Tag Archives: mantras

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.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

Having eaten, exercised, studied, sung, socialized, slumbered and dreamed at the Mystical Yoga Farm for more than 2 weeks, we finally decided to venture into civilization to check email and look into post training lodging options.

The farm´s strict schedule of spiritual, physical and mental practices (15 hr/day) coupled with the ban on sugar, white flour, alcohol, processed food, caffeine or stimulants of any kind created a serenity I rarely experience. While loath to break the spell, we felt called  to manifest an existence post finca, and so we ventured toward San Marcos.

We boarded the launcha at 9:15 am. Public and private, gas-powered launchas  jet between lakeside villages in semi-regular intervals and semi-predictable routes. Our boat stopped after 10 minutes in Santiago before setting off across the widest expanse of Lake Atitlan. A stern morning wind kicked up huge swells on the ordinarily serene waters.  As waves started to crash against the side of the motorboat, water started splashing in open windows, soaking unlucky passengers, pooling in the bottom of the boat, and  greatly disturbing the serenity of all. This was not the normal experience jetting around in the launcha and most of us knew it. After some shrieks and  rapid maneuvers to lower the flimsy plastic  window covers, we sat in silence watching powerful waves approach the boat and toss us to and fro.

At this point many yogis began to chant (and presumably pray) for their lives.

Screams gave way to  song and then laughter as we moved through mystical chants into the great hits of the 70´s, 80´s and 90´s. The boat driver executed frightening techniques of salvation by shutting off the engine and turning the boat hard right to avoid the biggest swells. This did not provide comfort but perhaps kept us dryer.

After 70 minutes and two additional boat transfers, we arrived in San Marcos slightly damp, but no worse for wear.

After a couple hours inquiring fruitlessly for housing and eating a delicious vegan sandwich at La Paz, we returned to the dock to meet our driver for the return trip.

The waves of lake Atitlan grow rough and stormy as the day progresses into afternoon and today more than ever. Whitecap waves at the lakeshore crashed against the retaining wall into beachfront lawns, washing across the surface of the dock. The fear crept back in as we waited for our small crew to assemble for the journey back to the farm.

The moment I sat in the boat, feeling the waves pull against the fragile rope tied to the dock, dark visions filled my imagination … a capsized boat, passengers floating in the deepest part of the lake, possible death and devastated parental units receiving a telegram that we would not return back home. As we untied the rope and started our engine, I closed my eyes and tried to cut the terrifying images away.

As I worked on this meditation, a song came to me and I adopted it – sang it over and over, aloud, quietly but in tune to the hum of the engine. I began to will the water to stillness.  I imagined each chorus soothing the waves to sleep like a fussy child.

And it worked.

The driver weaved in and out of swells, the jolting collisions seemed to cease, and we moved into more peaceful water.

In fact, the ride became so tranquilo that we suddenly found the boat sputtering to a stop and I opened my eyes to find us adrift – seven yogis and a local captain – super out of gas. Close enough to see Santiago, but too far to swim. The captain dug out his spare plastic gas can and tipped it entirely upsidedown, getting every last drop. The engine sputtered back to life and for one brief moment we sailed closer to Santiago before the engine hummed to lower and lower pitches to silence. We were, for real, adrift. We waved fruitlessly at another launcha that cruised nearby – the passengers merely waved back.

I stopped humming and began praying.

Actually, my mantra had left me in a glorious mood and I began singing the theme song to Gilligans Island and asking fellow passengers what character they were. With a Brit and Australian on board, this led to a quick retelling of the plot of the show. By this time, the driver reached a  buddy by phone whose speck of a boat began growing closer and closer.

Rescue came much faster than expected – after only 30 minutes adrift we had enough fuel to get back to the finca, pay our 30Quetzals each – a fare of about $3 each – less than an amusement park ride.

The lesson I received this day in Guatemala – mantras are like wishes. You need to be very conscientious of their power. Ergo – if you wish to make the water very still, you need to be sure you do not accidentally wish the boat still too.