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asana & inspiration

Svadhisthana, the sacral chakra...second of the seven chakras

June 15 2017

Svadhisthana, the sacral chakra...second of the seven chakras


The seven chakras are "wheels" or energy centers within the human body. Each one is like a conductor or storehouse of energy governing different bodily aspects from the gross to the subtle.  They can seem mysterious and difficult to understand, but as you study them and develop awareness of your energy system, the chakras become more tangible and accessible.

This blog post explores svadhisthana, the sacral chakra, second of the seven chakras.  You can read about muladhara (root) chakra, the first of the seven chakras in this earlier chattra post.

Svadhisthana translates as “sweet abode.”  Each chakra has an associated color and seed sound:  svadhisthana chakra’s color is orange and its seed sound is VAM.  

Svadhisthana chakra governs fluidity, emotions, sexuality, reproductive organs, the bladder, and movement of the hips.  Situated at the sacrum, it is dense like muladhara chakra, yet with water as its presiding element it is also fluid.
Water is essential to our existence, making up a large portion of our bodies. Cleansing, healing and powerful, water perseveres:  it moves with constant flow around objects in its path, often shaping and reshaping the sturdiest of objects.

Balancing the water element of svadhisthana helps us flow with life, process our emotions, experience comfort with our sexuality, and enjoy ease and freedom of movement in the hips.  Here are a few suggestions to access the power of the svadhisthana chakra.

Enjoy a hip-focused yoga practice…
Hips tighten from a lot of sitting.  Activities such as walking, running and cycling develop strength, but they don't encourage range of hip motion. Yet we rely on our hips for so much:  a location to balance kids, groceries, heavy loads. And they cradle an area of physical intimacy.  Creating ease at the hip joint fosters fluidity, mobility and sensuality that extends throughout the body.  

Try a practice that moves the hips in all directions, rotating them open in poses like pigeon and thread the needle. Flex them deeply in reclining hamstring stretches such as supta padagustasana and standing forward bends like uttanasana and parsvotanasana.  To stretch thigh and hip muscles, try ardha bhekasana:  simply lay on the belly and reach back, folding one leg toward the buttocks. Low lunges are great for extending hip muscles; and to access muscles in the back leg, practice warrior 1.

Flow with your emotions…

Many of us struggle with processing emotions. This simple practice can help heighten awareness of feelings without becoming overwhelmed.

The next time you feel a surge of emotions, pause.  Be still.  Repeat in your mind the svadhisthana seed sound for water: “VAM VAM VAM.”  Allow your feelings to flow without trying to stop, shape or judge them. Give the emotions a chance to move like water through your thoughts and your body;  they will eventually lose their intensity and move on.

Dive in!  Immerse yourself in water…

Being in or around water is a wonderful way to relate to its qualities. Take a swim, soak in a tub, sit near a waterfall.   A hike near a river or lake or a walk on the beach are more wonderful ways to experience svadhisthana's water element.  Silently chanting “VAM” as you sit or walk near water will further enhance your connection to water. 

And always stay hydrated.  Drinking plenty of water and herbal teas and eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in water content supports easing the digestive system.

Look for more chattra blog posts about the chakras from Nikki…the more you focus on the chakras, their location, qualities and seed sounds, the more real and accessible they will become — and the more aware you will be of your own amazing energy system.

About Nikki Estrada

Nikki Estrada has been in the yoga scene for more than twenty years.  She lectures, leads workshops, teacher training and immersions nationwide. Nikki began her formal training in India, focusing on Ashtanga—a very physically challenging style of yoga. She is currently a senior yoga teacher and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nikki's Vinyasa-based classes are a synthesis of her years of yogic and Ayurveda study and personal experience, with an emphasis on spirituality, intelligent alignment, meditation, and living life more joyfully. Her videos can be found on www.yogainternational.com. More information about Nikki can be found at www.nikkiestradayoga.com   She resides in northern California with her husband and two daughters.

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The first chakra: notes on muladhara plus a practice for stability and security

May 14 2017


The seven chakras are "wheels" or energy centers within the human body. Each one is like a conductor or storehouse of energy that governs different bodily functions from the gross to the subtle and each is associated with a color.  At first, they can seem mysterious and difficult to understand, but once you begin to study the chakras and develop awareness of your energy system, they become more tangible and accessible.


