At the beginning of the year, I hadn’t found a class or teacher that I really loved yet at my yoga studio. I’m still fairly new to my studio; my job is hectic and the holidays made it really hard to go consistently. Around the end of January, though, I found a teacher that I love. I look forward to her class every week. She is welcoming, funny, outgoing, gentle, and encouraging – a great mix for a yoga teacher, in my opinion. The first class I attended where she was teaching she explained she likes to do a class for each chakra at the beginning of the year. I had missed the first two weeks but was ready to jump in with the manipura (solar plexus) chakra. It was refreshing and fun; I was so easily hooked. The idea of running through each chakra for a class has inspired me to do the same thing for my blog. So, for the next seven weeks I will be discussing each chakra and how counselors can learn to help clients balance them, depending on their presenting issues and ailments.
Before we jump in to our first chakra in this series, let me briefly describe what a chakra is.
There are seven total chakras, each one corresponding with a specific place on our nerve ganglia in the spine. It starts at the root, the bottom, and goes up, to the crown. Chakras connect our mind and our bodies. Each chakra builds off the chakra that comes before it, acting as a level system; the first chakra acts as a foundation and allows the other chakras to grow tall and bloom. Chakras are associated with lotus flowers, every level having their own number of petals. Chakras, like lotus flowers, can be open or closed. When a chakra is too closed, we are avoiding that energy; if a chakra is too open, we are preoccupied with those energies. (Judith, 2002). The goal, when focusing attention on our chakras, is achieving balance with each level.
First up: Muladhara, the root chakra.
Muladhara, the first chakra, is represented by the color red. Muladhara is commonly called the root chakra. It is located at the perineum, or the base, of the spine. The root chakra is associated with the element of Earth; it’s function is to ground us. Muladhara’s lotus flower has four petals and provides the starting point for all other chakras; it focuses on our survival, health, and fear. When the root chakra is balanced, an individual will feel safe and grounded; this stability allows us to flow up to the next chakra. A balanced root chakra equates to a feeling of security. If the chakra is unbalanced, the person will feel fearful, becoming uncertain of their safety (Judith, 2002).
The issues to focus on with clients experiencing an unopened or closed muladhara would be a sense of fear. An overly anxious, scared, or dependent client may be experiencing an imbalanced root chakra. While I was researching the first chakra, I kept coming back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy, not unlike the chakra system, builds off of each level. The base focuses on biological or physiological needs, followed by safety (McLeod, 2014). When I first meet with a client, I ensure they have these basic needs – access to shelter, food, safety, etc. Once I have established that they are safe, then we can begin to work on the deep rooted problems (if there are any – sometimes it really is just a need for basic things!).
But what if the client continually feels unsafe, anxious, or scared, even outside of a crisis? What should we do next?
When feeling ungrounded, it’s important that we help our clients build self worth (Judith, 2002). Personally, I would encourage clients to build on their strengths, and focus on the positive things in their life that are happening, that they own, or that is around them. This can be particularly hard, especially if a client is persistently negative. Perhaps that is why cognitive behavioral therapy is most commonly used to treat clients with anxiety disorders (American Psychological Association, 2010). Changing one’s thought patterns can be extremely helpful with an individual who chooses to be negative. A pessimistic outlook can certainly lead to an open or closed root chakra. Cognitive behavioral therapy is probably the most well researched therapy model out there; it is more directive than I am used to doing but can be extremely helpful with some clients. (Some counseling theories will work really well with one client but not at all with another – it’s important to be flexible in this profession.) Alice Boyes recommends helping clients permit uncertainty, identify rumination (excessive and repeated thoughts), acknowledge hurtful thinking patterns, facilitate mindfulness techniques, and accept mistakes as useful cognitive behavioral tools for working through anxiety issues (2012).
Meditation, physical activity, creating a sense of belonging, and changing thinking patterns are all tools that can help an individual balance their muladhara and flow up to the second chakra. Group therapy may be useful for an individual fostering a strong amount of fear or anxiety, possibly incorporating group chants, meditations, or asana practices to generate fellowship between group members. Meditations should focus on the individual’s body and connecting to the Earth, possibly using a mantra starting with “I am” (Judith, 2002). The group moderator could start the group session having each member visualize what they are feeling in their body at that moment, then either share with the group or write it down before starting the meditation. I would encourage the counselor to guide the meditation, having the group connect their sitting bones to the earth. Afterwards, process the meditation together, sharing and connecting with each other how their bodies felt in the moment. Of course, this can also be done in an individual session, as well. It’s important to focus on the present.
