Monthly Archives: June 2017

Your Energetic Anatomy

by Tonya Madia

According to yogic tradition, the subtle body or energy body is comprised of Prana. Prana is distributed through the body through the seven chakras (Sanskrit for wheel), and when these centers are healthy and functioning properly they spin in a clock-wise motion like a wheel.

On a physical level, each of the seven major chakras align with the body through nerve ganglia, correspond to glands and organs in the body, and are situated at various points along the spinal column. Each of the seven energy centers serves to connect the physical body to the emotional and spiritual realms and corresponds to patterns of behavior and specific “life themes.” Symbolically, each chakra is represented by a lotus, which is depicted by a specific color and number of petals. Each of the chakras, or energy centers, vibrates at different frequencies, corresponding to sound vibrations and the sound vibrations produced by each chakra correspond to seven notes on the musical scale and are associated with “seed sounds,” referred to as Bija Mantras.

When the chakras are functioning properly energy flows freely and the body is both physically and emotionally balanced. Factors such as our external environment and internal states can affect the vibrational flow of energy into and out of the chakras and when this occurs, one or more of these energy centers can become out of balance, resulting in the presence of either too much or too little energy. These imbalances can manifest physically as illness and disease, emotionally as depression, anger or mania and spiritually as patterns or themes that perpetually reoccur in our lives.

The seven major chakras from bottom to top are as follows:

The First Chakra: The Root, in Sanskrit: Muladara or “Root Support.”

The Muladhara chakra is located at the base of the spine near the coccygeal plexus and is represented by a four-petaled lotus. Physically this chakra relates to the base of the spine, the legs, the feet and the large intestine. Muladhara corresponds to the life themes of self-preservation and to basic needs such as food, water, shelter and safety. The first chakra also establishes our connection to familial and cultural traditions that form our sense of identity. Patriotism, societal belief systems and family traditions are all part of the energy circulating in the root chakra. This energy center literally represents our “roots” and is expressed when we share belief patterns with a large group of people. The Muladhara chakra is associated with the element of earth, its color is red, its musical note is “C” and its seed sound is “Lam.”

The Second Chakra: The Sacral, in Sanskrit: Svadhisthana or “Dwelling Place of the Self.”

Svadhisthana is located above the pubic bone and below the navel in the location of the sacral ganglia. It sits two finger-widths above the Muladhara and is represented by a six-petaled lotus. Physically this chakra relates to the ovaries in women, the testes in men and the adrenal glands, spleen, uterus, urinary and circulatory systems. Svadhisthana corresponds to the life themes of sexuality, fertility, creativity and one-on-one relationships. The seeds of self-identity and personal boundaries lie within this energy center, as does our ability to bring creative ideas to fruition. Imbalances in this energy center might manifest as addiction, excessive emotional attachment to others, codependency or excessive neediness in relationships. Water is the element of Svadhisthana, its color is orange, its musical note is “D” and its seed sound is “Vam.”

The Third Chakra: The Solar Plexus, in Sanskrit: Manipura or “Lustrous Gem.”

The ten-petaled Manipura is located in the middle of the abdomen behind the navel, near the lumbar ganglia and is also known as the navel center. Physically Manipura relates to the pancreas, stomach, liver, small intestine and the digestive and endocrine systems. This chakra corresponds to the life themes of self-esteem, personal power and identity. The energies in this chakra directly relate to self-respect, self-discipline and strength of character. Imbalances in this energy center can manifest as lack of confidence, inability to make decisions and giving our power over to others. Manipura’s element is fire, its color is yellow, its musical note is “E” and its seed sound is “Ram.”

The Fourth Chakra: The Heart, in Sanskrit: Anahata or “Unhurt, Unstruck, and Unbeaten.”

The twelve-petaled lotus of the Anahata chakra is located in the center of the chest at the cardiac plexus and is also referred to as the heart center for good reason; it is the center of the human energy system. Physically this chakra relates to the lungs, heart, pericardium, arms and hands. Corresponding life themes are compassion, love and healing. While the lower three chakras relate to our interactions with the physical world, the heart chakra is the bridge between the three lower chakras (physical) and the three higher (spiritual) chakras. The energies of the fourth chakra relate to our emotional development and our ability to express our emotions with ease. Imbalances may manifest as being overly critical of yourself and others, holding grudges and an inability to give or receive love freely. The element of Anahata is air, its color is green, its note is “F” and its corresponding seed sound is “Yam.”