This blog post explores the muladhara chakra, the first of the seven chakras.  Located at the base of the spine, the muladhara chakra is associated with the color red and the earth element.  Muladhara is the most dense and mass of the chakras -- it relates to our senses of security and survival. It also relates to fear. At the physical level, the lower body -- feet, legs, pelvic floor -- is connected to the muladhara.  And naturally this part of human anatomy is also the closest to the ground.

The muladhara chakra is important not only because it is the first and most fundamental energy center, but also because as a society we have become so disconnected from the earth. Our over-scheduled, fast-paced lives often leave us with very little time in nature, or even an awareness of how the earth and its seasons impact us.  As a result, the feeling of being “un-groundedbecomes normal.

Here are two practices to strengthen your connection to the earth element and create awareness of muladhara, the root chakra:

- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor, hips elevated and spine tall. Take a moment to settle and close your eyes. Focus on the sensation of your lower body grounding. Feel the feet, thighs and base of the pelvis becoming heavy and grounded. Lift the spine up from this feeling of stability. Bring your attention to the base of your spine- tailbone region or pelvic floor. Hold your attention there, visualizing a spinning disk of red energy. In your mind, begin to repeat the mantra LAM. This is the seed sound for the earth element and will leave you feeling strong and grounded. Stay and repeat LAM for 5 minutes or more, also visualizing the spinning red disk.

- Carve out time in your day for a nature walk. Turn off your phone, head out on foot and notice how as little as 20 minutes walking in nature can clear your mind and leave you feeling calm and connected. Do this whenever you are feeling stressed, anxious or frazzled. Try chanting LAM in your mind as you are walking and sensing the sights and sounds of nature.

Look for more chattra blog posts about the chakras from Nikki…the more you focus on the chakras, their location, qualities and seed sounds, the more real and accessible they will become — and the more aware you will be of your own amazing energy system.

About Nikki Estrada

Nikki Estrada has been in the yoga scene for more than twenty years.  She lectures, leads workshops, teacher trainings and immersions nationwide. Nikki began her formal training in India, focusing on Ashtanga—a very physically challenging style of yoga. She is currently a senior yoga teacher and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nikki's Vinyasa-based classes are a synthesis of her years of yogic and Ayurveda  study and personal experience, with an emphasis on spirituality, intelligent alignment, meditation and living life more joyfully. Her videos can be found on www.yogainternational.com. More information about Nikki can be found at www.nikkiestradayoga.com   She resides in northern California with her husband and two daughters.

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Cultivating space for the body, heart and spirit…an asana for moms-to-be (and everyone else!)

May 11 2017

As a prenatal yoga instructor, I connect with countless moms-to-be on a weekly basis. A large percentage of my students are new to yoga, and often mention a part of their inspiration to begin is that their care provider suggested yoga as a great form of exercise during pregnancy. This advice is aligned with the research that shows a regular yoga practice helps reduce stress and anxiety; improve sleep; increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth; and decrease back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath. To maximize these amazing benefits it is best to work with a knowledgeable teacher who has training and education in the application of yoga for pregnancy.

The Recliner — melt, visualize, breath

One of the cornerstone principles of a prenatal yoga practice is the concept of creating space. On a physical level space is made by modifying postures so there is room for the baby - think open twists and wide-legged child's pose. As space is cultivated in the body, it is also created in the heart, mind and spirit. We are after all ,according to yogic theory, multidimensional beings with intrinsically connected layers. Savasana offers another opportunity to cultivate space as mom relaxes deeply and the body, mind and nervous system unwind.

One of my go-to relaxation poses for moms has come to be named “Recliner” and uses two round bolsters, two blocks and a blanket. I’ve literally watched moms melt into this posture. It is a great place to do some guided visualization and breath work as well.

Recliner is ideal for a prenatal student because it opens the chest, allows mom to recline without being directly on her back thus avoiding potential risk to flow of the vena cava, and it supports the sacrum.

Pregnancy not required!

Pregnancy is not a prerequisite for practicing Recliner asana in a restorative practice or as a savasana variation. I encourage you to explore the shape, whether pregnant or not, with interest in the spaciousness that results from being so supported.

