Finding Your Base: Working with the Root Chakra
In the next seven weeks here at MindBodyGreen, I'm going to be taking a closer look at each of our chakra centers. The chakra centers can easily sound inaccessible, regulated to the circles of those who much be more enlightened then us, right? Because we think, what the heck is a chakra and how does that relate to my real life? My need to finish doing the laundry, try to show up to my job, take care of my kids and all the rest.
The truth is, when you look at the chakras, and the psycho-spiritual (stay with me, now) questions that each center asks us to consider, what you really have is a practical way to figure out what it is that you want to create in your life and, importantly, what might be blocking you from getting there.
So today we’ll start with the base, our Root chakra, also called Muladhara.
It doesn’t help that we don’t have a word in the West that chakra where translates well. Essentially though, the chakras are energetic centers, along the central channel of your body, you may think of that as your spine or your sushumna, and the root chakra is at the very base, at the perineum.
Color associated with Muladhara: Red
Considerations: At the Root chakra, we look at whether our basic needs are met, as a child, and then again, as a young adult. Are we able to successfully launch independently from our parents to provide for our survival needs? Also, do we feel that we deserve the very right to be?
Out of balance: When our energy in Muladhara is excessive or overblown, we may be too attached to possessions and place a great deal of importance on acquiring material wealth.
When we are deficient in Muladhara, we feel ungrounded. We question our essential value as a human being and whether we have the “right” to be on this Earth. In a less dramatic sense, we may feel flighty and disconnected from the Earth.
In balance: When Muladhara is balanced, we feel a sense of general calmness, patience and a willingness to slow down when necessary and stay put.
--Come into your meditation seat in sukhasana or whatever pose allows you to lengthen your spine comfortably. Close the eyes and rest the hands, palms down, on the lap. Inhale, visualize drawing your breath into the base of your spine at your root. Allow the breath to travel up the spine to the space between the brows. Exhale, send the breath back down to the root and visualize it binding you down, even via roots growing into the Earth.
--Come into your meditation seat, perhaps with the aid of a blanket to slightly elevate the pelvis and allow for an elongated spine. Rest the hands, palms down, on the knees. Allow the eyes to close. Visualize yourself in your life, maybe in the midst of a situation that typically leaves you feeling ungrounded. Now, visualize yourself in the same situation, but embodying stability, strength and steadiness. See yourself behaving, speaking, feeling as you would were you completely connected with the earth element, grounded and rooted through your very core. Stay with the visualization until you see clearly how you would manifest as this more-grounded, rooted version of your self, even if it feels silly, improbable or even impossible. As you begin to come out of your meditation, take your breath in and out through the nose, and imagine sending the exhalation down through your pelvic floor, connecting you with the ground. End by chanting LAM three times, then La-La-La LAM, three or more times, emphasizing the L sound. Slowly open the eyes, beginning with the gaze at the ground, eventually moving it up to eye level.
Muladhara-supportive yoga practice
1. Sit in Sukhasana. Use a blanket or other prop if needed to elevate your pelvis above your knees. Ground your base firmly down. Don’t worry about getting your feet into a fancy full lotus position, just find something comfortable. You want to be grounded, not fancy.
2. Seated Cat/Cow. Rock forward from Sukhasana, arching your back, drawing the chest forward and turning the gaze up. Then, round the back, draw your tail and head toward each other. Repeat several times, “rocking” along your root.
3. Circle your ribcage over your pelvis. Move slowly, solidly. Allow your circling to be as full as is comfortable for your body. Reverse the circling, going in both directions.
4. Awaken your feet by giving them a firm massage. Take your fingers between your toes to stretch them and feel your base.
5. Pelvic rocks. Come down to your back. Place your feet on the foot, hips’ distance apart, with your second toes facing forward. Rest your arms to the sides. (For the purpose of this photo, I’m demonstrating this series with my arms up, so that you may more accurately see the pelvic movement).
Begin by exhaling and sending your navel back toward the floor, bringing your lower back closer to the floor and hollowing out your belly, like you could hold a heavy bowling ball in the “bowl” of your belly. Then, as you inhale, rock your pelvis forward. Lift your lower lumbar spine as you transfer your weight toward your tail. Repeat this, with the rhythm of your breath several times.
6. Vayuasana. Nod your head forward, then lift the heat off of the floor, take hold of one knee and extend the other leg straight out, keeping it lifted a few inches above the floor. Reach to take hold of your foot, ankle or calf; flex your feet. Keep the shoulders relaxed and elbows wide to the sides. Continue to breathe fully. Maintain the pose for 4-5 breath cycles and then switch legs.
