The mind and the body are intimately connected, and one can influence the other. In recent years, Western scientists have begun to examine these connections, mapping the ways that our experiences impress themselves upon our physical bodies as well as our minds.
While the Eastern idea of the chakras is many centuries old, some of the understandings of these interconnections are beginning to be borne out by Western science. The chakras are often mysterious to Westerners because our cultural frame of reference, and our definitions of who we are, are so centered upon our physical selves. But if you believe that we are more than just our physical bodies, exploring the chakras could add a new dimension to your yoga practice and your understanding of who you are.
There are a lot of different ways to explain the chakras. You can call them “subtle body energy.” You can visualize them as energy centers in the body, or spinning wheels of internal light, or as “transistors” that convert our energy into our physical body.
If that seems a little esoteric for you though, instead just think about the ways that your emotions can influence your physical state. When you feel sad or insecure, you might slouch your shoulders and droop your head toward your chest. This introduces strain into your neck and back, and can lead to health issues if you carry yourself like this over time. You could feel it in your body with headaches or shortness of breath as your lungs are compressed. Your spine begins to round, your pectoral muscles shorten, and your back muscles become habitually lax and overstretched.
On the other hand, when you feel happy or capable, you stand a little bit straighter and carry yourself higher. Your spine starts to reset to its natural alignment, giving your lungs more room to breathe.
This is one reason that positive mental habits are so powerful . . . because they not only retrain your brain, they retrain your body at the same time.
The chakras are each associated with a different part of the body (as you can see in the awesome graphic at the top of this page created by one of our CF Yogis @morethansick). Each of these energetic centers correlates to different mental habits and emotional experiences.
CF is a lifelong disease, and just like anyone else, we are shaped by the different things that we experience. Nobody has the exact same experience with CF — everyone sees the disease manifesting in different physical and mental symptoms, for a variety of physical, emotional, or environmental reasons.
We see greater complexity than than the disease at its surface would suggest. The chakras can help us understand this internal complexity, as each one affirms our fundamental rights as complete human beings:
At our base level is simple survival – the things we need to simply exist on this planet as human beings. As we go upward, the layers become more nuanced and complex, building the structure we need to reach full-flower of our human potential. If you’ve ever studied psychology, that might sound similar Maslow’s hierarchy of needs!
When you have CF, a lot of our time is spent on the lower, physiological levels. We, our caregivers, and our doctors are so concerned with our survival that we don’t necessarily get to devote a lot of our effort to meeting those higher needs. But it’s important to acknowledge that as complete human beings, those higher layers are still important.
By giving some attention to each of these layers, we create a healing space for our physical bodies while also giving ourselves the gift of nourishing our complete selves… beyond physiological necessity, upward to to self-esteem and self-actualization. It’s incredibly empowering to use the road map of the chakras to explore your own body-mind connection, and in doing so unpack some of the beliefs you hold about yourself.
In this months’ EmPower Yoga classes, we’ll use the chakras as a road map as we dig into the different ways that our body is connected to our mind and our emotions. Each week we’ll focus on a different chakra, beginning with the lower chakras and progressing upward as we explore the multi-faceted nature of who we are.
Through this process, we’ll learn to listen to the messages our body and mind are giving us in the moment, dialing the intensity of our practice up and down to personalize our practice and truly make it our own.
Join Katie for EmPower Yoga on Tuesday evenings February 4-25 at 4 PM PST / 5 PM MST / 6 PM CST / 7 PM EST! Classes are free to everyone in the CF community thanks to the support of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Impact Grant. Register for CF Yogi here to get your login, and then join us for class via the Member Portal!