To create this shape, you’ll need two bolsters, two blocks and a blanket:

-Stack one block at tall height toward the back end of your mat and the other block at medium height in front

-Place a bolster against each of the blocks, making sure the top portion of the bolster is well supported

-Fold the blanket to make a little seat and place the rounded edge toward the bolster

-Sit on the blanket with your knees under the second bolster and the back of your pelvis up against the bolster

-Place soles of the feet together so the knees are wide over the bolster

-Recline back and melt the shoulder blades and back toward the supporting bolsters beneath you

-Extra support…If you’ve got the props for it, a bolster can also be positioned under each forearm to make this pose extra supportive.

Enjoy!

photo:  Mom-to-be Misty in The Recliner, photographed at Bloom, Walnut Creek, California

About Jillian

Jillian is a yogini based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She leads weekly public yoga classes for adults and specializes in yoga for kids and families. Her studies have led her to complete trainings at YogaWorks, Karma Kids and Yoga Playgrounds. Jillian feels blessed to practice and teach yoga and is particularly passionate about empowering her students with tools to navigate the modern world with ease.

 

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"She Recovers" founder Taryn Strong on recovery and the healing powers of yoga

May 03 2017

When we are in active addiction – whether to one or more substances, to people or to certain behaviors – we are disconnected. We are numb, dull.  We distract ourselves from ourselves. We often choose the opposite of connection:  we isolate. We feel alone, ashamed, guilty.  Additionally, our bodies may have experienced trauma and don't feel like a safe place to be.

The word “yoga” means “to yoke" or "union.”  

Yoga encourages us to seek union with our bodies, with our breath, with ourselves -- to re-connect.  Yoga is the practice of re-connection, and re-connection is essential to recovery. 

When we come to the mat, we leave aside smartphones, jobs, substances and other physical distractions.  It is a place to become present and mindful and a place to create awareness of our bodies.  We can’t always change what is happening in our life around us, but we can change our bodies and our breath and then things shift:  perhaps our body feels calmer, our mind gets quieter – even if just for a moment at the beginning...then eventually following us into our lives off of the mat. 

As we become more aware and present with our physical, energetic and emotional selves, we learn how to feel again. This is a very vulnerable place to be for those of us who have spent years trying not to feel.  But persistence leads to the discovery that we will survive (and appreciate) feeling our feelings.

While yoga teaches us to re-connect, it also teaches us how to let go.  Our biology is our biography:  our experiences -- the good and the bad -- are stored in our bodies. Emotions and feelings that we don’t want to deal with are nonetheless present. Yogini Nikki Myers calls this, “the issues in our tissues.”  This helps explain sudden feelings of anger, fear or sadness that you may experience while you are practicing asana:  as we let go of tension in the body and find space in our muscles, we are also accessing letting go of emotions.

Yoga and its ability to help us re-connect and to let go, encourages and supports a recovery journey.  Keep practicing.

About Taryn Strong

Taryn Strong (RYT) is grateful to be in recovery from drug addiction, self-harm, disordered eating and codependency. She and her mom created She Recovers -- a popular online and in-real-life recovery community.  Founded in 2011, She Recovers is now the largest female cyber-recovery community in North America. Her “Yoga for Recovery” program integrates yoga + meditation + spirituality with recovery principles from a wide variety of pathways.   A yoga teacher since 2007, Taryn received her “Yoga of Recovery” certification in 2011 and her “Yoga for Trauma” certification in 2014. For more about Taryn’s Yoga for Recovery program, including retreats, visit Facebook: She Recovers and Insta/Snap: tarynstrong 

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Befriending your monkey mind

April 12 2017

It is very likely that you have been in a yoga class and he teacher referred to the “monkey mind.” The term is a brilliant metaphor for the restless and unsettled environment of the mind as its attention swings from one thought to the next like a monkey in the trees.

The mind is referenced in asana classes because ultimately the Yogic sciences deal with the mind. What most people know as “yoga” stems from the teachings of Hatha Yoga, a physical practice developed to prepare one for Raja Yoga, also known as the Yoga of the Mind, explained by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. 