The Fifth Chakra: The Throat, in Sanskrit: Visuddha or “Purification.”

The sixteen-petaled Visuddha chakra is located in the throat at the pharyngeal plexus and physically relates to the thyroid, parathyroid, voice box, ears, neck and shoulders. Known as the purification center, the Vishuddha chakra gives voice to our spirit. Corresponding life themes include self-expression and communication, the energies expressed through this chakra relate to keeping our word, speaking and hearing the truth and owning the consequences of our actions. When we lie to ourselves or to others we create imbalances in this center. Visuddha’s element is sound, its color is blue, its note is “G” and its corresponding seed sound is “Ham.”

The Sixth Chakra: The Third Eye, in Sanskrit: Ajna or “To Perceive.”

The third eye chakra is represented by a two-petaled lotus and is located just above the carotid plexus in the center of the forehead. Physically this chakra relates to the eyes, brain and pituitary gland. The Ajna chakra corresponds to the themes of higher perception, wisdom, inner awareness, self-reflection, imagination and intuition. Imbalances in this energy center manifest in the physical body as neurological disturbances, learning disabilities, coordination or balance issues and vision problems and emotionally as daydreaming and escapism. Its element is light, its color is indigo, its note is “A” and its seed sound is “OM.”

The Seventh Chakra: The Crown, in Sanskrit: Sahasrara or “Thousand Fold.”

The crown chakra is depicted as a thousand-petaled lotus located on the top of the head and represents our connection to the divine. Sahasrara governs the pineal gland and the central nervous system, and is the center of spirituality and enlightenment. It corresponds to learning how to experience the divine, and imbalances can manifest as feeling a lack of purpose, denying spirituality or as an addiction to spirituality. Sahasrara’s element is thought, its color is white and its sound is silence.

 

The Practice and Philosophy of Yoga

By Tonya Madia, RYT, RMT, LMBT

 “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Yoga is an ancient practice believed to have originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago. Developed originally as a practice for enhanced meditation through breath awareness, the focus on asanas, or physical postures, did not come about until much later.

Around 400 CE, Patanjali codified yoga in his work titled The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Divided into four chapters or books, the Yoga Sutra contains 196 aphorisms, and a clearly defined eight-limbed path having two parts: the Yamas (ethical standards) and Niyamas (observances or disciplines).

Through careful observance and application of the Yamas and Niyamas one can achieve Samadhi, a state of absorption, or oneness. The Yamas and Niyamas are intrinsic to any yoga practice, starting with Ahimsa, the objective of kindness and the intention of doing no harm. It is through the practice of Ahimsa that the student learns to honor his or her body.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means to yoke, or bind. It is the discipline of creating a union between body and mind in order to rediscover our true self. It is an ever-changing energy that flows through our consciousness. As we allow ourselves to arise, abide and dissolve into each pose, the patterning of consciousness subsides. In Sutra 1:41 Patanjali states: “As the patterning of consciousness subsides, a transparent way of seeing, called coalescence, saturates consciousness; like a jewel, it reflects equally what lies before it whether subject, object, or act of perceiving.”

While yoga began as a practice to enhance meditation, in the West what we refer to as yoga is actually Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga focuses on the third limb of the eight-limbed path, a set of physical exercises designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can freely flow.

Hatha is translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose.

When starting a yoga practice, it is helpful if you can find a local class geared toward beginners. Time and time again I hear people say that their first experience with a yoga video did not hold a candle to the experience they had in an actual class. Often, attempts to begin a yoga practice with a video are quickly aborted, as a video cannot offer you feedback or assist you with finding your way in a particular pose. There is also a lot to be gained energetically from being in a room filled with yogis and yoginis that is lost with a video, so, while videos can be a great tool for those with some experience with the asanas, I find they are not always the best way to begin your yoga journey.

I frequently hear potential students express concern that they are not flexible enough to do yoga; rest assured, it is not necessary to be flexible to do yoga. Anyone can do yoga, and while there are some advanced poses in which the experienced yogi can bend themselves into unbelievable positions, this is not the case with a basic yoga practice. Also, any yoga pose can be modified to meet and accommodate specific ability levels.

Another common concern I hear is with regard to finding the right yoga class. With so many different types of yoga available, it can be difficult, even intimidating, to those just starting out. I always recommend starting with a gentle beginner’s class to learn the basic poses and become aware of your level of flexibility and endurance.

