You’ve seen the colours and the shapes – geometric designs in vibrant shades on yoga clothing, jewelry, and various yogic accoutrements.
Teachers may have asked you to direct your attention to the ‘third eye’ between your eyebrows, or asked you to press your hands together in a prayer gesture at the ‘heart center.’
Some one might have mentioned ‘kundalini’ or similarly foreign words while directing you through a breath practice, alternatively closing one nostril and then the other.
Yet very often when yoga is offered in secular environments, or taught with a strictly physical emphasis, the detail and information behind such images and instructions is not forthcoming.
Its astounding how often the detail relates to chakras…and how rarely this is expressly explained.
I know this to be true because I began learning about the chakras, expressed through those colourful and seemingly perplexing sounds/shapes/ideas, via determined questioning of my first instructors before and after classes at the gym near my apartment. In return they offered me a few handouts, which I still have, and would wink at me when relaying chakra-specific information to the class as a whole.
Those pages left so much unanswered however, that it was not long before I was collecting books and attending lectures to fill in the blanks. A constant search to decipher the square of the root chakra or find a chant that resonated in my throat center commenced.
In the decade since I started asking around, I’ve continuously been drawn towards the rainbow of the energy body the chakras represent. I know a little; I know I have vast amounts more to learn – this is part of the joy for me, the ever deepening studentship chakras offer.
I still have no idea what possessed me to begin inquiring about them originally. I only know that this system of self-discovery has brought deeper understanding of myself and my life into light in a way that has offered support and healing.
When I began the journey of teaching yoga I carried the chakras with me. From my own experiences and delight in this colourful aspect of Yoga, I shared with students in weekly classes, series, workshops, and retreats. Every time this topic has been the focus of my teaching, I have been amazed at the further unfolding of its scope. I continue to marvel at how students blossom with recognition when they encounter the centers personally, in their hearts and bodies.
So, what is a chakra?
CHAKRAS are centers within the subtle energy body that correspond with areas of the physical body.
The most widespread chakra system details seven vortexes of energy that permeate all the layers of an individual’s existence. Found along the spine these centers are believed to take in, direct, and utilize prana, the life energy that animates all things. Anodea Judith, Ph.D., defines chakras as ‘an organizational center for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of life energy’ and Ambika Wauters considers them ‘subtle organs that act as conductors for change’.
Prana refers to “that which is infinitely everywhere.” With reference to us humans, prana can be described as something that flows continuously from somewhere inside us, filling us and keeping us alive: it is vitality.
A colourful, easily recognizable description of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual development via seven coalescing centers of subtle energy, the chakras have the ability to meet individuals where they are in their life. This makes chakras useful tools in accessing the emotional and mental bodies and create a context for self-inquiry. Working with the chakras is a way of entering into relationship with our self, our patterns of behaviour in body, heart, mind, and spirit.
A Sanskrit word, chakra is translated as ‘wheel’ or ‘turning’ and refers to the motion of the energy in these areas, said to spin in various ways, depending on the health and harmony of the system. Envisioned in alignment with the physical spine, from the coccyx (tailbone) at the base of the spine up to the crown of the head, chakras vibrate at differing rates, and relate to various stages of personal development.
How to work with Chakras
Different approaches are appropriate for the different chakras. Where we are in our evolution at any moment can also alter the way we understand and experience the rainbow of prana, vital life energy, through the chakras. Depending on what methods we are most comfortable with and which come most easily to us at any time, we can start the journey where we are.
It is important to consider that the seven chakras are not sequential but circuitous and serpentine. Spirals of connected issues and concerns create a fluid course for the energetic journey of individual development.
This liquid rippling of energy is why I teach using the title Chakra Vinyasa – it speaks of the system and the inherent movement of life. Vinyasa is translated from the Sanskrit to mean’ to place in a special way’ and, in physical practice, refers to breath-initiated movement that links poses together. In the same way, the chakra centers are placed specifically through the body, relating to layers and levels of growth, one leading on to the next. Through different sequencing 7 asana can create any number of flow routines for the body to enjoy. Likewise the 7 chakras flow in a myriad of ways, coming together to meld and move.
Energy centers are essentially personal. They have been contemplated and recognized by many traditions and practices, but are, at their core, gateways to self-discovery. No one but you is the expert regarding this manifestation of inherent, personal energy. An outside expert cannot validate experiential inner knowledge. Take what is valid and of assistance to you, use it for as long as it is helpful, and then discard it for more appropriate or worthwhile practices as you develop and grow.
Certain practices may resonate strongly with you, and while some of these may soon be outdated, serving only to support you through a specific time of life or lesson, others will perhaps remain constant supports for the duration of your journey. Play, enjoy, and feel your way through the rainbow!
Chakra Vinyasa: Meeting the Energy Body Exercise 1
- Begin to notice what colours you favour – which colours are you drawn towards?
- What colours make you take a step back?
- Is your wardrobe dominated by a preferred shade? Your home?
- Ask close friends and family what colour, if any, they associate with you.
- Can you remember other times in your life when you loved a different colour?