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 the chakras and develop awareness of your energy system, they become more tangible and accessible.
This blog post explores the third of the seven chakras, manipura, which translates as “lustrous gem.” You can read about the first and second of the seven chakras in these earlier chattra posts: https://chattra.com/blogs/chattra-blog
As we move up the chakras, they become less dense and more mobile. The first two, muladhara and svadistanana are gross and heavy as they relate to the earth and water elements respectively.
The third chakra is very different. Called manipura —lustrous gem— the third chakra had great significance in both yoga and ayurveda. Situated at the naval, it is associated with the fire element. Fire is the element of transformation. It’s seed sound is RAM and its color is yellow.
Strong yet balanced agni
According to ayurveda (yoga’s sister science of optimal health and living), fire -- agni in Sanskrit -- transforms our food into or energy. Our bodies must be able to efficiently process food, turning it into usable fuel; as such, the key to good health and the prevention of disease, is to have strong but balanced agni. Here are a few suggestions to support good digestive health and the strength of your digestive fire:
-Don’t eat until you are hungry...for optimal digestion, the fire needs to be strong and ready to transform.
- That said, regularly eat 3 meals per day. Enjoy breakfast around the same time each morning, eating until just satisfied and not entirely full. Your biggest meal of the day should be lunch when your digestive fire is naturally at its strongest. Enjoy a light dinner, the smallest meal of the day and then eat nothing past 8pm to give yourself a long break between dinner and breakfast.
- Eat in a comfortable and quiet place, relaxed and focused on your meal.
Stimulate the manipura for vitality and energy
There is another essential function of fire in the body and that is to turn our personal challenges into lessons for growth — it’s a fundamental philosophy of yoga. When our spiritual fire it strong, we are strong. Manipura chakra is therefore connected to our strength, self-confidence, will power and ability to manifest our dreams and desires. When this chakra is excessive, the ego becomes over-inflated. When deficient, one lacks confidence, follow through, and the ability to move forward.
An amazing pranayama technique for building your naval center strength and flexibility is kapalabhati, also called “breath of fire." This pranayama technique stimulates the manipura chakra and increases fire, vitality and energy:
- Sit in a comfortable position where the spine can be tall and well-aligned. Either sit on some lift like a bolster or blanket on the floor or in a chair where both feet can be placed under the knees without discomfort.
- Take several slow, deep breaths to begin. Place one hand up on the chest above the collar bones. This is to feel whether you are keeping your chest relatively still and “quiet." Place another hand below the belly button. This is to feel where the movement should come from -- the lower belly. Take a long, deep breath in, then begin to pull the lower belly back quickly and sharply, forcing breath out of the nose and making an audible nasal sound. The belly naturally relaxes on the silent inhalation. Continue to quickly draw the belly back forcing sharp exhalations. The emphasis is on the exhalation movement. The transverse abdominal muscles are doing the movement to move the breath out. You will begin to feel your lower belly burning from the actions.
- Eventually, after around 30-50 rapid pumps, exhale any remaining breath. Take another slow, deep inhalation. At the top of inhalation, hold your breath for as long as you can without strain. Exhale very slowly.
- Repeat the process a few more times. At first, this pranayama may seem very difficult and confusing, but over time, you will gain control and capability with the movements.
- There are contraindications that are advised: pregnancy, high blood pressure, acute digestive issues, too much heat such as inflammation in the body. Avoid kapalabhati pranayama in these instances.
May we be strong, radiant and confident human beings, able to turn our challenges into assets and valuable life lessons.
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.