Category Archives: spotlight of the month

september spotlight on: vishuddha (throat) chakra

After a brief summer reprieve, we’re back! Our journey through the Chakras continues. Brush up on the significance of the seven main chakras here, take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under/overactive, and take a peak at our last studies: MuladharaSvadhishthanaManipura, and Anahata chakra.

Vishuddha Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Vishuddha Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Before we delve into Vishuddha (throat) Chakra, let me take a moment to tell you about a book I just started reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. It basically frames the prospect of how some of the world’s greatest leaders, innovators, thinkers and  motivators are introverts, and it dispels some of the popular thinking that being an introvert means you’re shy, stupid, timid, fearful, antisocial, and that being an extrovert automatically means you’re smarter, a strong leader, courageous, powerful. As I’ve been reading, I keep coming back to that old Swedish proverb: “talk less, say more…and all good things are yours.”

So it’s been interesting to pair this book with the study of Vishuddha chakra, which is all about how we express ourselves and how we communicate with others to get what we want. The fifth chakra is located at the throat and is the seat of our truth-telling. We’re told that when we work with this chakra, and draw in the support of Anahata (heart), we’re able to communicate what is essential, loving, and full of truth. 

An under-active Vishuddha might indicate you’re shy or even a pushover, and afraid to stand up for what is right in the name of truth. But I want to distinguish something here: a timid Vishuddha does not necessarily mean that you’re an introvert, nor does being an introvert necessarily mean your Vishuddha is under-active. There’s such a negative connotation of introversion, and such a focus on turning introverts into gregarious, vocal extroverts, that we forget: one of the greatest qualities you could ask for in a leader (critical thinking) is one of the most prominent characteristics of introverts. In other words: Introverts tend to make Great Thinkers.

When your Vishuddha is overactive, you tend to talk too much, dominate in conversations and typically are unwilling to listen. Vocalizing without thinking, you might find yourself quick to act but without much consideration and thoughtfulness. And there’s also the person who expresses himself without a “compassion filter” (which is the heart chakra’s work), leading to insulting and hurting others.

At its best, Vishuddha represents truth, justice, and good communication. Its element is ether. Its color is light blue. Practicing Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock), Fish Pose (pictured above), and other heart/chest openers will help to strengthen your ability to communicate effectively and compassionately. And, I might add: have the good judgment to communicate only what is necessary.

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july spotlight on: anahata (heart) chakra

Our journey through the Chakras continues. In case you’ve missed out, brush up on the significance of the seven main chakras here, take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under/overactive, and take a peak at our last three studies: MuladharaSvadhishthana, and Manipura.

Anahata Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Anahata Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Oh, the beloved Anahata (Heart) Chakra. Is there a Chakra more frequently mentioned (or misused/abused) by overzealous yoga people than this one? No, there is not. “Open your Heart Chakra!” is an idiom we’ve all heard, again and again, in the yoga studio. It’s a classic yogaspeak standby. But what does it mean? And why do we need to do that?

This fourth Chakra is located at the heart, at the very center of the body, at the very intersection of our humanness and our spirit-ness. The fire of Manipura (our will and strength) gives way to the air element: our ability to love unconditionally and fearlessly. Every part of our physical body ebbs and flows through the heart, and its very beating is the rhythm of our soul. Working with the fourth Chakra teaches us to be loving, generous, compassionate and uplifted. A truly balanced Anahata Chakra fosters harmonious, forgiving relationships with others as well as with Self.

An under-active Anahata Chakra indicates a closed-off heart. You might tend to be distant, cold, and disconnected, and err on the side of extreme caution in any deep relationships. Physical indications of a closed-off Chakra manifest as slumped shoulders and poor posture. At one time or another in your life, you’ll probably experience (and deeply feel) the workings of an under-active Heart Chakra; in the yoga tradition, we often look to the Heart Chakra first when dealing with depression.

Those who tend towards possessive, suffocating behavior in relationships indicate an overactive Anahata. Jealousy takes over easily and you are quick to anger. You might be too giving of yourself as well, too quick to let love in, without considering wisdom. That fiery passion is commendable, but if it’s not tempered by the calm nerves of a balanced Solar Plexus Chakra and the wise communication of Throat Chakra (more on that next month), this display of overt emotion takes over in ineffective ways.

One of the reasons we talk so much about the Heart Chakra in the yoga world is that most of us have to work on it. It also seems to be a very irascible, volatile Chakra, most easily affected by our ever-changing circumstances — think about what it’s like to fall madly in love with someone, and how easily and quickly it consumes you. Then imagine that time you endured a terrible breakup, and how that consumed you too, in a different way. Opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, both originating from the same center of energy: Anahata Chakra.

