Monday, October 21, 2013

What's Your Favorite Chakra?

Last night, I was at a potluck dinner hosted weekly by some yoga friends of mine.  Not long after my arrival, one of my friends pointed out my nail polish (mostly orange with two fingers done in black, partly for the proximity to Halloween and partly in support of the Detroit Tigers who had just lost in the American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox) and then to her boyfriend's nails which were also painted in a wide variety of colors.  I joked that when I selected nail color, especially for pedicures which I routinely get once a month during the summer months, I liked to pick the color that best represents which chakra I'm most focused on at the time.  Another yogi in the circle piped in, "The chakras have colors??" which launched the rest of us into a miniature tizzy.  Do the chakras have colors?  What yogi doesn't know about this?

Of course, it's perfectly reasonable for even the most dedicated yogi to know next to nothing about the chakra system.  It goes beyond the scope of the asana practice and is rooted more deeply in the meditative or philosophical considerations of a yogic lifestyle.  "Well, then, what does my favorite color say about me?" asked the man with the multicolored nails.  He found three yoginis staring back at him.  "Well, it could mean everything," I said with a wink.

Chakras are believed to be energetic centers in the body that correlate with different levels and states of being en route to enlightenment and work together to create your overall aura.  Traveling from the base of the spine up through the crown of the head, these seven stopping points work like a prism with the root lock being associated with the color red up through violet at the crown of your head.  Each chakra represents a different step along the road to self-realization, which is the ultimate goal of a strong, meditative practice.  If your chakras are in order, you can achieve your highest possible level of personal satisfaction -- when they're out of wack, that's when you feel "off" or unsettled.  Traditionally, it is thought that the journey is an upward one -- if your root chakra is balanced, then you can work on your spleen and so on and so forth.  And as one of the yoginis pointed out last night, if your throat chakra (your communication center) feels off, it may be best suited to work on your heart chakra which is directly beneath it as a way of fueling energy upward to balance what has gone awry.  

All of this is fancy talk, I know.  And it, like most everything, is to be taken with a grain of salt. I am tongue and cheek when I say I pick my nail color to help me work on or emphasize a specific chakra.  But I also do sometimes honestly make what would otherwise by an arbitrary selection that way.  Right now, my nails are black and orange for festive reasons, but this summer I specifically painted my nails green when I wanted to focus on my heart chakra and I own multiple shades of purple to use when I'm in need of some enlightenment.  Plus, I just like having my nails done and it can make for an interesting conversation topic if it ties into something potentially wack-a-doo like the chakra system.

For those of you who are less familiar with all of this, let me break down the basics: 

 Root (or Base) – Muladhara – Red

  • Base of the spine
  • Survival, the right to exist.  Vitality, grounding reality, stability, sexuality, courage, impulsiveness.  Deals with tasks related to the physical world.  Ability to stand up for one’s self and security issues
  • The Root chakra is your main power station and it is connected to your physical vitality and endurance, mental perseverance and it is the center that gives you your life’s passion. The root center is also your connection to your existence

Spleen – Svadisthana -- Orange

  • Below navel/lower navel
  • Feelings/the right to feel.  Connected to our sensing abilities and issues related to feelings.  Ability to be social.  Intimacy issues.  Procreation, sensuality, confidence, freedom.
  • The Spleen chakra is your sensing power station, connecting you to your feeling sensitivities. It is the center that allows you to live consciously, in the "now." The spleen center is also the link to your enthusiasm, happiness and joy—your inner-child.

Solar Plexus – Manipura – Yellow

  • Above navel/stomach area
  • Personal power/right to think.  Balance of intellect, self-confidence and ego power.  Ability to have self-control and a sense of humor. Mental clarity, optimism, curiosity.
  • The Yellow chakra is your mental awareness, which connects you to your mind power. It is the center that governs your ability to learn and comprehend. The solar plexus center is known to govern your ego and your will power. It is the sun center that emits optimism and confidence. 

Heart – Anahata – Green

  • Center of the chest
  • Relationships – the right to love.  Love, forgiveness, compassion.  Ability to have self-control.  Acceptance of one’s self.  Harmony, peace, renewal, and growth.
  • The Green chakra is your heart power station, connecting you to your emotions. It is the center that allows you to love and give unconditionally. The heart center governs your relationships. It is the energy center that integrates one's physical reality to one's spiritual connection.

