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Unfortunately, I let too much time slip by this time around before entering our practice for this consciousness-opening class (and, consequently, have forgotten the class!). However, there is one key pose that helps to stimulate one’s 7th chakra, Sahasrara chakra, and to tie up our journey through the chakras, described below. However, most of all, Sahasrara chakra governs the all important practice of meditation. Sahasrara chakra connects us to something greater– greater than the mental insight of Chakra 6, the expression of chakras 4 and 5, and the primal needs and motivation of the first three chakras– it connects us to the pervasive wisdom of all beings, of the universe, and gives us perspective to understand something deeper about the nature of ourselves and life around us. Just as we practice asana to cleanse our organs, and we bathe to cleanse our skin, the busy mind also needs clearing out from time to time.  All the various forms of meditation, including concentration and insight practices, allow the mind to become more present, clear, and insightful. (Side note: Interested in meditation? A nice book to get you started: Mindfulness in Plain English. Also, check out Jon Kabat-Zinn, the author.)

Sirsasana, or headstand, stimulates the seventh chakra quite directly. Called the “mother of all asanas” due to the effect it has on the brain and mind. The inversion of this pose causes increased and unrestricted blood flow to the brain. This brings increased oxygen, nutrient and vitality providing energy to the mind, clarity of thought and ease of concentration. In class, we learned the importance of all the other chakras in this pose: openness in the heart (and shoulders) to allow the hips to come into the proper position, the will and strength of the abdomen, and the grounding into the earth required for this pose.

To end, a wonderful summary care of the Yoga Journal website (www.yogajournal.com).

Focused on transcendence, many people seeking higher consciousness have disregarded the importance of the lower chakras. Yet we all need strong and solid support of our base chakras in order to open to the spiritual in a healthy and integrated way. The lower chakras focus on details such as our home, familiy, and feelings, while the upper chakras develop synthesizing views and wisdom that help us understand the grander order of things. All of our chakras affect one another and ultimately work together. As we learn to use this ancient Indian system to understand our lives, we can gain insight into personal issues that require our attention—and we can use the techniques of hatha yoga to bring our chakras and lives back into harmony.

– By Barbara Kaplan Herring, “Asanas for the Chakra System”

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We have reached our final stop on this journey through the chakras: chakra 7, Sahasrara chakra. The image associated with this chakra is thousandfold lotus, with some petals reaching up towards the sky, and others reaching down, grounding into the lower chakras. This is symbolic in itself: the opening of this chakra depends on a solid foundation of each chakra below it… only when there is stability in the previous chakras will there be expansion in the upper chakras. We strive to connect the limited with the limitless, while still retaining both qualities.

The Right to Know and to Learn

As you may  have guessed, this chakra, situated on the crown of our heads, is linked closely to the mind, the brain, thinking, knowledge and wisdom. It touches on aspects as varied as education to belief systems, perceiving and analyzing information to spirituality. In essence, it is the connection to our own sense of a “higher power” — which goes beyond religion and individual beliefs.  It challenges us to see the divinity in everything: including ourselves. It challenges us to keep our spirituality integrated with our life, not as something separate. It is important to know that there is a deeper connection and meaning to life that underlies all existence, regardless of the details.

“It is the tremendous experience of becoming conscious, which nature has laid upon mankind, and which unites the most diverse cultures in a common task.” ~ C.G. Jung

Consciousness

What is consciousness? To some, these questions send the mind spinning, but it within our human nature to question, to seek answers, to delve deeper. Is consciousness your thoughts? No, that is what consciousness creates. Is it our perception? No, because there is so much more to it– it also remembers, discriminates, integrates these perceptions. What spurs our actions? What draws us to yoga, to meditation, to reading, to our careers? We might call this source the “Witness”, and it is this witness within that also can help bring perspective, peace, and understanding to our days. The Witness is non-judgmental, it is divine, it is a guide and a friend, and it is what makes us continue to search for unity. Expanding our awareness helps us embrace something larger and perceive the meaning in everything. We do this by private contemplation, study and education, meditation, spiritual practices, or by just simply paying attention.