Ustrasana (Camel Pose, pictured above) is one of the best ways to work on opening the heart. Most backbending poses are (which also could explain that strange, woozy, emotional rush that we get when we’re in a deep backbend; the ribcage protecting the heart is literally stretching), while soft, calming, seated poses that involve forward folding (Janu Sirsasana, Baddha Konasana) will quiet an overactive heart.

In meditation, visualize pink or green, Anahata’s airy, rose-like colors. Draw your focus to the center of the chest and intuit the ebb and flow of love, giving and receiving it, in a balanced, harmonious state.

june spotlight on: manipura (solar plexus) chakra

We’ve been taking a closer look at the Chakras each month. Chakras are centers of prana (energy, life force) that align down the spine and correspond to vital points in the physical body. Brush up on the significance of the seven main chakras here, take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under/overactive, and take a peak at the last two months, in case you’ve forgotten: Muladhara and Svadhishthana.

Manipura Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Manipura Chakra. Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Manipura (Solar Plexus, or Navel) Chakra is the gateway to the more esoteric Chakras, what we sometimes call the “Higher Chakras.” Working our way up from our Root and Sacral Chakras, the heavy elements of earth (our foundation and survival) and water (our family, sexuality and creativity) give way to fire: our personal strength and power. Working with the third Chakra accesses and teaches you to trust your gut instinct, assert yourself around others, and make decisions and judgments with wisdom.

At its best, a balanced Manipura Chakra supports concentration, focus, clear vision and confidence. You have no issues with being assertive and have a strong sense of self. Even more, a balanced Manipura Chakra draws from the grounded qualities of the earth (creating mental and emotional stability, drawing from your realness, humanness), and then allows your spirituality to shine through. Physically, the benefits of having Manipura in harmony include excellent digestion, strong muscles and joints, boundless energy, calm nerves, mental clarity and overall A+ wellness (Manipura, at the gut, is really the seat of our vitality).

An under-active Manipura leads to timidity and passiveness, losing your voice in a group. It’s hard to make decisions, and when you do, you likely lack the confidence to stand up for what you want. On a physical level, you might suffer from a weakened immune system and have issues with indigestion and infections.

An overactive Manipura means your ego makes all the decisions (instead of your wisdom), and you come off as aggressive, domineering and judgmental. You might have an overtly strong sense of self (a strong foundation), but without the wisdom and compassion from your spirit, you tend towards negativity and insensitivity.

The good news is that pretty much every style of yoga and pranayama (from restorative to power flow) works with this Chakra to balance it out and create strength. Specifically, the Warriors (including Warrior II, pictured above) tend to hone in your concentration and give you assertive energy while keeping you grounded (and egoless). I also find that the Sun Salutations do wonders for the body and mind. So does Treta Bandha.

When meditating, visualize yellow, Manipura’s primary fiery color. Draw your focus to the Solar Plexus (where the ribcage fans out around the navel), and intuit your personal power as a long-burning fire. Imagine that you’re stoking the fire to stoke strength, creating energy to accomplish your projects, and learning to put trust in your instincts.

may spotlight on: svadhishthana (sacral) chakra

Around here, we’ve been taking a look at the Chakras. Chakras are centers of prana (energy, life force) that align down the spine and correspond to vital points in the physical body. Brush up on the meaning of the seven main chakras here, take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under/overactive, and catch up from last month’s Muladhara study here

Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Working our way up from the Root Chakra, the earth element of the Root Chakra dissolves into the water element of Svadhishthana (Sacral) Chakra. Dealing with emotions, creativity, family, and sexuality is what Svadhishthana is all about.

In my professional and personal experience, Svadhishthana (even more so than other Chakras) is a particularly sensitive one. So many of my students experience chronic lower back pain and tight hips from years and years of sitting at desks, hunched over computers, for hours on end. In addition to the physical release of the muscles around the lower back and hips (super important!), there’s also an emotional release through the muscles (super important!). In my first years of practice, I couldn’t quite figure out why hanging out in Pigeon Pose for a few minutes, although physically intense (but not painful), was enough to make me start gasping as tears streamed down my cheeks. It was a disarming experience that started to make more sense once I began a Chakra study. Trust, this isn’t a bunch of hooey.

For further reading: “The Psoas: Muscle of the Soul” over at Body Divine Yoga is an awesome post about the mysterious, misunderstood Psoas muscle (a yoganerd’s fave!) and its incredible connection to our Reptilian brain. Especially relevant to the Sacral Chakra. Mind blowing stuff and an important anatomy lesson!