7. Supta Padangusthasana. Begin with both knees bent, feet to the floor, slightly forward of the knees. Extend one leg toward the ceiling (using a strap around the foot can be helpful here). Find your leg straight, without being locked, with the heel over your hip. If you can maintain this position comfortably, extend your other leg toward the floor, as pictured. If not, remain as is, with knee bent. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth, by chanting LAM. Repeat 5 times (or more) on each side.
8.a. Virabhadrasana I Vinyasa. Begin by standing at the front of your mat. Step one foot back, anchor your foot to the floor at 45 degree angle toward the front of the mat, ensuring the arch of your foot does not collapse. If it feels more comfortable, bring your feet a bit closer to their respective sides of the mat, giving yourself a wider base, so that you can bring both hips to face forward, along with your chest. Your front knee is in a lunge position (take care to not let your knee go forward of your heel). Bring hands together at the heart, or overhead. After you find this position, inhale here.
8b. On the exhale, turn to the side and exhale strongly through the nose as you press your hands down. Imagine you are meeting some resistance and pressing against something. Repeat with 5 breath cycles on each side.
9. Parsvottanasana. Using the same stance as Virabhadrasana I, draw back from the hip of your front leg, using the hip as a hinge point to move into a forward fold. Use your blocks (or hardback books can work, if you don’t have blocks at home) to place your hands on, so that you maintain the curve in your low back. If you are a more advanced practitioner, you may wish to remove the blocks and fold forward along your front leg, provided that you do not lock your knees. Maintain for 4-5 breath cycles, then repeat on the other side.
This pose, like the others in the standing sequence is important in that it allows you to feel your weight down through your legs and into your feet.
10. Virabhadrasana II. Begin by standing at the front of your mat. Step back, as you did in the last pose, this time, placing your foot at a 90 degree angle. Align your hips, ribcage and shoulders to the side. Look at your front knee and make sure it is not beyond your heel, and that the knee is pointed to the center of your front foot. Turn your head forward. Visualize sending the breath down through the strong base of your legs and feet. Feel your feet rooted into the ground and the strength of your legs. Remain in this pose for 4-5 breath cycles and then repeat on the other side.
11. Uttanasana. Begin at the front of your mat. Hinge to a standing forward bend from your hip line forward, maintaining the length of the spine. Keep your tail above your heels and release your head and neck. You may want to place your hands on blocks if they do not comfortably reach the floor. Feel your weight coming down through the legs and moving into the feet. Maintain this pose 10-12 breath cycles, or longer, if comfortable. Make sure you feel the stretch in the belly of your hamstring (center/back of your legs), rather than up by your gluts at the attachment, which is not supposed to stretch.
12. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Begin by coming to all-fours or a tabletop position. Draw your right leg forward, bringing your right foot toward the left side of your mat and your right knee, toward the left side of your mat. Extend your left leg straight back, careful that your knee is not rolling to one side, keep it flush with the floor. Find the place where you are centered along your plumb line. For most of us (unless hips are very open), this means neither side of your pelvis will be touching the floor. You may choose to side a block or blanket under your pelvic floor for support.
Allow your weight to drop down. Release the impulse to “hover” above the floor by exhaling the pelvic floor down. Though you may not actually move any closer to the floor, what you are looking for is not physical movement, but an energetic letting go–like a deep sigh for your hips. Let go.
If you wish, you may then choose to walk forward, bringing the forearms to the floor, or coming down with head to arms (as pictured). Remember to walk out of your pelvic, always creating length. Still, for most of us, the hips will not be in connection with the floor. Exert force with your arms, by flexing your right foot and pressing the outer edge of the foot down, and through your back leg to remain along your center line if you do hinge forward in the pose.
Then, spend some time in this pose. Ride your edge between effort and ease, so that you give yourself enough time to truly experience a relaxation of the musculature and then a release.
End, as you began, in Sukhasana. Bring your attention to your breath and visualize sending your breath down your central channel into the earth. You also may choose to finish with one of the Muladhara-supportive meditations.
**If yoga is not your thing, walking is also excellent root chakra exercise. Walk with awareness of your foot strike–feet, ball, toes–repeat. Imbibe the sensory experience that surrounds you. The smell of the fallen leaves, the whistling air, the birds, the feel of the ground as it hits your foot–even the “taste” of the air. Go into subtly as use this as a moving meditation.