Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pancha Maya Koshas

From the Hatha Yoga Retreat "Embodying Insight" October 2014. Conducted by Swami Krishnapremananda and Madhuri

Course participant comments: "Madhuri and Krishnaprem delivered the intended course with great sensitivity and skill.  Allowing for different levels of experience and emotional holding."

"I enjoyed the balance between practice and theory.  I liked the Pranayama exercises very much and that there was a choice of strength exercises.  I enjoyed the early morning Hatha Yoga combined with awareness exercises."

A Meditation with Swami Krishnapremananda on the Pancha Maya Koshas given during the Retreat
The inspiration for this practice comes from Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati.

Bring a spacious, relaxed yet alert attention to the practice.
Annamaya Kosha
Become aware of the physical body, the physical vehicle of your embodiment. Feel the contact between the base of the body and the ground… and the shape and position of the body in space. Take the awareness inside the body, sensing it from the inside. Sense the skeleton… the major organs… the heart beating… the channels of blood, nerve, lymph. Feel the physical sensations of the body – warm… cold… comfort… discomfort…openness… restriction. Feel the physicality of the body, created and sustained by the food you eat. It is a miracle, so complex yet so finely tuned. Feel the body, this vehicle through which we can experience manifest life.
Pranamaya Kosha
Become aware of the breath, however and wherever you feel it. Notice the quality of the breath, it’s relative smoothness, quietude and depth.  Be aware of the steady almost timeless rhythm of your breathing.
Be aware of the breath in the abdomen and watch the gentle movement of the breath.
Now expand this sensation to the whole body; feel that the whole body is breathing.  Every cell of the body is breathing.
Begin to sense the pranamaya kosha extending through the whole body as a field of energy which also extends all around the physical body to an arbitrary distance of 12 finger widths. The physical body is seated within this more expansive field or cocoon of vitality. This pranamaya kosha is continually, in each moment, being nourished and sustained by the prana, or the life force within the breath.
Manomaya kosha
Now become aware of the more subtle space of the mind: the field of thoughts, feelings, images and dreams at night. Continue to be aware of the steady rhythm of the breath but also be aware of the mind stream.  Neither clinging, rejecting or choosing – spacious relaxed yet alert awareness. Thoughts… feelings… images…memories…passing like clouds across the sky like space of the mind. Simultaneously be aware of the clear blue sky through which these clouds are passing.
Continue to be aware of the mind stream and the vast sky like space beyond.
Simple observation of thoughts and feelings… letting them come… letting them go.
Allow self-images also to arise, ‘I am a mother, a father, a student, a teacher....’   Whatever the self-images may be, allow these images to come and to go. No need to give them the stamp of reality; be light with such images as they arise.
Continue to be aware of both the mind stream and the clear blue sky beyond.
Vigyanamaya Kosha
And now identify completely with the clear blue sky, entering into the vigyanamaya kosha.  Visualise an eagle flying in the clear blue sky. See its strong balanced wings and sense its poise and freedom.  Become the eagle flying high and free… feel your easy and balanced flight, the air against your body and the vast space around you.  With your all seeing gaze you can view the patterns of the personality in a very different context and of being of little consequence.
Know that you are free, unbound, undisturbed. The vast space of the clear blue sky all around you. Your all seeing gaze clear and bright.
Anandamaya Kosha
Now see the shining sun, representing the anandamaya kosha, high above you, and direct your flight towards it. Fly ever higher towards the sun, as if being drawn into its very source. Fly yet higher… higher still… and feel the whole of your being being illuminated and infused with light and with joy... abundant light abundant joy. Feel that you are this scintillating light, this causeless joy, this shining sun…

Then there is simply radiance... Timeless, causeless, endless radiance....

And now be aware of the eagle once again, the clear blue sky around it. Become aware of the steady flow of the breath… and the arising once again of the mind stream. In this breath awareness begin to feel the outline, the shape and the weight of the physical body, and its contact with the ground. Be aware of where you are, the room in which you are seated, and any others around you. Be aware of sound perceptions from the external world and take your time to fully identify with your embodied existence before starting to move the body… and externalising your awareness.
Hari OM Tat Sat

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


An extract from the now updated Ashram publication: "Mantra Yoga and Ashram Chants" by Swami Nishchalananda.

A 27 bead mala, turquoise and rose quartz
Number of Beads and their Symbolism.

A mala is a string of  beads. The most common mala consists of 108 beads, although those of 27 and 54 are also used. In Yoga, 108 is considered a sacred number. The reason is as follows:
The number 1 represents Oneness, Unity, Perfection and Totality.
The number 8 symbolises Nature, the manifest universe, as well as the individual personality.
According to certain schools of Yoga, we are made up of 8 tattwas (subtle elements): prithvi (earth, solidity, structure), apas (water, fluidity; all fluids), agni (fire, chemical processes), vayu (air, electromagnetic forces), akasha (space), manas (individual mind), ahamkara
(ego, individuating principle) and buddhi (faculty which permits the flow of Awareness).
The 0 symbolises shoonya (transparency or emptiness).
A mala made in the Ashram
Therefore, the number 108 indicates that when there is complete transparency (0) between the individual personality (8) and the totality (1), there is a state of Transcendence. When the mind is empty of thought and mental agitation (0), then the individual (8) is in perfect osmosis with Consciousness (1). From the viewpoint of Yoga, the number 108 symbolises the fulfilment of human life. 
Japa encourages this transparency between the individual personality and underlying Consciousness. Therefore, the number of beads on the mala symbolise the purpose of doing Japa. The numbers 54 and 27 are important merely because they are divisions of 108. Moreover, the individual digits of all these numbers 27, 54, 108 and even 1008, always add up to 9. In numerology, the number 9 symbolises the perfection of human life. Therefore, whether you use a mala with 108, 54 or 27, or even 1008, it always symbolises the aim of Yoga: to lead us to perfection and realisation of our essential Nature.  Use a mala with whatever number of beads suits you. 

