Want to know more about yoga and the upper chakras? Read on
When exploring chakras, you are invited to dive into investigation of your energy body and the vital force within, which is also referred to as prana, ki, qi, chi and mana, which connects your physical and subtle bodies and is transmitted by the means of chakras, the spinning vortexes of energy positioned alongside your spinal cord, aligning from its very base to the crown of your head.
As mentioned in Part I of our Chakra Exploration, the seven-chakra system, commonly accepted by various healing modalities and practices such as Reiki, qi gong, tai chi and crystal healing among others, is discussed here.
Your subtle body, of which chakras are a part, is intangible, but it unavoidably penetrates your physical body and influences the state of your mind, health and overall wellbeing. Therefore, when your chakras are in harmony, you enjoy good health and vitality, your mind is clear and you are able to be present and grounded. When the chakras are unbalanced, that energy may manifest itself in physical, emotional, mental and energetic malfunctions.
Overview of the heart & upper chakras
This overview and recommended practices outlined further in this article will focus on anahata (heart chakra) and the upper three chakras (vishuddha, ajna and sahasrara) which are regarded as your spiritual centres, whereas the lower three chakras (muladhara, svadhisthana and manipura) are considered your physical energy centres connected to your self-image, relation to the physical world, and your physical and emotional identity.
Fourth chakra / heart chakra
Heart chakra is the emotional centre of love and empathy, determining what you feel and how you accept yourself and love others. It’s the centre of your being, the connection between the physical and spiritual chakras, with three chakras below it and three chakras above.
The colour associated with this chakra is green and its element is air, hence breathwork is important when working with anahata.
Anahata opens from the 7th thoracic vertebra into the entire thoracic cavity and the heart, encompassing its front, back and sides together, sternum, ribcage as well as pectoralis minor (chest), rhomboids (muscles between shoulder blades) and trapezius (neck and upper back muscles).
Heart chakra rules your circulatory, immune and respiratory systems due to its connection to the lungs, diaphragm and thymus gland.
When your heart chakra is balanced, you are filled with joy, compassion, kindness and goodwill.
When your heart chakra is balanced, you are filled with joy, compassion, kindness and goodwill; you are capable of unconditional love and accepting yourself and others; you are also able to genuinely give and receive love and cultivate joy.
Its psychological malfunctions may manifest in resentment, withdrawal, isolation, grief, self-centredness, lack of empathy, and inability to forgive; physical imbalances may include circulatory and respiratory disorders, weak immunity and physical tension, particularly in the area of the body this chakra encompasses.
To harmonise heart chakra, incorporate loving-kindness and compassion meditation practices, reflective journaling, expansive pranayama (breathwork), together with yoga poses that open your upper and middle back, shoulders and chest, inclusive of Cat, Cobra, Upward-Facing Dog, Melting Heart Pose, Reversed Warrior, Bridge, Hare, Camel and Spinal Twists.
Fifth chakra / throat chakra
Vishuddha chakra is the centre for truth and clarity; it’s about finding your authentic voice and your ability to listen attentively, communicate with genuineness and express yourself effectively (and creatively, too, through your speech, writing, music or art).
The elements associated with the fifth chakra are space and, not surprisingly, sound, as it’s in throat chakra where your thoughts convert into speech.
The colour linked to vishuddha is blue and this chakra is also about purifying the other chakras and communicating the information acquired from them. It’s located at the throat and it rules your neck, throat, ears, tongue, jaw, shoulder girdle, cervical vertebrae and thyroid.
To assist your third eye chakra in further balancing, incorporate Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on an empty stomach into your practice to restore the equilibrium between the nadis (energy channels).
When this chakra is in harmony, you are creative, truthful, a good listener and communicate articulately from the place of kindness.
Deficiencies in throat chakras present themselves in fear of public speaking, weak voice, excessive shyness and communication difficulties; where its excess materialises in inability to listen and being too loud and aggressive, and unable to cease talking.
On a physiological level, throat, voice, thyroid and ear disorders, together with frequent colds and tightness in the neck, shoulders and jaw, are the signs of disharmony in vishuddha.
When seeking to balance out your throat chakra, explore exercises and activities that inspire your creative expression through the use of your voice (chanting, singing, writing, journaling); soothe your throat with herbal teas (eg licorice, peppermint, turmeric, chamomile); and incorporate Ujjayi Breathing Exercise, Neck Rolls, Camel, Shoulder Stand, Plough and Fish into your yoga practice.
Sixth chakra / third eye chakra
Third eye chakra is associated with insight, intelligence, inner wisdom and intuition ruling eyes, forehead and pineal gland. It’s located in the midbrain, in the area where the left and right optic nerves cross, forming a space for the third eye of a kind. The element of the sixth chakra is light and its colour association is indigo.
Heightened intuition and awareness, ability to be perceptive and observant, good vision, memory and imagination are the qualities of balanced ajna.
When in disharmony, though, headaches, poor memory, concentration difficulties and vision problems can be experienced, together with confusion and inability to trust your inner wisdom.
Being the “command centre” (translation of the name of this chakra from Sanskrit) and associated with the pituitary gland (the master gland responsible for hormone secretion controlling the entire endocrine system and its processes), this chakra is also a “commanding centre” for the glands, associated with the other sixth chakras:
- Root chakra — muladhara — gonads
- Sacral chakra — svadhisthana — adrenals
- Solar plexus chakra — manipura — pancreas
- Heart chakra — anahata — thymus
- Throat chakra — vishuddha — thyroid
- Crown chakra — sahasrara — pineal gland
To assist your third eye chakra in further balancing, incorporate Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on an empty stomach into your practice to restore the equilibrium between the nadis, balance the left and right hemispheres of your brain and sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems with them.