Throat – Visuddha – Blue

  • Throat
  • Relationships.  The right to speak.  Learning to express one’s self and one’s beliefs ( truthful expression).  Ability to trust.  Loyalty.  Organization and planning.  Creativity, expression.
  • The Blue chakra is your communication power station. It is the center that handles incoming and outgoing messages. It is through this center that we voice our opinions and our truths.
 Brow or Third Eye – Anja – Indigo
  • Forehead/between the eyes
  • Intuition.  The right to “see.”  Trusting one’s intuitions and insights.  Developing one’s psychic abilities.  Self-realization.  Releasing hidden and repressed negative thoughts.
  • The Indigo chakra is your intuitive intelligence. It is the center that taps into the universal consciousness. Through the third-eye you can see things from a psychic potential.
 Crown – Sahasrara – Violet
  • Top of the head
  • Knowingness.  The right to aspire.  Charisma.  Dedication to the divine consciousness and trusting the universe.  Learning about one’s spirituality.  Our connection to “God” or a higher intelligence.  Integrating consciousness and unconsciousness into superconsciousness.
  • The Violet chakra is your spiritual connection. This chakra links you to the cosmos so you can reach your higher potential. It is the energy of knowingness and enlightenment.
Try this guided Chakra Meditation:

Dedication Yoga-to-Go

So, yes, maybe your favorite color does have something to say about you.  Look at what that color's energy represents and see if it doesn't tie into something you are exceptionally strong in or have a particular relationship with.  Let's use me as an example, shall we?  My favorite colors are Green, Yellow, Orange, and Blue in that order.

This is love.  This is belonging.  This is what is unconditional.  This is what gives us peace and strength of mind.  Green attracts me, it stands out.  I gravitate towards this color in pretty much every shade it comes in.  As a counterpoint, my eyes are hazel and mostly appear green, so it's a color I look good wearing as well.  I find it interesting that "geniuses pick green" as their favorite color more often than any other (this is true and not just a line from Meet the Parents) given that its strong tie is something so emotionally and intuitively based.  You can't measure or quantify love -- it's elusive and strange and so often out of our immediate control.  The heart wants what the heart wants, right?  It's no wonder it's the color of jealousy as well!  We use our other senses to add a measure of sanity or realism to some of the heart's odd or unattainable requests, but sometimes even that best outcome is to quiet the noise of our heartbeat.  Nothing is more important to me than love (sharing it, finding it, keeping it) and the community, commitment, family, and sense of belonging that is built with that.  This is also an area where, admittedly, I struggle.  But I try and I want and I give and I do my best to receive -- which, for me, is actually the most difficult part.  Green is my favorite color and its chakra tie is, no pun intended, near and dear to my heart.

This is what it means to have an opinion.  This is what it means to consider the consequences.  This is what it means to be an active thinker and a learner.  I am a lifelong student who misses the structure of a curriculum and a classroom but who still finds ways and means to further expand my knowledge base.  My best friends are people who are intelligent and interested in debates and discussions about everything from nuclear physics to the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to classic rock to baseball to online dating and beyond.  I want my opinions to be challenged almost as much as I want my challenges to other's opinions to be heard and considered without outright dismissal.  Intelligence is hungry for this -- I am hungry for it, too.  Yellow is the color of the sun, of warmth, of a new day -- yellow is the color of an awake mind and its symbolism is one I incorporate into my daily life.

This is a chakra tied into awakenings.  It's the reproductive center -- it's your core desire.  It's where you come into your own.  It's more base than, say, the heart chakra because it's less intellectual and more gut-level, but achieving balance here only heightens the productivity of the green chakra once the orange one has been stabilized.  Like most of the chakras, it works in tandem with the others the same way that taking Algebra I will better inform you to be prepared for Algebra II then if you'd skipped the introduction.  This is another color I wear well, so people tell me, and it's an endearing favorite of mine because my younger brother loves it, though he pronounces it "oranch."  Finding security in the orange chakra is a necessary evil since we are here to reproduce but our ultimate knowledge of what that means can be stunting.  If I have been jilted in the past or taught not to trust because my emotions were disregarded or trivialized, then it makes forming partnerships anywhere from difficult to nearly impossible.  If I have been shown a great deal of respect and trust and empowerment by those trying to establish a meaningful connection with me, then that is, in the absence of a straight up betrayal, an unbreakable bond.  This is Freud's playground, right here.  If he were around to comment, I'm certain he'd say there was no other color but orange -- none that mattered, anyway.  

