Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast.
Today, our theme is the subtle energy system, otherwise known as the chakras. We are going to talk about psychology and energy and ways to integrate mind, body, and spirit in our own lives and in the therapeutic relationship.
I’m a certified yoga therapist and have had many years of training in yoga and yoga philosophy, in addition to the Masters in Mental Health Counseling and my license. I want to make sure to give credit where it’s due, so I’d like to acknowledge that we’re using this knowledge, passed down through the system of yoga. These traditions date back thousands of years, coming from South Asia. This is a time for us to acknowledge our privilege as white and non-disabled people with access to resources that allow us to study and integrate these important principles.
I also want to mention that I use the work of Anodea Judith. She’s a prolific author and body-centered psychotherapist, who wrote Eastern Body Western Mind, a book about psychology and the chakra system as a path to the self. I’m borrowing from traditions that come from the East. but also, will integrate that into the West and our education system.
A lot of this is evidence-based. We wouldn’t bring this to a mental health podcast unless we have science. The chakra system is just another lens we can look through. Another way to conceptualize our being, because we are body centered therapists. We’re not just concerned with the mind. We want to talk about mind, body, and then whatever that other thing is, spirit, soul, energy. That is so important when we’re talking about healing.
Chakra is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a sacred language used in yoga. Today, we’ll keep things in Western terms to ensure we’re honoring this and being very respectful of the system.
The chakra system was referred to in the ancient literature of the Vedas and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This system is thousands of years old. It’s a way for us to reconceptualize our experience. A chakra is a wheel or a disc that refers to an energy center. They can help us understand the framework of mind, body, and spirit. Chakras, these wheels or discs, are ways for us to examine energy.
What is energy? Energy could be a charge. It could be our attention. It could be our awareness. In yoga we look at it in terms of life force, we call it prana, which is the force within us that animates us. It also can be our breath.
In yoga, the belief is that we have this energy channel that is analogous to our spinal cord. The spinal cord is really the seat of our life and our main line of energy. There are other channels of energy in our bodies.
In yoga, the belief is that we have two main channels that wrap around our central channel, our spinal cord. Where those two channels intersect with the spine are our chakras. The system we’re talking about today is the seven main chakras. They store energy. They store our thoughts or feelings or memories or experiences, our actions. They direct our mindset, our behavior, our emotional health. This is such a rich framework.
I’m a body-centered therapist and a yoga therapist, the two connect. This is a way to do self-exploration.
Where might there be an imbalance in your life? Where do you notice that in your body? It’s that simple. Is there something happening in your heart center that we can identify and work on? How do we bring that into balance? This is just a framework, a way of looking at our experiences.
When I was reviewing how each chakra taps into different things that are happening within you, it was almost inspirational. That sounds like something I have noticed happening, or that feels stuck within me. Then there’s different ways of pursuing healing or just even thinking about it differently.
The chakras also associate with the nerves along the spinal cord. The locations are fluid and different for each person, but there are nerve bundles along the spine where we experience a heightened, intense energy for each of the seven centers. In yoga, when we do poses, we’re moving our spines and manipulating our energies through those movements. We can target different energy centers through a yoga practice, poses, via our breath, chanting, or dance.
I can’t see that you have an excessive throat chakra, but we can talk about what sort of physical things you have going on, what sort of emotional items are stuck for you, and then talk about ways to heal what is out of balance in your life. There’s so much literature on this. I like to take it into the mental and emotional realm too. Our goal is to help people work through their past, work through their present, and to try to live in more balance.
We can think about this in terms of psychology too. It’s kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is very complimentary because a lot of human development is physiological and mental, but also about our relationship with ourselves and others across our lifespan. There seems to be specific things that show up and that we work through both physiologically cognitively and emotionally around each of these zones, almost in a way that could compliment Erik Erikson or Piaget.
Typically, people who come to see me are interested in yoga and the body and a different approach. I don’t bring it up unless somebody is interested. I want people to do their self-exploration so that they can recognize when something is out of balance. We always look back at where things changed. What developmental stage? What can I do to bring balance to that?
If we can identify something big that happened to us, let’s say age seven there was a divorce or we moved, we can look at what is showing up in our systems at that time in place, and what chakra, behavioral rhythm, or inner child work is associated with that age. There’s different tools and paths to healing
There are seven main chakras centers, and we’ll start with the root.
Each chakra is associated with a:
- Human right.
- a color, because each wheel or disc vibrates at a certain frequency.
- developmental stage up to adulthood.
Chakra One – Root Chakra
Our very earliest developmental stage. It spans from in utero to about one year old. The root chakra is our right to be; our right to exist. We’re learning our body, as babies. It’s associated with the color red.
