Wouldn’t it be nice if our problems were left behind with our shoes when we step into the yoga studio? Too often, we get on the mat feeling overwhelmed with worry or stymied by a relationship conflict. The good news: The right class can leave us feeling clearer, lighter, and refreshed. Credit the stress-busting powers of a good workout? Sure. But the ancient yogis—and many teachers today—would also chalk this up to the unique way that yoga poses and breathwork move blocked prana (life force) through the subtle body via seven vortexes of energy known as chakras.
According to yoga tradition, the chakras are part of the subtle body, a part of you that you can’t see or touch. It’s where your energy flows, which is why it’s also referred to as the energy body.
Chakra literally means “spinning wheel.” The chakras are thought to be spinning disks of energy that should stay “open” and aligned for optimal emotional and physical well-being. If energy becomes blocked in one of the chakras, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalance. For example, you may feel symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion. A well-tuned asana practice can free up energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra, paving the way for that wonderful internal shift for which yoga is known. With just a little bit of coaching, you can tap into the chakras as a potent way of harnessing and shifting your energy in the direction you want it to go.
Listen to Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System
Understanding the chakras
Think of chakras as a blueprint for your own self-care, and your yoga practice as the architect that makes that blueprint a reality. The most direct way to use the chakras is to learn how each one is associated with an element in nature. As Alan Finger, founder of ISHTA Yoga, explains, the first five chakras are associated with the physical elements earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or space). The last two chakras are thought to connect us beyond the earthly realm, so they are associated with the elements of light and cosmic energy.