This month as a part of the SOL community offerings to our students, we are focusing our attention on the third limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga: asana. The root word of asana means comfortable seat, specifically meaning the seat that you would take when meditating. Historically we know that people were meditating for thousands of years, but this practice of meditation has evolved over time with the development of many styles of modern yoga. The meaning of asana has now evolved to mean any pose or posture. Just as the Yamas and the Niyamas are the inward guidelines for a yoga practicioner, asanas are the physical purification to seek steadiness and centeredness. When most people discuss the practice of yoga, they immediately think of the the physical asana practice because that is what is most prevalent in our society.
Asana refers to a comfortable seat because most of the seated poses were used in the past to prepare for meditation. Asana doesn’t always mean creating an aesthetically beautiful posture. It’s simply any posture that we can hold comfortably and steadily. Through the practice of physical asanas, we can develop a habit of discipline and concentration. We use our bodies so that the mind is given a healthy state. Since the mind and body are directly linked with one another, the intention for the asana practice is to connect the mind and body on the same page of peace and inner calmness. When we find this steadiness in both the mind and body, we can find a place of ease.
Energetically speaking, we can use the physical asana practice to influence energetic pathways in the body. There are several energy channels located on key points in the body known as the chakra system. Chakras have come to our Western culture through the practice of yoga but they have existed for thousands of years and across many cultures. Since yoga is a discipline that is designed to unite the individual with the higher self, we achieve this connection of the divine and individual by passing through states of consciousness. The chakras represent these states. So what is the chakra system and how does it connect to our asana practice? Chakra literally means ‘wheel’ or ‘disk. There are seven of these energetic wheels that stack in a column of energy that begins at the base of the spine up to the crown of the head. Chakras are not physical entities that we can see, but they are like feelings and ideas. We cannot see them, but they have a strong effect upon the body. The effect that they can have upon us includes patterns manifested in our lives, and the way that we think, feel, and handle situations that are presented to us in life. The chakras are related to various states of consciousness and different types of elements to represent, describe, and understand them in the best way possible. The lower chakras, for example, are often associated with more physical matters of our lives such as survival, movement, and action whereas the upper chakras are ruled by more spiritual and symbolic realms such as words, images, and concepts. Understanding each chakra will allow us to better understand ourselves.
So let’s briefly learn about each chakra.
The first chakra is the root chakra, or Muladhara chakra and is located at the base of the spine. The Muladhara chakra’s role is grounding. It corresponds to the element of Earth. A plant cannot survive without roots and neither can the psyche of humans. Our roots represent where we come from and we need the basic form of survival to feel alive and to nourish ourselves. A balanced first chakra is understanding and accepting our past while maintaining our current connection to the Earth.
The second chakra, sacral or Svadisthana chakra, is located at the lower abdomen. This chakra’s purpose is movement and connection. It is the energy that allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor including sexual pleasure and emotional connection. Our element has shifted from Earth to water; from solid to liquid. As the first chakra allows us to feel grounded and supported, the second chakra challenges us to change in just the opposite way. Our challenge here is to let go, to flow, to move, to feel and to yield.
The third chakra, solar plexus or Manipura chakra is located in your gut above your naval. This is the power chakra that is related to the element of fire. Self-confidence, identity, ego, and personal power lies within this chakra. This is the chakra that requires transformation and the right to act. We feel balanced in this area if we feel a sense of wisdom and decisiveness without a big ego and without feeling the need to control.
The fourth chakra, heart or Anahata chakra is located in your chest. This chakra allows us to love and to be loved for ourselves and others. The corresponding element is air. Even when hard circumstances happen, a balanced heart chakra still sees the compassion and kindness in others despite the challenges. The heart chakra is also connected to breaking down the barriers and defenses by learning to love ourselves so that we can love others too and by allowing others to love us.
The fifth chakra, throat or Vishuddha chakra is located in our throat and voice. The throat chakra lets us speak our truth and clearly express ourselves. Speaking our truth is not always easy, but so vital so that we can be ourselves without feeling ashamed for being who we are. This chakra, related to the element of sound, is about voicing our truth in a loving and kind way that will inspire and enlighten those around us.
The sixth chakra, third-eye or Ajna chakra is located between our eyebrows. This is the chakra to see and to perceive. The sixth chakra, corresponding to the element of light, opens up our minds to information beyond the five senses. It’s the sense of intuition. When the Ajna chakra is balanced, we feel equally in tune with the physical and spiritual world. This is the chakra that shows what we are trying to achieve when we begin the path of spiritual development.
The last chakra, crown or Sahaswara chakra is located on the top of the head. This chakra is pure consciousness energy. The crown chakra that corresponds to the element of thought is the chakra of understanding and the right to know. It’s the hardest one to explain since it is the goal of a spiritual warrior. It the last step of the spiritual journey to be connected with the Divine or universal energy. Some of us may be closer to achieving a balanced crown chakra than others. In any case however, practicing spiritual development and balancing your six other chakras will bring you closer to experiencing the energy in the crown chakra.
Our chakras can fluctuate by being open, closed off or imbalanced. We can often see this physical reflection of a blockage in our energy lines. For example, if we are having a hard time accepting others into our lives through love and compassion by constantly building barriers, we may see a sunken chest or shoulders rounding forward. The physical body often times is directly linked to our emotional state. We can in turn use the practice of yoga to create a sequence that influences the heart chakra to create more space and less blockages in the body. It is easier said than done, but we find over time that when we intentionally sequence a yoga asana flow while keeping in mind of particular chakras, this creates a balance of our emotional qualities and our energetic body.
If you are curious about how these 7 chakras work within the physical practice of yoga, ask one of our SOL Yoga teachers. We look forward to seeing you in the studio and we look forward to sharing with you about the connection between the asana practice and the chakra system in hopes of understanding ourselves on a deeper level. It is always a privilege to share what I know, what I believe, and what I am truly passionate about.
Namaste -Kyler Brady