introduction to the chakras for mind + body + spirit wellness

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Over the past few months, I've been studying the chakra system and have become completely enamored with it. I firmly believe that to heal from any sort of trauma or to achieve meaningful personal growth, we have to approach mind, body, and spirit in an integrated way. This is why pure "talk therapy" is not very effective, and why making changes to physical lifestyle (like exercise and diet) is rarely sustainable without also addressing underlying psychological and emotional issues. The chakras offer an ideal framework in which to map out and assess every facet of the human experience, both individually and as a whole, interdependent system.

Anodea Judith and the "Rainbow Bridge"

The majority of my education on the chakra system thus far has come via Anodea Judith, PhD, a therapist, yogi, spiritual teacher, writer, and founder of Sacred Centers teaching organization. Anodea is an expert in mind + body integration and has been working with the chakra system for over 40 years. In addition to soaking up her incredibly comprehensive book, Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self, I have the privilege of calling Anodea a teacher, having attended her Mind Body Integration course at Kripalu last month. (I'm also planning to attend her Chakra Therapy course in 2015 and CANNOT. WAIT.) After initially getting my feet wet with other writers and teachers of energy and the chakras (like Caroline Myss), I have found Anodea to be the best fit for me. She gracefully blends mysticism with grounded psychological science and real-world experience, and is not about to tell you "All you have to do to balance your chakras and heal your life is to meditate!" Anodea introduces the system beautifully:

Chakras are not physical entities in and of themselves. Like feelings or ideas, they cannot be held like a physical object, yet they have a strong effect upon the body as they express the embodiment of spiritual energy on the physical plane… Just as emotions can and do affect our breathing, heart rate, and metabolism, the activities in the various chakras influence our glandular processes, body shape, chronic physical ailments, thoughts, and behavior. By using techniques such as yoga, breathing, bioenergetics, physical exercises, meditation and visualization, we can, in turn, influence our chakras, our health, and our lives. This is one of the essential values of the system—that it maps onto both the body and the mind, and can be accessed through either.

She often refers to chakra work as "crossing the Rainbow Bridge," as each chakra is represented by a color of the rainbow (see chart above): “The seven colors of the rainbow represent an alternative to our binary black-and-white consciousness, offering us a world of multiple opportunities ... To restore the Rainbow Bridge is to reconnect to our own divinity, anchoring it in the world around us and healing the rifts that so plague our world.”

History and Focus of the Chakras

Chakras were originally referenced in the Vedas, an ancient Hindu spiritual text dating back more than 4,000 years. The 16th-century text Sat-Chakra Nirupana, written by an Indian yogi, thoroughly described the chakra system, and in the 1920s, Arthur Avalon introduced the Western world to the Chakras in his book, The Serpent Power. The chakras have garnered more attention in recent years with the explosion of yoga in in the West, and more widespread acceptance of an integrated "East + West" approach to physical and mental health.

As you can see on the chart, each chakra,  an energy center located in a particular area of the body, is associated with different elements and psychological constructs. Generally speaking, the lower chakras (1-3), closest to the earth, are associated with physical matters: survival, experiences of the body, physical health, and the ego or individual self-concept. The upper chakras (5-7) are associated with cognitive and spiritual matters via symbolism, language, and imagination, and the heart chakra at the center mediates between the physical and spiritual, the individual and universal.

Currents of Liberation and Manifestation

Another important concept is the flow between consciousness and matter as energy travels up and down the chakras. Until recent years, the primary focus has been on ascension through the upper chakras, also known as the current of liberation. The goal was thought to be nirvana, enlightenment, total non-attachment and  "freedom" from the limitations of the physical world. Little attention was paid to the current of manifestation, or the downward flow of energy from the upper to the lower chakras.

However, as Anodea Judith suggests, "without the current of manifestation we become aimless and empty -- dreamers flying into vast realms but unable to land, full of ideas but unable to make commitments or completions." We're unable to turn our dreams and ideas into action and creation. And without the current of liberation, we become stuck in routine, going through the motions of daily life, isolated from our dreams, visions, and connection to the universal web of life. Whole-hearted living requires the flow of both currents, and each can be impacted or blocked by trauma, social programming, and oppressive environments.

Unlocking My Path and Passion

I certainly still have much to learn and experience both in my own chakra work and the healing work I do with my clients -- but finding the chakra system has felt like unlocking the door to my future, personally and professionally. All my favorite psychotherapy approaches (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, experiential and somatic therapy, etc.) dovetail seamlessly into chakra work, as do many of the mind + body approaches I'm currently exploring and learning about, like aromatherapy with essential oils, flower essences, and crystal healing. Being at Kripalu recently also made me eager to complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training (which I plan to start in September 2015) followed by Anodea Judith's Chakra Yoga training. (Phew!) Can you tell I'm excited?!

I'm planning a series of posts that will go deeper into each chakra, how it gets wounded and blocked, and how to work toward balance. I also have a vision for leading workshops on the chakras and crafting an eBook focused on practical guidance through the chakras and how to use this framework to live your best life physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

What are you most interested in learning about the chakras? What kind of format would be most helpful and accessible for you?