I was on the subway a few weeks ago and overheard two friends talking. A young lady disclosed to her friend: “Oh man my root chakra is, like, really blocked.” To which her friend offered: “Have you tried epsom salt baths?” This snippet clarified for me the growing gap in understanding of the ancient and amazing chakra system. From pop culture to healing modalities, the chakra system is a wonderful way to understand energy and development in the body. I’d like to spare you wandering around in this language without true understanding. Once you have a handle on it, the chakra system gives context and language to discuss the unseeable and how it plays out in our body and psyche.
Carl Jung famously used the chakra system to explain interruptions in development. He mapped a seven year increment for each of the seven major chakras. Yoga has a continued cultural tradition with shared roots in Sanskrit and geography. With the many schools of yoga and an increasing focus on only the asana limb of the eight limbs of yoga; many in the yoga community have only surface understanding of the power of the chakra system. Let’s start with how to pronounce it. You will often hear it with an opening ‘sh’ sound. Level up and pronounce it correctly with the ‘chaa*kruh’ to sound like the expert in the room.
Chakra means wheel in Sanskrit. In the Tantric tradition (900 CE) chakra was synonymous with padma which means flower. You will often see the system shown as a circle or a blooming flower superimposed along a human form. The energetic name for the spine is the suśumna or ‘most gracious’ channel of the subtle body. The suśumna passes through all the wheels/flowers of all the chakras from base to crown. The subtle body is said to have over 72,000 nadis or channels through which our energy flows. If you can picture a snaking energy weaving the way up from either side of the spine and passing through each chakra wheel you now can see the ida and pingala or yin/yang in the better known Chinese tradition. This weaving of the ida/pingala or yin/yang looks exactly like the Caduceus symbol with the two snakes entwining up a staff (spine?) used by the medical world for centuries. No coincidence in my opinion. The ida/pingala represent the two sides of everything: the masculine and feminine, dry and wet, sun and moon. They weave up and meet at the center of each wheel like a crossroads of information balancing, mingling and redirecting.
We will start at the root, the bottom, the base. Where all things grow and ground. In Sanskrit it is the muladhara or root chakra. We are nourished and anchored by our roots. In Jung’s application of the chakra system to human development, the root chakra develops during the first seven years of our life. This is our basic survival system. Where we establish how to get our needs met in the world in order to enjoy food, shelter and safety. Where our sanctuary is established and our sense of stability takes root. A trauma during the first seven years of development can disrupt the energy in this chakra. The color red at the base of the spine represents this chakra. It is associated with the earth element and grounding.
When your root chakra is an open exchange of energy, the feeling is fearlessness. Of knowing you can face anything because you are stable and have all your basic needs met. A well established root chakra will create a personality willing to take risks and make mistakes. Knowing you have your survival needs covered and secure. Our subway friend with her ‘blocked’ root chakra may be experiencing low energy, low self esteem and lethargy. If the world is a scary place without shelter, it requires gobs of energy just to go to the store.
Healing this energy center is possible at any age and maybe easier as an adult. Now that I don’t count on my caregivers to provide the shelter, food and safety, I can create that for myself. By bringing attention to healing and forgiving any trauma during the first seven years of my life, I move attention and energy into the places that once were limited by my power in the world. Daily grounding practices, barefoot on the earth are immensely helpful for root chakra healing and flow. If a client is going through a divorce I encourage morning sunshine outdoor walks with no shoes and a safety mantra of their choice.
Mantras are very useful. They create vibration in the body and can shift, move and open a nadi or channel that has been under served. In Sanskrit, there are bija or seed mantras that are associated with each chakra. The bija mantra for the root chakra is ‘Lum.’ When I need to feel safe, secure and grounded, I’ll hum ‘lum, lum, lum, lum’ into myself while picturing the chakra wheel spinning and the chakra flower blooming. Sanskrit scholar, Christopher Wallis, notes this is called nyāsa or placing our attention and energy into the chakra or the deity energy associated with that chakra.
One need not be a Hindu to put healing energy to the root chakra but I find the associated deity and theology story relevant. Parvati, a goddess of human form, was lonely. Shiva, her human form husband, was away a lot. So from the dirt of her body (!) she created a boy to keep herself occupied. She was taking a bath one day (which she obviously needed) when her husband Shiva came back home. He didn’t know of the boy, Ganesh, and Ganesh didn’t know his father. Ganesh blocked Shiva’s entrance to the home. Shiva cut off his head. Parvati discovered what had happened and explained he had beheaded his own son. Distraught, he went out and hunted for a replacement. Bringing home an elephant head to repair his son’s body. Ganesh is known as the remover of obstacles and is still widely worshiped to this day. He protects the home and provides unique solutions (like an elephant head) to current survival problems.
If you find yourself on a commute and notice an energy block in your root chakra, you could act like a deity and remove the obstacle. Barefoot grounding and mantras as mentioned. Or maybe easier to apply on the subway, bring your attention to the things that root you in your life. Perhaps your family and friends are your anchor, or your pet. Focus your attention on what keeps you wrapped in security. I will often think to myself just before I take a risk, ‘I am grounded in truth and wrapped in safety.’ A short meditation on the roots that make me strong enough to take a risk. Plugging myself into the truth of my world: I have everything I need to have everything I want. Root chakra activated, ready to grow.