Everything in this world is made up of energy. In fact, it’s been summed up into a single equation by the genius himself, Albert Einstein, who found that everything that we call matter can be converted into energy according to the famous equation E=MC squared. We must assume that the same is true for our physical bodies.
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”
The first mention of the body as energy in the form of chakras, or “wheels”, was in the ancient Vedic texts. According to Anodea Judith in her book “Wheels of Life”, knowledge of the chakra system was passed down through an oral tradition by the Indo-European people, also called the Aryan people. These chakras, while often depicted as circles of vibrant color, I have found to be more like fields of information. Each layer of the chakra system is not isolated from the next, but indeed interlaced like thread in the layers of fabric, all making up the larger picture of who we are. When one part of the system is weak, or blocked, the entire system is compromised.
The practices of yoga (which have been known to link with the chakra system) have gifted us with many different ways to look at, learn about, work with, and heal ourselves (and so our universe) through the balancing of our energetic/physical/spiritual/mental/emotional body. The way I look at it, there is no real distinction between these layers or “bodies”; every part being interwoven with everything else. If energy cannot be created or destroyed as Einstein’s equation explains, then we can look at life as a sort of balancing act, so to speak, or an internal dance of energy and information.
Every experience we’ve had in our life has an impact on our body. From the food we eat and the tv we watch, to the people we surround ourselves with, everything has an energetic exchange within our own individual system, and can greatly inform the bigger picture of who we think we are. In my work as a teacher, and a student of the body, I have found in my own experiences that the body holds memory. I can feel the patterns of information from my childhood in my tissues, the pains and the joys. For example, the holding pattern behind my solar plexus (3rd chakra) I feel is a part of a history of many years of being told to “pull your shoulders back” compounded by over a decade of bra wearing. We all hold different patterns, it is what makes us who we are! We also have the power to transform and shift these patterns if we so choose. The question is, which patterns are worth keeping?
In this brief breakdown of the human chakra system, I will attempt to shine a little light on what kind of information can get stuck at each level, and what can be done to work with those layers for the purpose of transformation. (It is important to note that while I will only mention seven systems here, there are said to be over a hundred chakra points in the body with these seven being the major fields of information.)
1st Chakra: Muladhara: Earth: this chakra contains everything that makes up the foundation for our lives. Think of this field as the container for all other energy to be held and supported by. This is our root, our connection to the planet herself, our families, our larger communities, and is balanced by our ability to meet the needs for our survival. If we find ourselves stuck in a belief of “lack”, or “not enough”, this chakra will be out of balance, and we will continually find ourselves fighting for our basic needs to be met. The balance is held between the extremes of rigidity and instability, with the sweet spot being an internal sense of stability.
My favorite grounding practices include Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, walking barefoot in the mud or grass, and of course finding opportunities to be with community!
A healthy first chakra leads to a strong container for the energy of the 2nd chakra to flourish…
2nd Chakra: Svadistana: Water: the realm of this field is fueled by our emotions, our intimate relationships, our raw creative desires, and our ability to FEEL. This is the space of our sexual energy, which is healthiest when flowing freely (and supported by the container of the 1st chakra). If we are stuck inside relationships that do not allow for emotional expression, this chakra will feel completely shut down where we might feel numbed to experiences. The opposite being, that there is not an ability to contain, and we lose our ability to choose and control how we express our feelings.
I absolutely love Lotus Flow as a 2nd chakra balancing practice. The vinyasa, dance-like sequences help my body to allow for energy to flow while also having the grounding repetitive structure to support me. Indeed, all dancing will free up this layer of our being!!
Water and Earth both move with gravity, with the current. When we come to the third chakra there is a radical shift…
3rd Chakra: Manipura: Fire: the light of the third chakra is through the power of fire. This is the realm of our personal power, self-esteem, and identity. This is the internal spark of WILL, of our ability to stand up for what we believe, to make ourselves known as an individual, which is why it is associated with the ego. This space has been known to get out of balance quite often, as the search for power has a tendency to lead people towards dominating over others (leaving others feeling unempowered) due to a feeling of powerlessness within themselves.
When I am feeling insecure, and lethargic, I use kapalabhati pranayama, surya namaskar, and uddiyana Bandha practices. When I feel overheated, and need to keep my ego in check, I use sheetali pranayama, and forward folds like uttanasana.
