Chakras

The Chakra system is one way of mapping the emotional energy centers of our bodies, they cannot be medically observed although their location and actions correspond to our endocrine system. The action of each chakra may be something you feel deeply and powerfully, or just provide you with a metaphor,  another way of observing our emotions and their physical embodiment. You do not have to ‘believe’ in their existence for the yoga to work, and it can actually be more beneficial, to practice without preconceived ideas, remaining the non-judgemental observer. Rarely is a single chakra worked on in isolation, the goal is a free flow of energy between chakras and resolving any imbalances, a happy and healthy body and mind. Physically this corresponds to psychical strength and flexibility,  effective organs, balanced function and flow of hormones through the body, and an ability to feel the full rainbow of our emotions,  but also the tools to bring ourselves back to balance mentally when necessary. Moving energy upwards tends towards liberating (the inspiration); moving energy downwards tends towards manifesting (making it happen).

When dealing with these deeper aspects of ourselves, it is most important to be mindful and to be kind. Often the imbalance is a result of external factors in our lives, stress or illness, part of the healing process may be to seek professional or medical advice. Remain observant and non-judgemental; it is counter-productive to punish ourselves when we feel things are out of balance, or to expect instant results. We are all unique and the chakra system is so individual, intimate and personal, it is more productive to utilise it as a tool for svadyaya (self study) and enquiry than rules and dogma, symptoms and cures.
Sometimes we may feel both the deficient and excessive characteristics simultaneously; sometimes we feel no clear patterns of emotions. We may discover that it is just a consistent mindful yoga practice that brings us back to balance, or it may be something that we do off our mats that becomes our yoga practice. Many people even feel a shift when they wear the colour that corresponds with each chakra. The ultimate goal is to find the practices that bring us back to who we really are and help us connect to the higher aspects of ourselves.

Muladhara

Also known as the base, or root chakra, it is located at the base of the spine, at the coccygeal plexus. Hormonally it corresponds to the adrenal glands- our fight or flight response.
Muladhara’s element is earth and it relates to survival- emotionally this relates to feeling stable, grounded, physically healthy, prosperous and trusting. Take special care of Muladhara chakra when moving house or travelling, or when you have a had a shock.

Excessive characteristics include heaviness, sluggishness, monotony, hoarding, materialism and greed.
Deficient characteristics include feeling disconnected from our bodies, fearful, undisciplined, restless, underweight and spaced out.
Physically, when this chakra is out of balance, we may experience issues with bones, legs, feet and skin. We may have trouble regulating adrenal function and dealing with stress, with flow on disruption of digestion and sleeping patterns.
Healing activities include: Any yoga asana practiced with calm strength and groundedness, traditionally standing postures and asana that strengthen the pelvic floor, i.e. warrior postures and tree pose. Engaging mulabandha or other pelvic floor strengthening work.
An activity that connects you with the earth, such as cultivating a garden or walking through a park or the beach.
An activity connected with nourishment, such as cooking a delicious, nutritious meal for yourself and friends or helping at a soup kitchen.

Svadhistana

Located at the sacrum Svadistana is translated to mean sweetness; it is also referred to as our center for pleasure, the flowing element of water within us. It relates to our creativity, on a physical level as it corresponds to ovaries and testicles, but also our feelings and emotions, our ability to live and move gracefully, creatively, joyfully, productively and pleasurably. Take special care of svadhistana chakra through hormonal shifts i.e., menstruation, pregnancy, menopause.
Excessive characteristics include: out of control emotions, poor boundaries, obsessive attachments, when decadent treats become habits/addictions.
Deficient characteristics include: impotence, rigidity, emotional numbness, fear of pleasure. Deadened senses and lacking appetite for food, sex and life.
Our bodies may embody this imbalance as disrupted reproductive function, cravings for sweet foods and alcohol, lower back pain, issues with hips and legs.
Healing activities include: any yoga asana practiced with feeling, pleasure and fluidity. Traditionally relates to hip stretches and forward bends, especially placed in a creative flowing sequence.
An activity that allows you to enjoy your body and express yourself creatively like singing or dancing, painting or sculpture. Or enjoying an inspiring performance.
An activity that allows you to connect to the water element within yourself like swimming, a long bath with essential oils. Giving and receiving massage.