With that root chakra, some things that can interrupt development, we might call these traumas, would be birth trauma, abandonment, neglect, difficulty attaching to an attachment figure, a caregiver major illness or surgery, an abusive environment, and intergenerational inherited trauma. It aligns with Erik Erikson. From infancy to 18 months, the conflict is trust versus mistrust. How safe or not am I? Am I safe? Trust versus mistrust is a wonderful way to conceptualize the root chakra. We have to trust ourselves. We have to trust our bodies.
What are some healing practices we can do? I always suggest yoga as a way for us to build trust with our bodies and connect mind and body. Yoga means ‘to yoke’ mind and body, to unite. We can also practice grounding. The act of feeling our feet wherever we are.
Consider the traumas that are associated with the root chakra, neglect for attachment and abuse. Those disrupt our ability to be intuitive with our bodies. We’ve talked about interoception, the process of knowing what’s happening in our bodies. Trauma at any age can interfere with the interoceptive process.
People ask me how they can know which chakra is imbalanced. There are physical ways for us to suss that out, but you have to do the introspective work. I use books from Anodea Judith and Brenda Davies. Brenda is a psychiatrist who wrote The Seven Healing Chakras. There are assessments galore in their books so you can take control of the journey yourself, which is so much more powerful than having somebody tell you where you’re imbalanced.
Chakra Two – Sacral Chakra
Physically, this is located in our feet, legs, and the base of our torso. Just under our belly button. It is associated with the color orange and with our right to feel.
Moving up that developmental channel, we’re at six months to two years. Here we’re starting to develop the capacity for emotions. Again, it lines up with Piaget, another huge proponent in child development and human development. This is the stage where children start to get to know their worlds and realize how their actions can cause things to happen around them. They’re separate from other people.
The sacral chakra talks about gaining insight into our default reactions, looking at our deeper emotions, and learning to express ourselves and set healthy boundaries. That’s what two-year-olds are all about.
Traumas that occur at this developmental stage or chakra could be, not being able to identify with our feelings, enmeshment, or sexual abuse.
How do we heal? Movement and movement therapy, emotional identification and releases, working with boundaries, treating addictions, engaging in healthy pleasures and digging into inner child work.
Our brains have a right hemisphere and a left hemisphere. The right brain is more creative, and the left brain is associated with logic and reasoning. The right brain is much more online from ages zero to three and then the left brain shows up. The right brain is all about the body and sensory. That’s how we make sense of the world. When I think about going deeper into our default reactions, our deeper emotions, our inner child work, we really need to bring the body and sensory to the table. That brings up mindful awareness and bearing witness to our body’s memories and what happens in our sensorimotor processing system. We don’t just process things through our thoughts and feelings, but through our body and our nervous systems.
Working through this chakra comes down to listening, providing for, and protecting our inner child through boundaries and gaining insight into what we need and how we can provide for ourselves.
We’re talking about reparenting our two-year-old, but we need to reparent ourselves at every age. It is lifelong work. What a blessing to be aware that it’s possible to have that healing and change.
With chakras, we can also look at other tools. We can use essential oils that help to balance those chakras, meditations, visualizations, colors. Little nods to our subtle energy system to work on bringing balance in ways that are both big and small.
Chakra Three – Solar Plexus
Located above the navel and below the heart. It’s color is yellow, the sun and it is our power center. The right here is the right to act. Two to four years old is the developmental stage for our third chakra.
When we think about traumas, shaming, controlling abuse, or a child who has to act as the parent can be seen here.
To help balance, again inner child work. Also, relaxation, stress management, exercise, building up our ego strength. We can find a lot of anger at that third chakra so we might want to work on releasing that anger or managing it with the help of a therapist or a group.
Also working on shame. Piaget talks about the same things; autonomy versus shame and doubt. How can we live into following our gut, work through feelings of shame and develop confidence. Often exploration is what leads to confidence. Learning that it’s okay to fail, let’s see what happens. Trying something new. That comes back to feeling like we’re independent, that we can rely on ourselves and that we’re there for ourselves.
When someone has a lot of anger or excessive drive or are addicted to work and are constantly on the go, we work to bring balance to the solar plexus. It’s a pretty tangible, but we have to do that exploration first. We have to do that introspection.
It’s important to remember that when chakras get imbalanced, they can be excessive or deficient. They can, we can have too much of this energy or too little. So our healing practices are going to be to balance. “Like increases like.” If we’re workaholics, we’re not going to try to exercise a bunch more or do things that create more heat. We’re going to bring in some cooling centers.
Chakra Four – Heart Chakra
Located in the heart center, this is our right to love and be loved. It’s color is green and it is associated with ages four to seven.