This space often receives a bad rap from the spiritual communities who wish to destroy all traces of egoism, but I personally feel that we must make peace with our individuality if we want to move into the space of the heart.
4th Chakra: Anahata: Air: this is the field of love, compassion, acceptance, unity, and harmony. This is the energy of air, that permeates into every corner of the room with it’s presence. This is the space of the heart, and our spiritual connection with our world. When we feel hurt, abandoned, or betrayed by people in our lives, this can shut down the heart and move us away from trust and towards resentment. We must continually check in with the balance of both giving and receiving if we wish to balance the heart, and let love flow.
When I feel that I need to let more love into my life, I use backbending of all variations, I sing mantras, and I do what I can to GIVE love in the ways that I know how: hugs, art making, dancing, sending love letters, and self-less service such as volunteer work or organizing free events. The beauty of these expressions leads us to the next realm…
5th Chakra: Visshudi: Space: Becoming more and more ethereal, this realm is the field of sound and the vibration of truth. When this chakra is balanced, we are able to express ourselves with the utmost clarity, speaking our truth from the core of our being. Again, these realms are even more powerful with the support of the surrounding chakras, so when the throat, head and heart are all aligned, there is incredible space for true and honest self-expression and transformation.
When feeling blocked vocally (even literally losing your voice) I like to use Brahmari Pranayama and spend more time with head and neck mobilizations like slow head rolls, and neck stretches.
When feeling overworked, or like you might need to reign in the amount of verbalization, there are quieting practices like shoulderstand and plow that I love.
6th Chakra: Ajna: Light: Also known as the third eye, this field of information includes our ability to dream, envision, imagine, and of course, to actually see. This is the space of wisdom, insight, and our psychic capabilities.
When this space is blocked, we might feel like we are stuck in the same thought patterns again and again, a lot like a broken record. Cleansing practices such as meditation, guided visualization through Yoga Nidra, and NadiShodhana Pranayama assist me with such circumstances. Although it is rare for the third-eye to be “too open”, feelings of anxiety can crop up when the psychic pillars begin to reveal themselves. The same cleansing practices can be applied in this situation.
7th Chakra: Sahasrara: Spirit/Consciousness: This is the entry way for spirit, and the organization of consciousness. This is the field of our awareness, the dimension of our highest Self. In yogic text, this the realm of Nirvana or Samadhi, pure self-realization. As Anodea Judith puts it, Sahasrara is Enlightenment: Home At Last.
“Enlightenment is not a thing, it is a process. A thing is something to acquire; a process is something to be. If enlightenment were a thing it would be a contradiction in terms to have “found” it, for it is inseparable from the self who is looking. Upon realization, we find that it was never lost!” -Anodea Judith
The moments of realization come like flashes, and sometimes like waves. Through the healing of the entire chakra system, the energy pathways become more and more clear, opening us up into higher and deeper realms of awareness. Lately, receiving Reiki has been a huge help in assisting my energetic body to heal and transform, release and renew at the level of spirit.
All threads in the fabric of our energy body are crucial in their making of the whole of who we are. This life is for exploring, and wow what landscapes the body carries. We get to choose which stories we want to keep, which memories we want to shape us, which thoughts we want to repeat. My prayer is for us all, that we may all feel empowered to write our own story, to heal our wounds, and mend the ways of our past. Everything is energy: when we heal ourselves, we heal each other.
Namaste. Peace. Love.
I have a great friend and yoga teacher who can, with one intense Jedi-like stare of his giant, piercing eyes, bring me immediately to tears. He has a way of looking through me rather than at me…I’m talking about seeing into the depths of my soul with a gaze that speaks a thousand words. It’s equally both creepy and amazing!
He was leading an intensive training on the study of energy and the subtle body. On a break, he caught me asking a series of profound questions about our homework assignment in my passionate, fast-paced speech pattern. How could I bring more life into my blocked chakras? What postures did he suggest I practice to fix the imbalance in my left-side body? Should I even be practicing postures or just doing breathing exercises? Blah blah blah… And then the EYES – that long, deep stare into my being, burning a soft hole through my energetic armor, and he simply said, “Robin…”
I wasn’t breathing, apparently. I was speed talking with an anxious desire to fix myself, like I was a car and he was the mechanic. He said my name slowly, deliberately, and waited. I used to fear silence in conversations, but I knew at that moment what he was trying to tell me. Stop. Breathe. Listen to your Self. You know what to do. Allow the vulnerability to surface, and see what happens. And you know what happened? I burst into tears.
