The Chickpea

This week in class we are back to the 3rd chakra. As a focus this week, we started working with the fire element of the chakra. I brought to class with me this great poem by Rumi:

Chickpea to Cook

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the potboiling
where it’s being boiled.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

“Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this.”

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
“Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.

I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention
to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love your cooking.”

The cook says,
“I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher.”

I invite you to sit with this poem. Where in your life are you this chickpea? Where have you chosen to throw yourself into the pot and be boiled? And where can you sit in two seats in you life, one as the chickpea and one as the cook. In actuality we are both, and it is only in our separateness that we don’t realize that we have not only chosen the path but that on some level we already have the knowledge we are seeking. Its through the fire of the 3rd chakra that we have the opportunity to get closer to the wisdom of these places of growth in our lives.

Lessons in Love: Self-Esteem and the 3rd Chakra

“Friend hope for the truth while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!…
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you are alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?” ~Kabir

It’s been an interesting month with five full weeks devoted to practice around the 3rd chakra. As we’ve begun unpacking each chakra, I find myself doing a lot of my own work around each of them. This month I found myself in constant personal dialogue around my self image. Body image is something I’ve battled with since I was in middle school, and being a 30-something yogi hasn’t changed some of the same nagging thought patterns I’m still holding on to from my younger years. As the month wore on, I found myself bumping up against these old beliefs and thought patterns. At first I struggled, unsure of why all of this was suddenly coming up for me now, but as I spent another week with the energies of the 3rd chakra, I realized that in doing all these practices I was stirring my own 3rd chakra pot and what was coming out was all the unresolved issues I have around self esteem. That is the beauty and the curse of doing this energetic work (and in doing a yoga practice for that matter), the more we strive toward health and wholeness, the more the things that are out of alignment with that desire arise.  And really, at this point in my life I am ready, READY to let go of these things. What better opportunity than offering them up to the fires of the 3rd chakra and releasing these old burdens? And so, I found myself in this last week of the 3rd chakra, pondering my own idea of self-worth and how I could have a better relationship with my self and my third chakra.

Vajrapradama Mudra

image from yogajournal.it

My belief is that one of the most powerful ways to work with the 3rd chakra is in conjunction with the fourth chakra. Ignite the fire of the heart, from the fire of the belly. As we link our sense of personal power with a sense of compassion and self-love, we are able to reach a place of healthy self-esteem. The vajrapradama mudra invites compassion and understanding of self into our bodies, it is known as the mudra of “unshakable confidence.” To practice this mudra, find a comfortable seat. Clasp the hands in front of you, palms facing in toward the body, and draw the hands to the chest. The center of the palms should be resting directly over the heart center, thumbs pointing up toward the collar bones. Close the eyes and begin to breathe into the space underneath the hands. First simply feel the movement of the lungs and the rise and fall of the breath. After 10 breath cycles, connect with the sensation under the hands. Notice if you feel warmth or coolness, tingling in the hands or sensations of tightness or opening in the sternum. Breathe into the experience and connect with the feeling of compassion. If it is easier to do so, first think of someone or something you feel compassion toward. Draw that feeling into your chest and then if your are able to, begin to direct that same feeling toward yourself. As you experience the state of compassion toward self, breathe and continue to hold the mudra. Stay here for at least 2 minutes, but longer if you like. When you feel complete lower the hands and complete 10 cycles of breath with the eyes still closed. Notice changes in the breath and body and when you feel ready, open the eyes.

Manipura Meditation

image from chopra.com

The 3rd chakra is known as the Manipura Chakra, which in sanskrit translates to lustrous gem. When I work with the 3rd chakra I often see light rather than colors or shapes associated with this energy center. Given its close relation to the sun and to fire, the relationship to light is an easy translation and what better image than a shining gem capturing that light at the 3rd chakra. Close the eyes and bring the awareness to the solar plexus. Breathe and after 10 cycles of breath imagine a glowing orb of light at the center of the solar plexus. As you watch, see a single flame at the center of the orb of light. With your next few breaths, see that flame start to expand, filling the orb. As the flame fills the orb, the orb continues to expand so that after 10-15 breaths the entire belly and chest hold a giant orb of light and and its center a glowing flame. Sit with this flame. Contemplate those times in your life where you do not trust yourself, times you do not believe in yourself. Reflect on those places in your life where you believe you are not good enough or strong enough. Begin to offer these up, one by one to the flame and the light. With each breath, make an offering and know that from these offerings you are growing and expanding, becoming more in line with your true nature, your own inner light. Stay here as long as you find you offerings to make. And when you are complete, watch as the flame begins to flicker and eventually go out. Left in its wake are glowing embers like those you see at  night after a campfire. Let those embers glow and shine, see the light and feel the warmth and let it radiate through your entire being. Keep this image in your mind’s eye as you return to your mat and open your eyes.