Since physical activity is helpful for imbalanced root chakras, let’s discuss asanas one can practice to assist in a balanced muladhara. Poses used should be focused around the feet and legs, since we are trying to facilitate a grounding feeling. Some poses to consider: standing poses (mountain, chair), warrior, squat, bridge, half/full locust, and savasana (Geroux, 2014; Judith, 2002).
Here is a suggested sequence, with pictures! Please note that I am in no way a seasoned yogi. If you need to modify these poses, please do! I do not want you to hurt yourself – that is counter productive! I have to bend my knees in forward fold, as you will see, and that’s ok. (Side note: I almost didn’t want to post some of these because I have spent hours upon hours looking at yoga pictures online and I know I’m not even close to looking like those perfectly posed yogis. But you know what? This is my practice, and it’s real, and this is where I’m at. My hamstrings are always tight, so fully straightening my leg in forward fold is impossible for me right now. Someday, I’ll get there. I also really dislike bridge pose – a sign I should work on it more! – but here it is, in all it’s glory.) I’m here to show you that you do not have to look like the yoga models on the cover of books and DVDs to practice yoga. Modifications are normal and encouraged in my yoga practice.
Start in mountain pose. Feel your feet connected to the ground. Breathe. Close your eyes. Do a few deep sighs on your exhales, releasing all stress or thoughts. Let the Earth support you. From mountain pose, move through a few sun salutations to warm up. Pedal your feet in down dog. Focus on your legs and your feet, knowing they are supporting you.
After you’ve done as many sun salutations are you feel are needed, move in to a warrior pose. In warrior, focus on your breath. Release any tension between your shoulders or neck. Your legs are supporting you; let your base do the work. Hold warrior as long as you feel comfortable, at least five breaths. Run through a sun salutation, then repeat with warrior on the other side. Complete another sun salutation, then fold over in to a forward fold.Let your head hang, releasing any tension in your neck. Feel the sensation running up the back of your legs, and with each exhale go a little deeper. (I am showing my head hanging and my hands holding on to my elbows, as an example. Feel free to put your hands on the ground or behind your back or whatever you feel is needed. Suggested modification: place a yoga block and place your hands there if you feel any pain in this pose at all – no harm in not folding over all the way! The point is to feel your legs working for you.)
From forward fold, slowly straighten your spine, then move in to chair pose. I’m showing a chair pose with a twist, as another option from basic chair pose. If you twist, make sure to twist on both sides so you’re balanced.
After chair, work your way in to squat pose. Feel the support in your legs, noticing your feet are grounded to Earth. (In squat, my heels do not reach my mat. Suggested modification: place a rolled up blanket or a pillow underneath your heels so your feet are flat.) Breathe. Stretch, twist, whatever you want to do in squat position.
Make your way in to a lying position, then do whatever version of bridge you feel comfortable with.
Some modifications to consider are putting a yoga block between your knees or under the base of your spine. Breathe here for at least five breaths. If wanted, rock back and forth to massage your spine, hugging your knees to your chest, or possibly relax with happy baby pose. End with savasana, feeling the support of Earth holding your body.
P.S. Want another awesome yogi’s take on a sequence for your root chakra? Check out the blog Cora & Bodhi’s post on muladhara. I will definitely be referencing her for each series post!
American Psychological Association. (2010). Anxiety disorders and effective treatment. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/anxiety-treatment.aspx
Boyes, A. (2012). Cognitive behavioral skills you’ll need to beat anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201212/cognitive-behavioral-skills-youll-need-beat-anxiety
Geroux, C. (2014). Chakra 1 – muladhara – fear & survival. Retrieved from http://coraandbodhi.com/chakra-1-muladhara-fear-survival/
Judith, A. (2002). Wheels of life: A user’s guide to the chakra system. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
McLeod, S. (2014). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html