At its best, a balanced Svadhishthana Chakra allows your feelings to flow freely. You express yourself with passion and integrity, but you also have the discernment to not get over-emotional. You’re creative and lively, spontaneous, and enjoy spirited and intimate relationships; you’re the fun one. As a visionary, you have no problem seeing the big picture.

An under-active Svadhishthana might lead you to be too closed off to people, relationships, opportunities. Your “Poker Face” gives the impression that you don’t let emotions out (nor do you let them in). You might come across as cold, detached, and stiff. Your sexuality also suffers.

An overactive Svadhishthana results in emotional attachment and codependency. Without a filter for feelings, you experience the highs and lows of your emotions to the utmost with no sense of balance or harmony; this eventually leads to emotional exhaustion. Creative juices may be abundantly flowing, but without focus or a “reality check,” you’ll have nothing to show for it.

Creating a balanced Svadhishthana through a physical yoga practice is all about stretching and strengthening the hips and pelvis, and stabilizing the sacroiliac joint. Pigeon, Bound Angle, Tree, and Cow’s Face Pose are excellent asana to incorporate into your practice that’s already grounded (thanks to a well-balanced Muladhara Chakra).

When meditating, visualize orange, Svadhishthana’s healing color. Draw your focus to your sacrum, the flat shelf of your lower back above your hips, and intuit that pulsating wheel of vivid orange. Also visualize the element water, and think of flowing waters to stoke your creativity and expressiveness: rivers, waves, and churning, bubbling springs. Think of the very best aspects of water: pure movement, calm and healing energy, freedom, creativity. Manifest these qualities in your yoga practice, and manifest these qualities in your relationships and creative projects.

april spotlight on: muladhara (root) chakra

The next seven months will be dedicated to the study of each of the seven chakras. Chakras are centers of prana (energy, life force) that align down the spine and correspond to vital points in the physical body, including nerve endings, arteries, and major organs. Brush up on the meaning of the seven main chakras here, and take this quiz to find out which of your chakras are under-active, overactive, and which are perfectly, beautifully balanced. 

Working with the energetic body can be a highly mysterious, highly rewarding experience. When you integrate an energetic practice with your physical yoga practice, a deeper understanding of Self will come to you. The union of the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional bodies (which, lest we forget, is the true essence of yoga) is our objective; unblocking stuck, stagnant energy is the method.

image courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

image courtesy of Fit Yoga Magazine.

Starting with Muladhara Chakra, or the Root Chakra, makes sense. We’re working from the ground up, instilling a strong, stable foundation, a connection to the earth. Muladhara is all about rooting and is associated with our basic needs for survival: food, water, shelter, family, and the material world. Muladhara governs our relationship to our physical body and its issues, and on a very archaic level, our territorial needs.

At its best, a balanced Muladhara Chakra gives us feelings of being grounded, confident, secure, and able to sufficiently relate to others without feeling threatened. You trust others and yourself, but have a strong sense of realism and discernment. You live in the present and have a wide field of perception. You’re earthy.

An under-active Muladhara might lead to feeling insecure, nervous, full of anxiety. You live in your head and let thoughts, memories and feelings (particularly negative ones) overwhelm you.

An overactive Muladhara creates greed, selfishness, and materialistic tendencies. The mind gets obsessive about possessions and keeping staying secure, particularly financially. Even though you have a strong sense of self and your place in the world, you might not be grounded enough to take responsibility for your actions.

So how do you work with Muladhara to balance it out? On a practical, physical level, focus on standing asanas in your yoga practice, particularly poses like Tree, the Warriors, High Lunge, and Triangle, all of which require a strong foundation in the legs and hips.

When meditating, visualize red, Muladhara’s healing color. Draw your focus to your tailbone, the base of your spine, and see that pulsating wheel of vivid red. Also visualize the element earth, and think of heavy forms of earth: clay, lava, and coarse, nutrient-rich dirt. Think of the very best aspects of earth: grounding, strengthening, focus, dignity, trust, balance. Manifest these qualities in your yoga practice, then take them off your mat and into your life.

march spotlight: on change & coming home

 

march weather, via pinterest.

march weather, via pinterest.

It’s been the briefest of blogging/writing hiatuses, this winter. Things have happened, and life has rolled along, with its same simple joys, same fears. As usual, winter has proven again a time of deep reflection and soul searching (isn’t that what winter is good for?). Just like the ritual of holing yourself up in your apartment and sealing the window cracks, it’s easy to get caught up in old ways of thinking, habits so embedded that dredging them up from the deep is tiring, painful, repetitive. Then you have one good Christmas with your mother, and your whole world is turned upside down. In a good way.