Manipura


Translated to mean lustrous gem and located at the solar plexus. This chakra relates to the pancreas and our bodies ability to balance blood sugar levels. Emotionally this is our centre for personal power, self definition and will, our core strength. Its element is fire, closely interacting with Jathari Agni, our ‘digestive fire’ and when in balance, we express vitality, spontaneity, drive and purpose and healthy self esteem.
This fire in our bellies and commanding sense of purpose is best tempered with wisdom and compassion, as when manipura is excessive we may become: dominating and controlling, aggressive, hyperactive, stubborn argumentative and fiery. It may be harder to empathise with others, or even be in touch with our own intuition and better judgement.
When manipura is deficient, we may feel weak willed, lack motivation, feel sluggish and fearful.
To heal manipura, practice any yoga asana with clear intention and purpose, but also wisdom and compassion. Any asana that allows us to connect to our own strength and power, especially if the focus is on stretching or strengthening the belly connects us to manipura, especially core strengthening asana, twists and backbends. Pranayama including kapalabhati and uddiyana bandha may help to stimulate manipura.
On a physical level, when manipura is out of balance our digestive system may be under active, or overstimulated. We may experience back or stomach pain.
Activities that make us feel powerful, or connect to our own power, including martial arts and vigorous exercise strengthen manipura, practicing deep relaxation and letting go help to soothe it.
Other activities that can balance manipura, include setting goals and following them through, however simple, doing the things in life we have always wanted to but, been too afraid to try. Taking charge of situations where we may have felt intimidated. Tratika or candle gazing- to help with clearing the mind, realizing and releasing the thoughts and habits holding us back. Another practice is to write down whatever you want to let go of and ceremonially burn the paper.

Anahata


Translated to mean ‘unstruck sound’, the potential that resonates within us, connecting us to rest of the universe. Its element is air, an element we all share. It is located at the heart- a symbol of love, empathy and compassion. An important element of working with anahata is remembering to direct those qualities inwards as well as outwards, taking care of ourselves as well as others. Hormonally this is reflected in anahatas connection to the thymus- a gland connected to healthy immune function. Take special care of Anahata chakra through times of grief and loss, or when someone is depending on us for a lot of care and support.
When anahata is in balance we feel peaceful and balanced, empathetic and altruistic, generous with ourselves and others. When out of balance we may feel out of sync or disconnected.
The body may express this imbalance through heart or respiratory issues, soreness in the arms, shoulders and chest, immune deficiency or circulatory problems.
This deficiency can manifest as feeling antisocial, lonely or isolated. We may withdraw from relationships and intimacy. We may feel depressed or stop taking good care of ourselves. It may be hard to reach out to others.
When anahata is excessive we may be demanding, clinging or jealous. We may martyr ourselves, sacrificing too much and depleting our own energy.
Healing practices include yoga postures that work on stretching and strengthening the chest and shoulders, heart opening practices like backbends and twists. Forward bends that remind us to surrender and release tension through the back of the heart and lateral stretches that open the sides of the rib cage. Pranayama practices can help the respiratory system and loving kindness meditation can remind us to nurture ourselves and those around us.


Vissudhi


Vissudhi means purification, and it relates to speaking our truth, communication and creativity, clear listening and expression. On an endocrine level it relates to the thyroid and parathyroid glands affecting metabolism and the distribution of calcium through the body, with a flow on connection to our energy levels and ability to relax and sleep peacefully.  
Take special care of vissudhi when you feel you are unable to speak up or be heard, in a situation where you feel bullied or a lack of honesty. Also if you are constantly exposed to loud and disruptive noise or vibrations.
When vissudhi is deficient we may feel introverted or have difficulty putting our feelings into words. We may feel misunderstood. When vissudhi is in excess, we may take loudly and interrupt others, finding it hard to listen.
The body may experience disorders connected to the throat, ears, voice and jaw.
Healing practices can include yoga where we release tensions from, and strengthen the neck and throat. A classic sequence is shoulder stand and fish- be aware though, that this sequence may have to be modified in the case of neck injury. Pranayama sequences involving noise and vibration can be especially helpful, like ujjayi or brahmari breath.
Other healing practices that allow us to find our voice and speak our truth such as singing, chanting, humming, letter or diary writing. Although in the case of excess, we may actually need quiet time to be still.

