For as long as I can remember I've always been fascinated with the idea of being "free" or "achieving liberation". I hated the feeling of being restricted or held back by anything and I tried my best to rebel against anything that made me feel restricted in the slightest.
So how do you think a young rebellious mind felt when he stumbled across the concept of Yoga and the Chakras, a belief system that promises Moksha (liberation) and union with the divine?
Yoga for me was an effort to achieve my liberation through my body and mind. I learned quickly that this practice wasn't a one stop shop for my mission. Through continuous effort on a journey often met with temptations of abandonment, I came up with an idea. One thing I know about a journey is that traveling is easier when you are following a map with a clear direction. My human mind will struggle with the grand concept of liberation and the divine, so it helps for my brain to have a guide or a sort of roadmap to keep me on track.
I was first introduced to the Chakra system through a kid's show growing up. What stood out to me then was that it was a system that believed in balancing the whole through individual parts. I have no idea how my child brain understood this, but I loved the idea that I had these 7 levels of energy that, when balanced, connect me to the divine or a "liberated me". It wasn't until I began my Yoga journey in adult life that I learned these same Chakras were used in Yogic Philosophy. Divine work at play? Maybe... but I felt in my spirit that this idea was following me around for a bit and I should delve deeper.
The Chakras are the energy centers of the body. They are located in the subtle body, along the spine, starting at its base and running upwards to the crown of the head. The subtle body is the energy body residing inside our physical body. Each physical body part has a corresponding subtle body part. The subtle body cannot be seen or touched. This is also a reason why we cannot see the Chakras.
The Chakras radiate a specific color and energy, and each one coincides with an actual region of the Physical body:
Since each Chakra relates to specific spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical aspects of our being, it is believed that their blockage or malfunction can lead to physical, psychological, and emotional disorders. The conscious awareness and balancing of these energy centers, on the other hand, is believed to lead to well-being and good health.
And that is one of the purposes of Yoga: through asana practice, Yoga seeks to stimulate and balance these Chakras or energy centers in the body.
Chakras in the Yogic belief system can be a bit esoteric to anyone who leans toward the side of practicality. As I have a mind for both, I began a process of learning how to blend both worlds. That's when the idea clicked again...ROADMAP! Often in Chakra philosophy, you aim to balance the energy centers from the bottom up. If one Chakra is out of balance, it will also affect the Chakras above or below. This is similar to our physical anatomy: if one muscle is out of balance, it will affect the demand of energy on the muscles above and below. From that thought I realized, I found my roadmap. If Chakras can teach us how to manage psycho-emotional health, maybe I can use this same scope to help guide me in how to manage physical health as well.
Through the psycho-emotional lens of Chakras, the ideal energy center is "balanced" in charge: neither too active (excessive) nor inactive (deficient). Increasing charge increases one's awareness of the body by increasing its aliveness. Depression can be seen as a form of undercharge. However, not all charge is pleasurable. When one is overcharged, they may feel anxious, restless, scared, or out of control. An excessive Chakra will benefit the most from relaxing or discharging exercises, while a deficient Chakra will benefit from stimulating or charging exercises.
Our physical bodies benefit similarly from balance. An ideal muscle is neither too short or tight (excessive tension), nor is it too weak (deficient tension). We strive for a balance of long and strong muscles to carry the load of our weight. When a muscle is weak, we need to strengthen it. When a muscle is short and tight, we need to lengthen and relax it.
Within Yoga Asana, we can use this same lens to focus on the muscles that occupy those same regions in the body, thus, giving us a direction in which to aim our focus when we deal with our bodies on the mat. If I feel an imbalance in my shoulders, I can determine in which way I am out of balance (excessive or deficient) and then take the next step to determine what is best to bring it into balance. For example if deficient (too weak), we move through Yoga Asana that supports strength in the region. With that we bridge the idea of balancing the whole through individual parts. A "roadmap" with clear direction for our work!