Although the “monkey mind” expression is common place in modern yogic jargon, it has Buddhist roots that extend back to the later Qin Dynasty and a classical text called the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra. Originally written in Sanskrit, the Vimalakīrti was translated in 406 CE to Chinese by a monk and scholar known as Kumārajīva. It was then that the characters 心如猨猴,  meaning “mind like a monkey,” appeared.

The ancient Yogis understood the nature of the mind to have similar qualities as the unsettled monkey and described the phenomenon using the words citta-vṛtti.  Citta is the Sanskrit word for mind-stuff and can also be understood as the sum total of the mind. Vṛtti means whirlpool, waves and ripples. Thus a metaphor for the mind used in classic Indian Yogic teachings is not monkey, but rather lake -- the unsettled mind creates many waves on the waters of the lake that distort the capacity for the light of consciousness to shine through. A term used to explain this quality of mind is rajasic, meaning there is turbulence and activity that brings about distraction. A clear and pure mind is considered sattvic. A sattvic mind is calm, a still lake which allows the light of consciousness to shine through it.

Although Buddhist and Yogic philosophies use different words and metaphors to explain the active mind, both systems share a common observation that the mind moves. Despite their differences in description, both systems provide the invaluable lesson of becoming aware of our thoughts, thus creating the possibility to observe them and to detach from identifying with their “turbulence.” You could think of it as assuming the role of the bottom of the lake, or the trees that a monkey swings from. Both the lake and the trees hold stable space for the movement, allow for it to manifest -- the way a good friend can listen and support someone during emotional highs and lows.

Personal experience navigating the monkey mind has proven more successful when I approach the mind in this way -- as a friend -- accepting its mobile nature and choosing to identify more with the part of me that is observing. From here I’ve found the ability to begin working with my mind, observing how it’s conditioned and choosing which patterns to reinforce and which ones to quiet. It’s a very raw journey investigating the mind and seeing clearly how things are working - like getting to know a friend really well - as you see both the strengths and the weakness. The joy comes in accepting the mind for what is it and appreciating the opportunity to grow and evolve through awareness.

You don’t have control over the reality that your mind moves, it is a part of its nature. You do however have a choice of how to relate to the mind. In the spirit of supporting you in choosing to befriend your monkey mind, here are three simple steps to practice:

Be Aware: Practice breath based meditation for at least 5 minutes a day to heighten awareness of your moving mind.

Accept: Once aware of the thoughts and turbulence, practice acceptance.  Often times when we fight activity, it is perpetuated. Find reassurance in the wisdom that it is the very nature of the mind to move.

Listen: Choose to identify with the aspect of you that is observing. Notice any patterns that might be present in the movement of the mind with a non-judgmental, loving and curious attitude.

 About Jillian

Jillian is a yogini based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She leads weekly public yoga classes for adults and specializes in yoga for kids and families. Her studies have led her to complete trainings at YogaWorks, Karma Kids and Yoga Playgrounds. Jillian feels blessed to practice and teach yoga and is particularly passionate about empowering her students with tools to navigate the modern world with ease.

 

 

 

 

 

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Creating a morning meditation ritual…a chattra blog post from Nikki

February 18 2017
Whatever your yoga practice might be, and whatever stage of life you are in, I highly recommend creating a morning meditation ritual. Here’s why.
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The heart lives in trust — a chakra post and practice

February 08 2017
Valentine’s Day inspires thoughts and actions of romantic love. Love, in many spiritual traditions, is a much more universal and powerful concept. Here’s thoughts on what the yoga tradition says about love.
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How vikalpa prevents sankalpa — chattra blogger Nikki Estrada's thoughts on realizing the Yogi’s resolution

January 11 2017
Many of us commit to a “New Year’s Resolution” only to find a few weeks in we are back to our old habits. How can yoga help us move forward -- including shedding old patterns?
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nourish, replenish, satisfy: self care Rx from chattra blogger Nikki

October 20 2016


The confluence of two important events in my life revealed to me the importance of self care.  They were: 6 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer; soon after I learned I was pregnant.

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creating ripples: the work of the yogi — thoughts from yogini Nikki Estrada

September 28 2016

As a yogi, I feel immense dedication to the art and science of yoga. For thousands of years, the ancient seers have described karma and the law of cause and effect:  how we behave, the actions we choose, the words we speak, all carry energy. That energy has a ripple effect. 

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