Alongside with pranayama, regular meditation practice and inclusion of guided visualisations together with the following asanas may also be beneficial: Downward Facing Dog, Child’s Pose, Tree, Eagle, Dolphin and Handstand Preparation or Handstand.
Seventh chakra / crown chakra
Translated as “thousandfold” with reference to its thousandfold-petaled lotus symbol, crown chakra is the centre of ultimate knowledge, your consciousness, spirituality and your connection to the higher self (the divine, God, or/and universal consciousness, depending on your belief system), which goes beyond the physical form and finds its manifestation in selfless service and faith, your devotional practices, open-mindedness, intelligence and ethics.
The element of this chakra is thought, its location is the crown of the head and the colours associated with it are violet and white; it governs your central nervous system inclusive of the brain.
When it’s in balance, you possess great intelligence, wisdom and analytical skills, you are thoughtful, aware and have a broader outlook and understanding of the interconnectedness of everything.
If the crown chakra is in disharmony, attachment may be present, together with apathy, inability to trust, confusion and overthinking, as well as disconnectedness from your body and the world.
Purification of the mind starts by releasing blockages and stagnation in the body first by means of yoga practice, only so you can sit in meditation, which is the ultimate way to open this energy centre.
Savasana is essential, too, as in order to integrate your yoga practice you will need to allocate time to allow your body to relax and your breath to quieten, inducing the level of relaxation that’s stilling for the mind.
Yoga sequence for the heart & upper chakras
- Melting Heart (anahatasana)
- Begin on your hands and knees. Walk your hands forward, allowing your chest and arms to descend toward the floor. Keep your hands shoulder width, or a little wider, apart and hips above your knees. Relax your forehead onto the floor or a cushion, bolster or yoga block if your head doesn’t reach the floor. Remain in this pose for 5–10 breaths.
- To come out of the pose, slide onto your stomach, placing one cheek on the floor, and release your arms alongside your torso with your palms facing up. Rest for a few breaths.
- Eagle (garudasana)
- Begin by standing on both feet. Bend your knees slightly, transfer your weight onto the left foot and cross your right thigh over the left, hugging both thighs together. Keep the standing leg bent and point your right toes towards the floor or hook the right foot behind the left shin and balance on the left leg.
- Take your arms out to the sides, then cross your right arm under the left with your palms facing each other. Lift your elbows, lengthening from your forearms through the fingers.
- Hold the pose for 5–8 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
- Camel (ustrasana)
- Start by kneeling with your hips above your knees, keeping your knees slightly apart and resting your hands on the back of your pelvis with the heels of your palms on the upper buttocks, and pressing your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor.
- Inhale and lengthen from your pelvis, drawing the tailbone in. As you exhale, lean back, keeping the hands on the back of the pelvis. If comfortable, drop your head back and stay in Camel preparation for 3–5 breaths.
- To come out, lift your chest forward first, keeping your head back, as you come up. Rest by sitting on your heels for 3–5 breaths.
- Repeat once more, or if you are ready for Camel, enter the preparation pose first, then bring your hands onto your heels or the soles of the feet, allowing your head to drop back.
- Rabbit (sasangasana)
This pose offers similar benefits to those from shoulderstand (which you can also incorporate into this sequence).
- Begin by sitting on your heels, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Reach back for your heels, cupping them with your hands, thumbs facing outward.
- On the exhalation, lower your chin towards the collarbones, as you begin to slowly bend forward, rounding your back and lowering the crown of your head onto the floor in front of your knees so that your forehead draws in towards your knees (or touches them).
- Keeping the grip of your hands against your heels, lift your buttocks as high as available, keeping your chin against your chest.
- Breathe deeply into the back of your heart, holding the pose for 5 breaths.
- To come out of this posture, lower your buttocks towards your heels, releasing your hands, and then rest in Child’s Pose.
- Fish (matsyasana)
- Begin supine with your feet on the floor and your knees bent.
- Lift your hips, bring your hands under the buttocks, allowing your thumbs to touch, keeping your palms on the floor.
- Release your buttocks onto the hands, extend the legs and flex your toes. On the in-breath, press into the forearms and elbows, lift your chest up towards the ceiling and release the back or crown of your head lightly onto the floor.
- Take 5 breaths.
- Come out on the exhalation, lowering your head and torso back onto the floor.
- Headstand Preparation/Headstand (sirsasana)
- Begin on your knees with your forearms firmly pressing onto the mat. Keep your elbows shoulder-width apart. Interlace your fingers forming a cup shape with your hands. Keep your wrists perpendicular to the mat. Release the back of your head into the heels of your hands and rest the crown of the head on the mat.
- On the inhalation, lift your knees off the floor and walk your feet closer to your head, bringing the hips above the shoulders, and lifting the shoulder blades toward the tailbone. If you are new to headstand, remain here for 8–10 breaths with your feet on the floor before resting in Child’s Pose.
- If you practise Headstand, use your abdominal strength to lift both of your feet simultaneously off the floor with your knees bent or legs straight.
- Lengthen your tailbone towards the ceiling and keep pressing actively into the forearms. Extend your legs above the torso. Remain in sirsasana for 10–15 breaths.
- To come out, exhale and release your feet on the floor. Rest in Child’s Pose.
- Another inversion alternative is Legs up the Wall Pose (viparita karani) where you lie on the floor with your hips and the backs of your legs against the wall.
To complete your practice, take savasana (Corpse Pose), remaining in it for at least 5 minutes.