My mother and I have had an acerbic, droughty relationship for the better part of 10 years. Our long-distance phone conversations, few and far between, always felt strained as we curtly asked each other How’s the weather and What’s Grandma been up to. Everything was “just fine, for the most part,” we’d convince each other, and when we did skim the surface of our anxieties, our worries, we’d both cover it up with a hearty, Scandinavian “yeah, it’s hard, but things’ll be just fine.” It just takes one hint of honesty, a little gust of dry, cold wind to make its way through a crack in the seal, and suddenly, we come into focus for one another.

When it comes to my mom, being honest about my feelings has always been difficult, especially when those feelings are challenging and make me vulnerable. At one point in my teenage life, I was tirelessly optimistic and full of faith; my mother was the realist, whose empathy and perspective brought my head out of seeking Truth, the capital “T” kind. We didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and my fear of her realist judgment drove me to being a less-than-honest daughter.

Then, this past Christmas I went home to visit and the time we spent together was lovely: there was laughter, reminiscing about being a kid (spurred on by my dad’s forced attempts to get our crap out of the garage), and lots of listening, being open and available to each other. Just being there took some of the sting out of years of composure, which I’ve decided is an unnecessary state of being when your mother asks you, “How are you doing?”

This change was nothing that I did or didn’t do, nor did I feel any great shift coming in our relationship. The old season had simply passed, shriveled up, and in some sort of beautiful, natural dance, our paths once again converged and we fell into step with each other. It was just our time.

Now it’s March, and it’s time to fling open the windows and let the cold, damp air into our little winter nests. It’s time to flip the mattresses and change batteries in the fire alarms. New seasons lend themselves to great opportunity for change and newness. Everything changes whether we think we initiate it or not. Our home, too, despite its safety and lived-in comfort, has to change as well.

everything
changes in this world
but flowers will open
each spring
just as usual.

Japanese folk zen

november spotlight on: community

Photo by Iwan Baan on Wednesday night, showing the island of Manhattan, half aglow and half in dark, is the cover of New York Magazine’s new issue, out Monday.

Where to begin.

Late Friday afternoon, as the light and the heat sputtered on hesitantly in our neighborhood, I found myself breathless, racing down First Avenue, unable to hail a cab or a spot on the overcrowded bus. Two laptops, an extension cord, a box of Wheat Thins, a bottle of shampoo and a hairbrush bounced heavy in my backpack, the same pack I toted around all week, from outpost to outpost, seeking power and Internet and hot water. But now I raced toward home and the light.

There is still tremendous loss, just a few miles outside of Manhattan. Staten Island and the Rockaways and coastal New Jersey are in great need and are counting on us to be good neighbors and support them. Let’s not fail them. Let’s be community to them. Here’s one way, here’s another.

Community is the only thing that got me, and probably you, through this week. In that spirit, the community who supported me, and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude:

– Luke and Arushi. You guys probably didn’t realize that when you stored your gas grill at Lost Weekend, it would one day be used to serve the only hot coffee in Lower Manhattan for 4 days. (I tried texting you to ask if we could use it, but I assumed you’d approve). You made cold, weary folks extremely happy, and gave us a place to gather to check in with each other. That grill created community.

– Laura and Alan. Thanks for being a power and shower outpost for me in Williamsburg on Day #2. Grateful.

– Caitlin, Lindsey, Bridin, the good people at eBay and at the Westin Grand Central. Thanks for being power and shower outpost #3. It was so luxurious to lay in a hotel bed and watch CNN for a few hours. Grateful.

– Friends and family around the country. You were diligent in checking in with loving texts, emails, and sending thoughts and prayers our way. Keep sending them. You are my extended community. Grateful, always.

– Abby, Paul, Adam, Kiki, and the rest of the staff at ForgtMeNot. Thanks for staying open and giving us community (and hot food) in the darkness.

– NYPD crossing guards. You tirelessly manned every intersection and directed pedestrians/cyclists/cars. Safety first. Gratitude.

– Phoebe. Thanks for laughing and drinking and sharing a little gossip. The community of girls finds each other in every circumstance. Grateful for you.

– Michael and Bella. Cold dark nights were less cold and less dark with you as my cuddlers. Eternally grateful!

– Brad, Lindsay, Walkers, Regina, Amanda, Debbie and Bill, and everyone else who offered us a place to stay if we needed it. Amazing generosity, never forgotten. Gratitude.

What about you, New Yorkers? Want to declare your gratitude and do a community shout out? Leave your gratitude in the comments and let’s spread some warm fuzzies! xx