When Anat asked me to write a piece about Chakra Meditation for The Fat Yogis newsletter, I jumped on the invitation with a YES in all caps. Anat and I have the same teachers: the Grilleys. We have studied with and assisted the Grilleys for many years now: functional anatomy and subtle energy, mantras, philosophy and so many brilliant poems and silly songs, all of which strangely collate into our beloved Chakra Meditation. Anat has become my most trusted ally and dearest friend on this spiritual journey. So, how cool to be invited by her to share some words about my practice on The Fat Yogis’ platform. It felt so big, bright and inevitable that I tucked the invitation away in the flower of my heart chakra knowing the words would come to me like a bolt of lightning… at some point… maybe in meditation. They did not.
What is there to say?! Chakra practice is personal and unique. The techniques are as varied as each person’s bone structure, as unique as the way each breath flows, as individualized as the way we each hope, fear and love. It did not come to me in meditation, and worse, the increasing desire for clarity strained and obstructed my whole process. When I realized this, I knew it was time for some serious efforts of surrender. And for me that comes from cyclical doses of Yin Yoga, “rebound” and napping.
After a fat 5-minute CatTail pose releasing into deeper and deeper layers of soothing stretches and gentle pressures, I come out of the pose with a brilliant ache that rolls over my spine and hips, and eventually spreads into wide ripples across my entire form. There are times when I could swear I am spreading across the room, then sinking and dissolving into the earth, then floating and evaporating into the air, then… I vanish. Brief moments of seeming non-existence followed by brief moments of bouncing back to wakefulness yet unsure of where or who (sometimes what) I am. Surely some of you Yin Yogis know what I’m talking about, even though you might describe it in your own vague way, vague because when we hit a great “rebound,” the experience is difficult to put into words.
After my doses of Yin, I naturally bounced back to a fully lucid existence, and when I did all of the obstructions and distractions and misidentifications were still there, but they did not have control over me. I started writing.
The technique of Chakra meditation as The Fat Yogis and I have learned from our teachers seem in some ways the opposite of Yin Yoga Rebound. In Chakra meditation we pull ourselves into our spine. In a great state of wakefulness, we gather our best mental and energetic selves into our center and lift this life-force (let’s call it prana) upward, and we let it lift us as well.
According to our teacher’s teacher Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, our chakras have a “flower” and a “root.” The flower is a broad, superficial area of the body; the root is a singular point inside of the spinal cord. For instance, the flower of the heart chakra comprises the entire skin of the chest, the ribs and their intercostal muscles, the lungs, including the breath that pulsates all of this. We get closer to the root as we become calm and quiet enough to feel through the heart eventually finding the sacred space behind the heart, the space of tranquil bliss within the spinal cord and the fluid in which it floats.
“I am sitting on the altar of my throbbing heart. I watch it. I turn backward to the spine, the roaring shouting torrent of life moving through the heart into the body. The beat and roar of the heart are gone. Like a sacred hidden river my life flows down the gorge of the spine. I enter the dim corridor through the door of the spiritual eye and speed on until at last my life flows into the ocean of life and loses itself in bliss.”
These are the words of another spiritual teacher of our teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda. To be clear, while my Chakra practice is inspired by these words, I have never experienced this.
When I sit on my heart’s altar and move toward the spine, I am often distracted by daily mundane events. On a good day I will easily dismiss these superficial distractions and go further until mis-identifying with the emotional whirlpools and obsessive thoughts that have been accumulating in the depths for months, years, or possibly lifetimes. Sometimes it seems maddening. Sometimes I tell myself what many friends and newer students have told me over the years: “meditation makes me bananas.” But the truth is that we’re already bananas. Seeing this truth is the first step.
In the Bhagvad Gita, the desperate spiritual warrior Arjuna describes this to his teacher Krishna: “Trying to control it is like trying to tame the wind.” Krishna’s advice: “regular practice and detachment.”
In my personal practice I have defined this as Yin Yoga, Chakra Meditation, Yin Yoga, and repeat.
While I have not yet found Yogananda’s “sacred hidden river,” this process gradually takes weight off of my heart. And little by little, I find myself lighter and more easeful in my physical, emotional and spiritual life. I find myself kinder and more compassionate to myself, and more importantly a better person for my friends, family and community. I can see, hear and feel others more clearly more often. I can respond with more empathy, sometimes in the form of an apology, or offering silence, solidarity and spaciousness , sometimes by amplifying the voices of the marginalized, and sometimes by participating more affectively within the collective voice demanding justice in the face of discrimination, hatred and oppression. And sometimes I find myself re-entangled in the habits of body and mind that do not serve these higher goals and values. But after many years of practice, I can see the waves of up and down are ultimately collectively ascending. The more I can see the truth of my wild internal winds, the less I am controlled by them.
In Chakra meditation my goal is to be awake and alert; I’m hoping to feel and know who I truly am, to feel and know my spine; I am hoping to be upright and centered literally and figuratively. In the rebounds of Yin Yoga, my goal is to watch my body and mind spread until they disappear, until I am lost. These efforts are not opposing. They complement and transform into each other.
While I am eager to experience the ocean of bliss, I am grateful for the progressive lightness and ease that comes with the cycle of Yin Yoga and Chakra Meditation, the cycle of letting the candle flame blow out with the wind, and reigniting the fire in my spine, again and again.