On the social media networks, i.e. blogs, Twitter and Facebook, I recently followed a hot discussion about how to find the right yoga teacher and issues such as qualifications, ability to do intricate and all asanas, ability to explain yoga philosophy and to understand yoga in the larger “Hindu” context, all came up as relevant “qualifications” for a competent yoga teacher. The discussion even went so far as to discuss reasons for having an affair with your yoga teacher and then morphed into a discussion when and why you should dump your yoga teacher. The issue of one teacher versus a variety of teachers, styles and classes also came up for discussion.
However, the entire discussion failed to mention the role of the “student” in this whole process. Basic issues like the duties, responsibilities and commitments of the student were never even mentioned. No one touched on the inherent nature of the teacher/student relationship and the way we learn any discipline like yoga. Yes, yoga is a discipline and in the word discipline you can even read the word disciple and while most yoga students are looking for a teacher, most teachers are looking for disciplined disciples. The “teacher” question is handled more like I am going to shop something these days rather than this is my teacher, this is my student, what do we mutually bring to the mat – discipline and commitment.
- Interaction: You have shopped around, phoned a round and looked around and have been to a few classes and suddenly most students think they are now able to make a judgment based on a single interaction of not even two hours. Allow yourself plenty of interaction with your new or chosen yoga teacher before you decide he/she is not for me. Take at least a month and then make the decision.
- Senior in training and experience: Many students walk into a class and simply forget this simple fact; most teachers are still very much senior in training and experience. Period. And even though they might not be able to do all asanas, they do have an intimate knowledge about yoga and how it can help you.
- Odd and weird behaviour: So you have your eye on a teacher, but he/she has a few odd behaviours or he/she talks about topics such as karma and reincarnation and you don’t agree with it? This is the most dangerous trap you can fall into! To simply judge a teacher based on odd behaviour, they way they look or talking about stuff I don’t like or agree with, that is subjective and extremely short sighted and will rob you of the opportunity to actually learn something. To say that there is not a single thing to learn from any senior person is highly pretentious and makes such a person a ‘bad’ student.
- Your commitment: Regularity, urge to learn, passion for practice, humility, desire to transform, perseverance and much more is needed by a student to learn even from the ‘best’ teacher. Do you have these qualities? There are many yoga aspirants, but few yoga students and teachers are looking for those students who have the commitment to stay even in the face of the humiliation when the teacher starts to expose your ego.
- It is a spiritual path: Yoga is a spiritual path. You may wish to ignore it, you may think that you teach just asana, but eventually yoga leads to the spiritual even though you may just teach asana. One can see it as anything else only if there is an overriding personal agenda or a conditioned, anaemic view of spirituality. Unlike other religions, yoga upholds a 3-tier model of spirituality of which the physical is an integral part and gross asanas go hand in hand with subtle meditation. That’s why yoga can be viewed as absolutely material or absolutely esoteric or anything in between. Being essentially spiritual, a yoga teacher has to have a different kind of relationship with the students. A yoga teacher has to show a much deeper understanding of the psyche and the spirituality than physical wellness.
- Sharing insight: A yoga teacher has to go far beyond the qualifying few hundred hours of training and be open to the opportunity to learn and gain insight from your own practice every day and your students. If you think you are above learning then you are wrong and shouldn’t be teaching.
- You are the mirror: If you see your student only as a source of income, you have to think twice about why you are teaching. Yes, the exchange of energy, physical for monetary, is important, but you are the mirror for your students and as such a ‘source of redemption’. Can you reflect back to them and ensure that what they see is what they need to learn? And vice versa, can you look at them and see those aspects of yourself which they reflect back?
- End it now: A yoga teacher should know instinctively how far he/she can guide a student and at what point to hand over to the next teacher. If a student has any amount of discomfort it is the teacher who would know that first and care for it. A student is his/her ‘total’ responsibility. Such a teacher is called ‘guru’ and by that yardstick many certified teachers may be just ‘demonstrators’ of athletic skills. Like a true leadership is not residing in a leader but embedded in the followers’ mindsets, a yoga student’s allegiance to a teacher has to be born in the student’s self-view and not on a signed form. Know when to end the teacher/student relationship with a student, no matter how painful it may be.
All our learning is incremental. We learn a new thing only as an addition to the already known, and also use the known as a filter in the learning process. It is difficult to learn to learn; especially with the pedagogic constraints of school education. Mind plays a catalytic role as well as an indulgent one. So, in learning how we learn we have to use the mind to discover its mischief and finally keep the mind away. In the process we have to change our natural outbound orientation to inbound. An external teacher can help us tremendously in the external practice, but progressively less & less once the student is firmly rooted in the inner domain. In yoga too we get launched like a satellite; need a booster rocket of an external teacher for the initial lift off but the same rocket becomes a drag after reaching a desire altitude. Then, the teacher can only guide, protect and sync leaving the bulk to Ishvara, the inner guru. After all, yoga is considered largely a ‘process of unlearning’ and how will we ever begin to unlearn by not knowing how we learned in the first place.
Looking at it this way makes it easier to understand why the Vedic literature often assures us that ‘your guru will find you ’. It pays to take whosoever happens to be your teacher. Even an ‘apparently not-so-good teacher’ may fall in certain scheme of things, odd for common sense logic, but will enhance your yoga. Trying situations are meant to be teaching situations.
Wishing all aspirants well in their search for a teacher and all teachers well in their search for those committed yoga students.
With gratitude to Suhas Tambe, author of The Making of a Yoga Master: A Seeker’s Transformation.
If you go onto many yoga websites and especially yoga forums and start to read through the issues and comments and pay attention to who publish them, one soon realises that there are two huge misconceptions prevalent under most users. The first misconception under Westerners is that yoga is just a set of exercises and they don’t want to acknowledge or have anything to do with the spiritual side of yoga. The second misconception is prevalent under the Asian users, especially Indian, who think that yoga in the West has been perverted to a set of exercises only by those who want to line their pockets. Both misconceptions of course carry some truth in it, but both also generalise tremendously.
My yoga teacher, Sri Durga, used to say that it doesn’t matter for what reason you practice yoga, whether it is purely as exercise or for more, the spiritual impact and implication of yoga on your soul is inevitable. I am doing yoga now for 14 years of which I am teaching 6 years. In all these years I have seen it over and over how people come to me for yoga and they are only interested in the physical exercise aspect, but end up so absorb and enchanted by their spiritual growth en newly found spirituality. At this point I usually remind my students that yoga is a process of transformation and every aspect of you are touched by that transformation, you cannot avoid it, as sure as the sun will rise and set, so sure this will happen.
Why does this happen? All beings strive to attain and maintain a level of happiness and in yoga this happiness is referred to as Ananda or Bliss. The truth about Ananda is that it cannot be acquired through education, wealth, toys and gadgets or the fulfilment of other earthly desires through entertainment. But Ananda is achieved through a spiritual practice and discipline such as yoga and the spiritual practices associated with yoga such as meditation, satsang, karma yoga, bhakti yoga and more.
When students become aware of this spiritual growth and evolution in themselves, they usually ask me what they can do to ensure greater progress and maintaining this level of Ananda. As with most things in life, we needs rules and discipline to ensure that we hold onto that what we have achieved and spiritual progress ask for a spiritual practice which is aligned to a few basic principles. These are my basic principles and I trust that you will find their value in your own life as well as they have proof themselves over the years to be highly effective:
1. The summit of the mountain is the same for all
When we start out at the foot of the mountain we are usually not even aware that just a few metres away somebody else is also starting to climb the same mountain. The paths start far apart, but as we progress up the mountain and the paths draw closer to each other and the summit, we suddenly realise we are not alone on the mountain. There are others as well and we all are heading to the same place – the Divine.
