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Beam me up, Brahman

Seventh Chakra, the final frontier…

We’ve reached the end of our Chakra-as-pop-culture journey. We’ve climbed the spine  to the crown of the head and beyond, ready to boldly go where everyone has gone before, even if they don’t know it.

The Sanskrit name for the seventh Chakra is Sahasrara, which means thousand-fold. Sahasrara unfolds like the thousand petals of the lotus flower. Located in the cerebral cortex, of course the seventh Chakra governs the energy of knowing and learning. While book learning fits in there, the real knowing of Sahasrara is that of our true spiritual nature.

The ancient texts called the Upanishads teach that Brahman is the ultimate essence of everything, including the human self. Brahman cannot seen or heard. Brahman’s nature can be known only through self-knowledge. When Sahasrara blooms, everything material drops away and we know our true selves. We know that we are Brahman and, therefore, everything.

Try and wrap your cerebral cortex around that one.

When the Chakras are in balance, when we live with passion and heart, when we speak our truths and trust our insight, the energy has no place to go but up. Everything we’ve practiced to open previous six Chakras has prepared us to dive into the very depths of our beings where we may, for what may be the briefest of moments, discover our connection to the divine source of all existence. When the connection is made, we see all that is physical as an illusion which has been masking our true nature.

So we did all that work to exist on the physical plane, only to discover that we don’t really exist on the physical plane? It is, to quote Mr. Spock, “illogical.” But there is more to wisdom than logic, and those whose seventh Chakras are shining a bright white light toward heaven are the wisest of us.

Sahasrara’s wise energy gives us the ability to take all the information that comes at us every day, process it, and assimilate the knowledge we gain. Those with healthy seventh Chakras are intelligent, thoughtful, questioning and open-minded, while at the same time having an innate sense of connection to something greater. These are the gurus, the masters in any field of study. These are the people whose guidance we seek.

The energy doesn’t always balance out, though. When the energy gets stuck in a lower Chakra or comes up against a closed mind, we find those whose beliefs come not from knowing but from simply accepting what they’ve been told. No matter what additional information they are given, these people won’t change their minds. Then there are the cynics, who refuse to even acknowledge any motivation except the self-interest of the bottom Chakras.

Sometimes the scales tip the other way and the energy hangs out in the head rather than flowing through the lower Chakras as well. We see this in the overly intellectual types, analyzing everything to extremes and never really internalizing anything. These are the people we call “book smart;” they can recite the dictionary but never explain a thing in their own words.

Excess energy in Sahasrara can also lead to spiritual addition. Caught up in the search for their spiritual nature, these folks forget that our physical existence has requirements, like dinner. Perhaps they will find a good caretaker to remind them to eat, but these people sometimes fall victim to the those who would happily strip them of whatever physical stuff they managed to amass before they got lost in their heads.

To nurture your divine spirit without losing touch with your physical existence, spend some time learning something new. Explore different religions and metaphysical systems with a questioning, but open, mind. And sit for a few minutes each day to meditate, looking for your true self.

Developing your seventh Chakra is a bit like asking someone on Star Trek’s Enterprise to beam you up. When the transporter activates, the physical body fades into particles of light and then nothingness, and you are absorbed into the cosmic stew, part of everything that is. Just make sure you have someone in a red shirt (or a strong red energy center) to bring you home.

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Me Tarzan. Me get it done.

Look out Jane, the ape-man has got a huge third Chakra…

It’s time to look at the third Chakra’s fiery energy. The Sanskrit name for this Chakra is Manipura, which means “lustrous gem”. Just like a well-cut diamond seems to sparkle with its own light, Manipura’s energy generates our internal flame.

Moving up the spine, you can find your third Chakra in your solar plexus, just above your navel. It glows bright yellow with the energy of self-esteem, self-worth, proactivity and power. Our third Chakra gives us the right to act and to be an individual. This is the energy center where all our ideas and our dreams get transformed into something real. It is our will power that gives us the strength to act on our ideas.