Tibetan style mala. 108 beads
The Structure of the Mala. 

The beads are separated from each other by a special kind of knot called a brahma granthi (literally, ‘the knot of Brahma’).The mala is made into a continuous loop by joining the two ends together using an extra bead, known as the sumeru (the summit), which is offset from the other beads. The sumeru bead is an essential part of the mala and is regarded as both the starting and ending point for all mala rotations. It acts as a reference point so that the practitioner can count the number of mala rotations during Japa.

How to Use the Mala.

The tips of the thumb and ring finger should lightly press together and the mala is supported, but not held, at their junction. The middle finger is used to rotate the mala. The second and small fingers are not used but are held away from the mala. Other traditions have other ways of holding the mala which are equally valid. For example, the mala is often held in the right hand, draped over the last three fingers and rotated with the thumb. Use whatever method you prefer. 

Crystal Mala. 27 beads
Start your practice at the sumeru bead. Rotate the mala, bead by bead, synchronised with each repetition of the mantra, until you return to the sumeru. This obstruction will tell you that you have finished one round of Japa.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Swami Gyan Dharma Satsang

Swami Gyan Dharma gives a talk to students towards the end of their teacher training course, discussing the value of regular sadhana and explains how yoga can brought into daily life.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Interview with Hridaya Purna

1.    When, and how, did you discover Yoga?

I was introduced to yoga by my eldest sister Caroline when I was 10.  She was 21 and at the time I was in total awe of her.  She was vegan, practicing hatha yoga in our house and an amazing woman.  The practices touched something deep within me and I was hooked.  Even then I was an avid reader and explorer and from that seed I started to read about yoga and yogic philosophy and develop a small practice. In my late teens I started to go to classes, deepen my practice and learn how to integrate yoga into my life.

2.    Can you describe your Yoga practice (what aspect of yoga most touches your heart)?   

Bhakti yoga really touches my heart.   I have devoted my life to embodying love and sharing that as service to the Divine.  I see love as the Divine aspect in all forms, all people, all life. I am currently training as an Interfaith Minister and can see how love is at the core of all the faith and mystical traditions.  I want to help other people to access that love in a way that is accessible and appropriate for this time.  I see this expressing itself fully through my personal yoga practice and my teaching.

3.    Can you describe how yoga affects your daily life?

Yoga expresses itself throughout my daily life. My core practice is devoted to embodying love. I'm not always successful but I do my best.  This expresses itself in a number of ways. Nurturing Hatha yoga practices for my body, Service and devotional practices for my heart and meditational practices for my mind.  I have also loved exploring the Kriya yoga practices as a way of freeing and exploring how to harness and use the potent energy within me.  The yoga of relationships is also my sadhana.  How can I embody the qualities taught to me through my yoga practices in all my relationships?  My challenge is to practice the universal philosophy of yoga in whatever context i am in as a business woman leading strategic meeting, whilst conducting a ceremony as an Interfaith Minister or when teaching yoga.

4.    Has there been a moment in your years of Yoga that stands out (or a peak experience & how did you integrate this experience?)

In January 2011, I had an experience that changed my life and how I view it forever. It felt like the culmination of all the practices that I have ever done over the years and more.  It came at a time where I was on sabbatical.  I was rested, relaxed, happy and I could dedicate everyday to yogic practices and inspired living.  I could label it a spiritual, psychic, awakening, enlightening and/or kundalini experience.  In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it. All that matters is that I had an unforgettable, unshakeable, unchanging, awe inspiring realisation that we are all connected that we are all one. Not just an intellectual understanding but a visceral, whole being experience of this universal truth at my core.  
 It was so powerful and amazing that it took 3 days of psychological assessment to find out that I could have that experience and still be completely sane.  (Well completely sane as anyone really is!).  I integrated this experience by making a commitment to live my life with full integrity, to have the courage to honour the truth of my spirit through my body, heart and mind.  I realised that it is my purpose to work and live in a way that helps to bring our global family together; to recognise that we are interconnected at our deep roots and that all beings have a part to play in our world story.  I believe that it is essential, for the good of all, that we nurture and be fully who we are and recognise that we are all connected at some level.  Hence my commitment to service and my work for The Nurturer.

5.    Is there a text/ book that you find inspiring?

I'm a little bit of a rebel and I am reading and enjoying Uma Dinsmore-Tuli's Yoni Shakti at the moment. Her book is well researched and written.  It explores yoga and tantra through history, practices and woman's perspectives. I like the radical stance that she takes on outing the sexual politics that can exist in yogic institutions.  I feel that this can sometimes get in the way of experiencing life fully as a yoga practitioner, especially as a woman.   Swami Nichschalananda has always emphasised the importance of questioning and experience rather than blind belief. I feel that this book helps practitioners to look for direct experience through practice and release some thought forms, structures and traditions that may not be relevant or useful for them. 

6.    Can you tell us about a favourite retreat or retreat centre? 
Hridaya Purna practicing Kubera Mudra

I love Mandala Yoga Ashram dearly.  It has been a crucible for learning, growth and inspiration for me.  I am eternally grateful for all that has been provided for me at the Ashram. I also have to say that my retreat centre in Barbados is pretty cool too.  I have been gifted with a space the brings love, beauty and transformation. Yoga is universal and I feel blessed to be able to share the practices that I have learned in the Caribbean. 

7.    Could you share one of your favourite quotes and say why it inspires you?

"One love, one heart. Let's get together and feel alright."  Bob Marley

It's simple and it fosters love and togetherness. It has the potential to bring more, peace, love and joy into the world. 

Ramana Maharishi
8.    If you could practice/study with any yogi (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?  

Ramana Maharishi - It would have been a blessing to sit in silence in his presence.  I have experienced the grace that he speaks about.  It would have be wonderful to personally experience how he emanated that grace during his life.  

