Article by Macy Graham

Mental health is something that we take for granted when it naturally comes easy to us. It’s hard to understand why someone is acting or reacting in some way if you don’t personally feel that way yourself. I think we often forget that no matter what the situation, we all have our own reality of what really happened. 

Based on yoga philosophy, we have five layers or “koshas” of the self. (For more info on these five koshas, please visit the August edition of ROX Lifestyle MagazineYoga – Is It Right for You?”) The koshas start from gross to subtle: Physical, Energetic, Mental, Intellectual, and Spiritual layers of self. These koshas are also related to our energy centers or chakras that start at the base of the pelvis and work their way up the spine to the crown of the head. It is said that when one chakra is blocked, we are unable to access the more subtle chakras above it. So I thought it’d be helpful to go over these seven chakras as they relate to our mental health. I hope that it will bring some light to anyone who is searching for enlightenment, which I believe is anyone reading this article.

“Hindu and Buddhist traditions believe that when the flow of energy is blocked, it affects our body, our emotional state and our mind.”

The first chakra, Mooladhara Chakra, begins at the base of the pelvis and signifies the color red. This is where our survival needs are either being met or not. Are you able to feed yourself nutritious food and clean water? Do you feel safe, warm, and grounded most of the time? Are you living with a stress response or relaxation response throughout your day? 

If Mooladhara Chakra is closed off because survival needs are not being met, this will affect mental health. Without a sense of security, we will feel more anxious and unsure of what’s coming next. Instead of being able to trust ourselves, we instead will doubt our thoughts and decisions. In order to rebalance the Root Chakra, visualize the color red, and get back to the basics. It’s amazing what healthy food, exercise that you enjoy, good company, and clean space will do for your mental health.

The second chakra, Svadisthana Chakra, circles around the sacral area in the pelvis and signifies the color orange. After our survival needs are met then our emotional needs can be too. This includes dimensions such as sexuality, creativity, stress levels, social life, and living out our core values. If there have been past traumas or abuse in any of these areas, they are likely to be stored in the Sacral Chakra and won’t allow you to fully harness your other chakras. To find some relief, visualize the color orange, and focus on the feeling of joy. Reconnect to what inspires you and makes you feel like yourself. Take time for self-care and relaxation. Work with a therapist, coach, or healer of some sort to allow your emotional needs to be seen and heard. 

The third chakra, Manipura Chakra, is energy in the belly and signifies the color yellow. Like the sun, this is where transformation happens and relates to the fire element. Our self-confidence, discipline, and esteem are all factors here. Get this energy to open up by moving the physical body and sweating, or practice Kapalabhati pranayama, which is also known as “breath of fire.”

Research shows that regular practice of Breath of Fire helps reduce negative emotions, lower stress, and fights anxiety and depression. You can really feel the emotional release when you practice Kapalbhati pranayama.

The fourth chakra, Anahata Chakra, is the chakra we focused on most during the “Grateful Day Retreat” at Roxborough Park Community Center on November 16. It lives right at the heart center and symbolizes the color green. This is where our energy centers begin to transition from physical to subtle, which is why both visualization and physical postures can be supportive to open the Heart Chakra. To visualize, simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths with an awareness of your heart space. Imagine the color green swirling around, and ask yourself, “What is weighing on my heart?” See what comes up, and take time to reflect afterward.

Pictured below is an invigorating Acro Yoga pose that you can try with a partner. The base partner gets into a strong downward-facing dog while the flyer partner places feet on the outside of their hands facing away from them. Carefully, the flyer leans back until the low back touches the base’s spine. Gently continue to fold back to open the Heart Chakra in a supported standing backbend and then reach arms up overhead. Slowly curl the spine back up when ready, and return to a standing position. 

The fifth chakra, Vishuddha Chakra, is in our throat center and signifies the color blue. Whenever it feels hard to speak the truth, stand up for yourself, and communicate effectively, it’s because of blocks in the Throat Chakra. It can be helpful to first start journaling about what is causing that lump in the throat. Then, talk about it with a mutual third party that will deeply listen to what is happening without judgment. If you feel safe enough to address the person or talk about the thing that is causing you grief, then do so. We will feel this blockage in the throat anytime we are not being fully transparent or truthful with ourselves and others. The element of space, which we can connect to being in nature, and gazing into the big blue sky, can relax the throat to speak more clearly.

The sixth chakra, Ajna Chakra, is also known as our Third Eye or higher consciousness. It is located between the eyebrows and is associated with the color indigo. We are only able to truly connect with this chakra when the first five chakras are open to receiving its information. Instead of gut instincts, Ajna Chakra connects us with our divine intuition and deep inner knowing. When unable to access this energy, a person can feel a loss of hope and wisdom. Reconnecting to a spiritual practice or community can help build Third Eye guidance, and help you feel back on track with your deeper purpose.

The seventh chakra, Samsara Chakra, translates to Pure Bliss and is also known as the Crown Chakra. The color violet emanates here as a person is steeped in self-realization and enlightenment. It is very challenging to access Samsara Chakra because all the other chakras must be aligned in order to do so. It is the most subtle energy center so deep meditation and contentment from within will help you reach it. I believe I have gotten glimpses of this pure bliss energy after hours of asana, pranayama, and deep relaxation techniques. When we feel disconnected from Source or a higher purpose, it can manifest in the body as pain and suffering. A yogic lifestyle, or a spiritual life that feels deeply meaningful to you, will allow you to at least feel a connection to the soul that resides inside your physical body. 

The more I study yoga philosophy, the deeper I understand my own human experience and why I feel the way I do. So often we focus on our physical health, but what about our mental/emotional/spiritual health? I believe we all have these chakras and that these energies fluctuate based on our past experiences, current lifestyle, and future ambitions. We must start to address our whole being in order to understand why we are suffering and then what we can do about it that’s within our control.