Traumas here are rejection, abandonment, loss, criticism, grief, divorce, death, abuse. We often have an imbalance one way or the other here.
This is the idea of being connected. People who have just very little connection to their heart chakras may be perceived as cold or unfeeling. People who are in excess may be clinging, holding on, or loving and not having it reciprocated.
If someone is in dorsal vagal or shut down, there’s a disconnection to others, and maybe disconnection, dissociation or numbing from ourselves. Getting connected to the heart chakra can help to direct love back to ourselves and our bodies and to address the tendencies to isolate or to disconnect.
What do we do to heal the heart chakra? I like to think about compassion, joy, and gratitude. Communicating with your inner child, noticing their wounds. Grounding in our adult self, and being there for that child that was hurt or left or abandoned. I like to just start with deep breathing to get us into parasympathetic.
Chakra Five – Throat Center
Our throat is the right to speak and to be heard. Ages seven to 12 years old, this is when we’re developing our voice. Anything associated with communication really lives here.
Some of the traumas can be mixed messages, lies, verbal abuse, criticism, having authoritarian parents, maybe some alcoholism in the family, or secrets.
Practicing using our voice is a big part of self-exploration. In order to speak our truth, we have to know what it that and feel safe and confident enough to articulate it.
This is the right to speak, but also to be heard. Often it is asking that we’re heard and using our words. We do a lot of communication practice in therapy, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships and couples’ work.
There are so many things we can do. Often, we quiet our voice and shift what we need to say or who we need to be in order to have the approval or support of others. Having a relationship with a therapist where you can use your voice and not be shamed or afraid that you’re going to say the wrong thing can be healing. You can speak your authentic truth and it is held in a safe container where there isn’t judgment, and you don’t have to edit or alter it so that other people are okay.
Heart chakra and throat chakra show up a lot in my therapy sessions. We need to be able to speak, but also to hear and to listen.
When we’ve got an excess throat chakra, people really like to hear the sound of their voice. Here, we may need to work on silence. Maybe some meditation and some discernment in our speech.
Chakra Six – Third Eye
This chakra is located right between your eyebrows at the forehead. Here is our right to see and be seen. Here is adolescence. We’re starting to see the world for what it is.
There can be a lot of traumas here. We may see things that don’t make sense to us; hypocrisy, invalidation, especially growing up in a traumatic environment.
Healing practices may be meditating, holding that awareness. Also, coloring, drawing, and artistic expression help bring balance because there’s a lot of input through our eyes and sometimes, we just need to play. When things start getting a bit too much, I find myself at a pottery class or weaving class or coloring. Adolescence is a time when we express creativity. It can be very useful to stop and think about, am I being seen, what am I seeing? How do I bring some balance to that?
Chakra Seven – The Crown
Located at the crown of the head or even just a little bit above, is the seventh chakra. This is our right to know and to learn. This is early adulthood when we start to know ourselves.
Some of our traumas at that crown chakra might be education that doesn’t really allow us to be curious, things that are forced upon us, perhaps religiosity, having our beliefs invalidated, having to be blindly obedient, being fed disinformation lies.
We can heal these by doing our own learning, studying, meditation, doing self-introspection or reflection, maybe examining our belief systems through therapy or with a spiritual guide. Here it’s really important to develop our own inner witness. The dual awareness of what’s happening with our minds and bodies and witnessing it from a place of compassion and detachment.
I don’t know if there’s any greater transformation than the change I see within my clients who utilize the knowledge that is out there to create change for themselves.
It feels very Jungian to me; a kind of collective unconscious that we tap into.
The interconnectedness that exists in the crown chakra, and developing spiritual relationships with self, allows us to integrate mind, body, spirit, and energy, and be that unit of peace that can then connect with others and make change. We change ourselves so that we can help change the community that we live in.
Looking back on our life and seeing the failures, the successes, and developing insight into understanding the role we’ve played in what we’ve experienced, and the insight of how we can change and how we can look at our default reactions, allows us to grow.
This is a path to self-discovery. You’re learning about external things, but you’re also doing internal work. That’s what this is all about. That’s what we do. We help other people on that journey, on the path to self. This is just one way we can look at it. It’s a way that makes it makes a lot of sense to me.
As we’ve gone through this journey, we talked about the different colors associated with each chakra. I wanted to mention that we left off with green at the heart. Our throat chakra is blue, our third eye is often like a deep indigo or purple, and our crown is seen as purple or white.
Thinking about our energy as this rainbow is a really uplifting way to conceptualize this, but it also reminds us of the mystery, right? Rainbows existed long before we understood the science, so when we think about the chakra system, it may be an esoteric conceptualization, but we’re digging into it now in these different ways that can help us understand the mystery.
It’s a reminder that we don’t know at all.