Many people new to yoga often hear lots of terminology thrown at them during a yoga class, and often wonder what the teacher is talking about, or whether or not whatever it is has any validity. It’s true that yoga offers a lot on the spiritual level, but it’s not all mystical voodoo and concepts based in blind faith- there’s actually a lot of science to back up many of these spiritual notions!
Preface - Finding The Chakras
In my personal experience, it took me a long time to grasp many of these concepts. Growing up, I was never much of a spiritual person. I wasn’t raised really going to church or saying grace before meals, except maybe visiting other family members around holidays. I suppose I recall not having much exposure to those kinds of things. Not that I necessarily didn’t believe in God or anything; but in my head I grew up thinking that organized religion was a bit of a joke in many regards. As I grew up, and began to experience pain and loss in my life; in addition to the injustices and cruelties throughout the world- I did experience some doubts and questioned reality as I knew it.
During this time in my life I experienced a lot of uncertainty, and when I look back on it now I can recognize that my early teen years through my mid/early twenties were a dark period in my life. I think that during this time of being spiritually disconnected, I felt that I was suffering and felt my soul was yearning for something; but I didn’t know what. Often times when we feel disconnected, we do things to reconnect and feel again, so that maybe perhaps we can feel like we’re part of something larger than ourselves. Without any guidance that I could relate to, I went in search for this connection like many teens by experimenting with drugs and alcohol. After I experienced a car accident at the age of 19, this search for ‘purpose’ and ‘connection’ became much deeper; and I feel like I fell into a downward spiral of emotions, physical pain and addiction to prescription medications. For years my body was exposed to so many physical and mental toxins, and didn’t really ‘wake up’ until I was around 28. Around that time a big shift had started to happen due to my yoga practice and search for knowledge.
“Often it’s the deepest pain that empowers you to grow into your higher self”
Now, I do believe a lot of the things I had experienced in my past were based on the poor choices I made. All of the suffering, both mental and physical was done by choice. Because I guess I didn’t know any better. I believe that we all do what we can with the circumstances that we’re given. Now that I can look back on everything, it was all for a purpose. “Often it’s the deepest pain that empowers you to grow into your higher self”. So, everything we experience throughout our lives holds some sort of purpose, so that we can hopefully take a valuable lesson away from it all. These experiences we have affect us emotionally, spiritually and also on the physical level. All of our thoughts and feelings from our experiences create a physical imprint in our bodies on a cellular level, whether we notice it right away or not.
The Mind/Body Connection Is Real
These physical imprints are something in yoga known as ‘samskaras’, or a subconscious connection to the mind/body. For example, one of the most relatable situations being when we start to get overloaded, and overwhelmed with stressful situations. We might go about with dealing with our stress in ways that don’t allow us to really deal with the issue at hand; or we ignore the underlying causes all together. We say to ourselves, “I’m so stressed!!” And then these stressors manifest themselves in our bodies almost instantly, perhaps in the form of a headache, tight shoulders, or back pain.
This mind/body connection is very real and has a lot of science to back it all up. More and more research comes out everyday about the benefits of yoga and meditation. These two things alone affect our subtle body, or our energies within whether we realize it or not. In my personal experience, the more I practiced yoga, the more connected I started to feel to the world around me. I had started to peel apart layers of myself, painful memories and experiences, delving deeper within my own truth to begin to uncover my higher (ideal) self.
This is when I started to read more about the subtle body and the chakra system. When I began yoga, I was mainly focused purely on the physical benefits. I had zero interest getting caught up in the spiritual stuff, and the chakra system. In fact, it took me years to warm up to the idea that chakras even existed. But, the more and more I practiced, the more connected and sensitive I became to these energies. And finally, when I gave it a chance, I decided to study the chakras and found out how real this stuff was. The amazing part is, that it’s all universal! These energies are something that we all share with one another. It’s our energy that connects us to each and every human being, animal and to the universe. Whether you choose to believe in God or not, we are all still made up of matter and are kept alive by energy; or ‘prana’ as us yogi’s call it.
What Are The Chakras?
So, each of us have these seven ‘main’ energy centers within our bodies, these run parallel with the spine and each one has certain qualities and associations, it’s important to understand each chakra and it’s characteristics so that we can become more connected with our higher selves. It’s also really important though that we don’t let any chakras become ‘out of balance’ or over power any of the rest. It’s all about maintaining a proper balance. I’m going to briefly explain a little about each chakra, so that we are introduced to these concepts. Then, elaborate on each one in blogs to come.
#1 Muladhara - The Root Chakra
Muladhara, is the first chakra, also known as the ‘root chakra’. It lays down the ‘support’ for the rest of the chakras and it located at the base of the spine. It reminds us that we are alive, and is associated with survival. When this chakra becomes out of balance some of it’s manifestations is obesity, or on the opposite of the spectrum- anorexia. If we feel some of our most basic needs are being unmet, we might go about dealing with that stress by eating too much, or not eating at all. Through this first chakra we work to understand and heal our bodies. Our biggest challenge is to accept our bodies, to feel comfortable in them and love them. That’s why eating is associated with the first chakra. When we eat, we are nourished and we feel grounded. Proteins are considered root chakra foods, and when this chakra is open it allows us to feel our power, to feel stable and allows us to grow. We become grounded, and allows us to begin to find peace and stillness. Each chakra affects an endocrine system or hormones, this chakra affects the adrenals, and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin can become out of balance in the body. The mantra that best describes this chakra is “I Am”.