It is important to recognise that there are as many spiritual paths as there are people. As a yogi and spiritual traveller we need to understand this and respect each path as truth, no matter how much we might feel that ours is the one and only and correct path. The notion of correctness must be abandoned and replaced the awareness that all is appropriate.
In a spiritual context each of us is a unique blend of the the following parameters.
- According to the composition of the 3 subtle basic components (Trigunas) i.e. whether one is sattvic, rajasic or tamasic by nature.
- According to the five cosmic elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether)
- According to the degree to which, different aspects of spiritual practice, have been completed in prior births.
- According to the individual karmic account of give-and-take, destiny and wilful action.
- According to our temperament – person may also adopt a certain path depending on his/her temperament.
2. Our essence is One
For many Western yogis who come from a Christian background this is an easy concept to understand and grasp as we grow up with the notion that God is One. From a spiritual point of view we have to take it a step further. We need to realise that “the kingdom of heaven is within us” and as such our essence is the same even though we may differ on the outside. The underlying awareness is that we are ALL Divine in essence and that we need to recognise the Divinity in each other and respect it.
Just as we realise that the true essence of the gold earring, necklace and armband is gold, although each looks different and functions differently, we recognise and realise that the underlying truth of those items, their commonality, is gold.
3. Progressing from gross (tangible) to subtle (intangible)
As we progress on our path the next step is to cultivate awareness regarding the states of existence around us. If we want to make progress we need to transform our spiritual practice by going from just physical actions to a practice at a more subtle level. A subtle spiritual practice is more powerful than a gross one.
To explain: Sometimes you will meet a person at a meeting, you will shake hands with that person and will be courteous and cordial even to the point where others around you might think you two are good friends and like each other. However, the physical display of friendship was merely a façade from both sides in order to get a favourable outcome to the meeting. On the other hand, two people may feel genuine goodwill towards each other, even though there may be no physical contact.
Likewise, when it comes to practicing Spirituality, simply going through the motions of external ritualistic worship (gross level), with no devotion, needs to be replaced by having real inner devotion to the Divine and an intense desire for spiritual growth (subtle level).
4. Your spiritual practice must reflect your inner level
This is one of the great dangers of the spiritual path and can throw many off the path if they are too impatient initially on the spiritual path. I have seen this many times, people discover their spiritual path and the more you as the teacher try to caution them to take it slowly, the more they push forward. It is like going to school, just because you can suddenly read and write doesn’t mean you can now skip grades and progress instantly from grade 3 to grade 6! Many aspirants look at the teacher and think teacher has attained his/her level overnight, not realising that their teacher and fellow travellers are on their own paths for years now already.
However, for the patient student who is willing and prepared to follow the teachings of their teacher, progressing according to their spiritual ability and capacity, the reward at the end is great. Just as we must heed against impatient and forced development, so we must heed against getting stuck on one level of our spiritual practice as well.
Let us go through the various stages of development from the more gross forms of worship to the more subtle forms as per the level of the seeker:
- At an initial level, we feel that we can make contact with the Divine, only by going to a place of worship and through praying to a statue of God or a Divine being.
- As we progress the next steps is when we feel a connection with the Divine, not just through rituals, but through reading spiritual books whilst sitting in the place of worship, while doing yoga or just watching nature.
- Usually the next step is that we even feel that words are too gross and we become aware of the “vibrations” of a place. Just experiencing the vibrations in a church, temple or at a spiritual place such as the Buddhist Retreat in Ixopo or going to India are enough to spiritually nourish a person.
- After that we do not need to even go to a place of worship but can experience the Divine in the beauty of Nature, high up in the mountains, at a serene lake, watching a bird feed or the sun setting.
- At an even higher level, we do not need nature anymore but can experience the Divine even in daily living and at great will. No matter where you are, there is a quit presence within that permeates all in your life now.
5. Making your spiritual jumps now
The parable of the sower in the Bible immediately comes to mind here. I know many would like to read this parable as an indication that karma and reincarnation is present in Christian dogma and I am myself very partial to it. However, I also feel this parable has a deeper lesson for us and that is that we need to understand that there is an appropriate time for all things to happen in life. If seeds are sown in the dry months instead of the rainy season, then we will have no harvest. Similarly on the spiritual path, certain spiritual practices are more conducive according to the time (yuga) or era we live in.
Yuga in Hindu philosophy is the name of an ‘epoch’ or ‘era’ within a cycle of four ages. These are the Satya Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga, and finally the Kali Yuga. According to Hindu cosmology, life in the universe is created and destroyed once every 4.1 to 8.2 billion years, which is one full day (day and night) for Brahma. The lifetime of Brahma may be 311 trillion years. The cycles are said to repeat like the seasons, waxing and waning within a greater time-cycle of the creation and destruction of the universe. Like Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn, each yuga involves stages or gradual changes which the earth and the consciousness of mankind go through as a whole. A complete yuga cycle from a high Golden Age of enlightenment to a Dark Age and back again is said to be caused by the solar system’s motion around another star. Currently we are in the Kaliyug and as such we are very far from the Sun. The ages see a gradual decline of dharma, wisdom, knowledge, and intellectual capability, and life span, emotional and physical strength, here follow a brief explanation of each yuga:
Satya yuga: This was a very pure era when the average spiritual level of a person was 70% (this is the level of a Saint). These people were so pure spiritually that the Path of Knowledge was best suited to them as they had the potential to spontaneously understand the implied meanings of all the spiritual scriptures.
Treta yuga: This was the era when the spiritual level of the average person dropped to 55% and so they lost their potential to follow the Path of Knowledge. But they were spiritually capable enough to undertake penance (the kind that allowed a seeker stand on one foot for 12 years) and meditation (the kind that made a seeker meditate long enough for an ant hill to grow all over him).
Dwapara yuga: In this era, there was a further decline in the average spiritual level to 35%. People lost their potential for rigorous penance and sustained meditation. Thus it was Divinely ordained that they would be able to make progress through ritualistic worship. These rituals and sacrificial fires (yadnyas) were very time consuming and laborious as they had to be done after searching for the right ingredients. Along with this there were numerous steps that had to be followed to the last detail. But in this era people were religious-minded enough to spend the time, effort and money to do these rituals.
Kali yuga: This is translated as the ‘Era of strife’ and is the current period. The average person’s spiritual level has dropped to only 20%. Our capacity to do any of the above spiritual practices has greatly reduced. But considering the turbulent times we live in and the extent of the spiritual pollution we experience – the Divine has made a simple provision for us to still grow spiritually. And as Sri Durga always pointed out, your greatest spiritual jumps you can make in the kaliyug as the opportunity to grow spiritually is also magnified for those who stick to their path and their discipline.
6. Give according to your talent
All of us have some kind of resources at our disposal. A basic principle in spiritual practice is that we use these same resources to serve the Divine as part of our spiritual practice and grow spiritually. The resources we have fall broadly into four categories: our body, our wealth and worldly connections, our mind and intellect and lastly our sixth sense.
We can use our body to serve the Divine by for example cleaning a venue before a yoga practice or spiritual lecture starts. We can use our body to drive other seekers to the venue or we may offer our body to assist with the lecture or teaching.
When we are unable to offer our body, we can offer our financial resources as way to serve the Divine. We can help to pay for others who don’t have enough, we can ensure that out contributions to our spiritual teachers and institutions are regular and on time in order for them to serve us spiritually.
It is important to apply your good intellect and mind to spiritual practices that may advance others on the path. For example, you can be a guest writer on a blog such as this one if you feel you have something to share, or you can share your knowledge and experience of yoga and spiritual forums.
Lastly, all of us were born with a sixth sense; some just allow it to develop further than others. If you are gifted with a strong sixth sense the onus is on you to use it to facilitate spiritual growth in yourself and others.
