Muladhara Chakra, is our root support, located at the base of the spine. Grounding energy, its element is earth. The vayu associated with it is apana, our downward, expelling energy. This first Chakra signifies our right to exist and have our basic needs met. Where this support is missing, we experience fear. If we consider the attributes of a well grounded person, we see someone comfortable in their own skin, with a sense of vitality and contentment with their life choices.
When building any stable structure, we need to start from the ground up. Foundations are dug deep into the earth: we may not see them, but their integrity and strength are fundamental to realising the full potential of what rises up from it. Soil conditions vary, impacting the choice of materials and their ability to load bear. Creative solutions may need to be found to stay true to the vision of the edifice, or compromises may need to be made.
What was the ground like when you dug your own foundations? What circumstances and environments promote your sense of security, safety, being nourished and loved? What throws you off balance- physically, mentally, and emotionally? What protection or defences do you deploy to regain or maintain your ground? What consequences do they have?
Through yoga, we can bring awareness to our own grounding tendencies and their implications. Do we keep digging in, reluctant to expand upward? Or do we neglect stability as our attention is drawn to creating?
In our asana work, we play with our grounding- first shallow foundations, then deeper. Learn to notice the difference, and the impact it has. How light or heavy does it feel, how stable? As we strengthen our roots, feel a lightness come into the pose higher up. The downward energy feeds into upward flow. Keep your ground, as you reach for the sky. Balance, harmony, unity.
We move on to another energetic model used in yoga philosophy, the Chakras. I have heard and read many descriptions of the chakras, from cryptic to crudely simplistic. Some provide vivid imagery rooted in Indian traditions and symbols used to illuminate key aspects of the chakras. I have been drawn to a more psychodynamic approach as in Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith (be warned- it is quite intense!). This may not resonate with you. If you are interested in learning more, there are countless resources out there and online to delve into. Learning a little bit more about the Chakra model in the coming weeks, you have the opportunity to discover if it may be a help to you. It may or may not, and either is fine- just keep an open mind.
Chakra, or wheel, describes movement of energy. Energy flows along a central column, up and down with key energy points along it. We use these points to observe energy flows into, out of, and within the body. This helps us identify where better balance and harmony can be found, so it gives us some guidance on where to focus our attention.
Having worked with the vayus in prior weeks, we are familiar with this idea of energy moving in many directions. The strength and direction of these flows are constantly shifting, both influencing and influenced by internal and external factors. We are tapping into subtle energies, but they manifest themselves in ways that we can observe, learn from, and work with- if we take the time to notice. They cover the physical, mental / emotional, as well as spiritual aspects of our lives: it is a holistic approach.
Over the coming weeks, we will work with the seven chakra model. This week, we begin to familiarise ourselves with the locations of each chakra, notice how certain asanas emphasis one or two chakra whilst others integrate them more fully. We become aware of different sensations along this energy path for us, starting to notice aspects of our own energy functioning in these locations.
In the weeks that follow, we delve more deeply into each of them. We physically explore them through our asana practice but this impacts our mental and emotional state too. Using the ability to be our own witness, we may begin to notice the relative attributes of our own energy centres and find ways to move ourselves to better balance. That is the theory. You choose whether to put it into practice.
We come to the fifth and final vayu this week, Vyana Vayu. The flow of this energy is from the core to the periphery of the body. Vyana vayu pervades the entire body so is interwoven with the other vayus. It connects us to the world around us through mobility with the legs, and as we reach out with the arms. The skin is part of this connection. Body systems controlled by vyana vayu include the circulatory system, coursing throughout us, as well as the muscular, nervous, and lymphatic systems.
In standing poses and balances, Vyana vayu through the legs into the feet assists the downward grounding energy of apana vayu. Nourishing and uplifting vayus of prana and udana are assisted by vyana as we take upward arms in poses such as Warrior 1 or Tree Pose with arms raised. Feel how the energy through the arms lifts and lengthens the torso, the sides of the waist, and awakens samana vayu at the belly to support and control the meeting of rising and grounding energies.
As our bodies and minds become more supple through our yoga practice, we become less contained: we find freedom of movement and more efficient execution. Less energy is wasted- on unhelpful thoughts, feelings, actions, giving us a calm vitality. We benefit, as do those around us. It's all connected!
Did I mention there were five vayu energy flows? Well, here comes number four, Udana vayu. Rising above the prana heart centre into the neck and head, this energy circulates through this area, nourishing the brain and higher consciousness. The focal area is at the throat, where we seek to be understood through communication, aided by our senses.
Udana vayu is key in our growth and vitality- physically with healthy functioning of the thyroid and parathyroid glands, but also emotionally and spiritually through healthy self expression. Imbalances may appear as excessive or inappropriate speech, or tight lipped and inexpressive.
Ujjayi “victorious” breath through our practice aids focus and control of air by the sound at the throat. We move awareness to the throat in cat pose then move it to samana vayu in the belly for cow, as energy flows along the spine, up and down with prana and apana energy.
Heart opening poses move energy into neck and throat with camels and bows. Inversions bring awareness to the need to find space at the throat but also the back of the neck.
Off the mat, use your udana energy to lift from your heart upward to the head, whether seated or standing. Like a turtle emerging from a shell, engage with your surroundings and connect to the energy all around you. Be uplifted!
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.