It’s too bad our problems don’t stay behind with our shoes when we step into the yoga studio. Too often, we get on the mat feeling overwhelmed with worry or conflict or in need of an energy boost. But the right class can leave us feeling clearer, lighter, and refreshed. Ancient yogis, and many teachers today, would also chalk this up to the unique way that yoga poses and breathwork move blocked prana (life force) through the Subtle Body.
The Subtle Body is a part of you that you can’t see or touch—it’s where your energy flows, which is why it’s also referred to as the energy body. There are seven key points in the subtle body that are thought to be vortexes of energy, known as chakras. When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that show up as anxiety or lethargy. A well-tuned asana practice can free up energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra, creating that amazing change for which yoga is known. With just a little bit of coaching, you can tap into the chakras as a potent way of harnessing and shifting your energy in the direction you want it to go.
Start by thinking of chakras as a blueprint for your own self-care, and your yoga practice as the architect that makes that blueprint a reality. The most direct way to use the chakras is to learn how each one is associated with an element in nature. The first five chakras are associated with the physical elements earth, water, fire, air, and space. The last two chakras are thought to connect us beyond the earthly realm, so they are associated with the elements of light and cosmic energy.
Once you learn the element that each chakra is associated with, you can start to suss out how that element feels in your body. And thinking about your body in these symbolic terms can help you access new stores of energy with the practices detailed in these pages. For example, the root chakra is associated with earth. When it’s in balance, we feel strong and grounded; when it’s out of balance, we may feel unrooted and insecure. Or take the pelvic chakra, which is associated with water. When it’s in balance, we feel fluid and like our creative juices are flowing. When it’s not, we might feel rigid, dry, or emotionally brittle, like a plant that hasn’t been watered enough.
In order to restore balance in your chakras, you must first tune in to how you’re feeling, then figure out which chakra to stimulate to counteract the imbalance. For example, if you’re feeling low in energy, you can do poses that target the navel chakra to rekindle your inner fire. If you’re feeling anxious and long to feel more grounded, choose poses for the earthy root chakra. Or if you seek more courage to speak your truth, the right poses can open and stimulate the throat chakra.
For a more restorative, meditative approach, first close your eyes while seated and envision the color associated with the chakra radiating from the chakra’s location, as you repeat the sound associated with it. And to help you focus and go deeper into each asana, try repeating the associated chakra sound while practicing.
Remember, the changes to the subtle body can’t be touched or measured as you would your heart rate or height. You have to trust your inner experience to feel them and to recognize their benefits. Try chakra-based poses for four weeks and keep a journal/log of how you feel after each practice. Keep your notes simple, and write down any changes you feel in your energy, such as, calming or helped me express my thoughts. Keeping track this way just might help you see how tuning in to the chakras can help you shift more than just your physical state.