That [title] is just about the crunchiest hippy thing I’ve said in all my life. Let’s back up. I mean, what the hell’s a chakra, anyway?
Chakra means wheel in Sanskrit. In Yoga, mediation, Ayurveda, and some Indian religions, chakras are spinning energetic vortexes, or channels, in the subtle body. Here, “subtle body” refers to energetic phenomena that are not part of the physical body. You will never ever in your life see a chakra, or find one during surgery. They might be imaginary. Like unicorns.
If you know me, you know I’m a die-hard skeptic. The chakra lecture in my yoga-teacher-training was a kind of a struggle. But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only yogi-wannabe out there who tunes out when the chakras make an appearance amid the asanas. And they wouldn’t have hung around since 1500 B.C.E. if they weren’t good for something.
So here’s another (very Western) way of looking at things:
Chakras are a tool to better understand the mind-body connection. All of you have minds, and also bodies. They are connected. So this could be helpful to you. Understanding the chakras is a way to focus on the functions and musculature of your body, from your pelvis up through the crown of your head. There is one more chakra hanging out above the top of your head, but I don’t know how I feel about that one, and am choosing to ignore it.
While there aren’t actually any spinning disks of colored light whirling alongside your spinal cord, there are analogous nerve plexuses and endocrine glands. So the chakras become an effective tool to visualize and direct the mind’s awareness, and enhance the mind-body connection.
Why is mind-body connectivity important? Look at it this way: a person who lives their entire life in bed watching TV probably doesn’t have great mind-body connectivity. They develop foot-drop and bedsores. Their muscles atrophy, and the heart fails. This person is barely living in their body to the point that it’s practically an abandoned house.
Conversely, someone who is intensely connected to their body is a person in control. They can use breath work to identify muscular tightness, or resistance, and to release it. They are able to lower their own blood pressure independent of medication. They have well-perfused limbs, with vigorous blood and lymph flow. They can halt the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-or-freeze mode) when its mid rampage, and choose to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest and well-informed decisions) instead. Like I said: these are people with power.
But the takeaway for today has to do with running. While my relationship with the chakras remains under construction, I’m not a total lost cause. I’ve been experimenting, and I made a discovery to share. If you breathe into a stitch, or a chakra at the level of the stitch, it will get worse. If you breathe into a chakra above the level of a stitch, it goes away almost instantly. How’s that for power?
By “breath into the chakra,” I mean envision the breath flowing through you, pooling at the site, causing it to expand. The throat chakra is a great one for this, as it’s above the level of practically every stitch, and breathing into that chakra creates a wide and unrestricted channel for your breath. I think what happens – on a physical level – is that the nerves above the site of the stitch get fired, which helps turn off the ones causing and transmitting your pain. But who cares how, so long as it works?
A final note: “breathing into the chakra” isn’t something that happens instead of breathing into your lungs. It’s like breathing into your lungs and someplace else (which obviously isn’t possible in the purely physical world). Rather, it’s a mental image to help you harness and direct the expansive energy of an inhale. For example, if I say “breath into your foot,” you would breath into your lungs, and concurrently heighten your sensitivity to the sensations of your foot: each toe, the spaces between the toes, each part of your sole, bunions if you have them, your tendons, the muscles, the skin, and so on. You might possibly flex your foot, causing it to become rigid as though filled with air. All this happens in the moments it takes to fill your lungs, and on an exhale, although you release the breath, you can hang on to your heightened awareness. It’s something neat to practice – you should try it! Bodily awareness and control is always a good thing.