“What we seek is the very essence of that which is seeking.” ~ Anodea Judith

Transcendence and Immanence

The crown chakra reaches two ways– both upwards and downwards; however, both are gates outwards, to the beyond. Transcendence and immanence are those two gateways by which we emanate. Transcendance is liberation: it is the upward movement into something larger, it is freedom and lightness of being. It is being the overseer and the Witness. Immanence is that same light directed downward into the world of visions, creation, and eventual manifestation. the expansion of consciousness is only of use if it is actually applied. That light shines outwards through our eyes, through our actions, through our words and through our creations. It is equally important to hold in this light than it is to be liberated by it. Immanence fuels the soul; transcendence moves the spirit. Yet, spirit depends on soul for embodiment, meaning, purpose. Soul depends on spirit for inspiration and enhancement.

“Transcendence is the path of liberation. Immanenc is the path of manifestation. To embrace them both is to see the divine within and without as an inseparable unity.” ~ Anodea Judith

Sahasrara chakra homework: Take 10 minutes of of everyday this week to be quiet. You can be walking, moving fluidly, or sitting in meditation- but alone. connect to That which observes within. If needed, imagine a situation that is currently troubling you and let the Witness see it objectively. Perhaps you can ask it for advice. Perhaps you will learn something important from yourself.

Wear Violet.

As we move up past our neck and further into our head chakras, the focus becomes less on grounding and more on liberation. The balance between both– our roots into the Self and the Earth and that which connects us to something greater, something above, and the universe– is the goal that we attempt to achieve through yoga practice.

As our focus shifts to liberation, we see that the upper body becomes more of the focus in these last weeks of our journey. We began class with some meditation: we warmed up our visualization muscles by packaging up all worries and thoughts and schedules in little bubbles, watching them float away to allow for a clear mind for our practice. As the sixth chakra governs our inner visions, we completed this visualization with bringing to view what we saw as a result of our class. We saw ourselves authentically, at peace, and open… and aspired to hold this image throughout class.

As we moved into sun salutations, we kept our eyes closed for a little while to reduce the amount of over-stimulation from our outside world and tune into the inner world of vision and insight. the sixth chakra challenges us to listen to our innate wisdom, our body cues, our intuition and our dreams to understand life. By filling our mind with the images we aspired to through the yoga practice, and by drawing inwards, we hoped to cultivate this trust and insight.

Closing our eyes during high lunge or Crescent Moon Pose (Anjaneyasana) brings some challenge to the pose, but also allows us to view inside what we feel in our bodies. We can view ourselves in the most beautiful posture ever, regardless of what we can physically see. If it feels beautiful and liberating, chances are the pose is perfect for you at the moment. Dropping our back knee to the earth only allows us to root even more securely and gain more freedom in the upper body (Anjaneyasana with knee down). Whether we progress into further opening by bending the back knee, or we stay where we are, it doesn’t matter. The spirit of the pose is always there, provided you are being true to yourself and that you are holding your vision.

The same visualization process applied for each standing pose we warmed up with. In Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle pose), we imagined the perfect line tracing from our fingertips down through the outer edge of our back foot. In Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), we evoke the spirit of that warrior/warrior-esse inside and bring to mind the strength and grace within. Finally, Trikonasana brings to our minds the strength of triangles and the stability that they bring to structures.

We went on to some balance after our initial warmup of standing poses. We embodied that Eagle within, the strong and free, in Garudasana. And then, after further heart opening in Wild Thing (Camatkarasana… yes there is a name! One poetic translation of this pose means “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart.”) we proceeded into Dancer’s pose, or Natarajasana (another nice article here), and embodied the Dancer within us. By bringing our attention away from the others in the class and facing outwards, we brought ourselves inwards and expressed the pose to our best ability. Again, whether we are holding the wall or a table for stability or whether our leg is perpendicular to the ground… our vision and the inner feeling of liberation and beauty that this pose brings is the important part.

