NB This sequence appeared in my most recent monthly Frond Yoga newsletter. If you would like to join my mailing list and have information of upcoming UK classes, workshops, detox day retreats and international retreats then please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
In yoga philosophy, we are comprised of more than our visible ‘flesh and bones’ bits. We also have an invisible energetic body. Just as blood vessels move our blood around the body, we also have a dense network of nadis (energy channels), which move prana (vital energy or life force) around the body. Yoga practices such as asana, pranayama and meditation help to increase our flow of prana, literally enlarging our energetic body (yes, we actually grow bigger, even if we can’t see it!). The central energy channel is called shushumna nadi, which is found as a central column in the body, roughly following the location of the spine. Along shushumna nadi are seven main ‘energy transformers’ or chakras, which help to generate more prana and increase the flow of prana around the body. Each chakra is associated with particular physical and emotional conditions. When the chakras are ‘open’ then prana will flow easily and we will feel balanced, physically and emotionally. But, more often than not, our chakras are closed or blocked in some way, leading to feeling emotionally ‘stuck’ in certain areas of our life, or suffering from repeated physical problems in certain parts of our body.
This is a vast topic, and I am barely scratching the surface of the outermost layer here, but during the Turkey retreat I put together the following ‘chakra opening’ sequence in order to bring awareness to the different chakra areas and the physical and emotional conditions associated with them, in the hope that regularly repeating the sequence could begin to help release any blockages. The best thing to do is give it a go, trying to hold each posture for between five and ten breaths, and notice if you feel any particular discomfort or emotions at any point in the sequence. If so, note which chakra these are linked to. This might be a clue that there’s some work to be done in that area.
Muladhara (root chakra)
Located at the base of the spine. Associated colour = red. Associated element = earth. Linked to feelings of connection with the earth, feeling safe, secure, calm and grounded. Physically linked to bowels, legs and feet. If it’s blocked you may feel flighty, edgy, unsafe, alone, ‘up in the clouds’ or too much in your head. You may also struggle to feel connected to earth and the ‘bigger picture’.
Begin in a crossed legs position and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Really try and feel your connection with the earth beneath your hands and your pelvis, hips and legs. Know you are part of a huge ecosystem, and you are protected and fully supported by the earth. Take some deep breaths here through the nose, trying to initiate each inhale right at the base of the spine and complete each exhale deep in the pelvic bowl.
Then come into this version of malasana (garland pose), with feet out-turned and hands in prayer position. Sink deep into hips and lift out of the lower back, bringing the chest forward and shoulders down. Use your upper arms to push your knees outwards (it’s fine to keep the hands on the floor if you can’t balance in the posture without them).
Push through the feet to come to standing and bring the feet together to stand in tadasana, mountain pose. Close the eyes and try and find stillness in the posture. Feel very strong in the legs by drawing up on the kneecaps to firm the thighs, and root down through the feet. Try and emulate the mountain after which the posture is named – rooted, steady, part of the earth, strong.
Move slowly into vrksasana, the tree pose. This time emulate the tree, growing in both directions. Rooting downwards through the feet into the earth and reaching upwards through the fingertips to the sky. Strong yet flexible. Focus on feeling strong in the standing leg (again firm up the front of the thigh) and then swap sides after a few breaths.
During these postures let your awareness rest at muladhara at the base of the tailbone and imagine a spinning wheel of red light there. Alternatively, as you breathe in and out repeat in your head the mantra for this chakra, ‘lam’, on each breath.
Svadhisthana (sacral chakra)
Located below the navel, just above muladhara. Colour = orange. Element = water. Linked to our feelings of sensuality, sexuality, creativity, pleasure, playfulness, fun and joy. Physically linked to reproductive and urinary systems. If blocked you may struggle to allow yourself to enjoy life and have fun. You may feel joyless and struggle with sexual relationships or feel creatively blocked. It can also be over-stimulated when you over-indulge in pleasurable activities in an ultimately self-destructive way (e.g. addiction).
Open the legs wide with feet out-turned and gently rest your hands on the tops of your thighs for the goddess or horse pose. Sink low into your hips until you feel a stretching in the inner hips and thighs. Spend a few breaths here then take the hands upwards, palms facing each other. Keep sinking low into the hips as you reach upwards at the same time.
Come to the floor and take baddha konasana, the cobbler pose. Allow gravity to gradually open the hips. Try and press down through the sit bones and lift up through the spine, chest moving forward between the upper arms. (NB If you have a yoga strap you can do the bound version, reclining back onto a bolster – absolute bliss and this is what we did in the class, but I don’t have a belt with me here to demonstrate!)
