When I travel, I think of T.S. Eliot’s inspiring words: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” This applies also to the inner journey of yoga, where we explore deeper dimensions of being on a quest for self-understanding. Just as a map can guide us up a mountain trail, a map of the nadis and chakras can help us explore the unseen realm of pranamaya kosha, the energy body.
But how can you map something that can’t be seen by the human eye? To help visualize and understand nadis and chakras, we correlate them to the body’s physical nerves and glands. Chakras have been described as wheels of light, energy vortexes, transformers or switches, psychic centers, etc., and they’re most often illustrated as glowing circles ascending the spine in rainbow colors. However, traditional diagrams of the chakras are far more complex, incorporating the senses, elements, numbers, sounds, geometric symbols, and even planets, animals, and deities as well as color. During the centuries when teachings were handed down from guru to student, these diagrams helped students relate and remember philosophical and anatomical concepts.
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Today, many people are reluctant to accept something that can’t be proven or seen. But consider this: Modern medicine (including germ theory and the X-ray) wasn’t generally settled until the turn of the twentieth century. Theories of energy anatomy were developed thousands of years ago, and are still consulted today in numerous disciplines throughout the world, including Chinese medicine and Reiki, as well as yoga.
Words and ideas take us only so far, however—yoga is, after all, an experiential practice. Therefore, the best way to understand the chakras is to explore them yourself. This well-rounded set of practices is a good way to start developing your awareness of muladhara or root chakra. And fasten your seatbelt: Your explorations may lead you in directions you never dreamed about.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” says Sherry Mammano about her chakra journey. A former army commander and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, Mammano began practicing yoga to quiet her mind. She cheerfully calls her intensive exploration of the chakras “yoga boot camp” because it provided emotional and spiritual training much the way the army trained her physically and mentally. During a heart chakra practice that centered on Matsyasana (Fish Pose), she experienced “a significant awakening.” Names from past relationships floated into her awareness, and she was able to experience and release unprocessed emotions.
With her new understanding of the chakras, Mammano began to recognize the meaning beyond her body’s signals. After coming down with a throat ailment, for example, she realized she was not expressing herself fully, not speaking her truth. Mammano also found a new dedication to her practice, and began teaching yoga to other returning soldiers. Already an MBA grad, now she is looking forward to advanced yoga studies this fall.
“Oh, the places you’ll go!” might be how Dr. Seuss would describe exploring the chakras. How would you describe your chakra journey?