Since everyone is different, some people find that they enjoy remaining in a beginner’s class for many months, while other’s find they prefer more of a challenge. For those who prefer more of a challenge, I recommend trying an Ashtanga (Sanskrit for eight limbs) yoga class. In an Ashtanga class, the same series of poses are practiced in the same order, creating a dynamic, and physically demanding practice. Because the same poses are explored in the same order for each practice, core strength quickly develops and the student’s level of skill grows quickly.

Once you have started your practice and become familiar with the basic poses and breathing techniques, it is important to explore different classes, teachers, and teaching styles. Everyone is different and different practices appeal to different people. Try as many types of classes as you can, and most importantly, have fun and never judge your self; accept where you are in your practice with no attachment to outcome. Simply be present and continue to practice. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, was known for saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.”

I always recommend two books for those who are ready to begin their yoga journey, the first is Bringing Yoga to Life, by Donna Farhi and the other is Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, by Cyndi Lee; both authors provide wonderful insight for the reader into the practice of yoga.

I have heard it said that yoga is a journey that leads us home to ourselves. I wish you all the best on your journey!

Namaste

 

Pranayama

by Tonya Madia

The word prana is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath” or “life force”; ayama translates to “expansion” or “extension”; together the two words mean breath extension. Pranayama is breath work that connects the mind, body and spirit through the disciplined practice of controlling the breath.

The practice of pranayama directs the flow of energy in the body and is used to balance both emotions and the physical body. A daily practice of focused breath work is extremely beneficial for both the physical and energetic bodies.

There are many different techniques, ranging from simple to extremely challenging. However, the pranayama practice that I often recommend starting with is Alternate Nostril Breathing.

The practice of Alternate Nostril Breathing balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, improves blood circulation, cleanses the nadis (energy channels), helps to balance the chakras (energy centers), and oxygenates the blood.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Practice

Sit in a comfortable seated position and allow the spine to lengthen and the shoulders to relax.

With the thumb of the right hand, close the right nostril and inhale from the left nostril for a count of eight; gently hold the breath in as you release the right nostril and close the left nostril with the pinky of your right hand.

Exhale from the right nostril for a count of eight, hold for one count, then inhale through the right nostril for a count of eight.

Release the left nostril and bring the thumb back to the right nostril as you inhale from the left nostril for a count of eight.

(Beginners to this practice often get confused, so it is helpful to keep in mind that you will always inhale through the nostril that you just exhaled through, before switching sides).

Each time you inhale and exhale through both nostrils is considered a round; continue the practice for several rounds, or as long as is comfortable. It is best not to overdo it when first starting this practice, and work your way up over time as your body becomes more accustomed to the increase in oxygen this practice provides.

Another simple pranayama technique is abdominal breathing. By the time we are adults, many of us have developed the habit of becoming chest breathers. This method of breathing does not allow for full, proper breaths and therefore inhibits the amount of oxygen our bodies receive.

If you have ever watched a baby sleep, you have observed abdominal breathing. With each inhalation a baby’s belly expands and rises, and it falls with each exhalation. Because we are so obsessed with sucking in our bellies, we develop the habit of breathing essentially backwards, drawing the abdomen in with each inhale and never allowing abdominal muscles to relax to make room for the expansion of the diaphragm.

Abdominal Breathing Practice

Lie down on your back and allow your body to relax. Allow your left arm to rest on the floor next to your body, and place your right hand on your belly.

With each inhale, allow your belly to rise and swell fully and feel your belly gently fall with each exhale.

Allow time for slow, deep breaths, inhaling for a count of ten and exhaling for a count of ten. If possible, try to inhale and exhale through the nose rather than the mouth.

If comfortable, increase the count of each inhale and exhale to achieve as full a breath as possible. Be sure the length of the exhalation matches the length of the inhalation.

Continue this practice for several minutes, or as long as it is comfortable for you to do so.

Abdominal breathing is an excellent method of reducing stress and inducing relaxation. One reason for this is the effect that deep breathing has on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and controls the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. Taking deep breaths causes the diaphragm to expand, stimulating the vagus nerve, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Finding time in each day to practice abdominal breathing will not only assist with stress reduction—it will provide you with quiet opportunities to explore the subtle messages your body might be trying to convey.