Monica Douglas-Clark is a Mandala Yoga Ashram trained Yoga Teacher and Tutor.  Her yogic name is Hridaya Purna (fullness of the heart). She is an inspired Leader, Teacher and Coach on a mission to support people to live their inspired life. She is a sacred business woman, co-founder of Zion House retreat centre Barbados, dedicated holistic practitioner, Nurturing yoga teacher and teacher trainer, Moon Mother, workshop facilitator, Energy worker, Energy 4 Life Wellness Coach and Interfaith Minister in the making.

Visit the podcast The Nurturer Podcast with Monica Douglas-Clark for free resources
Twitter @MDCTheNurturer

Friday, 23 May 2014

Celebration for Tattwa Bodha

Dear Friends,
We intend to create a rose garden to celebrate the life of Tattwa Bodha and her significant contribution to Mandala Yoga Ashram.  As many of you know she loved roses and she beautified the ashram with them during the years she spent here.  The roses she planted continue to bloom.  Swamiji has given the name Samadhi Vanam for this garden.

Tattwa Bodha
The garden will include a paving stone circle with a bench, and at least 12 roses. The bench will be situated in the middle of the roses allowing people to sit and be surrounded by them.  Advice has been sought from David Austin Roses, a specialist breeder of English roses, as to which ones would be suitable for the Ashram climate.  The aim is to complete the project by the 29th July 2014, when there will be a special ceremony for Tattwa Bodha.

We invite contributions for this project and would like to raise £900.  This figure includes employing a professional to lay the stone circle.  
This rose is called Tranquillity 
Donations can be made by contacting the ashram office. 

Swami Atma is leading this project if you would like additional information.

Contact Details:
Telephone:  01558 685358
Address: Mandala Yoga Ashram, Pantypistyll,  Llansadwrn, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, SA19 8NR WALES, U.K.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Shambhavi Mudra

Compliled by Madhuri

In March, Swami Satyaprakash, Swami Krishnaprem and Madhuri led an In Service Training weekend on Mudra and Bandha and 20 participants attended.  The following is based on a handout given during this retreat. As with all yoga practices it is recommended that a practitioner seeks guidance from an experienced teacher before commencing practice. 

Explanation: Shambhavi Mudra is a meditative technique in which the eyes are open and a relaxed gaze directed towards Bhrumadhya (the eye brow centre).  It is widely referred to in yogic texts; the Gherand Samhita reveals the depth of the practice when it states that while turning the gaze towards Bhrumadhya, one should reflect on one’s real nature.

Awareness: With practice, Shambhavi Mudra changes one perception; throughout the day one may experience intuitive reminders to look beyond the appearance of things. 
A luminous daffodil. 
Objects take on a mysterious luminosity and joy is awakened in one’s heart.  After the practice, when the eyes are closed and relaxed, one is able to look into the Chidakasha (mind space) and see the space in which thoughts arise.  The mind can then become a spectacular display of energy rather than something to avoid or control. 

Definition Shambhavi is the name of the wife or consort of Shambhu (Gracious One; a name for Shiva who represents ‘Consciousness’).  Their connection is symbolic of spiritually transformative and unifying processes within the yoga practitioner. Shambhu encouraged Shambhavi to practice this Mudra diligently for the attainment of awakened awareness.  Shambhavi Mudra will cause Shambhu to appear before you!
It is also called “bhrumadhya drishti.” Bhru, eyebrow; Madhya middle or centre; drishti, gazing.
Shambhavi is an essential part of Kriya Yoga and a meditative practice in its own right. It is also a powerful practice for the awakening of the Agya Chakra (the third eye).

Benefits: As referred to above, on a deeper level, Shambhavi Mudra assists in reflecting on one’s deepest essence. The practice of gazing towards the eyebrow centre can awaken an apperception of Reality (Shambhu).
On the level of the mind it can reduce anxiety and emotional stress. It improves concentration and mental resolve.
Physically, Shambhavi Mudra helps to strengthen the eye muscles.

Position: A steady meditative posture.

The eyes are sensitive and so it is important not to strain.
Practise body awareness and establish a steady breathing rhythm.
Open the eyes and relax the eyes.
Look slowly upwards and direct the gaze towards Bhrumadhya.
With the eyes held in and up and two curved images of the eyebrow 
will merge to form a V-shaped image.
Release and close the eyes.
Fix the awareness on the Chidakasha (the mind screen).
When ready practise another round.
If you feel discomfort, stop the practice and relax the closed eyes.
With practice the gaze can remain at the eyebrow centre for several minutes.

Accessibility: As preparation, the yogic eye exercises may need to be practised to strengthen the eyes.  Also one can initially one can gaze at the tip of the index finger held at arms length.  Then slowly bring the tip of the finger towards the Bhrumadhya and transfer the awareness from the finger tip to Bhrumadhya itself.

Advancing the Practice (with instruction from an experienced teacher):
Stage One:     As above with normal breathing.
Stage Two:   With co-ordinated breathing. Breathe in to perform Shambhavi Mudra and out to release.
Stage Four: Internal Shambhavi Mudra; when the practice of external Shambhavi Mudra has been mastered. 
Stage Five:   With reflection on our essential nature. The Hatha Yoga Pradapika states: “After some time a light will appear when the eyes are open. After still more practice the light will appear when the eyes are closed.”

Shambhavi Mudra and the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra
                        Dharana 8 states:
                        Rapidly pump breath energy into the forehead.
                        Then concentrate on the eyebrow centre to free the mind of thought.
                        In this way you can realise Consciousness, which is Omni-present. 

Resourses:    Insight into Reality by Swami Nishchalananda
                       Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Muktibodhananda
                       Yoga and Kriya by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
                       Gherand Samhita (formally available from the Bihar School of Yoga 
                       but is now out of print.)

The chakras

The Path to Realise Our Fullest Potential and Fundamental Identity

By Swami Nishchalananda

This article is extracted from the Ashram Newsletter 2014, a free publication.  If you would like a copy please contact the Ashram Office.