Restorative 3rd Chakra Opener

image from newdayyoga.blogspot.com

Come to lay on your back with a bolster underneath the mid-back and a blanket rolled up either underneath the neck or the occipital ridge (the bump in the back of the skull just above the neck). Knees can be bent as shown, or extend the legs like you would in savasana. Close the eyes and breathe. Direct the breath into the 3rd chakra. Here you passively open the 3rd chakra, and expose it in quite a vulnerable way. Breathe into this sensation and see what you start to notice. Imagine a flame at your 3rd chakra and breathe into the light. Invite all the feelings you have around your own self-worth that are no longer serving you to move toward the light. As you watch, allow the light to dissolve these feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Each time a thought arises that you’re ready to move past, use the breath, it is a constant and can always guide us through difficult times like this. Use the breath as an offering, gather it up with the inhale and release it with the exhale. Stay here for 5-10 minutes and when you feel ready to come out, roll over to one side into fetal position, remain there for at least 5 breaths before coming to your seat.

Stress Test: The Adrenals & The 3rd Chakra

This week’s focus for class was on the physical location of the 3rd chakra in the body. The third chakra is located in the solar plexus, broadly, the upper belly and middle-back regions in the front and the back of the body respectively. Because of its location, the 3rd chakra region is home to quite a few of the major internal organs and can be associated with many of them: the stomach (as we spoke about digestion last week), the liver (in the 3rd chakra’s association with anger) and the kidneys and adrenals. I often tend to associate the kidneys more with the 2nd chakra, however, because of the yin/water quality that is attributed to the kidney in Chinese medicine and the similar properties that has to the 2nd chakra.  The adrenals also straddle two chakras in their function. Because of their association with the “flight or fight” response, the adrenals are often linked to 1st chakra issues, but because of their location in the 3rd chakra region, they are also associated with the 3rd chakra. I also see the stress response that arises for a fair amount of people in the 1st world to be a response that is based in a loss of power or a feeling of powerlessness (3rd chakra) as opposed to a “flight or fight” response as a result of basic needs being unmet (1st chakra issue). With this in mind, we dove into exploring the adrenals in our practice today as a way to access the 3rd chakra.

Back Bending

All forms of backbends are excellent for accessing the adrenals. When back bends are done properly, gentle pressure is applied to the adrenals and they are in stimulated and in essence, wrung out of toxins. The adrenals are glands that rest on top of the kidneys. As we backbend, we compress this area and gently stimulate the adrenals. For those suffering from adrenal fatigue, deep back bending isn’t recommended. However, I find you can get the same benefits even from a simple cobra pose and that the deeper backbends aren’t necessary when working with the adrenals and can often be counter productive. In this series, we worked with the following backbends:

Cobra Pose: warm up with low cobra, followed by a flowing cobra with exhales through the mouth. Work on lengthening tailbone toward the feet.

Low/High Lunges with Backbends: in the next backbend variation work first to lengthen the tailbone down, then engage the core by drawing pubic bone up toward chin. Once this is activated then explore finding the backbend from the rooted and engaged core.

Sphinx Pose: use this as a closing backbend to ease off the adrenals once the cleansing has taken place and ensure the adrenals aren’t overstimulated. Lift the belly button, press down into the forearms and tuck the chin slightly. Breathe into the mid back.

Simple Stress Relieving Poses

One of the signs of the adrenals being overloaded is a high level of stress in the body. One of the first body signs I get of stress in my body is tight shoulders, neck and jaw. This next series helps to relieve the tension caused by stress in the body and is inherently stress reducing as well. It can be practiced in your seat in the yoga studio or at your desk in front of the computer at work.

  • Neck Stretches: any kind of side to side neck stretch will work. I like to use a stretch where the arm is incorporated. This helps extend the stretch down into the shoulder and up into the jaw and face. Take at least 10 breaths on each side, dropping the chin to the chest in between each side.
  • Chest Opener: with the chin to the chest after the second side next stretch circle the hands behind the back and clasp the hands. Press down through the knuckles as you lengthen your shoulder blades toward the floor. Now, roll the chest open and invite the shoulder blades to draw closer to one another.
  • Wrist Circles: release the hands and circle the arms out and up. Clasp the hands overhead and drop the arms in front of you parallel to the floor, hands still clasped. Bend the elbows to 90 degrees and draw figure eights on the ceiling in both directions by circling the clasped hands.
  • Wrist Tension Wring Out: extend the left arm straight out, grab the left forearm with the right hand. Squeeze tightly, as if you were trying to squeeze out a tube of toothpaste and slide the right hand down the left arm. Be sure to continue through the wrist and also the hand and fingers. Do the same thing on the other side.
  • Shoulder Rolls: finish with shoulder rolls in both directions.

Tense & Release

from myyogaonline.com

Lie on your back, draw both knees into the chest. Wrap the forearms around the legs and pull the legs in tightly. Tense up the muscles in the arms and legs. Curl up the toes. Draw the forehead toward the knees and tighten up the face. Squeeze the eyes closed, scrunch up the mouth and draw the eyebrows in toward one another. Stay here for three breaths. At the end of your third breath let everything relax. Let the arms fall out, legs extend out, face soften. Scan the body from head to toe and relax any muscles that is holding. Stay here for three breaths. Do this two more times. As you tense and relax, you teach the body how to let go of tension. While you are momentarily creating tension in the body as it learns the opposite of this tension, you will also start to learn what your body feels like when it is totally at ease so that you are better able to reach that point in your practice at a later time. Once you have completed the three rounds rest in savasana.

Samma Vritti: Equal Breathing

This simple pranayama practice is a beautiful practice for students new to pranayama. The simple goal is to match the inhale to the exhale. In doing this, you slow the breath down and invite the nervous system to quiet. It is an excellent pranayama for the close of an asana practice, to prepare for bed or simply at times of stress or overwhelm in your life. To practice, find a comfortable seat or practice on your back in supta baddha konasana. Start with a few cleansing breaths, as you’re ready inhale through the nose to a count of 5. Then exhale through the nose to a count of 5. Repeat this nine times and return to normal breath as you are done. If this count is is too long or too short, adjust as needed simply ensuring the inhale matches the exhale. When you are done take several breaths to notice any shifts in the body, mind or breath.

You Are What you Digest: Digestion and the 3rd Chakra

This week’s 3rd chakra practice focused on digestion, how we digest things we take in on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Its just not about how we digest the food we eat, but how we take in experiences in our life and integrate them into ourselves. A focus I brought to this idea of digestion, was the equally important part of elimination on all these same levels. As I sat with the idea of elimination I came across a passage in Lama Surya Das’ book Awakening the Buddha Within that spoke about renunciation. This was a piece in the yogic practice I always had some trouble wrapping my head around on a certain level, but he explained it this way:

Trungpa Rinpoche said “Usually we think of renunciation as celibacy, poverty, obedience, shaving your head, going off some where and leaving everything behind.” He then gave a wider tantric interpretation of renunciation: “Renunciation means to let go of holding back.”…Renunciation refers to opening the tight fist of grasping and relinquishing our weighty burden of accumulated excess baggage.  The heart of renunciation implies allowing rather than controlling. It requires lettign go of that which is negative and harmful while opening up to sanity and wholeness.

And this, in essence, is the goal of elimination. To let go of the shit. Quite literally, but also to let go of all the harmful ways we talk to ourselves, our negative thought patterns and our ingrained behaviors that continuously hold us back from realizing our higher potential. And what better place to dive into this than in the fire of the 3rd chakra?

