Asanas for the Chakra System
Muladhara Chakra (Root)
My student Anne recently called me to schedule a private yoga session. A few months ago, she'd moved from Georgia to the Bay Area for her husband's work, and she was having difficulty finding a new job as a graphic designer. While she felt good about their relocation, her house was unfamiliar, she missed her relatives in Atlanta, she worried about finding work, and she was feeling tired and worried about coming down with a cold.
If Anne had consulted a job counselor, a therapist, and a doctor, each of her problems might have been treated as separate—and certainly she could successfully tackle them in this way. But because for years I have looked at life using the lens of the chakra system, a way of understanding human life that is woven into both yoga and traditional Indian medicine, I was able to see the common ground in all of Anne's issues. Even more important, I was able to suggest yoga poses and other practices I was fairly sure would support her in facing each of her challenges.
Anne's symptoms sounded to me like a first chakra deficiency. That was hardly surprising, as the recent changes in her life presented her with classic first chakra challenges. Centered at the perineum and the base of the spine and called Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra), this energy vortex is involved in tending to our survival needs, establishing a healthy sense of groundedness, taking good basic care of the body, and purging the body of wastes. The associated body parts include the base of the spine, the legs, feet, and the large intestine.
Circumstances that pull up our roots and cause a first chakra deficiency (like Anne's) include traveling, relocation, feeling fearful, and big changes in our body, family, finances, and business. Some people, often those with busy minds and active imaginations, don't need special challenges to become deficient in this chakra; they feel ungrounded most of the time, living more in the head than in the body.
We experience deficiencies in this chakra as "survival crises." However mild or severe—whether you've been evicted, gone bankrupt, or just have the flu-these crises usually demand a lot of immediate attention. On the other hand, signs of excessiveness in the first chakra include greed, hoarding of possessions or money, or attempting to ground yourself by gaining a lot of excess weight.
There are many yoga poses that correct first chakra imbalances, bringing us back to our body and the earth and helping us experience safety, security, and stillness. Muladhara Chakra is associated with the element earth, representing physical and emotional grounding, and with the color red, which has a slower vibration than the colors that symbolize the other chakras.
To help her ground, Anne and I began by focusing on her feet, for all poses that stretch and strengthen the legs and feet help the first chakra. She rolled a tennis ball underneath one foot and then the other, pressing into it to help awaken the soles (a mini acupressure treatment) and open the "doors" of the feet. To stimulate the toes and encourage them to spread for standing poses, she sat cross-legged and laced her fingers in between her toes, reaching from the sole to the top of the foot. Then she knelt, curled her toes under, and sat on them for a minute. Following these warm-ups, we did an hour of calf openers, hamstring stretches, and standing poses to help her open and strengthen her lower body and root her attention downward.
When our hamstrings are tight, the contraction creates a sense that we're constantly prepared to run away. As Anne slowly stretched the backs of her legs in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), she received some of the gifts of the first chakra: calmness, patience, and a willingness to slow down and stay in one place. As she strengthened her quadriceps and opened her hamstrings, she renewed her confidence and commitment to the next steps on her life's journey. Her fears eased as she allowed herself to trust the earth and her body.
Anne and I ended our session with peaceful restorative poses, like Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), Salamba Savasana (Supported Corpse Pose), and Salamba Balasana (Supported Child's Pose), all of which settle an overactive mind and encourage us to surrender to gravity. By the end of our session, she no longer felt so worried. At home in her body, she was more prepared for the challenges she faced.