As we wind down from October’s confounding cosmological thicket, this first day of November provides an opportunity to reset and reinvigorate the perhaps overwrought energy centers (chakras). The planetary activities may have thwarted a planned path or goal; societal confusion and combativeness may have left an overall feeling of enervation; and the inevitably unusual holiday season may compound the year’s feeling of uncertainty.
Always, however, each of us has the ability to address our unique combinations of energies. For some, periods of upheaval and uneasiness inspire introspection, contemplation, prayer, and mediation. Others may feel a need to connect with friends and family more than ever. These responses can indicate which team of chakras—Upper or Lower Triangle, respectively—tends to guide thoughts and actions. If prone to seek comfort inwardly, the higher energy centers—Chakras 5, 6, and 7—likely are one’s strong suits. If a focus on earthly, practical matters offers comfort, Chakras 1, 2, and 3 are your safe place.
Special note: You may be wondering, “What about the Fourth Chakra, or Heart Center?” The significance of the Heart’s mediating and connective energy for the entire chakra system grants it a practice of its own. Part 3 will focus on the Vortex of the Heart.
When Life flows smoothly, and one feels connected to others and the Universe, the Chakras function optimally, i.e., steadily and harmoniously. When one Triangle tends to overpower the other, the resulting imbalance causes emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges we generally seek to avoid. For example, throughout the first few decades of my life, my now-90-year-old mother would say in response to my “Upper” tendencies: “You don’t need to grow up; you need to grow down…”
She was right, as only an observant and insightful mother could be.
Yet my mistake in those early years of seeking balance between my earth-bound and spirit-leaning selves was to swing too far in one direction or the other. I found myself careening between physical desires and their associated behaviors, and fervent experimentation with the esoteric arts and therapies. The wild swinging of this pendulum served only to exacerbate the state of imbalance that I sought to alleviate.
Enter yoga. Initially, the physical power of Ashtanga tradition met my need for an energy high, coupled with the quieting that comes with the expulsion of excess energy. Soon, however, kundalini techniques appealed to my innate affinity with the Upper Triangle. And when I became acquainted with Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization philosophies and teachings, the bridge between Upper and Lower began to form.
I offer this “nutshell” account of my experience with energy imbalance and the ways that I have learned to address it, because the need to reset and rebalance is not an isolated phase. Each of us must confront our wayward, stagnant, or overactive vibrations throughout Life. On a basic level, night and sleep supply an opportunity to renew after the typical shifts of a day; each year, many of us reflect on potential changes when a birthday or New Year arrives; and then there are those Big Times—long, slow-to-unfold chapters—when the internal Energy Wheels demand constant awareness and adjustment.
Today’s Silent Sunday looks at the Lower Triangle of Chakras, the centers of survival tendencies and stability; of regenerating and creativity; and of confidence and determination, respectively. And because breathing often gets sidetracked during times of despair or distress, the practice offers a pranayama for each chakra. A warm-up move also will be suggested, in order for the chakra in question to most hospitably welcome its paired breath remedy.
First Chakra/The Root (Muladhara)
As its name implies, Chakra 1 is the foundational energy center. When the First Chakra is in good shape, one feels stable and grounded, ready to withstand challenge. If weak or overshadowed by another overactive chakra, Number One’s shakiness resonates within as fear or uncertainty.
To awaken the First Chakra, the pelvis and tail require stimulation. To that end, squats or body drops can be used: If you regularly practice gym-style squats, try this kundalini version: From a standing forward bend (hands on the floor, ankles, or shins), bend the knees and drop the hips toward the floor; come as deep into a crouch as possible. As the bottom goes down toward the heels, the spine and head tip up in a long line. Exhale as you move into the squat/crouch, inhale to return to the standing forward bend. Repeat 12-26 times.
Now for the pranayama to strengthen the First Chakra: In your favorite seated posture, double-check to ensure that your sit-bones are firmly rooted into the earth; pull your gluteal flesh apart and back, which will further ground the sit-bones. With eyes slightly open, gaze the tip of the nose. Inhale to a count of 8, slowly engaging Mul Bandha: Squeeze the anus, perineum, and genitals in time with the 6-count inhale. When the breath is full, the Root Lock should be complete: Suspend the inhale for a count of 4. Then, exhale through the nose for a count of 6, releasing the bandha in time with the exhalation. Immediately repeat, and continue for 2 minutes.
Second Chakra (Svadisthana)
As the seat of generative energy, Chakra 2 sparks creativity and fuels the lower-most internal organs. When the energy vortex is imbalanced or tired, one feels sluggish and unmotivated, mentally and physically. To stimulate the area, flex and extend the lower spine.
Three options to “rock” the pelvis and thus open and strengthen the Second Chakra are: 1) classic Cat/Cow on all fours, with an emphasis on the doming and arching of the low back, allowing the spine to tip forward and back on the inhale and exhale, respectively; 2) seated spinal flex, placing the fingertips on the hip bones to help contain the flexion and extension to the lower spine (inhale as the pelvis tips forward; exhale back); and 3) on your back, knees bent, feet hip-width apart, inhale as you curl the sacrum up off of the floor, and exhale as you slowly roll the pelvis back down. For any of the options, continue for 1 minute.
The pranayama for this chakra involves multiple components: physical pumping, suspended and retained breath, and transitional breathing. Begin with 1 minute, which will be 3-5 rounds of the full pattern; work up to 3 minutes. To begin, sit with eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye; relax the hands on the knees or thighs, palms down. Inhale deeply through the nose; with the breath in, pump the area between the pubic bone and belly button. Isolate this area of the belly, trying not to involve the upper abdominal muscles. When you need to, exhale completely: With the breath empty, pump again for as long as you can. Continue for the suggested time.
Third Chakra (Manipura)
This wheel of energy gives one the oomph of self-empowerment: When strong, a feeling of near-invincibility prevails. If depleted or out of sorts, Chakra 3 loses its ability to provide “grit” and agency; self-doubt impedes progress. Fortunately, a wide variety of twists and abdominal work quickly ignite the pranic flame of the Third Chakra. For example, lie on your back, knees bent in toward the belly: Inhale, and as you exhale, drop both knees to the floor on the right; inhale back center, and exhale to the left. Or, if you prefer, extend both legs straight up above the hips: Inhale, and as you exhale, lower both legs to 45 degrees. Inhale back up, and exhale down to 45. Continue either exercise for 1 minute.
To empower Chakra 3, utilize Breath of Fire. In a seated pose, extend the arms to the sides at shoulder level. Curl the fingertips into the base of their respective fingers, and extend the thumbs straight up; palms face forward. With eyes closed, turned upward to the Third Eye, begin Breath of Fire; focus on the rapid pulsing of the upper abdominal region, matching the clip of the short, powerful, and equal inhales and exhales. Continue for 3 minutes.
This routine for the Lower Triangle may be divided if you clearly feel a need in one chakra. In that case, triple the suggested time allotment for that individual chakra, both for its warm up and pranayama. Whether you choose to work with all three chakras as your practice, or decide to focus on one, give yourself a few minutes in Svasana when you have finished.
Next time: Part 2—the Upper Triangle