If you are a rational person who base your believes on scientifical evidence, you might be interested in yoga on one hand because of all the physical and mental health benefits related to the practice of yoga, but on the other hand you are questioning the esoteric side of it. You might be cringing everytime mention is made of the chakra system. You are open-minded, but this is a bit too much for you. If that is your case or if you are a yoga teacher finding it difficult to deal with students questioning the ancient wisdoms of yoga, this post is made for you.
Yoga and spirituality
Yoga is a spiritual practice. When we talk about spirituality, we tend to associate it with God and religion. In fact most of the traditional yoga textes refer to God, because they were written from the perspective of the authors who were religious. Does that mean that you have to believe in God to practice yoga ? No, you don’t.
Religion and spirituality are two different things. The Oxford dictionnary difines spirituality as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” And this is exactly what yoga is about. It goes deeper than just a physical practice, you are really trying to look inwards and discover your true self. By that I do not mean some mystical person inside of you, but looking at yourself free of judgment, free of the expectations of society, without the pollution of your own thoughts.
Yoga is about experiencing the present moment for what it is, without conceptualizing it. It pushes you to reconsider yourself in your environment and you ultimately realize that the material things are of very little importance in regards to happiness. You are the master of your own happiness regardless of the circumstances.
Am I going to find the answer of the meaning of life by practicing yoga ? Maybe not. Am I going to feel more empathy towards my peer ? Become more tolerant ? Kinder ? Probably. When you come to peace with yourself, you tend to make peace with the world around you and be more understanding. The state of calmness that you develop while practicing yoga, helps you to separate yourself from your emotions and you start to look at the world, as you look at yourself, with less anger, less sadness and more compassion.
What are the chakras ?
The chakras were first refered to in the Vedas which are ancient sanskrits texts. The Vedas originated in India somewhere between 1500 and 500 BC. According to the Vedas, there is a universal energy which goes through every living things called prana and the chakras are defined as circular energy centers in the body where prana conglomerates. There are 7 chakras located along the spine, the neck and in the head. Each chakra is associated with a color and they are linked to different organs and emotional states that influence all areas of life.
It is believed that blockages in the chakras or energetical imbalances create emotional distress and/or physical pain. By doing yoga you are trying to “unlock” your chakras and get the energy flowing freely through the body. Ultimately when all the charkas are aligned, you might access a higher state of consciousness or enlightenment.
An alternative interpretation for skeptical minds
Are you seriously telling me that I have a glowing red spinning wheel in my scrotum? _Martymer 81
There are no scientifical evidences that prana or the chakras actually exist. Therefore for cartesian people this pill might be hard to swallow, but it should not put you off. After all the ancient texts were written long ago without the scientifical means of today and they can be interpreted in many different ways. If you replace the words prana or energy with the word vitality, the chakra system will start making much more sense for your rational mind.
To increase your vitality you will need to focus on your physical, emotional and mental balance, because everything it connected. Chances are that if you are not feeling well mentally, this will be associated with physical symptoms. By working on your body with the yoga postures and on your mind with meditation, you will ultimately increase your overall vitality.
Instead of seeing the chakra as rotating disks spinning inside of you, you can picture them as different parts of your body and areas of your life or personnality in which you want to work on. The colors associated with it can be considered as symbols for these concepts. The state of enlightment can be understood as a general state of balance and hapiness, rather than a mystical super power. You can view unlocking your chakras as moving past your physical and/or mental weaknesses.
Brief overview of the 7 chakras
Muladhara : the root chakra
The root chakra is located at the bottom of the spine and its color is red. It is our base, what makes us stable, it is associated with family, with the feeling of safety and securtiy and our basic needs for food, shelter, sleep…
Svadhishthana : the sacral chakra
This chakra is located under the belly button and its color is orange. It is related to creativity, sexuality, emotions, feelings and relationships.
Manipura : the solar plexus chakra
It is located in the upper part of the body and its color is yellow. It is related to self-confidence, self-discipline, personal identity, willpower, clarity of judgment and mental abilities.
Anahata : the heart chakra
It is located at the center of the chest and its color is green. It is related to compassion, empathy, the capacity to forgive, the ability to grieve and the ability to change.
Vishuddha : the throat chakra
It is located at the center of the throat and its color is blue. It is related to communication, the ability to speak out, realizing your purpose and making ideas into reality.
Ajna : the third eye chakra
It is located in the area between the two eyebrows and its color is indigo. It is related to wisdom, openness to spirituality, capacity to see the greater picture and vision, meaning being able to see what is in front of you without filters.
Sahasrara : the crown chakra
It is located at the top of the head and its color is purple or white. It is related to consciousness, awareness, open-mindness and connection to the divine. And again divine does not mean necessarly God, but all things of “creation” : nature, space, time, the awareness and acceptance of death.
How to concretely work on your chakras ?
If you find yourself in a yoga class dedicated to a certain chakra. Think of an issue related to this chakra. For example, if working on the root chakra, you might have some family issues. Well think of these issue briefly, notice how it affects you mentally and physically. As well as noticing the emotions you feel, notice what happens in your body when you are thinking of it. You might feel a slight node in your stomach, tears might start rolling up your eyes, your muscles contracting with anger….
Set an intention for yourself related to this issue, a wish. And then try to let it go consciously, forget it. If you can’t, don’t worry, these thoughts will disappear from themselves when you will be on the mat, because you will be too busy synchonizing your breath, your movements, thinking of your alignments, follow the instructions…
At the end of the class, when you finish meditation, when your body and your mind will be quiet, go back to your issue, notice how you feel now. It is very likely that your view on the issue will have shifted, maybe just slightly, but it will most certainly affect you a bit less or differently. You might start to understand that you have power over this issue, maybe you have the tools to fix it but need to get past your ego or maybe you cannot fix it, but you can decide to no longer let it affect you.
Yoga is a practice and it takes time, you might not be able to open all your chakras from the beginning, meaning fixing all the issues in your life, but with time and dedication, you will start to notice improvements in many areas of your life, if not all. Maybe, after a while, these concepts of chakras, prana, higher self and the likes that used to make you chuckle, will actually become some valuable imput to your practice.