by Kara-Leah Grant
Back in 2000 I was living with chronic back pain including agonising spasms, searing sciatica on the right side and a right foot that was half numb, meaning I walked with a limp.
I had no faith in doctors because I’d had a spinal fusion eight years earlier (aged 16). I’d felt like like the doctors I’d seen then or since didn’t understood my back or what was causing my pain.
Yet I dutifully took myself off off to the Whistler Medical Clinic to get x-rays and see if someone could shed some light on why I was in such pain and what I needed to do about it.
The verdict was dire. I had disc degeneration disease and would likely need more operations and would have limited mobility for the rest of my life.
This diagnosis was a major turning point in my life as I made a choice that has informed everything that has followed. I choose, in that moment of despair, empowerment and responsibility.
I decided that I would heal myself – whatever that meant. And I have. Yes, I still have back issues but I manage them in a daily basis and don’t live with pain anymore.
I have never had a second operation and my mobility is greatly increased. I will always have a back that needs love, but this is a good thing as it keeps me on my yoga mat and mindful of my body.
Yoga has been the cornerstone of my healing process, but the chakras have been the lens through which I’ve learned to see the world and my body.
The first book I picked up post-healing declaration was Caroline Myss’s Anatomy of the Spirit. It blew me open completely. Caroline is an intuitive healer and works by tuning into the energetic body – the chakras – and giving people the information they need to facilitate their healing process.
In Anatomy of the Spirit, she explores the relationship between our interior processes and our health through the lens of the chakras – something she doesn’t just know about intellectually but something she senses and experiences.
This was my first introduction to chakras as a portal for understanding and perceiving the Self and I drank it in. I began to understand how my mental and emotional responses to life could affect my physical self.
The number one question people always asked me about my back was:
How did it happen? What did you do to it?
After all, I was 15 years old, active and athletic yet I had a disc that wasn’t just bulging – it was disintegrating. What had I done to it?
But there was no accident, no injury, no physical point of origin. Nothing had happened.
Yet on reading Caroline’s book, I began to realise that everything had happened.
I’d come in with a body that was likely to have back issues – long in the body and shorter in the legs. This set up an emotional and mental stress point for me. Couple that with my coping mechanisms for emotional difficultly – total suppression – and Housten, we have a problem.
In Caroline’s book she outlines the energetic anatomy of the body and when I looked up chronic back pain and sciatica, I discovered it was related to the first chakra and the second chakra.
Turned out how I emotionally and mentally related to life – in particular, attempting to control everything – was going to affect my back.
Pennies started dropping. Now I had a way of working with my back issues that went beyond the physical and helped alter the entire way I related to life.
This wasn’t easy work and it wasn’t a quick fix. The first and second chakras are still where my default issues lie – I’m still learning about security, stability and creating a sense of belonging, plus blame and guilt, money and sex, power and control, ethics and integrity in relationships and creativity.
But at least I had a place to start. I felt like I was back in control of my health. There were things I could do to heal myself. (And yes, I see the irony that control is one of my issues and taking control of my health helped heal me. Our weaknesses are often our strengths as well.)
I felt like I had a road map where someone else had mapped the territory and left markers along the landscape. I had something to follow.
That first introduction to chakras was largely intellectual, although because Caroline’s work is experiential, it was a solid intellectual grounding of the nuances of energy anatomy.
Over time though, as I’ve used yoga practices that specifically work energetically – like the Heart-Opening Kriya – I’ve also had experiences that have grounded this intellectual knowledge in reality.
These experiences have been specific enough to show me that the chakras are not something that someone ‘made up’ one day, and then everyone has been copying ever since.
The chakra system is something that exists in the subtle body and can be perceived directly.
One day, as medicine becomes more integrative, I imagine that medical professionals will not just learn the chakra system, but they will be taught how to directly perceive it. Similar to how medical students today don’t just learn about the body and it’s systems out of a book but use cadavers and observation of senior doctors at work to learn the physical body.
As my knowledge of yoga and the psyche deepens, I’m finding that the chakra system provides a natural connection point for our energetic, mental, emotional and physical bodies. This is where everything overlaps and you can deduce and experiment to shift something in one body by using the other body.
For example, I observed in a student that they collapsed through the upper body, rounding their shoulders. Seen through a purely physical lens, one might deduce that they need to better develop the muscles on their upper back and maybe lengthen the muscles of the chest.
However, going deeper into the emotional and mental body I got the sense that this person was afraid to put themselves forward and liked to hide away in group situations. The way they showed up physically wasn’t just about muscles but about how they saw themselves and how they related to the world.
It’s possible to work with this on a purely physical level and do exercises that will create the opening in the front body and the strength in the back body. However, if the underlying emotional and mental patterns aren’t addressed the body will still prefer to ‘organise’ itself in the old way, even with the new strength and opening. As the body continues to organises itself in the old way, the strength that’s been built up and the opening that’s been gained is lost.
If, however, you work on an energetic level as well, helping to shift the pattern of the psyche, the body begins to organise itself in a new way which requires more strength and opening. Then the physical work is far more likely to have a long-term impact, because you’ve dealt with the underlying emotional and mental patterns that gave rise to that physicality in the first place.
Plus, the student then has a much better understanding of their own psyche and how it shows up in their body. Their awareness has grown. They might go to a party and notice how their body has shifted back into the old hunched pattern, and take steps to deliberately open up and shine (like go into a bathroom and do a short mirror meditation).
This is a holistic way of working that honours the complexity of us as multi-dimensional beings – we are physical, but we are also emotional, mental and energetic.
Fourteen years after first reading Anatomy of the Spirit I can sense that this is where my work as a yoga teacher is headed – understanding how to apply the practices of yoga to release and open people physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically.
It’s going to be a life-long journey, but I am fortunate to have people like Caroline Myss, Anodea Judith and Swami Satyananda to learn from, plus an ability to work directly with my own experience.
That’s always been the biggest ‘A-ha!’ moment for me – realising that the chakras offer a map to our internal worlds that help us understand what we’re experiencing externally.
I had no doubt in 2000 that I would be able to heal my back – and I have. I’ve learned what my triggers are and what my back needs on a daily basis to stay pain free. I’ve learned how to love my spine and I’ve learned what makes it tick.
My spine will never be the same as someone who hasn’t had a spinal fusion, or the same as someone who has strong discs, but my quality of life has improved immensely.
Now that’s something I wish the doctors had been able to offer me, instead of the promise of more operations and limited mobility!