner knowing and to spiritual connection both need outlets. Expression is an outlet: voice.  Supporting the perceived authority or leader. Soapboxes. Standing up for causes, taking vows of silence, throwing temper tantrums or having the last word, pregnant pauses, Singing, Devotionals, monologues, giving a roast, diatribes, burying your head in a book, burying your head in the sand, eulogies.(My Dad is an epic Eulogy writer--his name is EuGene. We call him EuloGene) side note… Problems with the throat- strep throat, clearing the throat, tonsillitis, swollen glands, adenoids, nodes on the vocal chords, or operatic high notes.  Lump in the throat. Hoarsness. Laryngitis. Chanting OM>>>>>> A pose that focuses attention on the Throat chakra would be Fish pose, where the chest is exposed, with hands behind back, tucked under the buttocks and the head is tipped back and resting on the crown. The throat is exposed and the voice box, exposed.  Also, Lions Breath, sitting upright with hands on knees, and opening the mouth wide, and exhaling vocally expelling all air with enthusiasm, Shaking loose the roar. To sum it up, a favorite quote by Ani Difranco:

"I speak without reservation from what I know and who I am. I do so with the understanding that all people should have the right to offer their voice to the chorus, whether the result is harmony or dissonance. The world song is a colorless dirge without the differences, which distinguish us. And it is these differences, which should be celebrated and not condemned. Should any part of my music offend you, please do not close your ears to it, just take what you can use and go on.”

Element: Ether,( spirit in-spired, filled with intentional respiration, voice)
Song: “Like it or not” by Madonna
“Joyful Sound,” by Debby Holliday

The Sixth Chakra is known as the Ajna, or 3rd Eye Center. Located in the space between the eyes. The third, or auxiliary eye.  Its color is Indigo. Sensing. It is the seat of intuition or knowledge or clear knowing, All of the psychic senses like clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience: the knowings that become possible by sensitivity to the environment and are developed by silence and meditation. Uri Gellar. Psychic attack. Noticing, Observation, sensitivity. Understanding the underpinnings, and inter workings dynamics and intention. Headaches, sinus pressure, vertigo, balance issues may manifest here. Self doubt, not listening to gut feelings. Learning from personal and observed experience. Awareness, presence, denial, Faith, resilience, trust, trusting the process. Aha moments. Insights. Epiphanies. Enlightened ideas. Divine visitations. Channels. Angel communicators. Indigo Children: Those extraordinarily sensitive and knowing children; healers, precocious, old souls, wise beyond years, the future of humanity.  A Pose that focuses attention on the third Eye by direct stimulation is the child’s pose, as the forehead is directly on the mat and the impetus is to go inward and focus on mindful breathing, listening for guidance or just resting; fortifying the body, so that it might know. Element: Etheric Light/Dark
Song: “ Soul Shine” by Government Mule

The seventh Chakra is known as the Crown Chakra, as it is at the crown of the head or just above. Its Sanskrit name is Sahasrara, and it represents the connection to the Divine, Spirit, God, or the universe. That which is greater than we as individuals, or all knowing. For Me, Yoga is my prayer. It is my expression of the spirit’s manifestation via my physical form. I allow myself to be a conduit.  It is often depicted as the thousand petaled lotuses, perhaps because it is interpretation is so diverse among religions and cultures, and it’s unfolding multi faceted. IT manifests as Spiritual connection or awakening; disconnection or feelings of separation, feelings of oneness, knowings of oneness and states of bliss or profound peace and harmony. Enlightenment, growth, contentment gratitude, appreciation, and awe. The color associated with this energetic center is Crystal but sometimes purple is also denoted. Poses of the Seventh Chakra are Shavasana, where we give the body rest and incorporation, resting the mind for connection to the divine, or Mountain pose, where the Crown is in direct alignment with the sky. Headstand also focus attention on the crown of the head, stimulating it, and drawing attention to it.  Poses of surrender, like forward fold and Child’s pose also can be used as opportunities to intentionally connect, bow and give thanks.
Element: Etheric, (thought)
Song:” Amazing Grace”

People who work with energy speak of aligning the chakras and clearing the chakras, opening the chakras, quality of energy, vibration, color and auras representing or actually visible. Knowing of these frames of reference is helpful and thought provoking to individuals studying yoga and students of life on and off the mat. 

Whether you consider yourself a human having a spiritual experience or a spirit having a human experience, mindfulness in the practice of asana can bring your attention to your body and your emotions and still the energetic chatter which can become counter productive to a state of well being.

“And the World, is made of Energy, and the world is electricity, and there’s a lot inside of you and there’s a lot inside of me”
 Energy, by Polyphonic Spree

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