I recall, many years ago, having attended a yoga class where the yoga teacher spoke in great detail about chakras. “What on earth is she going on about?” I thought to myself, getting more confused by the minute as the teacher mentioned Sanskrit terms, one after another.
As a yoga teacher, I advocate for using simple terms when teaching yoga so as not to overwhelm students, but chakras, like many things in yoga, are difficult to simplify and translate. They represent an overarching and complex system of energy that helps maintain the health and wellbeing of one’s body and mind.
What Are Chakras?
Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel. Chakras are commonly referred to mean a point of physical or spiritual energy in the human body. Within the body, there are seven main chakras that together, align the spine. Chakras in the body can be imagined as a swirling wheel of energy where matter and consciousness meet. This energy is referred to as Prana, or vital life force.
Energy within the body is constantly swirling. This energy can be closely related to the massive nerve centers in the body. Together, the chakras help maintain the smooth flow of energy, to create a balanced body, mind and soul.
The Seven Chakras
There are seven main chakras in the body, each containing a group of nerves and major organs connected to an individual’s psychological, emotional and spiritual states of being. To maintain the smooth flow of energy within the body, it is vital that the chakras stay open to prevent blockages, causing a disruption in energy flow. Irregular energy flow is seen to cause physical illness and discomfort or the feeling of being mentally and emotionally out of balance. Though chakras can be understood as separate, with each chakra having unique characteristics, all seven chakras must be aligned in order to maintain optimum energy movement.
The root chakra, also known as Muladhara, is as its name suggests, at the bottom most point of the body. Muladhara sits at the base of the spine. Being closest to the earth, the root chakra emphasizes strong foundations and being grounded. It is associated to the legs, bones, kidneys and adrenal glands. When open and balanced, the root chakra helps one feel safe, assured and fearless. A blocked root chakra may cause a sense of fear and paranoia.
A great yoga pose that will help to open the root chakra is Warrior 1, as it strengthens the legs and creates a firm foundation for you through your feet. In this pose, concentrate on pressing the outer foot on the straight leg down. Activate both the calf and the quadriceps to strengthen the legs. Firmly root your feet into the mat without tensing your toes.
The sacral chakra is found below the belly button and refers to sexuality, pleasure and emotions. Known as Svadhishthana in Sanskrit, the sacral chakra is connected to the lower abdomen, bladder, and reproductive organs and affects out ability to connect with each other and accept new experiences. A balanced sacral chakra translates to healthy reproductive organs. As this chakra connects to emotions, the ability to feel and empathize with basic emotions is a sign of an open chakra.
Open your sacral chakra through a crow pose! The crow not only works on strengthening the arms but also the lower abdomen. If a crow pose is challenging due to the extended arms, practice the crane pose instead, as it gives more stability with bent elbows.
Solar Plexus Chakra
The solar plexus is located above the navel and is sometimes known as the navel chakra. The solar plexus involves the digestive system, pancreas and adrenal glands. Emotionally, the solar plexus of Manipura is at the center of feelings of power, joy, anger and sadness. Feelings of frustration, loss of control, and low self-confidence can be due to a blocked Manipura chakra.
Twist poses are great choices for balancing the solar plexus chakra as it helps detoxify the digestive system. A good pose to start with is the revolved triangle pose. To benefit from the twist, try to keep the hips squared as you twist and only move from the shoulders. Keep your spine lengthened and your shoulders relaxed.
The heart, or Anahata, can be seen as the most important chakra among the seven chakras in the body. The Anahata chakra sits at the heart and serves as a bridge that connects between the lower and upper chakras. The heart chakra acts as the center of love and controls our ability to love (ourselves and others). It is also associated to the lungs, heart and thymus gland. A compromised immune system and lung problems may be a sign of a closed heart chakra.
Backbends are generally used to open the heart chakra, as they move to open the chest. The wheel pose is my go-to chest opener pose, as it’s great to not only open the chest but also to strengthen the arms and legs. In the wheel pose, take great care to ensure that weight is evenly distributed to both arms and legs. Move the inner knees toward each other and try to push the center of your sternum out.
The throat chakra – located at the throat, is also known as Vishuddha. It connects to communication and expression of ideas, creativity and judgment. The neck, thyroid, mouth and tongue are associated with this chakra. When blocked or misaligned, general communication with others can be affected. Instability in thyroid hormones may also manifest as a result of blockages in the throat chakra.
Any yoga poses that help lengthen the neck and open the throat are good poses for the throat chakra. A personal favorite of mine is the raised hand pose because it’s simple yet offers so many great benefits. In this pose, raise your arms and draw them slightly back, opening your chest and throat. As you lift your arms, pay attention to your feet and avoid shifting the weight entirely towards the heels. Lengthen the neck by moving the shoulder blades down.
Third Eye Chakra
The third eye is located between the eyebrows and is known as the chakra of intuition and wisdom. We have all encountered a time in our lives when we wanted to do something but our sense of intuition told us otherwise. This ability to hone in on our intuitions is dependent on a closed or opened third eye chakra. Problems such as a selective memory or depression are also connected to a blocked third eye, or Ajna, chakra.
The seated forward bend is a good pose to open the third eye as it increases the flow of blood to the face while also being relaxing. Work into this pose by keeping your spine long and only bending as much as you don’t curve the back. Keep the foot flexed and activated.
Seated at the very top of the head is the crown chakra, which scientifically, has much to do with the brain. The crown chakra controls the central nervous system and pituitary glands. It also controls our ability to be fully connected in a spiritual manner, and to be attuned to our connection to the divine. The chakra, also known as Sahaswara, is open when one has a general feeling of bliss and a healthy central nervous system.
What better pose to work on to open the crown chakra than inversions?! If you are a beginner and have never attempted inversions, do remember that the downward dog is also a form of inversion. However, if you are familiar with inversions, practice whichever you prefer. Be sure to avoid straining the neck while staying upside down and bring the weight to your arms. Inhaling fresh air is beneficial to crown chakra balancing, so be sure to breathe deeply.
Learn more about chakra balancing from its birthplace in India. Go on a yoga teacher training in India to deepen your understanding on this ancient system!