I always begin my classes in the new year with a study of the chakras. Chakras are foundational in yoga anatomy and a little hard to wrap a Western mind around as they are more theoretical in nature than what we typically associate with our physical body. In yoga, we recognize multiple different layers of the body, starting with the physical and emanating out to the subtle and ethereal aspects of our being. One of these layers is the energetic body, which is responsible for the flow of Prana, or life energy, through the physical systems. The chakras are the main “organs” of the energetic system. Invisible to the eye, these 7 or 8 energy centers (depending on the style of yoga you study) correspond in the physical body to the location of major nerve plexuses and glands of the endocrine system. They are represented visually as spinning wheels located along the spine from the tailbone to crown of the head. Some systems of yoga also recognize the Aura, or the electromagnetic energy field that surrounds the body, as a chakra as well.
This first week of 2021 we will be working with the first chakra, also known as muladhara (sometimes spelled “mudalahara”), or the root chakra. It is located at the base of the torso, near the tail bone. The energy of the root chakra is associated with safety, security, and stability. If you are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the root is all about those things at the base of the triangle; food, water, shelter, air, sleep; all the things that we need to stay alive and to create the foundation for life itself. It is also associated with our habits, instincts, and autonomic behavior; the things we do without having to think about them. Again the behaviors we develop for our very survival.
In the body, the root is located near the bowels and the anus, parts of the body responsible for elimination of toxins, and the energy of apana, or letting go. When the first chakra is in healthy balance we are able to release thoughts, feelings, and habits that are not serving us any longer, just as the physical body releases the waste bi-products of the food that we eat and digest. When the first chakra is overactive, we may stubbornly hold on to a view of reality that is inaccurate (denial) or adhere to habits that are harming rather than helping us. We become rigid and inflexible to our own detriment. When the first chakra is weak, we may feel insecure, fearful, or anxious. We might experience the world as a dangerous place and life as a risky proposition.
The color of the root chakra is red. Red represents the color at the base of a flame, the musty clay in the soil, and the ruby formed by extreme pressure deep within the earth. We connect to the earth through the root chakra. It is this center that keeps us grounded in reality and focused in the present. When we work with this chakra in our practice, there is an emphasis on creating a strong foundation in our poses; whether that foundation is the feet, the hands, the head, the back or the belly. Just like we cannot live a fruitful life without the foundation of food, water, shelter, etc., our asanas must start with a firm foundation and healthy alignment on which to build the pose.
The foundation that we create for our lives through our habits and beliefs shape the people that we become. Or as Yogi Bhajan says, “First you make habits, then habits make you.” Periodically, it is healthy to step back and examine our habits and beliefs to see if they are serving our goals in life. We may find that what was once helpful and supportive is now holding us back or limiting our progress. We might need to make adjustments to align with where we are today and what we want to be tomorrow. The beginning of a new year is a great time to take inventory and align our habits with our goals and intentions.
In my favorite book on the chakras, The Eight Human Talents, by Gurmukh, she associates each of the chakras with a human capability or talent. The muladhara chakra is associated with the human talent of acceptance. When we have a healthy flow of energy in the root we are able to accept our life as it is, people as they are, and see the opportunity in every circumstance that comes our way. We allow life to take it’s natural flow allowing things to pass without holding on and welcoming in what comes our way without resistance. It is only when you truly surrender and accept that you can move on in your life. The beginning of the new year is a good time to move on, release what has passed and welcome what is coming into your life. So spend a little time this week with your root, your foundation. Make sure that it is supporting the life to which you aspire!