Change the leg position to upavishta konasana (wide leg angle pose) and place the hands on the floor in front of you. Feel a gentle stretch on the inner hips and thighs. If you wish to go deeper then take the hands forward after a few breaths.
During the postures let the mind’s awareness rest at svadhisthana below the navel and imagine a spinning wheel of orange light there and try and open yourself up to the postures with a playful, happy attitude – maybe try smiling your way through them! Alternatively, as you breathe in and out repeat in your head the mantra for this chakra, ‘vam’, on each breath.
Manipura (solar plexus chakra)
Located at solar plexus. Colour = yellow. Element = fire. Linked to our feelings of self-esteem, self-belief, confidence, proactivity and decisiveness. Also linked to the digestive system. If blocked, you may feel fearful, anxious and lack belief in yourself, be unsure of who you are. You may also suffer from digestive problems. If over stimulated you may have an inflated ego and exhibit arrogance or false confidence.
Come to table top position and stretch out the opposite arm and leg, focusing on drawing in moolha bandha (lift up on perineal muscles) and uddiyana bandha (draw navel towards spine to engage deep transverse abdominals). Hold for a few breaths and swap sides. Feel strong and grounded through the hand and foot left on the floor and supported at your core.
If you want to work harder, do the same from plank and/or forearm plank. Make sure the hips don’t creep upwards as you lift hand and foot – try and keep the body in a straight line.
Take navasana (boat pose). Lift out of your lower back and raise your chest skyward, as if inviting in the sun’s energy to enter your solar plexus and send prana straight to manipura. Hold for five breaths before coming down, and repeat at least three times. Challenge yourself to cross the lower legs and lift up on an inhale in between each attempt, even if you can only get your hips off the floor – believe that you can do it!
Finish with a gentle seated twist with one leg bent and hooked over the other, straight leg, to stimulate the digestive organs.
During these postures let the mind’s awareness rest at manipura at the solar plexus and imagine a spinning wheel of yellow light there. Feel the heat and life in your body and appreciate your inner strength, which allows you to hold the postures, even when it becomes difficult. Alternatively, as you breathe in and out repeat in your head the mantra for this chakra, ‘ram’, on each breath.
Anahata (heart chakra)
Located at the centre of the chest. Colour = green. Element = air. Linked to our ability to love ourselves, others and the world, and to our ability to accept love from others. Also linked to lungs and circulatory system. If blocked, you may find it difficult to build meaningful relationships with others, perhaps due to trauma and abuse that you have previously suffered. You may suffer from a lack of self-love and self-worth.
Sit in dandasana (staff pose) with your hands about ten centimetres behind you, fingers pointing forward. Lean into the hands and lift your chest upwards towards the sky, opening your heart. Try and soften the whole chest area and feel the rib cage rise and fall with the breath.
Lie on your belly and place your elbows under your shoulders with parallel forearms on the floor to come into bhujangasana (sphinx pose). Draw your shoulders back and down and open your chest to the front, focusing on inflating the chest with your inhales. After a few breaths, if you wish for a deeper backbend then begin to straighten the arms to come into cobra pose, but keep the shoulders down, away from the ears.
If your back feels open enough, stay lying on the belly and take dhanurasana (bow) or half bow pose. For full bow, bring both feet towards your buttocks and hold the fronts of the ankles. Try and keep the feet together, and maybe even the knees, as you begin to push the feet into the hands, which will draw your shoulders and chest off the floor. You don’t need to lift high with this – just come to a comfortable place and focus on breathing into the mid to upper back and chest. Inflate the lungs and the rib cage with the breath. You may start to naturally rock forwards and backwards slightly as you breathe fully, in which case just go with it. Feel like you’re breathing love in and sharing it with the world as you breathe out.
For half bow, just lift one foot up at a time, hold for a few breaths and swap sides.
Come onto your back and bend the knees and place your palms by your sides. On an inhale lift up into supported bridge and take the arms overhead and down to the floor behind you. Breathe fully into the front of the chest, trying to lift it higher and higher with each breath.
Roll out on an exhale and then take a soft forward fold as a counter posture to the back-bending.
During these postures let the mind’s awareness rest at anahata at the heart centre and imagine a spinning wheel of green light there. Try and soften the front of your chest and focus on loving feelings, towards yourself, others and the world. Alternatively, as you breathe in and out repeat in your head the mantra for this chakra, ‘yam’, on each breath.