The spiritual path is like any other path, there are signs that will indicate where you must go now or what you must do next. Some signs will stop you for a while and then there may be obstacles on your path which will require much effort and persistence to overcome. Sometimes there are exits on the path and we are tempted to take those exist, but I implore you to stay on your chosen path. If you cannot even see you hand in front of you so thick is the fog on your spiritual path, realise that you are not alone and ask for help as well sometimes or accept help when it is offered – it might just clear the fog for you. Stay on your path, but if you need to change tyres or even the vehicle, then follow your instinct and do it.
Same on the spiritual path, to make progress we must traverse all the signs, obstacles, spiritual potholes and other conditions to make progress. Sometimes we need to change from one teacher to the next, but ensure that it will further you on the path. Sometimes your own teacher might give you warnings about upcoming dangers, heed these and don’t think your teacher is just difficult or feeble. However, also take time to enjoy the journey, stop sometimes and remember to just breathe as well!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 30,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals
If you read this post you most probably had one of two experiences while doing yoga:
1. You were extremely down before a yoga class and by the time you finished the class you are amazed by the fact that you feel emotionally refreshed, positive and uplifted.
2. You went to class in such a good mood, but during class you started to experience a swell of emotions which totally engulfed you to the point where you just started to breakdown and cry in class.
My own teacher Sri Durga told us that yoga has the uncanny ability to purify us on all levels and more so on the emotional level. We think that we have our emotions under control or that we have dealt with certain emotional issues in our lives, just to discover through yoga that in fact we haven’t. And if you haven’t, your yoga practice will bring forth those emotional issues until you have positively dealt with them. I am a great proponent of Louise L. Hay and her work on how our emotions affects our muscles, our internal organs and ultimately leads to dis-ease and illness. But, as a yoga teacher and practitioner I have learned how yoga can help us to face these emotional challenges and assist us to overcome them.
In Chinese medicine there are twelve main meridians. Along the path of the meridians, there are certain places where the energy pools, making the qi of the meridian more accessible there than at other places. These pools of energy are called acupuncture points. When we do asana in yoga, we either stretch or contract, putting pressure on or taking pressure of these points, affecting the flow of energy in our bodies. It is taught in yoga as in Chinese medicine that there are several emotions identified as having a specific attraction to particular organs. An excess of fear damages the kidneys. Too much anger damages the liver. Excess hate damages the heart, while grief in overabundance damages the lungs. Too much sympathy damages the spleen and sadness destroys the brain. Conversely, equilibrium in the emotions causes the body and its organ systems to work more efficiently.
It is therefore the natural teaching of yoga that every asana have an effect not only on the muscles but also on the emotions. When we awaken to the emotional side of yoga asana and accept the impact of asana on our emotional body, we become more sensitive, perceptive, and responsive to the emotional challenges we have to face both on and off the mat. According to Patanjali yoga asana is a position that is both steady and comfortable, a place where one can feel completely present. From this silent backdrop, we watch the agitated mind. Practice then becomes a purifying method of listening to the inner workings of the mind and emotions. It is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself even in the face of negative emotions leading the way. Don’t judge, but use discernment to enhance your awareness, in other words pay attention to your emotions and how they affect you. And remember above all you are not those emotions, you are merely going through that experience like going through a traffic crossing.
When we come to yoga we all approach yoga from where we are – some might be already flexible and find yoga a breeze, for the next person every asana may be extremely difficult to perform due to stiff and inflexible muscles, some already have severe back, neck, shoulder or hip issues and the next person might be diabetic or have heart issues. It is the intention of yoga to meet you where you are and working with you on all levels, including the emotional level. You may find that practicing downward facing dog pose deeply stretches the shoulders, the spine, hamstrings, feet, and the Achilles tendons, but we can also use this asana to decrease depression and anxiety. A simple asana such as cat-cow breathing can reduce fear. Supine twists are excellent asanas for relieving back pain, but they help us to accept our stresses in life and prevent us from feeling overwhelmed by all our challenges. So gradually you learn to relax, you learn to release the emotions through your sustained yoga practice in a positive and sympathetic environment and you learn that it is save to release those built up emotional tensions in your body, guiding you to greater equanimity, peace, harmony and tranquillity. The ripple effect of this release of even very deep and old emotions, will eventually lead to understanding our bodies and ourselves much better.
Your yoga experience is unique and highly individual according to your body, it follows that the affect on the emotional body or Manomaya Kosha will also be unique and individual, depending on where we store stress in our bodies. In yoga philosophy, we are taught that the emotional body has its own sheath or layer. The Manomaya kosha (sometimes called the astral body) houses all our emotions. When the emotions in this layer get stuck – fear, anger, sadness, joy, any emotion – they can cause energy to become trapped in the physical body, including the internal organs. While some people may manifest anxiety in the throat (i.e., have a difficult time expressing or voicing their emotions) others will experience that same stress in the digestive organs, or the liver (i.e, they have a hard time digesting their feelings as in “I can’t stomach this.”)
Our poses can strongly influence our emotional states. For instance, because of the expansive inhalation and opening of the chest, backbending, traditionally a stimulating practice, can elevate a low mood. Exhale-intensive poses such as forward bends tend to calm an agitated mind. In any balance practice, both inhale-oriented and exhale-oriented postures are executed in order to create equilibrium in the body and breath and to gain emotional harmony.
Examples of a few asanas and how they can deepen our understanding and awareness of our emotions:
- Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) or halasana (plow) help reverse energy blocks— inflexible thinking, stuck emotions, and feelings of sadness.
- Balasana (child’s pose) sends relaxing signals to both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
- Garudasana offers relief to the scattered mind and works on the balance of the external and internal worlds.
- Marichyasana (sage pose) is one of yoga’s greatest harmonizers because it both calms the mind and releases sluggishness in the body.
- Janu shirshasana (head to knee) relieves feelings of anxiety, fearfulness, and stress. On each exhalation, let the torso sink further toward the legs.
- Dhanurasana (bow) helps stimulate the inhale and arouses the adrenal glands.
- Woodchopper assists in the emotional release of frustration and anger. While standing, lift your imaginary ax on your inhale, and with a forceful “Ha!” on the exhale, chop the imaginary wood between your legs.
Though every person’s experience of yoga is different, the following are some common emotions that arise in varying poses:
Forward bends – these asana can trigger a release of egocentric attitudes. They force us to face our fears as we turn inward. Those of us always looking behind to see what the world is up to will have difficulty in forward folds, and may have to confront emotions which have to do with surrendering to our own strength. Forward bends calms the mind and body and emotions and tends to bring greater understanding into our consciousness.
Backward bends – these asana are important when dealing with attitudes of embracing life – of being wide open to receive the good, bad and the ugly, to rise to life’s challenges. When practicing backbends, we may have to deal with emotions of being a doormat to others – literally bending over backward to please them, letting go of co-dependent patterns and building our own self-esteem without relying on others excessively to give us a positive self-image. Just as in forward folds, backbends can bring up fears associated to these emotional patterns. Those who are extremely shy or have had their heart broken repeatedly may feel feelings of sadness as psychic wounds of the heart are healed. Because we are exposing our whole self to the world in backbends, they can also bring up feelings of confrontation experienced in the past with the self or others. But on the plus side backbends tend to calm the mind and bring harmony and peace into the body.
Balancing asana – Have you ever noticed that your one side is sometimes more balanced than the other? In yoga philosophy the left side is the female side, it is the ida or moon side and deals with our more feeling and artistic expressions. The left side also deals with issues of the past. The right side is our male side, it is pingala or the sun side and the right side is more logic and calculated and deals with the present. Balancing asanas are extremely indicative of a person’s emotional state. Someone with an un-easy emotional state, or a mind busied with too many emotions, will find balancing poses very difficult. As they find equilibrium in these poses, whatever emotions that are causing the mind to become agitated may increase before subsiding to a more peaceful place. Balance poses help to build a calm, resilient, steady mind.
Twisting asana – as you may have imagined, these asana have to do with untangling the knots of life. All twisting asana initiate feelings of dealing with obstacles we face, and developing strength to face whatever comes our way. Twists, along with backbends give us more confidence through sustained practice, and develop overly introversive personalities.
Finally, inverted asana – when we practice these asana, we are literally turning the world on its head – changing our perspective completely, turning our behavioral patterns upside down. Inversions help us to see ourselves, and our world from a different angle, so you can imagine all the emotions that can arise from turning your whole perspective around. Inversions help to purify the mind and bring greater peace and calm even when our worldview feels shaken.
Finally a few pointers in assisting you to cultivate greater awareness of your body-emotion connection and dealing with them:
Practice Off the Mat – Notice the situations that cause you to become tense. Are you an anxious driver, talker, or worker? When you cook or do the dishes, does your back feel strain? Whether the tension is in the shoulders, neck, back, or navel center, practice moment-to- moment body awareness. This will help you cleanse your negative emotions and trapped issues so that they don’t find a permanent home in your body.
Wise Words – Following the path of yoga cuts through the roots of suffering. Hatha yoga teaches us control of breath and control of body. Through awareness we learn concentration, control of our thought patterns, and emotional control. The serious yoga practitioner will cling less to life’s negative matters, permitting the practice to have a levelling effect on the emotional body.
Frustration in the Body – When we feel frustrated, it generally means that we’re not flowing with the experiences of our lives. Instead we’re pushing away or resisting something. Frustration then collects in the body. Many of us feel it in the shoulders, neck, low back, and hips. Problems in the shoulders represent irritability and resistance to change. Issues in the back can be related to a repression or restriction in your life, hurtful issues from the past, or the need to carry the weight of the world. Repressed anger creates tension in the neck as you force your feelings down your throat instead of saying what you want to say. You can literally experience a pain in the neck from something or someone who makes you angry. The hips are related to general frustration. Notice the person who often stands with her hands on her hips. This is a gesture of feeling frustrated and out of control.
Feel what you have done – Whenever your teacher stops during class and ask you to feel what you have done, take that time and cultivate awareness of your emotions and body and how the influence each other.
Intention is everything – The natural outflow of awareness is intention. Set your intention for each yoga class to work through those emotional challenges your body manifest at that particular point in your life.
Breathe regularly deeply – The breath is everything, my teacher used to say. Cultivate breath awareness and learn to breathe deeply into your belly, putting all of your awareness into the breath. Feel all the emotions of your respiratory system—the air in the nostrils, throat, and chest, the belly and chest rising. Feel the rib cage expanding to the front, to the sides beneath the armpits, and all the way into the lower back. Gently move your attention from your mental state to your breath so that you can more easily observe and step back from your emotions.
Embracing Change – Change is one of the most difficult aspects we have to face on a daily basis. Through the practice of yoga, we awaken to how life unfolds moment by moment. Things are constantly changing—the breath, your state of mind, the phases of the moon, the seasons. This can be both a profound revelation—life is like a flower that blooms continuously—and a harsh reminder that nothing lasts forever. Even your body will let you down in the end.
When we resist change, the ego will try to hold on to the body as it is. Consequently the body contracts and tenses, and the natural flow of energies slows down or may stop completely, creating blocks in the form of a tight hip or frozen shoulder. That’s why until we accept the changes that occur from day-to-day and from year to year, and until we surrender to the natural course of existence, little progress can be made along the path of yoga.
Asana practice shows us how our bodies, minds, and the world around us are constantly changing. Today, through breath, patience, and a watchful eye, we’ll honour our changes from movement to movement and embrace the reality of change.
- Embracing change creates ease and freedom in your world.
- The only constant is change.
- Give yourself room for expansion. Give yourself room to change.
- Allow change to happen to you. Don’t resist it.
- Sunrise and sunset are obvious reminders of change.
- May we learn to accept life’s constant changes.
I did my first fire walk in 2006 with Gordon Cooper (www.firewalkinstructor.com ) and it was at that time a life-changing event for me. This year I decided it is time for my own yogis to experience the magic of a fire walk and I arranged and a walk for them on Saturday 1 September – welcoming spring in South Africa with fire!
Walking over hot coals have very little to do with any mantras or prolonged preparation through meditation or any other mystical nonsense people may dish up. It is pure science – you are 65-70% water and as long as you stay cooler than the fire, you can’t burn as was explained and illustrated by Gordon who placed a plastic bottle of water on hot coals and the plastic neither melted nor burned as long as there was water in the bottle. Personally I prefer this realistic approach which Gordon Cooper advocates as I feel that the hype created around chanting mantras for hours or doing meditations detract from the real truth about walking over hot coals and that is we all can overcome our inner fears and do it!
The walk started with a fire dance by Christa, one of my yoginis. Her fire dance put us all in the right mood and created such a special atmosphere that was loaded with spiritual energy. Her dance was followed by a 45 minute talk by Gordon in which he explained many aspects of the walk, the history, why it was done and why we still do it. He also gave us insight into ourselves and what actually prevents most of us to walk over hot coals and I would like to share three aspects here which I think has much value on and off the yoga mat for most of us.
Our Boundaries limit us
When you introduce a fish to its tank it will swim around in the tank for a few hours starting from the outer limit working its way to the middle until it eventually has established the boundaries of its tank. A very interesting point is illustrated in the story of the piranha. In an experiment, a piranha was placed in a large tank and fed from the same corner for a few weeks. Then it was separated from its food by a glass divider. After several hours of ramming its head against the glass, try to get to its food, the piranha learnt that it was futile effort and started to swim around and around in its tank establishing the new boundaries of its tank. The glass wall was then removed and although the piranha had free access to its food, the boundaries it has established and created for itself eventually led to its death through hunger.
The moral of this story? We humans are similarly subject to limiting beliefs and most are self-imposed and created. Especially during childhood when most of us are genuinely physically, mentally and emotionally incompetent to know otherwise, we look to adults for emulation and guidance. When limitations are imposed, we tend to view it as a permanent part of our identity, not realising that limitations can be overcome. We become like the piranha, clinging to outdated beliefs and boundaries and in the process we deprive ourselves from growth and development on all levels of our being.
I my yoga classes I see it so many times, many aspirant yogis will tell me during their first class that they will never be able to do a headstand. I usually just smile and say: “well, let’s talk about that in a year from now again.” Through committed training and hours of talks with me over a course of their foundation year, most are surprised if I told them you are ready now for that headstand and are even more elated and surprised when they do it and come out of it.
The boundaries that limit us are self-created and can be broken!
Changing your Perspective
Standing at the foot of a mountain and looking up, the mountain always looks larger, more imposing and much more challenging to climb. And most of us have this view of the mountain and have lost any hope of climbing that mountain even before we have started. From the bottom looking up, the mountain always looks much more dangerous and insurmountable, which causes us to rather look down at our feet and when this happen we lose hope and we surrender to our negative feelings of depression and hopelessness.
We all reincarnated with the correct backpack to climb our many mountains in this life – it is only our attitude and our own perspective that will prevent us from standing on top of our mountain looking down and actually realise it was an ant hill all the time!
We are our greatest enemy! Our inner fears that we nurture and harbour and which we sometimes use as a shield as we belief it protects us from the harsh reality out there, keeps us in a state of fear. Don’t get me wrong, we need a healthy dose of fear to protect us from all sorts of everyday dangers such as a hot pot or a dangerous crossing. Those fears are reasonable and necessary to navigate life successfully.
However, when we create fears and start to use them as an excuse why we cannot achieve something in life or why we cannot do this or that, then we need to look at these fears and see them for what they are – excuses not realising our soul purpose!
One of my mantras in class is that most of have a few good reasons and too many excuses why we cannot of will not do something, we hide behind those feeble little excuses and offer them as reason, misleading ourselves and creating a false sense of righteousness. If we carefully examine our excuses we will see that most of them are actually self-created to keep us in a place of fear. It is fears that prevent us from reaching our full potential.
When you stand in front of that strip of hot coals and you realise now you have to take the first step and when you take that step and you realise I am not burning, it then that all your fears are stripped of any reality and basis in your life and the moment you step of the coals on the other side – victory over fear. One of the central teachings of yoga is to become fearless and the fire walk demonstrated this in a very practical way.
So, if you have the opportunity next time to do a fire walk, grab it, do it and see how your yoga finds a real practical application and how you start to live your yoga after that walk!
Yoga is about purification of the physical as well as the emotiona, mental and spiritual bodies and once the transformation starts to happen and take affect, many yogis start to search for alternative ways other than the allopathic medicine to treat their illnesses, dis-eases and disorders. Many look to homoeopathy and soon change from an allopathic doctor to a homoeopathic doctor and soon, in my experience, many of my yogis are looking for more in order to fascilitate their self-healing and so enter Ayurveda as a natural option.
Because Ayurveda is more than just medicines and treatments, you have to take aspects such as diet, lifestyle and exercise into consideration. This article specifically looks at the role of yoga asana as part of the the whole treatment of your body and how you can incorporate yoga in your home practice to treat certain health concerns. As for teachers reading this, I trust that it might give you insight into the issues and concerns of some of your students and open new avenues at looking at your classes and sequences.
As this article is about yoga asana, I will leave it to each reader to familiarise yourself with the doshas before you continue reading further as understanding of this article requires an understanding of the doshas. A good and easily understandable source of information for the beginners to Ayurveda is the first book in my bibliography at the end of the article and you can read here more about this book. Please note that I by no means also claim that what I am giving here is the be all and end all of asanas for the doshas, in fact I am sure many of you will come up with more, this article serves as an introduction to weth the appetite for more information and further reading.
Asanas for Vata
Vata predominant individuals should remember to focus on calming, grounding, stillness, strengthening, and balancing while doing their practice.
Precautions for vata:
- Vinyasa or flow styles of yoga tend to move too quickly from one pose to the next and can aggravate the hyper-mobile quality of vata over time. Flow sequences can be made to be more vata pacifying if they are not excessively long, the length of time poses are held is extended, and transitions are done slowly and consciously.
- Those with lower back problems may find that bending the knees in standing forward bends can prevent discomfort.
- Back bends should be done slowly, carefully and within one’s own limits.
Vata Pacifying Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
Emphasis should be placed on poses that open or compress or twist the pelvis, and engage the low back and thighs, all areas of vata.
- Sitting poses: Lotus, Siddhasana, Vajrasana, Lion pose, Virasana.
- Sun salutation: When done slow and with awareness it helps to calm and relax the mind and generates warmth in the body.
- Standing poses: Vrksasana (tree pose), Trikonasana (Triangle pose), Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Standing Forward Bends.
- Forward bending poses (all types).
- Fetal postures (all variations).
- Yoga mudra (all variations).
- Spinal twists (both lying and sitting).
- Back bending poses: Cobra, Locust and Bow pose.
- Inverted poses: headstands, shoulder stands and Halasana (supported by blankets so as not to put too much pressure on the cervical vertebrae) and Viparitakarani Mudra (a relaxing inversion).
- Shavasana or Corpse pose: vata types should do a long relaxing corpse pose (15-20 minutes).
A Well Balanced Vata Yoga Sequence:
- Surya Namaskar (followed by brief Shavasana or child’s pose)
- Tree pose Utthita TrikonasanaWarrior (any variation)
- Standing Forward Bending (any variation)
- Ardha Chandrasana
- Downward Dog
- Elevated Lotus
- Extended Child’s Pose
- Lion Pose
- Pavanamuktasana (Wind Release)
- Crocodile Twist (lying Spinal Twist)
- Shoulder stand
- Corpse Pose (20 minutes is ideal).
Asanas for Pitta
Pitta individuals should maintain a calm, cool, and relaxed intention while doing asanas. Pitta types may benefit from trying to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness, and of surrendering or offering the fruits of their practice to the divine of to those in need of positive healing energy. Because asana practice tends to generate heat in the body, it is best to do yoga at cooling times of the day, such as dawn or dusk. Also, it is useful to place some emphasis on poses that help to release excess heat from the body, such as poses that compress the solar plexus and poses that open the chest.
Pitta Pacifying Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
- Sitting postures (all except Lion pose).
- Moon salutation (Chandra Namaskar).
- Sun Salutation (done slowly)
- Standing posture, the best are the ones that open the hips like Tree pose, Konasana (all variations) and Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Prasarita Padottanasana (expanded leg forward stretch), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon).
- Shoulder stands in all its variations, also Shashangasana (Rabbit)
- Back bending and chest opening postures like Cobra, Camel, Bow, Fish, and Bridge pose.
- Posture that compress Surya Chakra or the solar plexus such as Hidden Lotus, Alligator, and Bow pose.
- All sitting forward bend, especially Upavistha Konasana, Janushirshasana, Kurmasana (Tortoise), and Paschimottanasana.
- Yoga Mudra
- All spinal twisting postures
A Well Balanced Pitta Yoga Sequence:
- Chandra Namaskar
- Parivrtta Trikonasana
- Prasarita Padottanasana
- Seated Spinal Twist
- Extended Child’s Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Half Bridge)
- Crocodile Twist
- Janu Sirsasana
- Virasana (with “So Ham” Breathing)
- Corpse Pose.
Asanas for Kapha
Kapha types tend to be sedentary and often dislike vigorous exercise. For this reason, their practice should be energetic, warming, lightening, and stimulating, providing they are physically capable. Vinyasa or flow style yoga is good for kapha because it is dynamic and moves quickly from one pose to the next, it induces sweating and gets the heart pumping.
Kapha Reducing Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
- Sun salutations (done quickly): stimulate, lighten and heat the body
- All standing poses:
- Downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Upward Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- All standing poses, especially Virabhadrasana (Warrior) and Prasarita Padottanasana (Expanded Spread Foot), and Tadasana (Palm Tree Pose).
- Lion Pose
- All inverted poses.
- All back bends and poses that compress the navel like Locust, Bow, Peacock, and Alligator.
- Seated twists
- Nauli Kriya (Stomach Rolling or Intestinal wash).
- Elevated lotus, Mayurasana (Peacock), Vajrasana.
A Well Balanced Kapha Yoga Sequence:
- Surya Namaskar (vigorously, or jumping style)
- Palm TreeWarrior I & II
- Prasarita Padottanasana
- Downward Dog
- Seated Spinal Twist
- Bharadvajasana (Seated twist)
- Lion Pose
- Jathara Parivartanasana
- Fish Pose
- Corpse Pose
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Vata Related Disorders
Vata type Asthma (dryness, constriction, and wheezing): Vajrasana, fish, Halasana (Plow), Locust, Bow, Pavana Muktasana (Wind Release), Shoulder stand, Head stand, Cobra, Forward bends (all types), Up and Down Dog and Seated twists.
- Backache: All standing poses, Plow, Chakrasana, Cobra, Vajrasana (with deep three part breathing), Twists (gently), Locust, Bow, Jathara Parivartanasana.
- Constipation: All standing postures, Shoulder stand, Head stand, Wind Release, Yoga Mudra, Forward bending (standing and sitting), Leg lifting (Uttana Padasana, Uddiyana Bandha.
- Depression (fear, anxiety, and restlessness): Yoga Mudra, Plow, Palm Tree, Lotus, Fetal position, Corpse pose.
- Sciatica: Wind Release, Swastikasana (Cross legged forward bend), Yoga Mudra, Vajrasana, Plow, Chakrasana, Shoulder and Head stands, Cobra, Jathara- Parvatasana, Supta Padangusthasana, Forward bends, Up and down dog, Hanumanasana.
- Sexual Debility: All poses that lift the body up to rest on the hands like Elevated Lotus and Bakasana, Vajrasana, Plow, Shoulder stand.
- Varicose veins: Leg lifting, Shoulder stand, Head stand, Vajrasana, Virasana, Supta Virasana, Bhekasana, Corpse pose.
- Insomnia: Corpse, Downward dog, Cobra, Vajrasana.
- Menstrual Disorders (scanty and absence of flow): Plow, cobra, Chakrasana, Yoga Mudra.
- Flatulence: Head stand, Shoulder stand, Hand stand, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Half Bridge), Standing forward bends especially Padangusthasana and Uttanasana, Janu-Sirsasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Locust, Bow, Peacock Pose Navasana (Boat Pose), Jathara Parivartanasana.
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Pitta Related Disorders
- Peptic ulcer: Hidden lotus, Sheetali or Sitkari pranayama. (See also poses for Acidity and the Liver).
- Hyperthyroidism: Shoulder stand (No Head stand), Karna Pidasana (Ear to knee pose) with deep breathing.
- Malabsorption-Sprue syndrome (pitta grihini): Parivritta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle, Leg lifting, Wind release, Fish, Locust, Nauli Kriya, Nadi Shodhana pranayama.
- Hypertension: Corpse pose, Plow, Forward bends, Shoulder stand, Cobra, Boat, Lotus, Siddhasana (practice quite breathing during asanas). Nadi Shodhana pranayama (without retention).
- Anger-Hate: Bow, Hidden lotus, Shoulder stand, corpse, fetal pose, Sheetali or Shitkari pranayama.
- Migraine headache: Sheetali or sitkari pranayama, Shoulder stand, Fish pose with calm quite breathing, Shoulder stand (no Head stand).
- Colitis: Fish, Wind release, Leg lifting, Boat, Bow, Cobra.
- Liver disorders: Fish, Shoulder stand, Wind Release, Hidden Lotus, Foreward bends, locust, Knee to ear pose, all Twists, Half Alligator.
- Acidity: Sheetali or Sitkari, Standing postures, Boat, Bow, Locust, Seated twists, Cobra
- Most pitta related conditions could benefit from the practice of Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation) taught at some of our workshops or in private sessions.
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Kapha Related Disorders
- Asthma, sinus congestion and bronchitis: All Standing poses, Head Stand, Shoulder stand, Plow, Forward bends, Downward dog, Viparita Karani Mudra, Vajrasana (Forward bending variation), Chakrasana, Fish, Boat, Bow, all Forward bends, Locust, Peacock, Cobra (with deep breathing), Palm Tree, Bhastrika pranayama.
- Diabetes: Peacock, Boat, Chakrasana, Fish, Vajrasana (forward bending variation), Head stand, Shoulder stand, Forward bends, Half Spinal Twists, Jathara Parivartanasana, Nauli, Uddiyana, Sahita Kumbhaka pranayama.
- Chronic gastrointestinal disorders and sluggish digestion: Peacock, Fish, locust, Leg lifting, Boat, Corpse.
- Sore throat: Lion pose, Shoulderstand, locust, Fish.
- Sinus headache: Lion, Head to knee, Fish, Camel, Peacock, (Also see postures for Asthma, sinus congestion and bronchitis).
- Obesity: All Standing poses, Sun Salutation (done quickly and also with Ujjayi pranayama), Up and Down dog, Half Spinal Twist, Purvottanasana, Gomukhasana (Cow’s Face- with arm only if its hard to cross legs), Lion, Jathara Parivartanasana, Plow, Fish, Corpse.
Fromsdorf, L. The Ayur Veda Handbook. 2009. Oshun Books.
Lad, V. Ayurveda – The Science of Self-Healing. 2005. Motilal Banarsidass.
Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha. The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia. 2006. B. Jain Publishers.
Tomlinson, C. Ayurveda Wisdom. 2002. Castle Books.
Most people today have some idea as to what the chakras are and their function in our lives. However, in the West most of us still think that chakras is a concept that comes from the East and that we in the West have no idea or concept of it. And to some degree it is true, we are less aware of the chakras in the West than in the East, but that doesn’t mean that we are not familiar with it in the West and our wisdom and knowledge grow with every tick of the clock, to the point where the West have developed and establish a well respected study of the chakras through authors such as Anodea Judith, Caroline Myss and others.
Today the chakras, auras, subtle bodies and energy field have become much more common topics of discussion in western society, than ever before. More people are moving to a greater awareness of their own body energy – some from a desire for inner growth, others from a scientific (quantum physics) perspective and still others from a renewed sense of the sacred. In the West we have heavily relied on the eastern cultures who have described energetic connections between the mind, body and spirit. Chinese medicine relies on energy meridians that correspond to psycho-physiological states. Vedic scholars, centuries ago described the seven energy centres of the body (chakras) from a spiritual context. However, the West is busy compiling and developing its own understanding of the chakras in a very practical way today.
We do know the Chakras in the West
You just have to go into art history and have a look at the old paintings of the Renaissance and even before to realise that there was some concept of the chakras present already in the West way back then. The “halos” of energy painted around the heads of many of the saints and important religious figures constitute in my view and opinion the energy to represent the crown chakras of those figures. Did some psychic or intuitive person actually saw the opening of the crown chakra of a particular individual and the only way the artist could give expression was a halo?
I have an honours degree in language and literature and as a young student, who was already aware of the chakras and their meaning; I was always amazed at how familiar we are in the West through language of the chakras. Many of our euphemisms, espressions and poetic language tend to locate energy in particular area of the body. We speak of having a “broken heart” and feel actual pain in the chest when we lose someone we love (heart chakra). We criticize others for being “unrooted”, or “pulling the rug out from under us” (root chakra). When a situation threatens our self-confidence we feel “butterflies in our stomach” (solar plexus chakra), and get a “lump in our throat” when grief remains unexpressed (throat chakra). Personally, I am convinced that we have always been aware of the chakras in the West, but due to the strict censure of the Church we have choose to hide them a little, but the time has come for the West to be more open and vocal about the chakras and realise the impact they have on our whole experience here on earth.
By developing an inner awareness of the chakras it is possible to begin a process that includes transforming and reconfiguring these energies. In perceiving the spiritual psychology of the chakras it is possible to help achieve a more balanced, energized and meaningful life and I hope that this article will help you in achieving that goal in your life.
The Root – Muladhara Chakra
Birth is a very traumatic and disorientating event for all of us and it is a blessing that we cannot remember much of it. First of all you are suddenly pushed into a world of noise and lights and strange people and surroundings from the safety and comfort of the womb. Then at some point your umbilical cord is cut, which adds to the trauma of the birthing process. All these necessary events cut us from the security of the womb and existentially we experience separation from Spirit as we find ourselves embodied in a human form. As the umbilical cord is cut we find ourselves thrust into a dangerous, insecure and vulnerable world.
Suddenly we find ourselves in a dense, human body and we sense a world through our five senses that is very different from the one where we just came from. We must start to use our body now to experience all that we can and have to for this particular incarnation. Physically this body is made up of carbon and hydrogen – the constituent elements of the earth. The root chakra becomes activated at birth, a necessity which energetically reconnects us with the “sacred matter (Mother)” in our attempt to find our spiritual connection. We quickly learn that we cannot survive if we do not feed and nurture our physical body – making our relationship with the earth both necessary and integral to our survival. Belonging to a family, clan or group helps us to survive this initial shock of being incarnated; it provides us with security, safety and a sense of belonging. If we are strongly rooted in this initial phase of our life – strong familial ties, connection with grandparents and a safe environment for your development - we are are ensured a healthy and balanced root chakra, which result in a person that is generally happy, feel secure and has a positive self-image.
However, if our sense of security and belong was neglected as young children, when fear and disruptive behaviour was the norm in our environment and if we had a disconnected relationship with nature, our parents and our clan, then we end up feeling “unrooted” later in life. Insecurities and anxiety will surface and issues with our right to be here will surface as well. Feeling disconnected from earth (the mother principle, think here mother earth) will lead to various forms of depression and other psychological symptoms such as fear of becoming ill, aging and dying, feeling ungrounded and vulnerable, chronic anxiety and unnecessary neuroses surface as well.
It is important to remember that we can heal root chakra issues through compassionate self-healing techniques such as finding ways to reconnect with the earth through spending time in nature, doing gardening or hiking trips. Establishing a practice where we honour the earth as sacred and as the Mother by exploring our caring and nurturing nature through acts such as concern through environmental issues, participating in recycling programmes and voicing our concern about issues such as pollution and global warming. A great way of healing is to foster closer relations with estranged family members, or create a circle of friends where you feel safe, secure and have a sense of belonging. Joining groups, associations or clubs is also a great way to establish a sense of felling secure and belonging.
The root chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 1-7 years. It is interesting to note how many toddlers during this time eat dirt; many if they have the opportunity bake mud cakes at some point during this developmental stage. This stage is called the formative years and that points directly to the importance of establishing a strong root chakra based in a strong group or family system for the individual to further develop.
The Sacral – Svaddhistana Chakra
Now that the individual is more at ease and secure in his/her environment and have come to grips with physical reality, enters the next energetic challenge for the individual – the energy of the sacral chakra is about establishing relationships. The second chakra holds the energy of all relationships we encounter in our lives – the first relationship we encounter is that with our parents and the energy of this relationship lays the foundation for all future relationships in our lives. If we were nurtured by our parents we will find it easy to nurture other relationships in life, but if we experienced rejection, future relationships may be more challenging for us than usual. During this phase we learn the value of give and take of sibling rivalry; the devotion or betrayals of friendship; the intimacy and vulnerability of sexual attraction; and the ability to produce and nurture our own children.
If we do not learn to connect to others through emotional intimacy we remain alone, estranged or dissociated. When our early needs for intimacy and love are thwarted through abandonment, abuse or neglect, we find it hard to trust and begin to doubt our ability to attract love or find passion and joy in life. Eventually we end up with issues relating to intimacy, physical avoidance, accepting or perpetrating abuse in relationships, sexual dysfunction, parenting problems and a lack of passion and motivation in life.
To heal the energy of this chakra involves learning to recognise our wounded “inner child” and how to respond to the demands which manifest as episodes of painful memories that arise – these can be of neglect, rejection or abuse. A great deal of healing can be achieved if we can learn how to forgive not only others, but also ourselves and in that forgiveness we learn how to release guilt and blame. It means gently finding the courage to open ourselves to emotional intimacy and often a wise and trusted counsellor or healer can facilitate this process. Developing self-compassion and self-nurturing is the key to balance the energy of this chakra.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 8-14 years. It is during this phase that young boys will develop a love for their mother and the greatest hero in a girl’s life would be her father at some point. Proceeding to school suddenly they meet new people and they form “best pal” friendships and suddenly teacher is always right and you are always wrong, because teacher said so! It is also during this time that many will experience their first love and the elation that goes with it, but many will also experience the pain of a broken heart, learning the reality of relationships.
The Solar Plexus – Manipura Chakra
Now that we have established a relationship with the world and with those around us, the next challenge of the solar plexus chakra is to create a sense of self in relation to the world we live in – other words we need to learn to love ourselves now. It is time to assert our self-worth and self-esteem. During this phase we need to become masters of our own universe and in doing so we empower ourselves to fulfil our desire to be the best we can in this life. The energetic challenges of solar plexus chakra are are locked up in the desire to learn self-control, humility and awareness of our purpose in life.
However, if our desire to establish a strong sense of ourselves is met with over-control, shaming, authoritarian and intentional ego-damaging behaviour, we are left with a debilitated and wounded sense of self. These manifests as a sense of “I am not worthy” and guilt, other manifestations include a lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. Many feel disempowered, victimised or lacking a sense of purpose, feeling that life is a constant battle. In turn, when we feel deprived of power, we may resort to modes of controlling like bullying others; confuse aggressiveness for assertiveness, manipulating others with either tyrannical behaviour or emotional blackmail.
To heal the energy of this chakra comes about through restoring a sense of personal power, self-respect, courage, healthy humility and learning the power of grace. When we face our own stories and fears with compassion and loving-kindness, we learning that there is release and grace in these episodes and that is an extremely empowering moment for such an individual. If we learn to use the power of love to transform our issues of guilt and shame, we nurture a sense of innate goodness within ourselves, at the same time we create awareness that we are co-creators with the Divine, instilling a sense of personal power. Finally, becoming aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature helps us to act responsibly and move forward with self-initiative, meaning and purpose.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 15-21 years. This is one of the most challenging periods of life not only for the individual, but also for the parents. Suddenly their innocent child disappears into his/her room only to emerge on morning looking like an alien. And if they don’t spend time in their rooms behind closed doors, your child spends more time in front of the mirror making sure that there is not a hair out of place. It is the time in life when the young adolescent discover his/her body and the powerful sexual energy it houses. The individual also become aware of he/her own sexual identity and how parents and society reacts towards them determines much of their behaviour later in life. Fortunately this phase also passes and the next phase is a more balanced phase.
The Heart – Anahata Chakra
The heart chakra serves as the bridge between the lower energies and the next three higher energies. As we exit the solar plexus phase into our heart, we come to experience ourselves as safe, connected and respected. Our energy begins to shift from a focus on the individual self towards a more generous and altruistic outlook. We notice that we feel grateful for the opportunity to live life, and want to give back. The heart chakra now becomes activated as the centre of love, compassion, kindness, devotion and generosity. The direction of energy in the body begins to move upwards in its desire to reconnect to the greater source of Divine love. We begin to experience universal compassion – the sense that we are connected to all beings on the planet. We may feel our hearts touched by images of young children a world away playing amongst the rubble of war. We know and have a sense of caring both for ourselves and others and feel compelled to take this love out into action.
As I have stated above, the heart is the bridge from the energies of the lower chakras into the higher chakras and if we experienced a lack of security, intimacy and self-esteem in the lower chakras, then we have problems with a heart chakra that will be closed and fenced off. Typical issues of the heart chakra are displayed and manifested as lack of compassion, anger, hatred, stinginess, being overly concerned with safety and protection, fear of loving too much and showing love to others, unexplained grief and heart-ache may all indicate wounding in the heart chakra.
To heal the heart chakra, we need start from the bottom and work our way up again. We need to first pay attention to the old wounds that still lurk in the lower chakras before we can successfully heal the heart chakra. Learning to love ourselves and our shadow places is the first step towards creating a sense of love and compassion for others. Accepting the gift of forgiveness and allowing ourselves to forgive allows deep healing within the heart chakra – forgiveness both for ourselves and others. Visualisation, devotional chanting, yoga, prayers and meditation are powerful vehicles for opening the heart. Many people find that compassionate encounters with the suffering of others are a means to open their own heart. It is also important to become aware of our own divine nature and beginning an intimate, sacred process of surrender to the Divine order. In other words let go and let God!
The heart chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 22-28 years. During this time many people bridge the divide between a life as a care-free youth or student into a responsible citizen who care for those around him/her. For most it is also the time during which they will meet their life partner, get married and settle into a life that is marked by much love and reaching out. It is a time that we cross many bridges, at age 28 an important bridge is crossed in the sense that up till then your body grew and was young, from now on the body will degenerate and age will take its toll as we progress.