Pushan Mudra

image from mama-yoga.blogspot.com

This mudra is designed to stimulate digestion in the body. To do this mudra, find a comfortable virasana (use blocks and blankets to support as needed). Bring the palms to rest on the thighs, face up, and bring the first and middle fingers to touch the thumb on the right hand while extending the remaining two fingers. With the left hand, draw the middle and ring fingers together while extending the pointer and pinkie fingers. Once you find this mudra, close the eyes and begin to breathe into the opening of energy lines in the body. As the energy begins to flow start to bring your focus to the 3rd chakra, located at the solar plexus, just above the belly button and below the diaphragm. With your focus there, on inhale, imagine drawing golden light into the body through the upper belly, as you exhale directing stagnant, dark energy and tension out of the body through the seat and into the floor. Take about ten breaths, continuing this visualization. As you inhale, taking light into the body, digesting it, and as you exhale, releasing an energetic waste from the body. After about ten breaths, release the mudra and rest with the hands turned palms face up on the thighs. Notice what you’re experiencing in the body, notice the quality of the breath. As you are ready, let the eyes open.

Virasana: Hero’s Pose

picture from capriciousyogi.com

I will fully admit that Hero’s Pose can be an excruciating place for me to be sometimes. With tight quads and tight tops of the feet, it can be so unappealing on certain days especially after I’ve been out for a long run. But there is something to be said for this pose, especially when one considers the added benefits for digestion that it offers. To get more comfortable in the pose, you can take a block underneath the sit bones or bring a blanket underneath the shins and feet. Sometimes, I also recommend a rolled up blanket underneath the si tbones between the sit bones and the feet or underneath the curve of the top of the foot. Once you find a comoftable position for your hero’s pose, drop in. As we kneel, we stimulate the bottom portion of the stomach meridian in the legs. This helps foster better digestion and elimination and at the same time helps us create space in the abdomen as we sit. This is a great pose after big meals or if one is having difficulty digesting or eliminating. Spend at least 5 minutes in the pose and if you’d like, take this time to work with Eagle arms or neck stretches to avoid any tension that might take place in the upper body as you are seated. Once you release come forward to table top and the press back to downward dog, tread the fit and raise and lower the heels to help bring circulation back into the legs if necessary.

Asana for Digestion

There are numerous poses that help to aid digestion. Anything that involves working on the stomach (stimulating the organs), core work (stimulating the agni, digestive fire) or twisting (ringing out toxins and promoting elimination). Here are some practices that I recommend adding to a practice to help invite digestion into your practice:

  • Practices to Stimulate the Stomach and Digestive Organs: cobra, bow pose, head to knee pose (also known as wind releasing pose)
  • Practices to Stimulate Agni: agni sara, hero’s pose, core work (any variation on sit ups)
  • Practices to Clear Toxins: supine twists, seated twists, lion’s breath, kapalbhati breath

Lying Over a Roll

I will readily admit to students that this can be one of the most challenging poses out there, yet as one student shared with me after class the other day, after a little while in the pose it starts to feel really good (its getting to that yummy place that’s hard!). This pose not only stimulates all the internal organs, promoting digestion and elimination, but it also provides a detox by gently squeezing the liver.  In addition, this is an excellent pose for those who suffer from low black issues as it gives more space around the sacrum and very subtly stretches the low back. To do this pose, take a blanket and roll it up into a burrito about 4-5 inches in diameter. Come to lie over the blanket with the blanket resting in between the low ribs and the crest of the pelvis. The entire blanket should be resting on the squishy part of the belly.  Note: this pose is contraindicated for pregnancy, anyone suffering from any kind of stomach issues like hernias or ulcers or if you have just eaten. Once you lie down, start in Sphinx pose, then transition to a pillow with the hands (as shown above) and finally to arms extended long, forehead on the floor. Breathe here for a few minutes. You can stay here or intensify the practice by working into half bow, spending about 1 minute on each side. As you are finished, transition back to Sphinx on the blanket and finally press back to child’s pose.

Here Comes the Sun: 3rd Chakra Practices

“Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back,
its rays all silvered,
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave,
and every day on the balcony of the sea,
wings open, fire is born,
and everything is blue again like morning. ”
― Pablo Neruda

As I sit and write this entry, we have had several days of 80+ weather in Seattle (which for us in the Pacific Northwest is something that happens a few times every summer…and for us this HOT!).  Our exploration of the 2nd chakra last month lead us to its corresponding celestial body, the moon, and as we move into our exploration of the 3rd chakra, we embrace the sun and all that it has to offer us. The 3rd chakra offers us the element of fire, the sensation of heat and the capacity for growth and transformation. As we embrace these energies we come more into alignment with the gifts of the third chakra.

