this week in yoga: chakras and mantras

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NKO’s recent mural features the crown chakra

Last week I taught four yoga classes in the Puget Sound area. One in the Tashiro Kaplan Community Room in Pioneer Square, one at Laughing Buddha in Mill Creek, one impromtu private lesson with a good friend, and one at the MAHA farm and forest on Whidbey Island where Nko (aka Groucho) and I work-for-stay several days a week.

I’ve been teaching weekly for about 2 months, using the sequences we learned in our teacher training as a framework, incorporating new areas of focus each week learned from other yoga teachers, online articles, spiritual lessons, and sequencing videos. This week I decided to return to my roots. Well… my root chakra, that is.

The vinyasa class we learned to teach at the Mystical Yoga Farm in Guatemala closed with a special focus on the chakras. This sequence activates and “tunes” the seven main chakras in the body with poses and bija (seed) mantras to chant aloud as you inhabit each pose.

Why do mantras with yoga? A few words from mindbodygreen.com:

In Vedic healing and spiritual traditions, specific mono syllable seed sounds or “Bija Mantras” were developed to create balance and harmony in the human body, mind and soul. Each and every part of our body functions at a specific rhythm and pulse and when all our systems are balanced and tuned with each other we experience perfect harmony and health.

So here’s a vinyasa sequence I worked from this week that closes with a kick-ass Chakra alignment that I learned from School Yoga Institute as part of their amazing training:

FINDING BREATH
Finding a comfortable seat, tune into breath, encourage belly breathing, 3-part yogic breathing, kapalabhati (breath of fire), kumbhaka (breath retention), and other breathing exercises as desired.

CONNECTING BREATH AND MOVEMENT
Any sequence that begins to gently stretch the body, tune with the breath, and build heat. I did:

  • Seated (cross legged): forward fold, back bend, side bends, side twists
  • Cat/Cow
  • Table top: lift opposing arm front and leg behind, and switch
  • Downdog (pedal it out), 3-legged dog, Scorpion dog
  • Low lunge with back knee down, prayer twist hooking opposing elbow over front leg
  • Half Hanumanasana (half split)
  • Pyramid (or modified pyramid with back heel popped up)

HEAT
Build some heat with 3 or more repetitions of a sun salutation! I enjoy a fairly classic sequence, moving very slow the first time to find alignment and give beginner cues, and speeding up each consecutive time.

FIRE
I like to throw in something that kind of burns. My first teacher Jamie often invigorates us with a fierce Uttkatasana sequence featuring prayer twists, and heat-releasing “fists of fire”.  After some rigorous sun salutations, this really makes you sweat.

CORE
All of yoga is good for your core, but for this week, I threw in a sequence of plank variations – working on both the front and back muscles of the abdominal corset. (I.e. plank, 3 legged dog, knee to nose, 3 legged dog, knee to right elbow, 3 legged dog, knee to left elbow, etc.)

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Nko crescent lunges to the rising sun (Mystical Yoga Farm in Guatemala)

CLASSIC POSES
I moved through some Classic Poses in the middle of class, i.e. Crescent Lunge (or instead do Warrior 1), Warrior 2, Reverse (Peaceful) Warrior, Extended Side Angle Pose. Triangle. You can do these hatha-style (10 breaths per pose), but a couple of my classes were advertised as vinyasa, so I made this sequence flow by returning to warrior 2 between each pose on the inhale, and exhaling to the next pose, and repeating the whole sequence 2 or 3 times on each side.

Then if time allowed, I added half moon and/or standing split to the end of this sequence for the follow up rounds.

CHAKRA SEQUENCE
wiki_chakrasAfter that rigorous middle section, it’s was time to play!! I invited the class into each of the poses listed below, and invited each person to attempt to make floor contact with the chakra as we chanted that chakra’s Bija Mantra three times together (slowly… one one long breath per chant.) The “a” sounds are pronounced as soft a’s, like the “A” in Awesome.

 

Headstand (or Rabbit for people not yet in headstand)
Crown Chakra: Spirituality
Where is it: Tip top of head
Imagine the color: White/Rainbow
Chant: AUM (Om)

Child’s Pose
3rd Eye Chakra – Intuition/Wisdom
Where is it: Middle of Forehead
Imagine the color: Indigo
Chant: Ksham (pronounced kah-shahm) or AUM.

Shoulder Stand and/or Plow
Throat Chakra – Communication
Where is it: Behind your Adam’s Apple
Imagine the color: Blue
Chant: Ham

Bridge, Wheel or Fish
Heart Chakra – Love
Where is it: Heart Center
Imagine the color: Green or Magenta
Chant: Yam

Happy Baby
Solar Plexis Chakra – Intelligence/Power Center/Self
Where is it: Bottom of Sternum
Imagine the color: Yellow
Chant: Ram

Supine spinal twists
Sacral Chakra – Sensuality/Emotion
Where is it: Belly Buttonish
Imagine the color: Orange
Chant: Vam

Supine (reclining) butterfly
Root Chakra
Where is it: In the space between your hips/groin/pelvis
Imagine the color: Red
Chant: Lam

*SAVASANA*
For a 75 minute class I left 10 minutes for participants to remain in Corpse Pose, allowing all the benefits of the practice (the physical, the emotional, the breath, the chakra work, and any spiritual realizations) to integrate and then float away. Imagining the body sinking into the earth and the thoughts of the mind floating by in the sky, allows freedom from one’s chattering mind and physical sensation. The full relaxation of a body that having worked, and now emerges as a flexible, strong and balanced open vessel. In this space, we more easily shed our attachments, our to-do lists, our stresses and worries, our aches and pains, which provides the opportunity for our souls of pure light and love emerge in freedom, without judgement or worry. This is the real benefit of yoga.

CLOSE CLASS WITH AUM
Before we Aum-ed it out, I asked class to bring their hands in prayer position, to their heart chakra, bowing their third eye toward their hearts, aspiring to find balance between the two.

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Nko's mural at the Mystical Yoga Farm includes a rainbow of the chakra symbols/colors on the right hand side. These are the traditional colors associated with the chakras.

 

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