Before savasana, we balanced our minds and bodies with alternate nostril breathing. Read about it here (this is a pdf that you can print out and use! It shows the hand mudra that was used in class this day.). We continued the theme of visualization through savasana, as we walked through a guided visualization. We stepped into a peaceful, relaxing, “favorite” place and out of our body for a while to see this peace, relaxation, and happiness embodied. We attended to the details of our surroundings to keep our minds full of beautiful images and cultivate detailed perception. And most importantly, as we came back to the room resolved to hold this image of peace and relaxation as we stepped back into the world. If we were all to visualize peace and happiness at all times, imagine what power that may bring.

Where the fifth chakra expressed symbols as sound, the sixth chakra takes this a step further and allows us to see patterns and symbols in our lives as visual images. As we’ve passed through the neck into the head, we travel even farther away from the realm of instincts and the unconscious mind, transcending personal consciousness (chakras three through five) and entering transpersonal, or universal consciousness. These last two chakras are the mental mirrors for the lower chakras: chakra six reflects the unconscious mind, and chakra seven reflects the conscious mind. Chakra six gives us images and symbols to understand the lower realms, where  chakra seven finds meaning in these images.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~ Anais Nin

The Right to See

Working on the sixth chakra (ajna chakra: “to perceive and command”) expands our vision: not only physically, but our own personal vision. Also known as the “Third Eye”, the sixth chakra lies in that spot between our eyebrows and embodies issues of perception, intuition, image, insight and dreams. The size of this personal vision that we may open through this chakra is irrelevant: the ability to see a new way of being and to hold this vision is key to using our third chakra to guide us and move us forward in our lives. This is how it differs from an illusion– the demon of the 6th chakra– illusions hold us back. Our visions progress us, liberate us from the past, and help us make necessary changes in our lives.

Not only does ajna chakra allow us to see the bigger picture of our lives, but it also governs our ability (and our right!) to perceive and understand subtle nuances in the people and things around us– even in ourselves. It helps us filter through all the images and pictures we are given daily, and understand a deeper meaning to that which we encounter. From something simple as being able to see when we have overstayed a visit, to those warning signs we feel when something doesn’t feel quite right about the alleyway down which we are planning to walk, our third eye gives us insight.

“Physical perception tells us that something exists, but only the inner sight can tell us what it is.” ~ Anodea Judith

Tuning into Intuition

Whether we know it or not, our intuition is always available. The problem is whether or not we listen to it. Developing the sixth chakra is to trust this voice and honor our hunches. Intuition itself and it’s manifestation is completely unconscious and cannot be pushed or forced, but if we learn to hear it and see it in the form of symbols or bodily feelings, we will see that it speaks more. The rational mind is great at picking up and storing many pieces of information– and given time, it will also come to logical conclusions about this data stored. However, our intuition is excellent at grasping the larger whole on a more immediate, experiential level. It gives us a “flash of light” that might illuminate an entire situation within our psyche: practicing awareness will help us to sustain those moments of illumination.

“Intuition is a leap toward wholeness from fragmentation.” ~ Anodea Judith

Ajna Chakra Homework: Now that we have learned about 6 of the 7 chakras, you have enough knowledge to bring them into an activity. This week, create a visual representation of each chakra– not something you are judging, nor something you will have others judge, just an exercise in visual art and colours. Paint, draw, make a collage- any or all of the above (or whatever else you can think of. Connect to your chakras on a visual level.

Wear indigo.

We started class this week with three “Aums” (aka Om) to awaken our throat chakra. This was revisited at the end of class to close the class and to check in again with the state of our throat chakra. For the most part, it was much easier to let the sound flow after having worked on unblocking our self-expression through yoga.

Aum is the primordial sound– the sound that started the universe, that which required no two objects to be struck together. To simply listen to this sound, to feel the vibrations though one’s body, to let the sound part our lips and leave: this is balancing, this reconnects mind and body, drawing us inwards and beyond, bathing us in vibration and healing.