And finally -- BLUE = VOICE
Being heard.  Being understood.  Being recognized as a thinking person with a viewpoint.  This is the throat chakra.  As a writer, it is understandable (and likely goes without saying) how important this one is.  Interestingly, from an astrological standpoint, I am diagnosed as being someone who is frequently misunderstood because my mode of communication is, well, quirky.  I am prone to rambling.  Even worse, I am prone to rambling metaphors.  I know what I mean and am easily frustrated by people who don't and overly endeared by those who always understand right away.  There are a handful of people who get me and for them I am very grateful.  Maybe this is why I write, also -- it's easier to be editorial and succinct and articulate with an eraser in hand, less so when speaking out loud in a series of nonsequitors that totally fire and connect in my brain but are often confusing for people who are "new" -- and even some who've been around a long time.  I see complicated connections everywhere that enhance the meaning of a situation to me and sometimes that's lost in the translation when I try and communicate such information to others.  I actively work on thinking before I speak, or at the very least finishing one metaphor before I roll over into another one.  Hey, all I can do is try, right?

Of course, I could associate parts of myself with all of the points and their corresponding colors in the chakra system.  All of you, could, too.  So maybe it's not any more important then your astrological sign, but it's something to consider.  Why not?  Worst case scenario, you'll achieve nirvana.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Read Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

I have never done hot yoga.  The style I teach and practice is intended for a "comfortably warm" space -- maybe 80-degrees.  The idea is the practioner should generate an internal heat through controlled breath work and intentional movement as opposed to entering a room already cranked to 100-degrees and assuming an exaggerated sense of flexibility that could lead to injury.  Makes perfect sense to me.  Plus, an 80-degree room is plenty warm for exercise, can't we all agree?

A lot of people don't agree.  Hot yoga is an exceptionally popular mode for practice, Bikram Yoga being one of the most preferred.  I had heard of Bikram in a vague sense when it was first becoming really trendy and was shocked to learn on a Today Show news segment one early morning that Bikram was, like, a dude.  There he was, on my television.  Jovial and boisterous and beyond any reasonable level of pretentious, obnoxious, and arrogant.  This guy "invented" a style of yoga?  Isn't yoga supposed to be about the opposite of pretentious, obnoxious, and arrogant?  Isn't it supposed to be about simplicity and quiet personal growth?  Isn't it supposed to be about expanding your mind, not expanding your vintage car collection or your number of diamond studded watches?  Who is Bikram Choudhury and where does he get off?  But the journalist, Jenna Wolfe, seemed charmed by him and also declared herself a believer in his school of thought.  I watched this interview and thought, "I would never do this man's practice -- he goes against everything I believe to be beneficial about yoga."  It's like believing profoundly in God only to go to church to find the minister staring greedily at the congregation while holding his hand out for an offering. 

I hadn't thought much about Bikram or his yoga since seeing that interview and, in the meantime, continued to devote myself to my own practice, including doing teacher training last spring.  For me, yoga is a way to slow down life, to make myself take a moment to breathe, and to see how much (or how little) I have changed from one day to the next.  It has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin.  So I can't do peacock or put my foot behind my head -- who cares?  I work with modifications or props -- I take myself to my own depth and that's all that matters. 

Recently, some of my yoga friends have started talking about a book -- a book I must read.  It became a topic of conversation at a recent teacher training reunion party where a few of the women were in the midst of this page-turner -- Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr.  A nonfiction account about Bikram, his yoga, his teacher training, and his pursuit of making yoga an Olympic sport.  My curiosity got the better of me and I added this book to my Kindle the next day.

Ladies, you were right -- I couldn't put it down.

Lorr talks about his own path to Bikram that started with a general malaise in life that lead to him becoming lazy and overweight and somehow landed him in one of Bikram's self-declared Torture Chambers (his term for the rooms where his trademarked classes take place -- how very yogic).  The yoga was impossible at first but strangely very addictive and before Lorr knew it, he was a Bikram junkie, attending class every day, sometimes multiple classes per day, and escalating his devotion to two-week intensive backbending "retreats" with other diehards and eventually doing the nine-week/$11,000 teacher training as well as a trip to Nationals.  Lorr's book includes other narratives similar to his own -- extreme personalities (Type A's, addictive/obsessive personalities, anorexics, drug addicts, etc) who devoted their lives to Bikram Yoga, many of them claiming the practice healed them from illness and/or injury and gave them the proverbial new lease on life they'd all so desperately needed.  Desperation is a common theme in this community, it seems.  People who need need need something to fill them.  Bikram Yoga and its 26 prescribed postures occupies the void -- it fills them -- even if it hurts like hell.