I absolutely despise crying in public. I always thought that crying showed a sign of weakness in me that I would refuse to let others witness. As a woman, I have been conditioned to think that shedding tears makes me less capable of handling pressure, of performing well in the workplace, or of communicating without letting my girlie emotions get in the way. So for years, I had shut off the part of me that desperately needed to express vulnerability…my heart chakra.
A chakra, or “wheel of light” in Sanskrit, can also be described as a vortex of spinning energy that emanates from the spine. Chakras are said to serve as the place where subtle (metaphysical) energy and concrete (biophysical) energy come together and then disperse throughout the body. According to the Hindu Chakra model, there are seven chakras found along the spine, from the base to the crown of the head, all of which are interconnected with 72,000 nadis or meridian-like channels that spread energy in all directions.
Each chakra is affiliated with a color, an element in nature, a vibration or sound, a major bodily organ, and relates to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of being human. In the case of the heart chakra, called Anahata, the respective color is green, the element is air, and the seed sound is “Yam” (which reminds me of yum or delicious, appropriate words to describe how it feels when your heart is full); the organs include the lungs and heart, and the Anahata chakra relates to love and compassion and a feeling of great joy for life.
When I burst into tears, it was as if the floodgates of my heart chakra had sprung open. I suddenly had permission to connect to my truest self, to allow emotions (read as vulnerability) to cleanse my innermost being and leak out through my eye sockets. Tears that result from strong feelings like stress, pain, anger, and sadness are even classified by scientists – they are called psychic tears and are known to carry leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller. That would explain why I felt a million times better after I actually released whatever was pent up inside of me!
As peers and fellow yogis rallied to my side during my sobfest, I realized that my wide-eyed friend (the subtle energy yoga-guru-Jedi-master) had been guiding our group so deeply into our subtle bodies that there was bound to be an explosive opening. Through the power of asana (movement), meditation, pranayama (breathing), and mantra (sound healing) the smallest shifts were bringing about profound transformations. And I made some great discoveries in regards to my personal yoga practice:
Breathe into the back of your heart. I’d been missing out on the finer elements of heart opening. For years, I had just been overworking my already flexible spine, pinching my shoulders together to lean further into a backbend, and letting the front of my heart do all the work. In other words, how I project myself into the world (by way of the front of my heart) as a loving and kind being was being reinforced, but how I felt about my Self and my connection to the Divine (via the back of my heart) was disconnected. The real work was in standing still with my arms elevated and breathing into the space between my shoulders…the BACK of my heart…the depth of my soul…and I need to continue to work with that simple action every day.
Touch and be touched. Let your arms and hands be conduits of your beautiful heart, so that that spark of Divinity within you is caressing everything and everyone that you touch. This loving kindness and compassion will come your way too if you let others do the same for you.
Cry in front of others. Yes, there it is. Allow those around you to see your vulnerability and let them in on the big secret…that you’re HUMAN! It will feel incredible to shed some tears (remember that natural painkiller?) and connect to compassionate beings that understand whatever you are experiencing. I promise they will have felt it at some point as well.
The beauty of the yoga practice is that it contains so many layers. You may come to your mat at first excited by nothing more than the physical practice…then you come back hungry for that natural high that accompanies each class…and then you start to tap into the subtle realms of the deeper practice, the realization that the high you seek is simply you discovering the real you…that your subtle energy body is igniting and slowly creating profound shifts in your life. And one day, your heart will burst wide open, too!
Robin Wilner is a former Broadway dancer/singer/actress who took a leap of faith, moved to the west coast, and is devoted to teaching and practicing yoga. Mixing her dance background with a love of chanting, meditative healing, and philosophy, she strives to lead her students to a state of being that reflects their own inner radiance. Flow with Robin on Mondays & Fridays at 12pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 9am, or Sundays at 10am