We concentrated a lot on the shoulders and the neck today: an area of much tension in our world. Although posture and lifestyle plays a large role in the development of our tight muscles, it is also said that it is the constant intake of noise and sound around us in our modern world that creates stress within, not easily discharged to the same magnitude. We don’t often get to express this energy within as often as we take in the energy around us- creating blockages in our fifth chakra, and tension in the surrounding area.

We worked on gentle neck and shoulder stretches to begin this week’s class, to gently coax the muscles to soften and allow for more movement in the area. Once we got into sun salutations, we switched to greater openings: cracking our heart open in a low lunge, bringing our arms behind and over in warrior stance (see here for a beautiful demonstration), and revisiting Salabhasana (from last week). Much heart opening ensued, as expression can only happen if one’s heart is open enough to let it flow!

We then added many Dolphin variations to start to come into a deeper opening in the shoulders, the heart, and the neck. Melting our heart towards the flow brings our shoulders on the back, the tension away from the trapezius muscles and the scalenes of the neck, and strengthens the rhomboids and all the muscles of the shoulder girdle. This brought us in a partner pose to further shape our bodies and prepare us for achieving Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose)… one day.

With these open shoulders, we explored a deeper lunge with a greater heart opening (either here or here) before we progressed to an ecstatic Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)… my most favorite pose for expressing all that creative energy that is buried deep within. Let it shine!

Each of us, at all times, is vibrating inside. We each have our own unique frequency, and, depending on the day and our state of mind, our vibratory waves can be strong and flowing or meek and scattered… or anywhere in between. The fifth chakra, Vissudha chakra (meaning “purification”) is in charge of the expression of our inner vibration. As we move into the higher chakras, we break away from structure and form and into the abstract. We move into the world of the mind.

“The symbol strikes its roots in the most secret depths of the soul; language skims over ths urface of the understanding like a soft breeze… Words make the infinite finite; symbols carry the mind beyond the finite world of becoming into the realm of infinite being.” ~ J.J. Bachofen

The Right to Speak and be Heard

A balanced fifth chakra allows the creativity and our inner self to get out into the world. Where the second chakra was focused on opening the sensory gates to let IN information, the fifth chakra opens the gates to the outside, leading to even further movement outside of ourselves and into the universe. Communication is the essential function of this chakra; sound is it’s element. If one has been quieted all their lives, they are forced to shut down at this chakra, or made to tell lies to cover truths that may not be accepted. As with all other chakras, trauma to this chakra can result in a deficiency or an excess. We may shut down the voice, only speaking when necessary and with over self-consciousness and irresolution. On the other hand, we may build up a defense in which we can talk excessively to discharge extra energy and avoid feelings with excessive verbiage.

Resonance

Anyone who has sung in a choir, played music in a band, or even just listened to their favorite tunes knows that there is something magic that happens when two or more voices/instruments strike chords at the same frequency. Resonance is a state of synchronization between vibrating patterns. Thus, if we are all vibrating, this means resonance can also apply to our lives. The upper chakras allow us into a world of symbols: words, images, and thoughts. Each symbol also has a vibration… and when a symbol really speaks to us, we can say we resonate with it. We all can identify that song that touches us deep within, that quote that we can strongly identify with, that one word that makes us smile from the heart. These packets of meaning were once stored in someone else’s mind– and then shared with others through the wonders of Visshudha chakra. The state of resonance within and without is a statement of our health and vitality. Opening to resonance requires grounding and flexibility, just as a guitar string needs to be both taut and flexible. This balance allows us to both listen and respond at the same time, and is what makes human life so unique.

“If it is true that you are what you eat, it may just as accurately be said that you are what you listen to.” ~ Steven Halpern

Visshudha Chakra Homework: We are all creative in our very own way. Whether you express it by talking to friends; through journalling; through a pen, paintbrush, or pencil; a guitar, a piano, or your voice; in your garden or through your yoga practice– this week, make sure you take time at least once to express yourself. Express yourself for no one but you– attach no goal to the outcome, evaluate nothing.