This passage from Hell-Bent recounts Lorr's first time with the Backbenders, an official/unofficial group of extreme Bikram practioners.  The speaker here isn't Bikram but his wife's son Esak Garcia, once instrumental in the Bikram community but later ostracized for seemingly no reason -- a never-ending story within the confines of this world.  Here, Esak is parroting what many of the senior Bikram teachers say on the founder's behalf.  This style of yoga asks students to embrace pain, not back away from it.  Clearly, there are dangers in this.  Pain exists for a reason -- it's a warning from your body.  It's asking you not to go further -- it's implying danger.  Pushing yourself to your limit is one thing -- ignoring those limits is another ballgame all together.

And for a yoga that claims to be so healing, it comes with quite a laundry list of problematic ailments.

Of course, the section on teacher training dropped my jaw the most.  The entire event seemed to be designed to torture and humiliate, very nearly turning some people into drones or, worse, animals struggling to survive.  And for what?  To memorize a 45-page script written by a man who taught class from a throne on a stage.  Insanity, what?  Lorr tells stories about the fickle nature of Bikram that astounded me in this section.  One of the most memorable is a man who completed the entire nine weeks only to be called up to Bikram's suite the day before graduation and told he would not be graduating because this man had taken classes in a studio Bikram felt had tried to rip off his trademarked practice.  And even though this man wasn't a regular student there and had no intention of working for or with this studio, Bikram still refused to let the man graduate and refused to give him back his money, adding that he had known since Day One that he would never allow this man to become one of his instructors on account of this "transgression."  

And then, of course, there are the women...

Bikram is currently being sued for sexual harassment.  The book details lots of examples of women being objectified and disrespected by this man who they (at least once) worshiped and adored.  He's a man in power, no different from any other narcissistic person in power who believes sex, money, objects are his for the taking and that the honor belongs to these women he's selected.  Lorr talks about the women who lose the stars from their eyes the moment Bikram lays an unwanted hand on their thighs. 

Maybe even Bikram is bigger than Bikram -- his persona, his myth has taken over and crushed the man who came from India to the United States at the age of 28 and offered free classes until Shirley McLane quite famously informed him that Americans "don't respect anything that's free."  Everything after that is Bikram's experiment in being American -- the more expensive it is, the more people will want it because it will seem luxurious.

"Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. 
Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God."

Sri T. Krishnamacharya

To me, this is where yoga is at its purest -- just breathing -- just focusing on what is internal and allowing it push into the external.  Bikram Yoga seems, at its most base, to want the same thing -- but as an industry, it feels counterproductive to me -- it feels like a greedy church who loves its parishioners for their deep pockets, not their deep faith in God.  

Lorr's book is fascinating and will surely grip the attention of those who practice and those who don't because it's not a book about yoga -- it's a book about a sociopath and his followers.  Read it -- get bent.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Keeping It Simple

My friend Maggie came up to me at the end of Ann's stellar Intermediate class at O2 Yoga last night and said, "Can I tell you something awesome?  I did Revolved Triangle for the first time tonight."  Immediately, a grin took over my face and I high fived her.  I don't know that I will ever do Revolved Triangle with square hips let alone without props, so I appreciate how exciting it must be to get into that difficult pose.  Maggie teased about it being a "dear diary" moment, but, truthfully, it is one.  Part of the joy of yoga is achieving these milestones and no matter how experienced you are, there is always something to work towards.  Every time you roll out your mat, your practice will feel different and that's a pretty exciting thing.  

On days I can't make it into the studio to practice, I like to step onto my mat at home and do my own thing.  One of the simplest ways to build heat quickly and feel like I've really gotten a swift but solid practice in is to do five Sun Saluation A's and five Sun Salutation B's.  This is the way the warm up for the Primary Series of Astanga begins, though it's arguably a pretty well-rounded practice on its own.  I made an audio recording cuing the practice to share with all of you.  I can also send you an mp3 if you'd prefer.  Just email me at :)

Keep it simple.  After all, any time on your mat is time well spent!