a year of yoga
We are in the final term of this year’s yoga classes. We have spent the year exploring the cakra system through asana and pranayama. I thought you might like a reminder of the journey.
The word cakra (said cha-kra, with a hard ‘ch’) can be translated to the word wheel. The cakras can be viewed as gears that shift energy, or prana, up and down the body and are located at the intersection of three nadis: susumna, ida and pingala. The nadis are channels for prana to travel in the body. The cakra model is a map both of incarnation and of dissolution. During incarnation, the direction of prana moves from sahasrara (the crown) to muladhara (the base). In the journey back to source, the prana moves from muladhara to sahasrara. The path from the base to the crown is the story of our spiritual journey and also of transition from life to death.
The contempory Western interpretation is a map which describes different levels of our being. Moving from the base to the crown, is a journey of the gross to the more subtle ways of being:
- Base / muladhara – stablility and foundation
- Sacral / svadhisthana – vitality and creativity, the sacred self
- Solar plexus / manipuraka – empowerment and direction
- Heart / anahata – love and compassion
- Throat / visuddha – expression
- Brow / ajna – discrimination and intuition
- Crown / sahasrara – awakening
(taken from 108 Gems for Understanding Nadi and Cakra, The Subtle Body Sutras, Part 1, by the funky guru © 2010 The Funky Gury Ltd)
For some, the cakras are a physical entity and provide understanding to patterns of behaviour and feelings, they can guide ways to work with symptoms that manifest on all or some levels of being. For those of you who do not have a connection to these ideas, I have used the cakras as bhavana (an instrument of becoming). They can provide a focus for yoga practice and this year, we have spent each term working with the ideas around one cakra. We started with ajna, at the brow, and this term we are using the stillness of the coming winter and the BK (bahya kumbaka), suspension of breath after the exhale, to explore ideas of muladhara, our root support. Sahasrara is present in every practice with our moments of silence and meditation. How awakened or enlightened we feel is a personal journey and one I will leave you to explore through this lifetime.
We have enjoyed chanting along the way and been expanding our pranayama experience. We have got to grips with counting the breath, working with ratios and playing with the metronome as well as using different pranayama techniques. Pranayama is an important part of yoga practice. Through its regular practice we gain clarity and stability of the mind. For me, through pranayama I realise both the gross and subtle aspects of my asana practice and I realise its depth. In this space I am grateful to my teachers and yoga.
One definition of a yogi is ‘one whose prana is contained within the body’¹. When you are unwell or ‘off-centre’, your prana cannot flow freely and can be visualised as being outside the body. Function is impaired and seen as symptoms, for example, low energy, colds, confusion, aches and pains. Yoga practice including pranayama, purifies the body to create the conditions to welcome our prana back into the nadis Through our practice we remove blockages in the system of nadis, allowing prana to be internalised and flow freely, returning us to vitality and mental clarity.
¹ Desikachar (1995) The Heart of Yoga, Inner Traditions International
I locate the different parts of the breath and the elements in the seasons. How this model is used varies depending on where you live in the world. For my practice and our classes I use this model:
- Spring – the inhale, element of air
- Summer – the AK (antara kumbaka), retention of breath after the inhale, element of fire
- Autumn – the exhale, element of water
- Winter – the BK, element of earth
The elements are also found in the cakra system with anahata relating to air, manipuraka to fire, svadhisthana to water and muladhara to earth.
As well as chanting, I have taken readings from John O’Donohue’s book, Benedictus, A Book of Blessings. These are warm, heartfelt reflections on the self and the elements. The Unknown Self is a particular favourite of mine and exemplifies the home of the sacred self, svadhisthana.
I am deeply grateful for my connection to yoga and to be able to share it with you and walk beside you on your journeys. I will end with a quote from O’Donohue’s for the traveller:
When you travel,
A new silence,
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing
With gratitude, Yvonne