Wear bright blue.

We move upwards in the energetic body; thus, our practice also moves upwards in the body. This week, we endeavor to stretch and pry open our hearts, create space within for others, while holding onto the awareness of our lower chakras. With the security, passion, and motivation that we have already created in opening up chakras one, two, and three, we start to think beyond our primal needs and experiences. We started by bringing attention to our spine, trying to open up each vertebra and exaggerate our movements (especially that of sinking our hearts) with a cat-cow progression. Threading one arm underneath the other and coming to rest on our shoulder and cheek from all fours (“Threading the Needle“-asana), we start to stretch out the shoulder capsule and twist our spines.

In our sun salutations, we incorporate heart opening backbends through our thoracic spines by interlacing our hands behind our head in high lunge, or taking our arms back behind us in urdhva hastasana. Standing side bends also help lengthen out our tight muscles that hold our ribs together– creating more space for breath, expansion, and lightness of being.

On our bellies, we explored superman/superwoman pose as a salambhasana preparation, and full salambhasana (locust pose)– reaching our arms out behind us literally “cracks” our hearts open and brings more movement into our shoulders and rib cage. Ahhh! To breathe in deeply!

Finally, we ended up back in some low lunges to explore more heart opening at an even deeper level. Whether we stayed in anjaneyasana with arms up or down, or proceeded to a deeper opening into a lunge with thigh stretch, or fully cracked open into this, our practice ended with full integration or our first four chakras. Keep this spirit through the rest of the week!

We now come to our middle- the fourth chakra, Anahata chakra. We have spent 3 weeks setting the foundation for growth into a world that is more interactive, in which we are starting to reach out beyond ourselves. With security, desire, and action (Root, Sacral, and Solar Plexus Chakras), we move outward into the world and past ourselves. The heart chakra is the middle ground between Heaven and Earth, between the necessary grounding in individualism built in the lower chakras and the expansion into a universal consciousness that the upper chakras promote. Thus, Anahata chakra is all about balance: taking and giving, loving and being loved, empathy and self-protection.

The Right to Love and Be Loved

As in our bodies, love holds the world together. We have all heard the songs… “Love makes the World go Round…” Without love, there is no integration; without the heart chakra, there is no connection between our roots pushing towards the earth and our beautiful green branches pushing up towards the heavens. The act of reaching out to others to share our life experiences requires a healthy, stable foundation in the first three chakras; yet, it also requires that extra compassion and consideration that comes with discovering relationships. To be loved by another increases our own self-worth and fuels an awakening that has inspired songwriters, artists, authors, poets throughout human history.

Balance

Love is certainly about balance- this is something we often forget when getting caught up in the drama, the ups and downs, and the occasional roller-coaster ride that we experience in relationships (of all kinds). Nature seeks balance. Yet, for a relationship to last, both involved must understand that balance is not static– it is a constantly fluctuating play between anima and animus (a more “gender neutral” masculine and feminine concept), reaching out and taking, self and other, attachment and freedom. When this is accepted and appreciated, a relationship becomes flexible, fun, and completely life-affirming. It is also important to remember that balance within a relationship can not be achieved without finding balance within too.

“Balance is the underlying foundation of longevity in all things.” ~ Anodea Judith

Compassion

Although different spiritual beliefs interpret the concept of compassion on a spectrum- from the complete non-harm of all beings including the smallest of insects, to the reaching out to our fellow human beings- compassion has the potential to support a peaceful existence on earth. If we all “had passion for” our fellow humans, our earth, and our ecosystems, we would be in a much better place. To reach beyond ourselves and try to understand another’s needs allows for an expansion of inner being that holds the space for change to occur. Compassion does not mean that we have to fix things– sometimes we simply cannot– but often understanding and empathy can mean the difference between peace and war.

