Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I have been practicing yoga on and off for a few years now, first taking classes at the YMCA, then Butterfly Yoga, which I still frequent when I can. But lately my schedule has been so hectic that the only way to get my yoga practice in is at home on my own or with a video. Videos are usually more fun because of the instruction and music, but a truly good yoga video is hard to find.
Many of the DVDs I have used in the past were either too basic or focused too much on one particular part of the practice, like breathing. Breathing is very important, of course, but because I do yoga for strength as well as peace of mind, I needed something to get my blood going.
When I brought home "Chakra Wakening" (2009, http://www.chakrawakening.com, $25), I was skeptical. I had heard of the seven chakras, but I was not sure that awakening them would also give me a good workout.
"Chakra Wakening" developer Suzanne Jackson explains that the seven chakras are "energy centers located along the spine and are a nexus for moving energy throughout the body." The word "chakra" is a Sanskrit word meaning "wheel." Chakras are linked to a particular nerve, gland or organfor example, when awakening and balancing the fourth chakra, the heart and circulatory system are supposed to be strengthened and stimulated as well.
"Chakra Wakening" guides the viewer through a mix of yoga poses and qigong (pronounced "Chee-gong") exercises to stimulate and strengthen the body. The strengthening part was what I was most interested in, but I had never practiced qigong before, so I was naturally curious. Wikipedia defines qigong as "an internal Chinese meditative practice which uses slow, graceful movements (and sometimes breathing techniques) to promote the circulation of qi within the human body, and enhance a practitioner's overall health." Qi, pronounced "chee," is the energy flow in the body.
The video was filmed on location at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia, Pa., a peaceful yet colorful setting, appropriate for chakra work because each of the seven chakras is linked to each color of the rainbow and to a musical tone beginning with C. If you recall learning "Roy G. Biv" to remember the colors of the rainbow, "Chakra Wakening" takes you through each chakra in that order, beginning with red.
The music changes keys with each sequence as well. Music is of key importance to Suzanne Jackson, a professional singer and voice instructor. She incorporates yoga and qigong into vocal practice and teaches other singers to use these exercises as well.
The warm-up consisted of some basic yoga positions with qigong added in to awaken the sensesmassaging the scalp, gently pounding the arms, legs and back with closed fists, and massaging the throat. Qigong, I learned, can seem silly at times, but if you are truly focused on your intention, your skin will indeed feel energized, and your mind a bit more alert.
I can imagine that practicing along with "Chakra Wakening" early in the morning would be ideal, if you have the timethe video is 58 minutes long. I practiced along with the video over the weekend, and I don't get up early on weekends, but I did feel rejuvenated all the same.
After warming up, Jackson leads the viewer through each of the seven chakras, beginning with the root and ending with the crown. Happily, I found that familiar yoga poses such as tree, warrior, and bridge were included, and the sun salutations in chakra three were challenging enough for me to feel the burn. There are some terrific abdominal/core strengthening exercises in this chakra as well. When practicing qigong, you may want to leave your blinds closed, unless you are more graceful and coordinated than I am. You will find yourself nearly dancing in the chakra two section, but as Jackson suggests, these movements can help you break through a creative block.
In chakra seven, the mind is allowed to calm down and the focus is on breathingas with most yoga practices, meditation and relaxation are always a welcome end to the session. The hope in working through each Chakra is that by the conclusion, the practitioner will feel well-balanced, loved and healthy. I have to admit I did feel better upon completionbody strengthened and mind energized. And while it is possible to just work through one particular Chakra if you feel there is a blockage in that area, I think I benefited most from practicing all seven, ensuring that although my outward body may not look coordinated, my energy body, my qi, was in balance.
"Chakra Wakening" DVD is available on the Internet at http://www.chakrawakening.com.
Yoga: More Than 'Just Stretching'
Bow pose (dhanurasana), stretches the entire front of the body, while strengthening the back. The pose also opens and strengthens the shoulders.
The three warrior poses pay homage to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Warrior I (virabhadrasana I), stretches the chest and strengthens the back, shoulders and thighs.
One-legged downward facing dog (eka pada adho mukha svanasa), calms the brain, and stretches and strengthens shoulders and hamstrings. As a weight-bearing pose, it also helps prevent osteoporosis.
Side plank (vasisthasana) requires core, leg, arm and shoulder strength, and improves balance and wrist strength.
Camel pose (ustrasana), like all yoga backbends, improves posture by strengthening the back and opening the front of the body. It also strengthens the neck.
The Seven Chakras (source: http://www.chakraenergy.com)
Root Chakra or Muladhara – associated with red and located at the base of the spine. The root deals with the most basic human need to exist and survive.
Spleen Chakra or Svadisthana – associated with orange and located below the navel in the lower abdomen. This chakra deals with feelings, social and intimacy issues.
Solar Plexus Chakra or Manipura – associated with yellow and located above the navel. Solar plexus deals with personal power, ego and self-esteem.
Heart Chakra or Anahata – associated with green and located in the center of the chest. Deals with relationships and love, both for others and for one's self.
Throat Chakra or Visuddha – associated with blue and located in the throat area. Deals with communication and trust issues.
Third Eye Chakra or Anja – associated with indigo and located in the forehead, between the eyes. This chakra deals with intuition and insight.
Crown Chakra or Sahasrara – associated with violet and located in the top of the head. The crown chakra deals with "learning about one's spirituality" and a relationship or connection to a higher power.