Yoga - Chakras the Wheel of Life
by Shameem Akthar
Marvelously in tune with the chakras and the body's internal map, the yogic asanas should only be performed in their correct sequence.
I had gotten into a heated email debate with a yoga teacher writing in a prestigious, international yoga journal. To a reader query on whether it is crucial to follow a sequence during practice, she had responded that it was not, since you must listen to your body.
If we listen to our body, most of the time we would just want to slouch around with the TV remote, eat, drink and sleep. And avoid doing yoga. In short, all the things that make us unhealthy in mind and body. These are lapses that our body and mind encourage us to indulge in, and, guilt-ridden, we often promise to transgress these lapses.
But there is another pitfall to listening to our mind-body, which is largely emotion-driven, without actively engaging our intellect. That is, doing yoga without following a sequence. The reason most yoga schools follow a sequence is to help the movement of the poses flow from one chakra to another. This talk of chakras embarrasses septics, who look at it as so much psycho-mumbo jumbo. But we must remember that, though the psychic language of Indian seers was molded by their times, they were actually guided by keen intuition and awareness of the body's internal map, all of which is corroborated by western medicine today.
Neuroscientist Candace Pert, in her book, Molecules of Emotion, finds an incontrovertible correspondence between the endocrinological map of the body and the chakra chart. Other scientists, like her attempting to
establish the medical value of ancient wisdom, believe that the chakras correspond to the major nerve plexi of the body. There have also been parallels drawn between the two major nadis that wind through these chakras - the ida and pingala nadi - with the two major parts of the nervous system called parasympathetic (repair and rejuvenating part) and sympathetic (flight or fight part) respectively. Perhaps the chakras correspond to all of these. The problem is in attempting to pin down what is described as the concentrated loci of internal energies that defy such measurement and calculation. Another problem is in trying to use an alien language to appreciate something that was so deeply intuited by the seers; often, in yoga, symbols were used to convey experiences that transcended language.
The spiritual implications and overtones of the chakras apart, we can see that there is an interesting association between the quality of each chakra and the organs/body parts in its immediate vicinity. The mooladhara, the base chakra concerned with animal energies, is located at the genitalia. The swadisthana, associated with creativity, lies at the tailbone and moves upwards to manipura at the navel center - where western medicine believes we have our second brain. Here we also have the easily aroused adrenal gland, which gives rise to anger or fear; surprisingly, these are the two qualities associated with the manipura. At the heart center, the loci of love and forgiveness, we can see the important stack-up of organs such as the heart, lungs and thymus, which are involved with immunity. Love and forgiveness exist only in those people who have a sense of control over their destiny. Not surprisingly, people who do not enjoy such a sense of control are often hit by stress, which plays havoc with one's breathing, heartbeat and immune systems.
Vishuddi located at the throat, is the chakra involved with our personal creative energies and powers of expression. Apart from the obvious link between the voice box and expression, vishuddi also lies close to other important body parts that can affect expression - the large and wandering vagus nerve - connected to the parasympathetic nerve, which can impact one's heartbeats, digestion and respiratory rate and is also involved with sound transfer. Similarly, the thyroid can also impact how we conduct ourselves - too much or too little can make or mar our personalities. The ajna, located at the eyebrow center, could mean the pineal gland and the sahasrara corresponds to the hypothalamus, the master gland that impacts all the other glands.
Most yoga schools follow a flow of poses, which cover these chakras in an ascending or descending order. Apart from their psychic and psycho-somatic impact, the sequence of poses tailored around the chakras also makes sense on a gross physiological level. For instance, mayur asana, or peacock pose, is always practised at the end, never before the inverted poses. The scientific reason behind this is that in the peacock pose, tremendous pressure is applied on the abdomen and digestive tract which is enough to expel even parasites and so, to do an inversion after this would mean pushing the parasites right back into the gut! Similarly, poses which impact the thyroid, like ushtrasana or the camel pose, always need to be followed by a forward pose. Since the thyroid is a delicate gland whose excitement may mean a major difference in our metabolism and even our personalities, a forward bend is used to soothe it before we move into another challenge. So many of yoga's rules may seem obdurate and unnecessary, but have actually been put in place by those who keenly studied the body-mind complex and understood its working thoroughly. To dismiss the rules without finding out why they are there in the first place, could cost us dear.
Move your attention progressively through each chakra, starting with the mooladhara (genitals) swadhistana (tailbone), manipura (navel), anahat (heart), vishuddi (throat), ajna (eyebrow center) and sahasrara (crown). Move down the same path, focusing firmly on each chakra along the spine. Next, try to match your in-breath with the upward sweep of awareness and out-breath with the downward sweep. This may be difficult initially, but will improve with practice. This is one round. Do ten times.
The practice will improve your concentration, and breath efficiency.