The chakras are centres of energy within each human being which comprise our personality on all levels. They relate to specific physical organs, nervous plexuses, endocrine glands, emotional responses, mental patterns and psychic experiences within each of us, as well as, if we go deep enough, opening us up to spiritual insight. They function in each moment of our lives and, taken together, they encompass and embrace the entire spectrum of human experience.
In this article, we will consider the chakras mainly from a psychological perspective, and explore how harmonising the chakras can lead to us to deeper realisation of what we are and our place in the universal scheme of things.
Although the chakras are functioning in all of us, they tend to be blocked and imbalanced. Unblocking, harmonising and energising them brings profound changes in our understanding, perception and behaviour. They then become vehicles of self discovery, enabling us to truly fulfil our lives. Through practice, we can awaken hidden dimensions of our embodied existence. Moreover, by awakening the “higher” chakras[1] we start to realise our innate nature as Awareness; there is a quantum leap in our self-identity. This is why the chakras are so important in yoga and tantra.
The six major chakras are:
Sanskrit                      English                       Physical                        Key
name                          name                           location                         quality
mooladhara                    root centre                  perineum/cervix            physicality and instincts
swadhishthana                pelvic centre                pelvis                            sexuality and desires
manipura                       navel centre                navel/solar plexus         emotions and vital energy
anahata                         heart centre                heart/chest cavity          feelings, love & compassion
vishuddhi                       purification                 throat                             purification and communication
agya                             third eye                    centre of the head            thinking, intuition & knowledge.