As I was preparing for this practice, I began to unpack my own relationship with the 3rd chakra and where I can find transformative harmony in my own life. The 3rd chakra is associated with our own personal power and our ability to embody that power in a healthy and grounded way. I know I have personally struggled with how to be “in my power” without letting the power consume me. The sun is an amazing teacher in this regard, it teaches us that power need not be a bad thing. Power while in strong doses, without sunscreen (i.e. proper boundaries), can be tough, but the power that the sun gives provides nourishment, life giving energy and creates the capacity for growth and transformation. Seen in that vein, power is certainly something we could all stand to harness for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.

So, I invite you to go out and sit with the sun, embrace its energy and see what lessons it has to offer you in connect with the 3rd chakra and bringing balance to the fire inside all of us.

Sun Salutations

image courtesy of shapingupwithmelissa.blogspot.com

Sun Salutations are the ultimate way to connect with the energy of the sun. Yet I find they have become such a regular part of my practice that I often forget what they truly are…a salute to the sun. With each pose we are honoring the sun in our day to day life…we bow to it, honor it and allow its healing rays to enter our body. What I recommend is to stick with Surya Namaskar A, a simple sun salute that most of us are familiar with. Set the goal of practicing for 10-15 minutes then simply flow form pose to pose. Allow it become a moving mediation that reigns in the chatter of the mind and links the breath to your every movement. As you become more connected to the flow of the practice, visualize yourself in front of a rising sun (or practice where you can watch the sun rise!) and offer up each movement to the sun. As you move, also imagine yourself being filled with the warmth and the healing rays of the sunshine and allow it to imbue your practice as you continue to move. Better yet, take your mat outside and try this practice in the sunshine!

Sunlight Meditation

I opened our class with this mediation and then had students return to the imagery throughout their practice. I invite you to try to the same. To being the practice, find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Take several grounding breaths inviting a heaviness into the sit bones and a lightness into the crown. Bring your attention to the solar plexus. With the next several breaths invite a golden light to fill the solar plexus. With the next exhale, direct the light down from the solar plexus through the seat and into the floor. Connect with the energy of the Earth. After several breaths move the awareness back to the solar plexus and on inhale invite a beam of light to rise from the solar plexus up through the crown. Connect with the energy of sky. Again, after several breaths return to the solar plexus and on exhale direct light to the East. Each time you complete a direction return to the solar plexus and redirect the light next to the North, the West and the South. Eventually return to the light at the solar plexus, letting it expand throughout the entire body. Spilling out through the pores of the skin until eventually the entire body is filled with light and shining like the sun. Allow yourself to take at least 10 grounding breaths, holding this imagery in the mind’s eye. Once you feel complete allow the eyes to open and begin the practice.

RAM: The Seed Syllable of the 3rd Chakra

image from yourdailyreikiaustin.com

Activate the fiery energy of the 3rd Chakra by chanting RAM at the beginning of practice. Focus the awareness and the vibration of the sound on the solar plexus. Chant the sound of RAM three times to begin the practice and then throughout the practice to build fire in the body. When chanting the sound of RAM, allow the “R” sound to be long and allow it to roll out much like you would imagine a lion or tiger growling–let it be loud and strong. The “A” sound should be expansive and opening directed at the back of the throat and the “M” should be drawn out as much as possible allowing the vibration of RAM to sink down into the solar plexus.

Fire in the Belly: The 3rd Chakra

“Fire is the spark of life that ignites will to action. Fire is the spark between Shiva and Shakti…” Anodea Judith, Wheels of Life.

Color: Golden Yellow

Seed Syllable: RAM

Element: Fire

Rules: Digestive System, Agni (digestive fire)

Planet: Sun

The 3rd chakra is the space from which we make manifest the watery dreams of the 2nd chakra. Students who will benefit from work with this chakra are those who have difficult making decisions and taking action. Physically, students who are prone to digestion issues and coldness will also find 3rd chakra focus of great benefit.

Here are some yogic suggestions to embrace the 3rd charka and your inner fire:

Asana

– Surya Namaskar (sun salutations)

– Virabhandrasana I, II & III (warrior poses)

– Trikonasana (triangle)

– Dhanurasana (bow)

Pranayama

– Bhastrikia

– Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati)

Bhandas

– Uddiyana Bhanda