Updated: May 17
Recently I've been diving a bit deeper than usual into the physiology and philosophy behind yoga, breathwork, and mindfulness. It's brought me back to some of the texts and books I acquired while in India for my yoga teacher training (YTT) which I mention at the end of this post.
Those who are highly scientific in their approach to understanding life's great questions will have trouble remaining open to what follows. So did I... before deciding to learn more and try these practices with a healthy dose of skepticism, but more importantly, a deep curiosity. Not everything in this post should be taken literally. While there is a fair amount of scientific evidence to support these practices, not all of it can be understood through science. The success of these practices depends on an open imagination, extremely subtle internal sensitivity (physically and mentally), and what has been called "the placebo effect".
[What follows is a collection of Instagram posts and digital artwork I created (now archived from my page) shortly after finishing YTT in late 2018]
Contrary to popular belief, chakras do not exist physically. They exist in an intersection between spiritual and psychological planes. There hundreds of chakras within subtler layers of what could be considered the body. The 7 seven primary chakras are essential for yoga practice. Each relates to a specific plexus of the nervous system, which is why they are commonly depicted in a vertical row along the spinal column/central nervous system.
The 1st Chakra: Mooladhara or "Root Place"
Mooladhara is related to the sacral plexus. It is a storehouse for a massive amount of the body's energy which lays dormant until stimulated through yogic practices. This energy is pictured as a red serpent named "kundalini".
To stimulate Mooladhara, the Moola Bandha (a repetitive contraction of the pelvic floor) can be performed prior to meditation or during asana practice. During meditation, visualize the colour red while focusing on the connection between the Earth and the pelvic floor.
Stimulating chakras brings a particular pattern of thought, behaviour, or emotion from the unconscious to the conscious mind. Once
Mooladhara has been stimulated through consistent practice, many yogis notice increased energy as kundalini is awakened and a deeper connection to the Earth, primal drives, and their primitive selves. It is where we grow spiritual roots with mother Earth.
The 2nd Chakra: Swadhisthana or "One's Own Abode"
Swadhisthana is related to the hypogastric plexus. It is the seat of the individual consciousness, the dwelling place of the true Self. Here lies our deepest pleasures and desires.
To stimulate Swadhisthana one should perform Ashwini and Vajroli Mudhra's respectively while in a comfortable seated posture. Focus on the fluctuations in conscious awareness. This can be done from moment to moment in meditation or by being mindful during daily activities. Pay attention to wants, fears, likes, and dislikes. Visualize the mind as an ocean; a still or content mind as calm waters, a restless or fearful mind as a stormy sea.
By stimulating this chakra, it is said that animal nature is transcended. The practitioner gives up likes and dislikes in favour of non-judgemental observation. Some yogis experience a glimpse of their true self, free of wanting. Pure being.
The 3rd Chakra: Manipura or "City of Jewels"
Manipura is related to the solar plexus, the area of the spine behind the naval. Here, the fire that fuels the enteric (digestive) and sympathetic nervous systems are controlled. Its relative biochemical operations include the secretion of enzymes and acids from the gastric glands, pancreas, gall bladder, and adrenal glands.
To stimulate Manipura, one should practice Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal contraction) prior to meditation and during asana practice. During meditation, visualize a yellow ball of fire in the solar plexus, emanating energy throughout the whole body.
Once stimulated, all physiologic functions are sped up. Yogis often note a sharpened mind and increased response-ability in the body. A sense of spiritual power may also be felt. It is here that dominance, dynamism, and self-assertion are instilled in the personality.
The 4th Chakra: Anahata or "Unstuck Sound"
Anahata is associated with the cardiac plexus: the heart and lungs. It is the controller of our emotional health and the primary point of connection to our autonomic nervous system.
To stimulate Anahata, one should practice full yogic breathing to develop proper breathing patterns. During meditation, try shifting the awareness to the pulse of the heart. Visualize yourself enveloped in a green circle: the love of your Self, family, friends around you. Slowly extend this circle of love outwards to those immediately around you, then your neighborhood, your city, and so on. Walking meditations in nature are also a great technique.