Think of some powerful people you know. No one doubts these people will do what they say they are going to do. They stand tall, shoulders back, chest lifted and belly forward, and they project confidence.

People with strong third Chakras make good warriors. Every society has its warriors. The soldiers are obvious, but there are also warriors in law enforcement, fire departments, child protective services and environmental protection. Sports, both amateur and professional, are full of warriors. Anyone with the desire to be the best person they can be and the confidence to achieve it has the third Chakra’s warrior power.

Even the apes had a warrior in Tarzan. Hey guys, that confidence is really sexy, too. Especially to women named Jane.

Not everyone has that internal glow. When the third Chakra is blocked, our self-esteem gets blocked as well. Some people have lots of great ideas, but they never get past thinking about them. Some don’t think they deserve success. Others are just afraid to take action.

Many of us could use more energy flowing through Manipura. We can light the fire in our bellies on the yoga mat with heat-building Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) and Kashtha Takshanasana (woodchopper). We can strengthen our core muscles and our will with poses like Navasana (upward boat). We can fuel the fire with pranayama (breathing exercises) like Kapalabhati.

We can also look for confidence-building activities off the mat. Activities that involve some risk-taking – rock climbing, white-water rafting, going to a foreign country by yourself – draw energy into the third Chakra. The martial arts, which teach us to develop and control our core power, are very third-Chakra oriented. Just getting up the nerve to talk to someone you find frightening can light Manipura’s flame.

Swinging by vines from tree to tree might fire up some third Chakra energy too.

When I was working on Manipura, what really made me think of Tarzan was his big yell. Your ape friends won’t hear you on the other side of the jungle unless your cry comes from your belly. The energy behind that yell comes from – you guessed it – the third Chakra.

Is there a fire in your belly?

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Your hips don’t lie.

Shakira knows her second Chakra…

Moving up the spine from last post’s first Chakra, we find Swadhisthana, the second Chakra, floating in the hips. The Sanskrit word Swadhisthana means sweetness and, oh, how sweet it is. The second Chakra is our emotional center and processes all the fun stuff: pleasure, desire, need, sexuality, sensation. And, like Shakira’s hips, it’s all about movement.

Thanks to the energy flowing through Swadhisthana, we have the inherent right to feel and have pleasure. The second Chakra is respresented by the color orange, the next color up on the rainbow spectrum after the first Chakra’s red, and water’s formless fluidity. Once we feel grounded and safe (first Chakra stuff), we can start to explore all the pleasures of life.

Connecting to your second Chakra is an exercise in balance. Imagine a wide bowl filled to the brim with water and that you need to move the bowl from one table to another. If, as you’re carrying it, the bowl tips even a tiny bit, one way or another, some of that water is going to spill out. It would be almost impossible to move the bowl without any water escaping. If you’re careless, you’ll dump it all and have a flood to clean up. Conversely, if you never move the bowl, the water is just going to sit there and stagnate in the bowl. So, ideally, you move the bowl carefully, wipe some water off the floor, and add some fresh water to the bowl once it’s on the new table. Then you start thinking about other tables that bowl could be moved to.

Our second Chakra energy works like that bowl full of water. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel emotion, if we deny our sexual needs or other earthly pleasures, our energy gets trapped and stagnates. This stagnation may show up in the body as low back pain, lack of flexibility or deadened senses, all things that keep us from moving freely. Of course, we don’t want to just let all the energy spill out. We can have too much of a good thing and find ourselves addicted to pleasurable experiences (sexual, drug induced, etc.). We can also get too invested in our emotions and start seeking situations that keep us on an emotional roller coaster, like some kind of crisis junkie.

If we allow ourselves to be like that moving bowl, letting our desires and emotions spill over small amounts at a time, we might have to suffer through some minor after-effects but we can easily regroup and go on to the next thing. The key is to enjoy life in moderation, having fun without drawing too much energy away from our first Chakra, sacrificing safety and security. We can let the currents of desire carry us for awhile, as long as we wash up on solid ground in the end.

