Last month, I gave a brief (and hopefully clear) introduction to the chakra system. To recap: Chakras are energy centres, there are seven, they run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, they spin ('chakra' in Sanskrit means 'wheel'), and we want them balanced.
Why do we want them balanced? Well, according to ancient yogic philosophy, when balanced, the chakras provide precisely the right amount of energy to the body, mind and spirit, and this in turn leaves us in perfect harmony both within ourselves and in relation to the world around us. Sounds pretty great, right?
Agreed. Except this state of homeostasis is unicorn rare. More commonly, the majority of us experience some varying degree of imbalance – excess or deficiency – in our chakras, and our lives.
Chakra yoga is the practice of using yoga postures and breathing techniques to achieve greater energetic equilibrium in our chakras. While everything affects our energy centres, either positively (a good night’s sleep) or negatively (a painful breakup), the asanas and pranayama techniques used in hatha yoga are thought to be particularly good for achieving balance, in part because they’re designed to keep the spine (our main pathway for the flow of chakra energy) in alignment, but also because they encourage mindful awareness.
Travelling in ascending order through the seven essential chakras, I’ve put together a short selection of practices to help you develop a deeper connection with your energetic body. Remember: Where the mind goes, the energy goes – so keep mindful attention on the area of each chakra you’re working on.
It’s important to listen to your body to allow these poses to work their magic. You’re looking to build awareness of the subtle energies, and this is best done with unhurried, gentle curiosity. Put aside the rocket-vinyasa approach for now; take the time to slow down and really feel into what’s going on inside.
Finally, as with all yoga, you may find certain postures or exercises invite an emotional reaction. Approach your practice with compassion: Be kind, go at your own pace, have fun, and let the breath be your guide.
Located at the base of the spine, the root chakra is connected to our sense of stability and grounding, as well as our connection to the earth and family. When lacking balance here we can feel fearful, ungrounded, anxious, angry, tired and sluggish.
Uttanasana (standing forward fold), Virabhadrasana (warrior) 1 & 2, and goddess stance are all great poses for the root chakra as they help anchor and ground the physical body, which in turn encourages the same for the mind. In each pose, press the soles of the feet powerfully into the mat, and imagine you are drawing energy up from the earth even as you ground down.
Situated around two inches below the navel, the sacral chakra is the seat of our emotions and creativity. It relates to our desires and repulsions, our sexuality, and our reproductive system. When deficient it can lead us to feel joyless or rigid, and when excessive it can encourage an addiction to pleasure and emotional extremes.
The element associated with the second chakra is water, so it responds well to fluidity and movement, particularly around the sacral area. Pelvic tilts and Ananda Balasana (happy baby) are both really effective postures for bringing awareness and balance to our emotional centre. As you move, cultivate the effortless flowing quality of water.
Located a few inches above the navel, the solar plexus chakra is our transformation or power centre. It is the point from which we move forward in the world. When depleted, we may lack enthusiasm or energy, or feel insecure or needy. Conversely, an excess of energy can lead to obstinate, forceful or dominating behaviour.
Build fire in your belly with a few rounds of Kapalabhati or Uddiyana Bandha followed by Navasana (boat) or a long-held plank. Ardha Matsyendrasana (half spinal twist) is another great solar plexus pose – the twisting action encourages a healthy digestive tract, which helps ensure balance in the navel area.
Positioned at the centre of the chest, the heart chakra is the midpoint between our three lower and three higher chakras. It is the seat of love, compassion, trust, peace and forgiveness. When balanced, we feel these qualities in abundance.
Bring expansiveness to your heart area with backbends such as Bhujangasana (cobra), Chakrasana (wheel) and Anahatsana (puppy dog pose). The element associated with the heart chakra is air, so as you move imagine you are freeing up space in the lungs and between the ribs.
The throat chakra is our communication centre and as such, relates to how we project ourselves into the world. When lacking, we can feel shy and scared to speak up; when excessive, we may find ourselves unable to listen to others and talking too much ourselves.
The throat and neck are the narrowest point in our body, and much like a bottleneck, things (ie emotions) can get stuck here. Try poses that help to open and massage the area, such as Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Matsyendrasana (fish). Or if you’re after a more gentle practice, simple rotation neck exercises (like these schoolchildren) are very effective for bringing balance to the throat chakra.
Located between the eyebrows, at the centre of the forehead is the third-eye chakra. It is here that our intuitive wisdom lies. This chakra is our discriminator and our decision-maker.
Help bring your focus and attention to between the eyebrows with challenging balancing postures such as Bakasana (crow) and Vrksasana (tree). Or try Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing), an excellent breathing technique for helping to calm and focus the mind. As you practise, keep the awareness on the point between the eyebrows, and if it appeals to you, imagine there is a bright light shining out from there.
The seventh and final chakra, located at the top (or just above) the head, is the crown chakra. This is the seat of ultimate consciousness and truth. It serves as the fundamental gateway between our physical and spiritual world.
The best exercise for awakening and balancing this chakra is meditation, so try ending your practice with a mindful breathing contemplation. If you’re in the mood for something a little stronger, you may also enjoy Sirsasana (headstand), or if it’s deep relaxation you’re after, then opt for an extended Savasana (corpse pose).