#2 Svadhisthana - The Sweetness Chakra
The second chakra is known as Svadhisthana, which translates from Sanskrit as ‘sweetness’. It is associated with the element water. When it becomes out of balance bladder, kidney trouble, low back pain, or PMS. This chakra is located right below the navel and is associated with the womb and/or urogenital area. Estrogens and testosterone are hormones affected by this chakra. Some of the functions associated with this area are our emotions, sexuality, desire, pleasure, creativity and procreation. Socialization best describes this chakra, noting the need to connect with other human beings. The mantra “I Feel” best describes this chakra. This chakra is also described as a feminine energy, where it is both emotional and sensual; so it’s not only sexual, but can also be nurturing. This is where our desire for nurturing, warmth and touch comes from. Being denied these simple things can lead imbalances in our lives; whereas over indulgence here will also cause some serious imbalances.
#3 Manipura - The Willpower Chakra
The third chakra is called Manipura. It is described as a ‘shining gem’ and functions primarily as our willpower and associated with the ego. It is located above the navel, closer to the solar plexus. The endocrine systems affected by this chakra are the adrenals, pancreas, and digestive system. Health problems associated with this would be diabetes, constipation, ulcers, irritable bowels, and hypoglycemia. The solar plexus chakra has a lot to do with confidence and belonging. When it’s open we feel accepted and we know our place within the universe. This chakra is where we begin to really become more emotional. The chakra system starts out rather primal, and as we advance through the chakra system it becomes more emotionally complex. The Manipura chakra is where we develop a sense of self, and gain the confidence to life the life that we want to live. The mantra is “I Do”. When it is open, we are able to have a deeply fulfilling life and not feel overwhelmed. When it becomes closed, we feel emotionally blocked, or even numb. The person may not understand deep emotions or experience any kind of empathy for others.
#4 Anahata - The Heart Chakra
The fourth chakra is the heart chakra, also known as Anahata. This chakra obviously represents love; both our ability to give and receive. Body parts affected by this chakra are the lungs, heart & most of the upper torso. It’s element is air and the ability to breathe. So, naturally when this chakra becomes blocked the body has malfunctions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, bronchitis, etc. It also affects the thymus gland. In this chakra we begin to experience a deep, fulfilling joy. The love that we feel is expressed towards everything we encounter; exceeding desire. It becomes a way of being; we are able to express our love to others and in return be loved back. When it becomes blocked we feel needy and jealous; or we are unable to truly love perhaps because we have not fully healed from past heartbreaks or loss. When this chakra is open we feel deep peace and harmony with ourselves and everything around us.
#5 Visudda - The Purification Chakra
The fifth chakra is the throat chakra, or Visuddha, which means, “purification” and is located in the throat, we can feel this energetic center when we engage jalandara bandha. This chakra represents our ability to express ourselves through communication and creativity, and also speak our truth. The gland affected by this chakra is the thyroid chakra. The body parts would be the neck, shoulders, ears, nose, throat and tongue. It’s also associated with hearing; so this means that in order to be fully open we are able to express our own truth as well as receive and listen to others. When this chakra is blocked we may have a sore throat, stiff neck, thyroid issues or hearing problems.
#6 Ajna - The Third Eye
The sixth chakra is widely known as the third eye, or Ajna chakra, which means ‘to know’. This is where we begin to develop our intuition, and be able to ‘see’ and trust those intuitive feelings. It is located right between the eyes, and affects the pineal gland as well as the eyes. When this chakra becomes out of balance, we may experience blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes and sinus pressure. This chakra is actually located within the frontal lobe of the brain, so it really does affect us mentally. When it becomes blocked, we may experience lots of self doubt, over think everything or not trust our own decision making skills. When it’s open, we have a vision and we are able to trust that we are on the right path. The mantra is “I See”.
#7 Sahasrara - The Crown Chakra
The crown chakra is the seventh and last chakra in the system. It is called Sahasrara and is represented by a lotus with a thousand flower petals. It’s located at the top of the head and represents our thoughts. It’s function is to understand, and it’s ability to manifest information. When it’s fully open we are able to experience complete bliss. It affects our entire central nervous system and pituitary gland. When our crown chakra becomes blocked we feel boredom, confusion, stupidity, and even depression. When it is open, we are able to understand, to know and to trust in the universe. We are able to transcend and become part of a greater and higher consciousness. It is here that we know that our physical bodies are impermanent; and that we are so much more than that- our consciousness and spirit are what connects us all to the divine and our souls are something eternal.
So, with all of that said, we know that it’s important to keep our lives in balance. Because our mental state can affect our bodies and vice versa. Becoming more aware of our energies, and correcting our behaviors or changing our environments are just some of the things we can do to keep our chakras in balance. Because in the big picture, that’s what it’s all about! Stepping into our power and becoming the most ideal versions of ourselves so that we can live amazing lives and share all that love and good vibes out to everyone who crosses our path. That might sound like a bunch of hippy nonsense to some of you, but in the scheme of everything in the entire universe- it holds a lot of truth.