Being energy patterns, the chakras do not have specific physical locations. However, for the sake of practice, in yoga and tantra, the chakras are given precise physical locations.
More subtle than these six chakras are the bindu (the causal body) and the sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus; the Source). These are explained later in this article.
In brief, the specific psychological qualities of each of the chakras are as follows.
Mooladhara chakra
The ‘root centre’ (moola, root; adhara, place) represents our body, the physical base of our personality and embodied existence. It is concerned with nourishment, health and safeguarding our physical survival by ensuring that we dedicate time and energy to seeking food and shelter.
Ego-state: ‘I am the physical body’.
Signs of balance: Good physical health and vitality, as well as being comfortable in our body and well grounded. Moreover, we are not overly attached to material things or the false security of possessions because we feel secure in ourselves.
Signs of imbalance: When we over-identify with our body, there is a tendency to overeat, which can result in obesity; obsession with money, our appearance, property and possessions; fear of change; addiction to physical security and rigid boundaries. On the other hand, a negative attitude to our body, may lead to disconnection from the body, negative self-image and being underweight.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: There may be inherited traumas and defects (i.e., genetic), birth trauma, childhood abandonment and physical neglect, poor physical bonding, poverty, malnutrition, major illness, physical and sexual abuse.
Ways of unblocking and healing: Reconnecting with the body, physical activity such as sport, walking, gardening, massage, eating good nourishing food and hatha yoga (complemented by other forms of yoga).
Addictions and compulsions: We tend to be addicted to all material things, more for the sense of security they bring than for their functional necessity or any pleasure that they bring. For example, we may hoard possessions because it gives us a feeling of security and meaning; we tend to be obsessed by a strong sense of territoriality and the attitude that this is ‘my property.’
Physiology and ailments: Specifically associated with the organs of elimination, the colon and anus, as well as with the perineal node which provides a focal point for the muscles around the pelvis and perineum. Associated diseases include constipation, haemorrhoids, colitis, varicose veins, lower back pain and inguinal hernia (though, in fact, all physical diseases will relate in some way or another to imbalance of the mooladhara).
Spiritual potential: With good physical health, we are enabled to look beyond the confines of our physical body and its needs. We are able to use the body as a vehicle to not only live our life fully, but to explore and express our greater potential, indicated by the other chakras, and awaken to our spiritual nature.
Swadhishthana chakra 
The six-petalled orange lotus is the symbol for Swadhisthana
 ‘One’s own abode’ (swa, one’s own; adhishthana, abode) represents the instinctive, subconscious realms, which are the basis of our personality. The swadhishthana gives us the capacity to experience sensory pleasure, whether in sex, eating or drinking. It also relates to our strong gender identification. Working on this chakra brings more awareness of how the subconscious impacts on our motivations and behaviour, revealing hidden aspects of our personality.
Ego-state: ‘I am a man/ woman’ and ‘I want to join sexually with another’. We enjoy beautifying ourself and dressing up as means to attract the attention of others.  
Signs of balance: At ease with our gender, viewing sexuality as a natural aspect of our existence and able to experience it in a conscious, joyful and spontaneous way, free of guilt and the feeling of sinfulness.
Signs of imbalance: If we have lots of sexual energy, but little of the mellowing influence of the “higher” chakras, we tend to over-indulge in sex, considering others as sexual objects; we use seductive manipulation, become enmeshed in obsessive attachment and jealousy; we tend to be addicted to pleasure, even those pleasures that are harmful, unhealthy and unnatural.
If we deny and suppress our sexuality, we tend to be rigid in body and attitudes, and fearful of sex; we may deny pleasure and lack vitality, passion and excitement; often we are riddled with guilt, have low self-esteem and are prone to depression.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: When we are young, the swadhishthana can be blocked by sexual abuse, neglect, coldness and rejection by our parents; emotional manipulation, as well as religious and moral (anti-pleasure) restrictions; we easily inherit issues from our parents who have not worked out their sexuality.
Ways of unblocking and healing: Inner child work, emotional release, enjoying healthy pleasures, enjoying the senses, sharing and exploring sexuality with a loving partner, as well as hatha yoga and other forms of yoga.
Addictions and compulsions: Over-indulgence in sex and pleasure; self-harm; obsessions in general.
Physiology and ailments: Relates to the sex organs and the sex glands (the gonads: in men, the testes; in women, the ovaries). Associated diseases include sexual problems of all types. In women, this includes premenstrual tension, amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, sterility and frigidity; in men, this includes prostatitis and impotence. This chakra also relates to lower back pain and kidney problems.
Spiritual potential: As we become more conscious of the “higher” chakras, our attitude and understanding regarding the swadhishthana changes. As well as being a means of physically, emotionally and mentally joining or uniting with another, sex becomes a transformative force or energy. Instead of ‘I want to join sexually with another’, one’s attitude becomes more like ‘I want to unite with my deeper Self through another’. We realise that sexual energy is a sacred gift. Instead of an object of sexual enjoyment, the ‘other’ becomes a partner on the path to deeper realisation – his/her pleasure is as important as our own.
Manipura chakra
The ‘city of jewels’ (mani, jewel; pura, city), is so called because each one of us can be compared to a city with multifarious activities simultaneously taking place. This is particularly true of the manipura, or solar plexus, which is our powerhouse. It is the centre of vitality and generates energy that animates every action and thought. It gives us the energy and aspiration to express ourselves in the world and our capacity to fulfil our ambitions. When this chakra functions smoothly we are able to express and act effectively in the world with abundant energy and willpower.
The solar plexus is widely called ‘the abdominal brain’; through it, we can ‘feel’ situations. We often have a 'gut feeling' or a 'twinge' in the abdomen which tells us that something is not quite right. We can 'sense' situations directly through the manipura without being censored by the intellect. The manipura is sensitive to emotions, and is also the depository of suppressed emotions.
The diaphragm is the dividing line between the lower instinctual and the higher intellectual and intuitive levels of man. In one Amerindian tradition, the diaphragm is compared to the surface of the earth: below lies the instinctive, animal aspects of human nature; above are the higher aspects. This analogy exactly applies to the manipura chakra.
Ego-state: ‘I will do’ or ‘I am able to do’. We express our personality in action. To develop and evolve this chakra, we have to learn how to express ourselves in the world, in thought, word and deed.
Signs of balance: Efficient in our actions, combined with a willingness to engage with the world and take responsibility for our actions; good self-esteem and confidence, and a sense of our personal capacity to meet challenges; not afraid to make mistakes; able to combine strength with sensitivity; enjoyment and enthusiasm for life; and we listen to gut feelings.
Signs of imbalance: When there is an excess of energy, but it is imbalanced, we try to ‘pump’ energy instead of allowing energy to flow; that is, we push ourselves beyond reasonable limits. Though we may get the job done, our actions are overly aggressive, tend to harm others and create disharmony and even accidents. We are prone to uncontrolled anger and violent outbursts, need to have the last word, are power hungry and need to control. We have driving ambition (type A personality), are overly competitive, over stressed (often needing to diminish stress through sedatives) and hyperactive. We tend to be arrogant, lack flexibility and need other people’s approval (disguised by emotions such as bravado and showiness). We have a sense of worth only through doing.
