By Melissa Luyben and Anne Van de Water
Over the last 20 years yoga has gained huge popularity and exploded in the West. When you think about yoga the first few things that may come to mind are tight yoga pants, green drinks, man buns and the chakras. Most of us know that yoga is old, very old and that the practice started somewhere in India. We know there’s something very special about this ancient tradition but we may not know it’s origins and what the intention was behind the first practitioners. What inspired them? What did they discover? What’s a chakra? During a Bikram class the focus is primarily on the physical, emotional and mental aspects of yoga-breathe, form, concentration and non-attachment. However, there is this huge part of yoga, a Spiritual aspect that is affected every time we practice. The yogis embraced this truth and sought to connect and strengthen the Spiritual part of themselves. They realized that if they connected with their Spirit by way of the chakras, the insights and revelations they gained from this meditative practice provided a far more transformational and uplifting life experience.
I spoke with Anne Van de Water, an expert on the chakras to learn more about them. Anne is a yoga and meditation teacher, Life Coach, artist, author, musician and nutritionist. In the Spring of 2018 Rosa and I connected with Anne up at the Esalen retreat center in Big Sur. We were powerfully impacted and inspired by her yoga and breath class. She shares a rich yogic tradition in her class and embodies the qualities of love, truth, humor and wisdom- she is a true yogini.
ML: Anne I’m so happy to talk with you and learn more about the chakras. What exactly are the chakras?
AV: The word chakra is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is the same language as yoga and is the oldest language in existence. Chakra means wheel of light and the word chakra refers to the spinning vortexes of energy that are in the subtle body within us. Science has proven that when you break everything down into its essential form, everything is light filling up space. That’s what I like to think of the chakras, as pure essential energy that is at the core of all existence that dwell within our subtle energy body.
ML: Wow that’s super interesting! I’m in awe of how complex we are beyond the physical body. Also, I had no idea Sanskrit is the oldest written language! When were the chakras first discovered?
AV: From what I understand the way the chakras were first discovered is when the yogis would go into meditation. Yogis were mystics. They were like the ancient Shamans. The yogis wanted to connect their bodies, minds, hearts and souls with their Spirit or with the Ultimate Creator of all of existence, who some call God or Great Spirit. They would go into meditation to try and connect with the Great Mystery. However, when they were sitting there in their caves, or in the mountains or by the great Ganges river in India they would feel tension in their bodies or they would experience mental and emotional stress. These physical, mental and emotional blocks would create a block in their ability to connect with God. Because of the disturbance their eyes would open and they would look around the natural world and they would see a tree. The tree was rooted in the Earth and swaying in the wind. They would see a mountain that was solid, grounded and powerful. They would see a happy dog walking by and playing. They would see a waterfall just flowing naturally. They thought that the mountain, the waterfall, the dog, the tree, all look like they are experiencing harmony with existence. They are at peace. They started to imitate the different things in nature and emulate the energy of nature so they could tap into that general sense of peace and harmony that they felt in the presence of nature. That’s where all the names of the yoga postures come from including mountain pose, tree pose, dog pose, etc. What they found is that when they practiced the yoga poses they would clear the physical, mental, emotional blocks, the stress, tension and heavy energy. Then they would be able to sit again peacefully and meditate without all of the physical, emotional and mental stress and tension and blocks in their innermost beings. Then they were able to connect with the benevolent force of existence outside of them and within them and also tune into all of the subtle energy that was whirling and swirling within their own bodies, minds, hearts and their whole energy field. When they went into deep states of meditation they would start to perceive the subtle energy body more clearly and that is where the chakras were originally discovered.
ML: That is truly amazing! It is really beautiful and moving to know that the yogis were embracing nature and connecting with it on such a deep level.
AV: Yes, that is my understanding of how they were discovered but the chakra system which originated in India by the yogis was first written about between 1500 and 500BC. It’s found in the oldest texts in existence as far as I know called the Vedas and the Upanishads. It’s ancient wisdom. Everything I’m sharing is steeped in tradition but it’s also my personal experience of clearing, cleansing, aligning, harmonizing and energizing my chakras and teaching about how to do these practices with others. What I think is important is that you have to do these practices and experience the energy of the chakras to find out what practices resonate with you personally. It’s not something you can just talk about to really understand them. One of my favorite sayings about yoga is that it’s 1% talking about yoga and 99% practicing yoga. It is in the practices that the chakras actually reveal themselves to you.
ML: What do the chakras look like? How do you experience them?
AV: Most of the different traditions can agree on three main things. One is that each chakra corresponds to one of the elements in nature. The core elements in nature are earth, water, fire, air, space, light and the cosmos which includes the unity of all the different elements. The second thing is that each one of these elements has a sound. When we chant the sound of the chakras we help to activate that element inside of us. The third thing is that each chakra is also connected with a different Hindu deity. Yoga is deeply connected with Hinduism and this is vitally important for modern day yogis to know, recognize and honor as part of the tradition if they are to know the true and deep roots of yoga’s history. In Hinduism there are different Gods and Goddesses that are connected to nature and the nature Spirits and they also show up as different elements.
Across the boards in all the different systems about the chakras everyone agrees on the following:
The root chakra is located at the base of the spine.
The second chakra is in between the hip bones.
The third chakra is located in the Solar Plexus.
The fourth chakra is located in the heart center.
The fifth chakra is located in the throat.
The sixth chakra is at the brow point commonly known as the third eye center.
The seventh chakra is at the crown or top of the head.
ML: Wow Anne, thank you so much for all of this powerful information. Is there a way that you like to practice working with the chakras?
AV: I connect with the chakras every day. Whether it’s wearing a certain color and thinking about the chakra or practicing a chakra meditation. The meditation I am sharing is a prescription. Every single person will have a unique experience every time they practice it. Even if they did the meditation every day for the rest of their lives their experience will always vary. That is the tantra of it, the art form. The real mojo of the chakras is your experience of the chakras every time you connect with them. You are always changing and your connection, awareness of and experience with the chakras is always changing.
ML: Anne, this information has been so appreciated. Thank you for sharing and inspiring more learning and curiosity over this powerful system that exists in our bodies.
And for all of our yogis, congratulations! You’ve just completed a very thorough, introductory course on the Chakras. As a special gift Anne has offered a link to one her meditation’s, offering the practitioner space and insight into the chakras.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Anne where we dive deep and focus on the psycho-emotional aspects of each chakra.
Special gift. A Journey Through The Chakras here with Anne: