You've heard your yoga teacher say it, "this pose balances your base chakra" or "feel your heart chakra blossoming open". I remember when I first signed up for yoga, I was so determined not to be drawn into 'all that hippy crap'. Even when I signed up for teacher training, the first thing I checked was the length of the facilitator's underarm hair (it was non-existent, just so you know). But little by little, tiny gem of wisdom after tiny gem, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by the philosophy of yoga, and how, through these practices, we come to a greater sense of wellbeing and ease.
So how come we bang on about these chakra things so much? The chakra system originated in ancient India between 1500 & 500BC, the first references found in the foundational texts, The Vedas. So they've been around a while. Most predominately we understand there to be 7 primary chakras.
In a nutshell, the idea is that, when you pay attention to what each of the chakras relates to, and work to bring yourself into balance (yes work! Sorry, no magic pill here), you'll find a sense of wholeness and completeness that leaves you feeling pretty darn well put together. Understanding the chakras helps us to understand the full spectrum of our basic needs, that to be a fulfilled human being we need a whole lot more than food, water and air. But since we're talking survival, let's start there.
We'll get to the others later, but for now, let's focus on the base or first chakra, Mooladhara.
The base chakra relates to the Earth element. It's sometimes called the root chakra, so think tall strong tree, with deep roots sunk into the ground. It governs our sense of safety and security. It's pretty hard to get in touch with your spiritual self if you feel constantly under threat, so paying attention to this chakra means reminding yourself, that most of the time, you're pretty darn OK. We're so lucky in the modern west, mostly our threats are that our wi-fi dropped out, or the boss moved the deadline forward. We're usually well fed and housed, and connecting with the base chakra means fully recognising and cherishing these things.
Once we've understood our safety, and we realise how fertile our soil is, then we can start to do a little weeding. You can't plant the seeds you want to when your garden is overgrown with doubt and resentment. So the work here is to edge your hand off the emergency button, and to settle into being OK with things not going how you want them to sometimes.
This is a key indicator of our yoga working for us. When things are kind of crappy, say you had a fight with your partner, or your bank balance is dismal, but you can still find the sense of deep peace and contentment that being in touch with your safety brings you.
The practice of yoga is not just asana (the poses). In fact in the traditions it is called an "Eightfold Path", in which we explore ethical and moral action, asana, breathwork, meditation, focus, drawing in the senses and recognising bliss. Opening to a full practice of yoga means looking at how you are relating to each of these areas, and dedicating yourself to becoming more skillful at this whole life thing.
As a member of a wider community, it can really serve you to join others who are working on the same principles as you. Finding great yoga teachers, making friends with your fellow students, and joining online forums are great ways to bring these concepts to the forefront of your awareness. If you'd like to explore the chakras in depth, check out the program "Ground2Grow" I teach alongside Tanya Zappala on Brisbane's northside.
This stuff can get pretty deep, so be prepared to uncover some tricky weeds. But you know, deep down, that you don't want those weeds to sink their roots into you, and there is a way for you to feel so much more at ease in your own skin. It requires your time and attention, but getting grounded in your foundation sets you up to grow sky high.