If we suppress or fear expressing ourself in action, leading to deficient energy expressing through the manipura, we tend to be weak willed, easily manipulated, stubborn, doing what is expected (overly obedient), have low self-esteem, lack confidence, blame others as a way of denying what we can and should do ourselves. We are often unwilling to act, poor at following through and feel powerless. We tend to be emotionally inhibited (with latent, unexpressed anger), lack spontaneity, fear moving out of our comfort zone, need other people’s approval and have poor digestion.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: When we are young, domination by parents, a dangerous environment, fear of punishment, excessive punishment without explanation, emotional manipulation, authoritarianism, physical abuse and humiliation by parents or authority figures (e.g., ‘You’re so stupid, you can’t do anything right.’).
Ways of unblocking and healing: Working on suppressed emotions using any combination of the following:
§          asanas (yogic postures)
§          pranayama (controlled breathing practices), especially those that work on the solar plexus and diaphragm so that we can liberate knots of energy which are tied up in fear and aggression
§          meditation so we start to become more aware of our mental and emotional patterns, especially negative ones
§          relaxation (including yogic deep relaxation, such as yoga nidra) which reduces stress and releases negative emotions
§          satsang (association with fellow yogic practitioners, or people who are looking more deeply at their lives) which gives us clarity to face the causes of our disruptive emotions
§          visualisation, where, for example, we feel that blockages and knots in the solar plexus are being dissolved in light, perhaps yellow coloured light
§          discussing our emotions with like-minded, understanding people
§          earthing practices, such as physical work of all types, including sport and karma yoga
§          learning not being scared of failure (after all, we learn through failure)
§          emotional support from friends and family.
Addictions and compulsions: The need for power and control (‘control freaks’), the need to be always right and the use of amphetamines to stimulate or barbiturates to tranquillise.
Physiology and ailments: Relates to the solar plexus (hence it is widely known as the ‘solar orb’ or the ‘solar centre’), the diaphragm, the adrenal glands and the digestive system.  Many people overuse the manipura chakra because of insecurity – they have to prove themselves and in so doing, they hype up the energy in the system. This leads to imbalance and, in time, may bring about the onset of a stress-related disease such high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, ulcers, liver or digestive problems.
Spiritual potential: By integrating the qualities of the “higher” chakras, we become less ruthlessly competitive. Though the modern world places a high value on competition and aggression (in business, people are often rewarded for being aggressive in their approach!!), these traits tend to block the deepening and evolution of the manipura. Of course, we should cultivate and unfold our capacity to act efficiently in daily life, but more through cooperation than competition and aggression.
Through exploring the “higher” chakras our attitude regarding the manipura chakra changes. Instead of ‘I will do’, we are motivated more by ‘I am an instrument’, or ‘Thy will be done’. We start to understand the deeper meaning of karma yoga (the yoga of action with Awareness) and practise it. We aspire to be a perfect instrument and we develop an effective will, not so much in an ego sense, but the knowing that ultimately it is cosmic Will that expresses through us.
Anahata chakra 
The Six-Pointed Star- the Symbol for Anahata Chakra
The ‘centre of non-vibrational sound’ (anahata, non-vibrating) is the heart chakra through which we begin to connect with a wider sphere of existence and are enabled to feel and express love and compassion.
Loving and being loved is one of our innermost core needs. Through giving love (and this starts with self love, care and acceptance) we open ourselves to receiving love and inner fulfilment.
In some traditions, such as Sufism and bhakti yoga, the anahata is considered to be the centre of each human being since it integrates the qualities of the “lower” chakras with those of the “higher” chakras.
Everything in the universe is based on vibrational energy. The root of the anahata is said to be in God, or Consciousness – so subtle that it has no vibration. In yoga, it is symbolised by a flame which represents the eternal spark of life and immortal Awareness in each of us.
Ego-state: ‘I love’, ‘I feel’, ‘I give’ and ‘I share’. One cares for others – whether it is the love of a mother or father for a child, the love between committed couples, or platonic love between friends.
Signs of balance: Being capable of loving others and of being loved; unconditional love; giving and sharing with others, whether possessions, time and energy, ideally without ulterior motive; compassion and caring for others; empathy; cooperation; altruism; appreciation of the mystery of the universe; care for the environment; feeling that, despite appearances and all the strife in the world, all is as it should be.
Signs of imbalance: When there is lots of energy in the anahata, but it is not balanced by wisdom (i.e., the agya), we tend to get overwhelmed with strong feelings and emotions: we easily plunge into love affairs and perhaps needy love, with a sense of dependency; we are prone to jealousy; often we have a martyr complex (i.e., sacrificing ourself for others at the cost of our own health).
When there is little energy in the anahata, we may tend to deny our natural need for love and withdraw from relationships; we are prone to self-love (narcissism), self-centredness, lack of love and concern for others, perhaps manipulating love for selfish purposes; there is often a fear of intimacy. We tend to cling to others, lack empathy, and suffer loneliness and depression.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: During childhood, rejection or abandonment, lack of love, denial of feelings, constant belittlement, sexual abuse and being told by our parents ‘I love you’ whilst knowing by their behaviour that it is patently not true; blockages in the “lower” chakras.
Ways of unblocking and healing: All forms of yoga, including hatha yoga, mantra yoga (chanting and singing, especially in a group) and bhakti yoga; visualisation; meaningful relationships; social service or charity work; forgiveness and releasing emotions (catharsis) by talking with others about our feelings.
Addictions and compulsions: Self-hate and self-harm; addiction to romanticism (unrealistic views of love); jealousy; obsessions.
Physiology and ailments: Related to the heart, circulatory and respiratory systems. Associated diseases include respiratory diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis, bronchitis and pneumonia, skin and lymphatic problems; and breast cancer. It is connected to the thymus gland and, in turn, with the lymphatic system. As such, it relates to all types of allergic and infectious ailments. A well-balanced anahata enables the body to resist all types of infectious diseases more effectively.
Spiritual potential: With the awakening of the “higher” chakras, the anahata undergoes a radical transformation. Instead of ‘I love’, one feels that ‘God loves through me’; ‘I feel’ becomes ‘God feels through me’; ‘I give’ becomes ‘God gives through me’; and ‘I share’ becomes ‘God shares through me.’ (Instead of ‘God’ you can read ‘Consciousness’, ‘Reality’ or the Universe.) We start to care for others, unconditionally, and we truly feel empathy not only for other humans but for all sentient creatures. Moreover, we feel awe at the beauty, enormity and complexity of nature and the universe in which we live.
Vishuddhi chakra
