We have a physical body, and we have a more subtle breath body, and it is fairly easy for us to check in with how those bodies are doing. We can scan our physical body to look for tension and gripping, for example, and then perhaps do some physical practice to release it. Or we can pay attention to our breath and slow it down or deepen if it is too quick or too shallow. In addition to the physical and breath bodies, we also have an even more subtle energetic body that we can learn to work with. The subtle energetic body moves prana (vital life force or energy) through its nadis and chakras. Chakras can have an excess or a deficiency of energy. As with all things yoga, we’re after BALANCE when it comes to the chakras. Here is an example of how one might consider the chakras in a modern day application: navigating the holiday season. One of my favorite Ram Dass quotes is, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” When I think of it, I always chuckle, and I always remember that it is the people who are closest to us who often are the ones who most push our buttons. The first chakra, located at the base of the spine, is known as the Root chakra. Some of the things it has to do with are our relationships to: survival--our basic needs, the Earth itself, our jobs/income/money, our homes, our parents, our children. All the biggies. One way to keep this chakra balanced is to root down by grounding oneself in practice. Remember, an abbreviated practice schedule due to holiday commitments is better than no practice at all, and importantly it will help you to remember your practice even when you can’t be doing it. (Krishna Das wisely reminds us to do our practice while we can because we will need it when we can’t).
And, hey, we can practice more than we realize — no one at the holiday party has to know that you’re chanting a mantra silently or breathing with mindful presence or standing in mountain pose, right? If the first chakra is imbalanced, it will effect the six other chakras that sit above it. It is from a stable base that we grow and evolve, and so we must start with the base. The second chakra, located at the pelvis, is associated with all things watery, including our ability to “go with the flow.” As we all know well, plans, people, flights, etc. etc. change. Everything is always moving and changing and shifting. The more we can get on board with being okay with change, the less we will suffer. The third chakra is located at the navel, our power center, the seat of ego and self-empowerment. For this one, work on setting (and keeping) clear boundaries. Also, ask yourself the question that was asked to Ram Dass by his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharaj-ji: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?” Do you want to contribute more aggression to the world? Consider the ripple effect of your thoughts, words, and actions. But also, stand in your truth. Don’t let others push you around. With the holidays come lots of food. Food is also related to the third chakra as our digestion system is within its jurisdiction. Again, think balance. Balance the rich foods of the season with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains. Drink plenty of water. Karmically speaking, this chakra relates to beings we have harmed (human and non-human). So you might consider the wider impact of your food choices on animals, on other humans, and on the earth’s environment. Perhaps you’ll make a commitment to going vegan in the new year. Also consider donating to organizations and non-profits who bring food and meals to people who are living with food insecurity. Baba’s Yard is a favorite of the studio. The fourth chakra is the heart chakra, located at the center of our chest. One element it has do with is forgiveness of those who have harmed us. This one can be extra tricky at holiday times. We can work on doing our best to keep an open heart. Ram Dass suggests we try seeing everyone as a “soul not a role.” That is, see others as the souls they are rather than the role(s) that they play in the world. Sharon Gannon suggests we work on seeing all others as holy beings. It’s not easy! In addition to forgiveness, the fourth chakra also has to do with love, in particular Love with a capital L. Unconditional love for all beings and boundless compassion for all beings. Back extensions (backbends) and shoulder stretches can help with a closed off heart chakra (deficient), while forward bending positions may be more suitable for an excessive heart chakra. Until we no longer see “others” (see chakra 7 below), we must make kindness, compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness practices. The Buddhist Loving-Kindness (or Metta) meditation is a good practice for the heart chakra. Selfless-service to others is also excellent for the heart chakra. The fifth chakra is at the throat. One aspect of it is speech and our voice. Again, we are looking for balance. We have a right to be heard, our voice should not be silenced by anyone or anything. But we also should remember that silence is golden. Again we might ask ourselves, “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be free?” We might THINK before we speak, asking ourselves if what we are about to say is: Thoughtful, Honest, Insightful, Necessary, and/or Kind. Speech is tremendously important and powerful. Thought leads to speech, and speech leads to action. The sixth chakra is at what is often called “the third eye,” or the space between the eyebrows. With a third eye, we can see more expansively, a more broad view. We can see the forest AND the trees so to speak. Shiva, associated with transformation, change, endings, and death, is depicted with an open third eye. He sees the BIG picture. He understands that change is the only constant, and that the cycle of birth > sustenance (life) > death goes on ceaselessly. He gets it that death isn’t an ending, rather it is energy (prana) changing form. It’s the dance of the Universe. And, transformation is necessary for our spiritual evolution. Shiva also demonstrates that we can find within this constant whirlwind of change a calm center that is unchanging and still. How? Through meditation and going deep within. Through mindfulness we begin to see our habits of mind. When we are cognizant that we’re “spinning out” in our mind, or that our thoughts are going to lead to words (and perhaps then actions) that we will regret, when we’re overwhelmed by all the changes happening around us, we can remember to step away — even if it’s just to the restroom — to pause, find our breath, focus our attention on a mantra (“Let go” is a very good one this time of the year). We can find shelter within the storm if we draw on our practice. The seventh, or Crown chakra, is said to reside just above the crown of the head. This one has to do with enlightenment and our relationship to the Divine, with our devotion to God (remember when I speak of God I mean G.O.D. or Give Own Definition, whatever represents the Divine to you). When consciousness reaches this level of evolution, we experience the Oneness of Being. We no longer see “others,” but rather only the One. Until we reach the state of enlightenment, we work on balancing this chakra through practice and intention. We work at remembering our connection to all other beings, to the earth, to the rest of the cosmos, and to the Divine through our yogic practices. We can set the intention of realization of the oneness of being as the highest aim of our practices. So during the holiday season, which can, despite our best efforts, become more about the stuff and things and meals etc, try to carve out some devotional time to spend in meditation, prayer, journaling, and study of sacred texts, etc. Perhaps you create a home altar. Try to spend some time out in nature marveling at the wonder of it all. Make a practice of looking for the sacred in the mundane. I send each of you blessings and love for the holiday season and thank each of you for being part of the Satsang Yoga community. ************************** The Jivamukti Yoga Focus-of-the-Month for December 2022 is written by my teacher Sharon Gannon and is called "Chakras." It is taken from her book "Eternity is Happening Now: Essays & Stories Volume 2." Since chakras are our focus for December, I'm offering a special workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022 at 7:30pm. It will be an introduction to the chakras and a chakra tuning class. Learn more or register at https://linktr.ee/SatsangYoga.