“And the day came when the need to remain closed became more painful than the risk to open.” ~ Anonymous

Anahata Chakra Homework: Take some time this week to sit with yourself and create compassion and peace within. Start by contemplating the various parts of yourself- especially those that tend to argue or create turbulence within. Give them each an identity. For example, one might have a curious child, a free-spirited vagabond, a practical parent, an analytical worker, and any number of other people within. Write down each person and their desires, their wants. Begin to consider the relationships between your “inner family”. Who relates to who? Who creates the most conflict? How might they relate and converse in real life? And most importantly, how can they come to a peaceful co-existance? Can you create compassion for each to ensure that they each have a place within, that they are each having their needs met? How might this relate to your external relationships? remember, love always starts with love and compassion within. Start with self-love.

Wear Green.

In this week’s class, our goal was to stoke the fires in our bellies and feel its invigorating and motivating effects through the entire class. Starting with some abdominal activation exercises, we brought breath and blood flow into our bellies. Although our final goal is not six-pack abs, we engage our core to provide us with strength, confidence, and, in consequence, tone to help us through the practice!

Twists were again big players in our class, as there is nothing better to activate the core than a good wring-out at the middle! Utkatasana (fierce pose) with a twist was an essential addition to the asana flow, as well as Parivrtta Parsvakonasana.

Garudasana (Eagle pose) had us twisting our arms, our legs, and balancing… holding that middle line was necessary when we spread our wings to “fly away”!  (See a very cool interpretation of the pose here.)

To balance out the twisting and folding throughout our class, we added some stretching and backbending. We started in Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose) to lengthen out our front bodies in preparation for Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)– an exquisite expression of opening and confidence.

A final Navasana (Boat pose) to revisit our bellies one more time before Savasana let us reconnect one more time to that strength within, leaving us feeling confident and at peace with ourselves and our practice.

We  move up through Earth and Water, two downward flowing elements, to Fire… the element of empowerment, action, will, autonomy. This week, we challenge our definitions of power by shifting from the power we know in external forces, power OVER something, to our power within, that which transforms US and ignites our own lives with purpose. Power does not have to be associated with war, power plays, and money. Power is living authentically and consciously.

The Right to Act, to be an Individual

Our third chakra, manipura (lustrous gem) chakra, transforms the inertia of matter and movement into willed activity. Just as movement requires mass, action requires both of the above. We build past simple instinctual chakras to a chakra that helps build self-sufficiency, individuation, and autonomy. Now that we have seen what the world has to offer, and we feel safe and at home in it, we can start to change it by confronting uncertainty, taking on challenges, and transforming.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” ~Gandhi

Proactivity

Located at the solar plexus, manipura chakra is a source of energy. It is the spark that we need to make our own decisions and fulfill our own destiny. The expression of this energy within is action. Action requires desire from the second chakra and intention from the chakras above. These meet in the middle, where we find will in a healthy third chakra– the spark that will set everything alight. Excesses in this chakra create reactivity; deficiency creates inactivity. A balanced third chakra makes us proactive– and confident enough to be.

“Increased excitation is perceived as an urge to organize feeling into action.” ~ Stanley Keleman

Ego & Self-esteem

In spiritual and esoteric practices today, ego is a popular “thing” that we are told to transcend, to avoid. Although letting go of this ego is an important step in attaining universal consciousness, we cannot get there if we do not first have a healthy ego to support this transcendance. Ego helps to unite the unconscious self and the world around us, it helps us make decisions and orient our energies towards a goal. Excessive escape from this ego can be equally detrimental as excessive attachment to and limitation by our ego. Ego and self-esteem must be nourished, and it is through the third chakra that we do it. If we think of the first posture we take when we are feeling low in confidence, we see the collapsed mid-section, shoulders slouching forward, belly deflated, defeated. A healthy ego and self-esteem are important to empower us to make the right decisions, change things where needed, and integrate with the world around us.

Manipura Chakra Homework: Make a list of activities in your daily life, and reflect– which ones energize you? Which ones leave you drained? Consciously increase your time with the activities that leave you feel energized, motivated, and confident this week. Make this decision on your own, and make sure you are listening deeply to your body. Sometimes that which we first think of doing is not that which we need.

Wear yellow.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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