The ‘chakra of purification’ (vishuddhi, purification) symbolises the level of understanding at which we start to realise the importance of purification on all levels: that the quality of our life depends on a healthy body, harmonious emotions and a clear, uncomplicated mind. Knowing this, we start to detoxify our body by eating a more sensible diet (with occasional indulgences!) and actively work on ourselves to be free of emotional blockages and dogmatic thinking by practising yoga or other health and life-enhancing systems. A body which is reasonably free of toxins is able to catalyse the more profound energies of the “higher” chakras.
As the emotions and mind become harmonious and calmer, there is a sense of spaciousness. This allows us to commune with deeper levels of our being and thereby enables us to communicate with others more effectively. Therefore this chakra is also known as the ‘communication chakra’. As our contact with the vishuddhi deepens, we develop the capacity to communicate more powerfully on all levels: verbally, intellectually, aesthetically (through music, etc.) and psychically (e.g., telepathically).
Ego-state: ‘I aspire to health and harmony’ and ‘I communicate’.
Signs of balance: Despite its ups and downs, and its problems, we feel contented with life; we take full responsibility for our health, by actively eating good, nourishing food and living life in a way that is conducive to harmony; clear communication as well as the capacity to communicate deeper truths that have been realised; creativity; life becomes a process of expressing deeper understanding; we tend to have a resonant voice, become a good listener, and have a good sense of rhythm.
Signs of imbalance: When there is lots of energy in the vishuddhi, but not much wisdom, we tend to live in chaos, moving from one drama to the next, not realising that the quality of our life depends on the quality and health of our mind, emotions and body. In communicating, we tend to use a lot of empty, meaningless words, talk too much, like the sound of our own voice and indulge in gossip; we may even talk as a means of defence, or try to dominate through the voice; we may constantly interrupt, be incapable of listening and fear that being frank and honest may upset others.
When we are blocked at the vishuddhi, we tend to have difficulty communicating, often being dishonest to oneself and to others, perhaps tell too many lies and fibs; we have a fear of speaking and feel debilitating shyness; we may fear our own thoughts and feelings (thereby unable to put them into words and share them with others) and be secretive; we may have a weak voice, be tone deaf and have a poor sense of rhythm.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: When young, we may suffer verbal abuse, being yelled at, excessive and undue criticism, authoritarian parents (‘don’t talk back’/‘kids should be seen not heard’/’do what you are told’), mixed messages, threats for telling and being honest, being obliged to be thankful for something we don’t want, dishonesty, being asked to apologise for something unjustly, and expected to be nice to someone we don’t like; fear of expressing ourselves.
Ways of unblocking and healing: Hatha yoga, mantra yoga (singing and chanting), as well as meditation; telling and hearing stories; writing, mouna (periods of silence), non-goal orientated creativity and listening (and so being listened to); honestly expressing ourselves, saying ‘it as it is’.
Addictions and compulsions: Excessive talking, gossiping, telling white lies/ fibs, overly attached to cleanliness and purity, perhaps even overly prudish and moralistic.
Physiology and ailments: Associated with the thyroid and parathyroid glands, the vocal cords and the larynx. It is related to stammering and shyness. Moreover, since the vishuddhi is the purificatory centre, it is related to all kinds of coughs, colds and fevers, such as laryngitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis and sinusitis, which are related to processes for purifying the body of toxins.
Spiritual potential: As we become more aware (i.e., more in touch with the agya chakra), the feeling ‘I can communicate the truth’ or 'I can communicate the truth of my Being' becomes more dominant. At a deeper level, when there has been a glimpse of the bindu (see later), our feeling becomes more like ‘Consciousness, or God, communicates through me.’
Agya chakra
The ‘control centre’ (agya, control, command, or guidance) of our personality. The agya functions at different levels, as:
§          the pituitary gland which controls the entire hormonal system
§          the brain which controls the entire nervous system and body
§          thoughts which control our behaviour and attitudes.
The agya encompasses and controls all these levels of our embodied existence. However, it also functions as a channel for intuitive flashes.
This is why the agya is widely known as the ‘third eye’: it gives us the capacity to ‘see’ innerly and to access intuitive understanding that pertains not only to our daily life (for example, you think to phone your friend, only to find that your friend phones you at that very moment) but also into more subtle phenomena normally not visible to our two fleshy eyes. Moreover, the agya controls (‘keeps an eye on’) the other chakras. As we start to access the agya, intuition becomes an essential factor in our capacity to understand.
Ego-state: ‘I know’, ‘I understand’, or ‘I realise’, ‘I am an embodied being’ and ‘I am aware of whatever is going on here and now’.
The ego-identification depends on what we think we are. This sense of ego changes, perhaps imperceptibly, in the course of our lives as part of the evolutionary process. It radically changes and deepens through practices such as yoga and tantra, which put us in touch with unconscious aspects of our being, such as intuition and telepathy. Our sense of individual self expands. As the agya awakens, we are able to integrate previously hidden potentialities into our 'concept' of self.
Signs of balance: Access to different levels of understanding, including not only intellectual but also intuitive; as such, we become perceptive, both externally and internally; we are able to see connections between seemingly disparate events or concepts; we start to remember dreams, appreciate symbolism, both in myth and nature; our self-identification is more with inner ‘spaciousness’ or the inner ‘plenum’ than with thoughts; our mind becomes more lucid, sky-like.
Signs of imbalance: When there is lots of energy in the agya, but without depth, we tend to be overly busy and fast, yet scattered; over intellectual (not in touch with feelings and intuition), even denying our intuitive faculties, believing that thinking is the only way to understanding; as such, we think too much and are attached to concepts, taking them to be real in themselves (i.e., taking the map to be the reality); we are not able to look within and have difficulty concentrating; we tend to have an inflated sense of self-importance.
When we are predominantly dull (i.e., there is little energy expressing in the agya), we tend to have poor or negative self-image, have little intellect and even deluded thinking processes; we are prone to adhere to and blindly follow dogmas and belief systems; we are easily driven, or motivated by delusions and obsessions; poor memory; difficulty imagining alternatives to the obvious; lack of imagination; using the mind to manipulate situations, to cheat or misguide others; and lack of inspiration.
Causes of blockages and imbalance: According to yogic philosophy, many blockages are archetypal and genetic (known as samskaras) – that is, we are born with them. Many also arise from childhood, such as negation of our capacities, lack of respect from elders (who probably don’t respect themselves); our place in the family, school or society is dismissed or diminished; we may suffer constant criticism and are not encouraged to develop understanding in any sense; there may be constant, said or unsaid, pressure to conform and adhere to a dogma or prejudice.
Ways of unblocking and healing: Yogic practices in general; deep relaxation (such as the practice of yoga nidra); meditation; guided visualisation; exploration of dreams; counselling (examining one’s life aided by a trained person); examining and questioning our beliefs and concepts (as in satsang); visual art; art therapy; music and mantra; hypnosis; and past life regression.
Addictions and compulsions: Too much thinking; over intellectualisation; chronic anxiety; attachment to quirky habits; self-criticism; always apologising unnecessarily for one’s actions; repetitive, meaningless actions; and idiosyncratic behaviour.
Physiology and ailments: Related to the pituitary gland and the brain with all its faculties. It also relates to all mental processes including the intellect, intuition and psychic powers. Imbalance can lead to all kinds of mental and psychosomatic disorders, psychic stress, chronic anxiety, indecision and existential problems, such as lack of meaning and ennui.