Yoga can help keep Swadhisthana’s energy flowing but not overflowing. Asanas like Baddha Konasana (cobbler) and Adha Mukha Eda Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon) help to relieve tightness in the hips, improving flexiblity and your ability to move. If you’re holding in emotions, not allowing them to flow, you can help release them by journaling, writing poetry or even talking to a trusted friend. Therapy and 12-step programs offer help with addictions of all kinds if the fun gets out of hand.

Look for healthy pleasures to keep your second Chakra vibrant, enjoying the movement of your body, and maybe donning an orange skirt and shaking your hips on the dance floor every now and then.

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Calling Ganesha: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha

clay image of the hindu deity Ganesha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, my meditation practice morphed into a mantra practice. I didn’t sit with the intention of chanting “So Hum” the whole time I was meditating. It just happened.

Afterward, it felt like it had been the right thing to do. I repeated it the following day, and the days after that.

Last Saturday, Lisa Devi, during a visit to the Adirondacks, led our New Moon Circle. She welcomed Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god, with the chant “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Ganesha is called at the beginnings of things, perfect for the new moon, to clear obstacles from the path ahead.

Yesterday, instead of “So Hum,” my chant was “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.” Again, I didn’t intend it. It just came out. And, again, it felt right, so I repeated the chant today.

The Sanskrit phrase “Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha” means, basically, “Salutations to the remover of obstacles.” “Ganapatayei” is another name for the widely-worshipped Ganesha. In addition to removing obstacles, Ganesha is known as a patron of the arts and sciences, and as the deity of intellect and wisdom.

Why do I feel compelled to ask Ganesha to help me past the obstacles in my life? Perhaps this is part of the letting go I’ve been doing lately. I’m in the habit of doing too many things, taking on too much, and never asking for help because that felt like weakness. Putting those things that are holding me back into the hands of a deity with four arms and an elephant’s head is a small step towards allowing myself some weakness, towards admitting I can’t do everything myself. Giving your problems to God, to Ganesha, to the universe, or to whatever your sense of the divine, is the first step in twelve-step programs for good reason. It’s very freeing to put obstacles in the hands of a higher power.

I’ll send salutations to Ganesha until a new mantra arises or silence returns to my meditation practice. Meanwhile, thanks to Ganesha moving roadblocks from my path.

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Exploring Snake Energy: Cobra Pose

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Family, one of India’s venomous snakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

For a good part of my life I echoed Indiana Jones whenever I encountered snakes. My less-than-friendly feelings toward snakes started in ninth grade, when a classmate presented an oral report on their care and feeding, including a demonstration involving his pet snake and a live (for a short time) white mouse. After I crawled out from under my desk, I decided I was very fond of rodents and not at all fond of snakes. I also decided I no longer had a crush on the young man who did the presentation.

Twenty years later, when my daughter held a snake at a petting zoo, I decided it was time to get over my distrust of snakes. I’ve taken time to learn about snakes and have new respect both for their place in our eco-system and their symbolism. I still jump when one startles me on the trail, but I no longer dislike snakes.

Snakes represent transformation and healing. They are re-created each time they shed their skin. By tapping into snake’s energy you can shed the past and emerge into a fresh, new life. Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, carried a caduceus, a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. The caduceus has become the symbol of modern physicians. If a snake appears in your dream, be on the lookout for new wisdom, healing and changes ahead.

In yoga, snakes represent Kundalini, a Sanskrit word for the sleeping feminine energy thought to be coiled at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened through asana and meditation. When aroused, Kundalini rises up through the major chakras until it reaches the head, completely transforming the individual along the way.

Practicing like a snake in the grass.

Practicing like a snake in the grass.

Practice Bhujangasana, or Cobra pose, to explore the transformative energy of snakes. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck.

You can hold Cobra for a number of breaths or experience snake’s movement by rising with each inhale and lowering with each exhale. When the pose feels complete, rest your head on your hands for a few breaths before moving on to a twist.

For the record, although I have made peace with snakes, there are no pet snakes in my house. I’ll stick to my bug-eating lizard, and let the cat deal with the rodents.

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