The Throat – Vishuddha Chakra
Our voice with all its own vibrations brings us now in direct contact with other vibrations around us. As we grow into deeper awareness of our chakras, we also begin to discover our ability to tap into the vibrational energy field around us. The wave patterns of sound become our connection to an unseen world that we are aware of, but don’t know yet how to experience it. This is where the energy of the throat chakra becomes valuable as it helps us to make sense of all these different vibrations which we use for communication, self-expression, creativity, speaking our truth, and at the subtlest levels, telepathy, channelling and clairaudience (ability to perceive sounds outside the physical realm).
When our self-expression in the throat is repressed or silenced in some violent way, the throat chakra closes down and energetically our ability to express ourselves appears blocked. Instead of being a two communication system, the one way is blocked, energy comes in, but doesn’t leave us and this impediment of the natural flow of vibrations result in a person who has no voice or who carries no authority in his/her voice. We are all too familiar with the childhood maxim “children should be seen and not heard”, the silencing of women’s voices in our patriarchal systems and the stifling of creative talent for fear of ridicule impedes the flow of throat energy. Many people have deep and dark family secrets that they shamefully keep, others lives in constant fear, because they are being yelled at or shamed into silence by an over-bearing parent, all actions that will impede the throat chakra. Eventually the chakra will “shutdown”, the person will rather keep quiet than to speak his/her truth or mind in order to keep the peace and eventually this will lead to a complete lack of self-expression from such an individual, leading to frustration and anger.
Just as King Edward VI in the King’s Speech had to learn that he has a voice and that he has the right to speak in order to overcome his stuttering due to the stifling voice of his father and Queen Mary, we also need to realise that we have a right to voice. The next step to healing the throat chakra is finding our own truth and relearning the ability to express ourselves. Once we have achieve this we can proceed to give ourselves permission to cry, to voice our hopes, fears and opinions, we can share our stories and we can engage in active listening with others. We can honour self-expression through finding creative outlets – writing, art, gardening or music. For some people it is important to reduce the pollution of vibrational noise through meditation or silent retreat.
As the throat chakra begins to heal, the grosser vibrations of sound no longer create interference. We begin to tune into more subtle layers of vibration, including the development of psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairaudience and opening to divine revelations such as those experienced by mystics through the ages.
The throat chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 29-35 years. During this time many people find that they have to talk their way through life, they have to talk to get that next promotion or they have to talk to convince others of an opinions or view. It is also the most vocal time in personal relationships with our partners as many problems are sorted out verbally and we also need to do a lot of talking to our children who are suddenly at ages where vocalisation becomes important. It is also a very social period in the life of most and as such demands much attention to how we express ourselves in this phase.
The Third Eye – Ajna Chakra
Our third eye is not only the centre of our intellect, but this is the centre where we develop qualities such as discernment, inner knowing, wisdom and clairvoyance or intuitive seeing. It is the place where we develop our ability to stand outside of a situation, become the observer or seer and without getting too involved make conscious choices about the road ahead or the situation in hand.
From the third eye centre we develop and create our belief system and we learn to judge fairly like Solomon from this place. However, if we are faced with a fear-based and authoritarian belief system, then we start to doubt our own sense of wisdom and of knowledge and ultimately we doubt ourselves and our ability to form our own truths. The result of this inability to form our own truth leads to confusion, negative beliefs, blind faith, narrow mindedness and mental rigidity. We may feel cut off from our emotions and become overly attached to empirical, dogmatic theories and beliefs and very often the individual may be overly argumentative to the point where he/she will aggressively defend their point of view, even make war about it or kill for it.
Allowing the inner guru to take charge and to bring us to the point where we develop the willingness to see is the first step that we can take on healing out third eye. This willingness to see means that we open ourselves to that truth that is beyond physical seeing and allowing our intuition and inner knowing to become our guiding light and primary guru or teacher. When our inner guidance starts to develop and when we start to listen and trust our inner guidance, then we can assess our old fear-based beliefs, judgements and criticisms and as we see that there is nothing to fear, we can let them go and replace them with our inner knowing and new truths. It is also process of opening the heart and to start “feeling” the messages of the heart instead of “thinking” what they should be.
We can heal the energy of the third eye by placing a greater emphasis on using and developing our inner awareness and witness consciousness. Another import ant technique is to look for the symbolic and esoteric importance behind events or interactions. One of the most valuable tools in our shed of techniques are to record our dreams in a dream diary en to start to see a pattern in the interpretation of these dreams. Practicing equanimity, detachment, and surrendering judgments may also help us on our journey of healing. As we become aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature, we move into a place of greater clarity, wisdom and acceptance in the third eye.
The third eye chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 36-42 years. Around this time most men and women will start to enter their menopause/andropause and we start a hormonal change in our bodies. As a result of this we start to rethink our lives, our purpose and many either divorce during this time or they change careers or they just start to relax more in life a bit, adopting a more relaxed attitude. Much thinking is done during this time as well, as most start to realise old age and retirement is around the corner, old beliefs is shed and overall the individual enters a more embracing approach to life than before.
The Crown – Sahasrara Chakra
Our innate nature is Divine and as we develop greater awareness of this, our energy is increasingly drawn upwards towards its desire to unify with our source of Being and Origen. In yoga this process is described by the last limb of yoga namely samadhi, this process of spiritual awakening or enlightenment is facilitated through opening the crown chakra. Energetically, an open crown chakra appears as light emerging from the top of the head, hence the halo above so many saint’s heads in paintings.
Connecting to Spirit or the Divine and living our Truth and the willingness to surrender to the Divine are all indicators of a balanced and properly functioning crown chakra. When we are at this stage we can inspire others with inspirational ideas or thoughts, we have the ability for prophetic thought. It also allows for a deepening of our devotion, experiencing Divine ecstasy, transcendence and liberation from identification with suffering.
If this chakra doesn’t function properly we experience this period as the “dark night of the soul” as it was described in the poetry of St. John of the Cross. When we are distracted or overwhelmed by the difficulties and pain of life, we may experience loss of faith in a compassionate Divine force. We start to doubt our own belief that we are spiritual as issues of disbelief and depression cloud our inner knowing and overshadow our Divine nature. We falsely identify with the world and our bodies (maya or the illusion in yoga) and feel “existential angst” which disconnects us from our realisation that we are on a journey back to the Divine. For some the sense of isolation and spiritual depression may seem unbearable and they may end it all with a violent act against the soul.
The greatest healer of this chakra when wounded is our ability to surrender to the Divine and to trust the spiritual process in our lives. To commence the healing process, it is wise to find a spiritual path or practice to which the individual can commit completely and with full surrender. It has now nearly become a cliché, but living in the present moment, trusting that we have all in that moment and that every moment is Divinely perfect opens us to all the experiences that life offers us and it instil in us a trust in the Divine process. Mystics, saints, great gurus and even the Christ and The Buddha through the ages have turned to prayer, meditation, contemplation, yoga and silent retreat to support their spiritual journey; we can learn from these great souls and make time for our own time with Divine on a regular basis. A trusted spiritual guide or teacher may offer compassionate facilitation along this path.
The crown chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 43 and onwards. If you listen to dinner conversation around a table where people of this age group is present, sooner or later the conversation will turn to “do you remember this or that” or you will suddenly realise how this or that friend of yours have change his/her views suddenly about the Divine. For many this time of their lives is an opportunity to open an elegant window onto the soul and see the miracle of the Divine in their lives in every moment. During this time many see a culmination of all the other ages and as they age there is a deepening of their understanding of the amazing qualities, attributes and spiritual nuances of their soul. It is the journey home manifested and we realise that our journey is not just about reaching our destination, but it is also about all those little stops along the way.