Once stimulated, Anahata gives us greater emotional stability and awareness. A sense of universal family ties develops as all beings/things are accepted for who/what they are. Deep love becomes an inherent aspect of all relationships, new and old. We forgive, let go, and be; with ourselves and others.
The 5th Chakra: Vishuddhi or "Purification"
Vishuddhi is related to the pharyngeal plexus: the throat and vocalization center. It enables right understanding, discrimination, and truthful communication.
To stimulate Vishuddhi, one should practice impeccable and honest speech, sharing truthfully and passionately with others. During meditation, turn inward and still the mind. Once all mind chatter and thoughts have ceased, bring your awareness to a problem you're actively dealing with in your life. Focus intensely on the problem but remove yourself from it, as though you were listening/giving advice to a friend. After a while, notice if the solution is clearer, more obvious, or easier to grasp.
Do you understand what you need to do?
Once stimulated, Vishuddhi opens the doorway to deeper levels of spiritual living. Many notice they become more decisive in their thinking and open with their speech. The dualities of life are accepted, allowing one to flow with life as it unfolds.
The 6th Chakra: Ajna or "Command Center"
Ajna is related to the pineal gland, the brain center. It is this Chakra that regulates the entire mind/body system, whether consciously or not.
The two vital energies created by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (Pingala & Ida Nadi) merge here. When balanced, these opposing forces create an undisturbed channel of energy (kundalini) that rises up through the central nervous system (Sushumna) and all preceding chakras. This balanced energy is a prerequisite for deep states of meditation.
To stimulate this Chakra, it is necessary to create a balance between the sympathetic
and parasympathetic nervous systems. There are MANY ways to achieve this. In fact, the entirety of Hatha yoga aims to achieve and maintain this balance. However, some specific techniques may be used such as Alternate Nostril Breathing or the Breath Balancing Posture. The flow of air through either nostril is an indicator of how active the corresponding side of the nervous system is. A dominant flow on the right side indicates your sympathetic nervous system is more active and dominance of the left nostril indicates your parasympathetic is more active. During meditation, one should focus on the third eye center, between the eyebrows, and visualize an undisturbed point of light, like the flame of an eternal candle representing the pure Self.
Once stimulated (airflow through both nostrils is even, the body is relaxed yet awake, and the mind is still but sharp) Ajna offers complete control over the body and mind. The practitioner will be capable of remarkable feats of strength, focus, and will power. What is normally operated by the autonomous nervous system (digestion, heart rate, hormone secretion, blood flow, body temperature, etc.) can be consciously controlled through physical and mental practices.
The 7th Chakra: Sahasrara or "One Thousand"
Sahasrara is related to the crown of the skull, the neocortex, or sometimes outside the body completely. Not much is known about this chakra as it takes immense practice, mental/physical control, and complete surrender to feel its presence.
Sahasrara is sometimes thought of as the light of God. Scientists often talk of a "theory of everything", which may be what underlies this chakra's presence. Whatever one may choose to call it, this chakra knows no physicality, no duality, no individuality. It flows through all things but is also nothing at all. Even in trying to describe it in words, it's depth is lost.
To stimulate this Chakra, one must reach a level of yogic life that takes complete devotion. All preceding chakras must be completely open, cleansed, and balanced. This eventually allows one to surpass the individual self, and see the true nature of reality, and the universal Self.
I have found the study of chakras and subtle layers of self to be liberating. There have been many occasions in my personal practice when I have felt a direct impact between practices mentioned above and my physical, mental and spiritual state, sometimes short-lived, sometimes permanent (so far at least). For further reading, I highly recommend Prana & Pranayama and Prana Vidya by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Or, for those who are more visual, I recommend this Youtube documentary on Kundalini Yoga by the Arsha Bodha Center & Swami Tadatmananda, which dispells many of the new-age myths and misconceptions about kundalini and the chakras.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you well,