Ajana


Ajana chakra is located at the third eye center, it’s element is light and relates to our ability to see clearly and recognise patterns in our life. It relates to wisdom, beyond the use of our senses and the everyday function of the brain. It allows us to understand on a deeper level. It relates to the pituitary gland, the master gland which monitors the functions of the lower glands, triggering adjustments via the hormones it produces.
 Ajana chakra could be compared to the windscreen on our car, when it is covered in mud or cloudy, this becomes distracting and it harder to clearly see what lies ahead. On a mental level, if the mind is chattering and distracted, we get bogged down in these distractions and lose sight of what is really important. When ajana chakra is balanced, we are clear sighted, intuitive, perceptive and imaginative. We are in touch with the past, with a good memory, the future, with an ability to plan and imagine- and the present, able to clearly perceive the present moment without being distracted by the future or past.
Take special care of ajana chakra when you are in a confusing situation, unsure of the future or dealing with something from the past. When are in the midst of study, a new job or another challenging intellectual situation.
If Ajana is deficient we may be insensitive or in denial. We may find it hard to visualise or remember, our thoughts may feel foggy and cloudy.
If Ajana is excessive we may have difficulty concentrating with a racing agitated state of mind. We may have nightmares, delusions or think obsessively.
The body may react with headaches and vision problems.
To heal ajana chakra, practice asana that help to clear your head. This may mean soothing forward bends or relaxing seated postures. For others it may be asana that require focus and concentration, such as inversions or a complex sequence. Janu sirshana and arha muhka virasana (downwards facing heroes pose) send energy to the third eye and have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
Other practices that may help are meditation and guided visualizations, Tratika (candle gazing), and massage to relax tension around the eyes and forehead. Looking at beautiful things, like a serene garden or the sea or creating written or visual art. Even clearing all the clutter out of your house and giving away what you no longer need can have a cantering and clearing effect on your state of mind.

Sahasara

Sahasara is the crown chakra, meaning thousand fold and depicted with a thousand petalled lotus. Its element is thought, and depending on individual beliefs it is our connection to the divine, to our higher Self, our true self and to the rest of the universe. It can also be interpreted as liberation from attachments, moving beyond our ego and limited view of ourself and our intellectual mind. It may be experienced as that moment of transcendence within a yoga class, when we remain aware of movements of the body, breath and mind, but also connect to a deeper level of awareness, connectedness and bliss. Some people experience this moment at intense times in their lives, such as childbirth, but it can also occur when we are completely relaxed and at ease, maybe looking at a night sky or sunrise. It can be the space between our thoughts in meditation.
In times of intense mediation take special care to remain grounded and connected through your lower chakras, the moments of bliss or Samadhi when crown chakra opens are not always condusive to everyday living. Traditionally this is a state achieved with the guidance of a teacher (guru), maybe on a mountain top. Adept practitioners can drift in and out of this state with ease, although there have also been examples of people reaching samadhi unexpectedly and freaking out, literally ‘losing their minds’. There are stories of sadhus (yogic scholars or ‘saints’) have visions of the future, levitating and travelling through time at this level of consciousness.
Some schools of thought believe we would have to have worked through all our issues and reached a state of balance in order to reach this level of awareness. Others believe that deficiencies and excesses can still manifest at Sahasara chakra including spiritual addiction, confusion and dissociation from body.
It relates to the pineal gland, a gland with exact function unknown, though thought to be the ‘super’ master gland responsible for our body’s rhythms and moods. It is thought to play a crucial role in balancing manic and depressive states and has been shown to be light sensitive and connected to the ‘winter blues’.
Healing Sahasara chakra often takes the form of working through our issues in the lower chakras. Most yoga asana are designed to direct energy upwards, releasing blockages along the way. Headstand powerfully directs energy to the crown; many meditations do the same on a more subtle level.

We may work on enhancing the flow of energy towards a particular chakra for a specific reason, although ultimately we focus on the free flow of energy between each chakra- and for that, we need to attend to our nadis.