The Non-Yogi's Guide to the 7 Chakras
Consider this your manual on how to tap into the seven chakras, or energy centers, for a deeper mind-body connection
Raise your hand if you've ever attended a yoga class, heard the word "chakra," and then promptly entered a state of total confusion as to what your instructor is actually saying. Don't be shy-both of my hands are raised. As someone who only does yoga every now and again, these so-called "energy centers" have always been a big mystery to me, despite the fact that they provide the basis for yoga practice at all levels. (Equally as important: meditation. Find out all the ways getting zen can help you.)
First, the facts: The idea of an energy hub may sound a little hokey to you, but chakras have earned their name for good reason. "All the major chakras occur at points called physical counterparts, the sites of major clusters of arteries, veins, and nerves. These spots, therefore, capture a tremendous amount of energy thanks to the amount of blood flow and nerve endings that connect and concentrate there," explains Sarah Levey, co-founder of Y7 Yoga Studio in New York City.
While there are many minor energy streams throughout our body, the seven primary chakras run along our spinal column, starting at our tailbone and going all the way up to the top of our head, and have the biggest impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. We'll break them down for you:
The Root Chakra: The goal here is connection to the earth, explains Levey. Poses that focus on feeling the ground beneath you, such as mountain, tree, or any of the warrior positions, push our body to re-center, drawing our attention to those things that we can control rather than those that we can't.
Sacral Chakra: Targeting our hips and reproductive system, this chakra can be accessed by half pigeon and frog (among other great hip-opening poses). As we open up the hip joints, we also open ourselves up to thinking about our own self-expression and emotional creativity, says Heather Peterson, Senior Vice President of Programming for CorePower Yoga.
Solar Plexus Chakra: Found deep in the belly, the solar plexus marks a particularly massive intersection of nerves. Here, we find our personal power (think about the phrase "go with your gut"), says Levey. As a result, stretches that challenge and twist the core, like boat, crescent lunge, and seated twists, help open up this area and restore circulation into our kidneys and adrenal glands (these are also some of The Best Yoga Poses for Flat Abs). According to Peterson, as our hormones balance, so does our ability to approach the world around us with a levelheaded, less selfish perspective.
Heart Chakra: In any yoga class, you'll hear references to your heart or the heart space, the idea being that as you open your chest, you also become more open to love those around you and love yourself. When our chest, shoulders, and hand are tight, we feel our willingness to love unconditionally wane, says Peterson. Sitting at a desk all day closes this space, so focus on backbends and arm balances such as wheel, crow, and handstand, to find balance and change the stifled blood flow.
Throat Chakra: Everything here comes back to communication. If you're feeling frustrated towards others, it could be that you're experiencing tension in the throat, jaw, or mouth areas. To combat this resistance, try a shoulder stance or fish pose to stretch the neck.
Third Eye Chakra: Peterson describes the Third Eye as the place that transcends the physical sensations and allows us to focus on our intuition. To truly reconcile our intuitive nature with our active, rational brain, sit cross-legged with hands in lotus or enter forehead to knee pose.
Crown Chakra: As we come to the top of our head, we want to engage with our greater journey and detach ourselves from thinking about only our ego and ourselves, encourages Levey. Great news: Savasana is the easiest way to do this, which is why you'll typically end the practice with this pose to set your course for the day. (If you're pressed for time, De-Stress in 4 Minutes With This Easy Yoga Routine.)
While each yogi will experience these poses and chakras differently, the ultimate goal is to stimulate these energy centers by changing blood flow and opening up new spaces within our physical body. No matter your level of yoga expertise, you can do this, and you will find more balance just by thinking about these centers as you move through your flow and find your zen. The ultimate release? "During Savasana, you feel that classic and incredible post-yoga feeling. That's when you know your poses and chakras are really working," says Peterson. Namaste!