Vishudda (throat chakra)
Located at the base of the throat. Colour = blue. Element = ether. Linked to our ability to know ourselves well and to communicate our truth to others with compassion. Also linked to our respiratory system. If blocked, you may struggle to make yourself heard, to form and give opinions or you may be very shy. You may also often feel tight in the throat, unable to breathe fully. Conversely, if over-stimulated you may be insensitive with your words and dominate conversations, drowning out others voices and being too opinionated/talking too much and too loudly.
Come to seated and place one shin in front of the other. Rock forward and take the hands to the floor quite far in front of you, then drop the hips. Draw the shoulders down and take a deep inhale. As you exhale, open your mouth wide, stick out the tongue as far as it will go, look upwards and breathe out noisily through the mouth for simhasana (lion breath) in a kind of hissing, roaring sound, like a lion. Repeat at least three times. Try and relax the throat as you do so and just let the breath go naturally – don’t be shy, try not to hold it back!
Lie on your back and take the legs up into the air and back behind you for halasana (plough pose). The chin should be drawn into the chest, creating jalandarabandha (chin lock). If the feet touch down then interlace the fingers and place the arms on the floor otherwise continue to support the back. You can take a few breaths with straight legs then, if you wish, bend the legs so the knees come to the outside of the ears for karnapidasana.
Gently roll out using core control and take matsyasana (fish pose) as a counter posture. To come into this, lie on your back and bend the elbows (keep them close to your sides) and take hold of your outer hips. Lift the chest upwards, arching the spine actively, and take the head back, then move your hands to rest on the front of the thighs. If you wish to go further, walk your elbows outwards until you can place the top of your head on the floor, maintaining the arch in your spine, then place your hands on your thighs, so you’re just resting on legs and head. When in the posture, relax the throat and the front of the chest and breathe deeply. To come out, place the elbows back down to take the weight, then bring chin to chest and come up slowly.
During these postures let the mind’s awareness rest at vishuddha at the base of the throat and imagine a spinning wheel of blue light there. Try and soften your throat and cultivate an audible ujjayi breath by contracting the throat muscles, as you would if you were whispering. Let the breath flow, try not to hold it back at all. Alternatively, as you breathe in and out repeat in your head the mantra for this chakra, ‘yam’, on each breath.
Ajna (brow or ‘third eye’ chakra)
Located between the eyebrows. Colour = purple. Element = mind. Linked to tuning into and trusting our innate wisdom and intuition, tapping into and fine-tuning our ‘sixth sense’. If blocked, you are likely to be too much in your head, trying to ‘work everything out’ with your mind, rather than listening to your gut feelings and trusting the voice of intuition that rises when we sit in peace and allow it to emerge. If over-stimulated, you can use these abilities to inflate your ego, for example by abusing ‘psychic powers’ to boost your own sense of self/dominate others.
Take balasana (child’s pose) and make sure the forehead connects with the floor or the backs of your hands or a block. Focus your awareness on the space between your eyebrows as you take slow, deep breaths here, feeling the back rise and fall.
Come to sukhasana (easy seated pose) or lotus or cross-legged or kneeling (whatever feels comfortable for you). Extend upwards through the spine and relax the shoulders and rest the hands in jnana mudra on the backs of the knees (first finger touches tip of thumb and the remaining three fingers extend). Take some slow, deep breaths through the nose. Then let the breath come naturally and simply take your awareness to the space between your eyebrows and notice what arises. If any thoughts or particular emotions arise, acknowledge them and let them blow through – don’t get involved. If you have a question that is occupying you at the moment, perhaps ask this now, directing your query to your ajna chakra. Believe and trust that you have all the answers you seek inside you already – give them space to arise through this simple ajna focussed meditation. You can also imagine a spinning wheel of purple light between the eyebrows. Feel like you breathe in purple light to this area and, as you breathe out, the light spreads through your body, bigger and brighter with each breath.
Sahasrara (crown chakra)
Located just above the crown of the head. Represented by a thousand-petalled lotus of the full spectrum of colours. This chakra opens only when all other chakras are open and prana is flowing unhindered. It is linked with our sense of merging into oneness with everything else – a state of samadhi or unending bliss, resting in the seat of knowledge of the truth of who we are.
If you have headstand in your practice already, then take a headstand for at least ten breaths. Then counter pose with child’s pose.
Finally, come to a comfortable, lengthy savasana (corpse pose). Support the backs of the knees or the back of the head with a bolster or cushion if required, and make sure you’re warm enough, use a blanket if needed. Spend at least ten minutes lying down in deep relaxation, allowing all muscle effort and tension to drain away. Stay alert within your deep relaxation and notice what arises – perhaps feelings of warmth, love and contentment may spread through the body and, you never know, maybe even bliss, cosmic oneness and other samadhi-like feelings may make an appearance!