Spiritual potential: Accessing the deeper qualities of the agya, we tend to become more mentally and emotionally balanced, even in difficult situations. New levels of understanding open up to us. The energies and understanding which the agya represents have a direct influence on the other chakras (i.e., other levels of our embodied personality). As such, when the agya is functioning well, the other chakras also start to function harmoniously. Even if the energies in the other chakras get out of hand, a healthy agya allows us to handle them.
As we start to access the deeper aspects of the agya, we are able to receive, through the medium of intuition, inner guidance from the core of our being (the inner guru), or from our spiritual teacher (the outer guru). We realise that the outer and inner guru are one and the same.
At the agya chakra all opposites are integrated: good and bad, spiritual and worldly, negative and positive and so forth. It is the crossroads where we are able to see both sides of the coin of life. Dualities, contradictions and conflicts start to be resolved and integrated into a wider vision of oneself, life and existence. We still play the game of life which demands that we make decisions (thereby moving into duality), but more and more we tend to abide in spaciousness. Most importantly, we start to realise that our fundamental nature of Awareness is beyond duality. We start to realise and access the bindu (see next heading).
Bindu: the causal body 
Symbol for Bindu
The bindu (bindu, point) is the root of our individuality through which our individual consciousness, or Awareness, is ‘plugged’ into the underlying Consciousness. It is not a chakra as such because it is not directly related to our personality. It is the causal body, which is the archetypal pattern for our individual embodiment; moreover, the bindu is the conduit for Awareness – that which allows us to be conscious. In yoga and tantra, the bindu is also known as the ananda-maya kosha, the blissful sheath.
Through insight[2] we can realise that the bindu is the nucleus of our embodied existence and that Awareness is the deeper reality of our existence. This realisation, which may arise during meditation or through contemplation, completely changes our whole attitude to life, ourselves and others. Instead of totally identifying with our personality, we simultaneously identify with Awareness, the conscious presence which flows into our moment-to-moment experience of life. Moreover, Awareness, or Consciousness, is not only our essential nature, but the essential nature of everyone.
The bindu is more subtle than the physical body; however, for the purpose of practice and symbolism it is assigned a physical location in the body, namely, at the back of the head.
Ego-state: Though the bindu is the root of our sense of individuality, in itself it is beyond the ego. Therefore, identifying with the bindu we can only say 'I am' without adjuncts and definitions. Though the personality-cum-body-mind still functions, the sense of ego identification is not there.
Symptoms: The bindu exists on the threshold between the individual consciousness, or Awareness, and the cosmic Consciousness. Therefore it does not have any mental-emotional symptoms. However, we can say that when we realise the bindu and start to identify with Awareness, there are exhilarating tremors of joy which percolate into the body-mind. This engenders a spiritual identification with, and complete trust in Spirit, or Consciousness.
Reasons why we don’t realise the bindu: The bindu functions all the time; otherwise we would not be here on planet Earth! It is the very core of our conscious embodied existence. However, specific mental-emotional characteristics tend to prevent us realising it. These include:
§          our strong sense of ego and identification with the body-mind
§          attachments to thinking and intellectualisation
§          attachments to habits and addictions, especially those related to the “lower” chakras
§          materialism – the unquestioned assumption that matter is the basis for existence
§          attachments to, and identification with, possessions
§          lack of guidance and satsang (which is indispensable in removing misconceived ideas and beliefs)
§          attachment to blind and rigid beliefs
§          lack of motivation to question
§          unavailability to insight or grace (yoga and other mystical paths help us to be available and receptive).
All of us are attached to life; otherwise we would not be here. All of us like to be surrounded by people we care for and things which are meaningful. This is part of the joy and experience of life. The problem arises, from a yogic perspective, when we are dependent on our attachments for self-meaning and identification. Attachments tie us down to the small picture. Through meditation, introspection and following any spiritual path, including yoga, we open up to the wider picture which encompasses everyone and everything.
We do not need to relinquish our responsibilities, family and friends. Life should go on, but simultaneously, we should be willing to be open to the unexpected and the unknown – open to new possibilities. Attachments keep us bound to what we know and do from the perspective of the ego; they tie us down to the limited. By letting go, becoming ‘lighter’ with ourselves and our attachments, we become more spacious. We open up to a wider spectrum of energies. We start to trust the wisdom of the universe, symbolised by the bindu.
Ways of opening up to the bindu:
§          yogic practice in general, including meditation
§          reflection/ contemplation on the question ‘Who or what am I?’
§          satsang (sharing with like-minded people who are looking deeper)
§          being available to new experiences, intuitions and insight
§          paying attention to what is going on inside and relating it to what is going on outside – i.e., being more aware
§          being humble (i.e., not thinking that we know everything).
Addictions and compulsions: There are no mental-emotional addictions and compulsions. If anything, at an existential level, there is the ‘addiction’ or ‘compulsion’ ‘to be.’ That is, on the level of Consciousness, there is the desire to ‘be’ or ‘exist’ – the desire to take form and experience the ‘world of change’ (Sanskrit, samsara). This is a desire that exists before we are born, a throb of primal desire that starts to vibrate in the infinity of Consciousness. How or why? This is a mystery beyond explanation.
Spiritual illumination arises from the bindu, where Consciousness, the sahasrara, ‘knows’ or ‘realises’ itself. We can say that Consciousness realises itself, as Awareness, through the causal body.
Sahasrara: the thousand-petalled lotus
Though the word sahasrara literally means ‘a thousand’, it really implies ‘the Infinite’, the Fountainhead, Reality, the Absolute, or Consciousness. Mystically, the sahasrara is beyond time, space and all objects, and yet it is the source of them. Consciousness is the Reality that existed before the creation came forth, or in scientific terms, that which existed before the big bang; it is that which exists at the heart of everything Now; and it is that which will exist eternally beyond endless time in the future. It is the ever present stage on which the drama of time plays out. This Reality is summed up in the following statement by the Chinese mystic Chao-chou:[3]
Even before the world was, Reality is.
The sahasrara transcends all the chakras and includes them all within itself. It can be realised in samadhi (the absorption into Consciousness), the mystical state which takes place when the ego-personality temporarily evaporates. It may also arise when one is washing the dishes or sitting on the toilet! One identifies not with the limited personality, but with Consciousness, the universal Spirit.
In the western mystical traditions the sahasrara is called the ‘crown’ since it is symbolically located at the crown of the head and because it is the culmination and consummation of our evolutionary journey. We realise what we have always been as Consciousness and that our ‘trip’ to planet Earth was a grand illusory drama, sometimes pleasant sometimes painful. All our problems and anxieties were, and are, just bubbles in Eternity. We realise that there was not, is not and never will be a path to realise Consciousness. We are ever Consciousness. Ultimately, there is no need to realise anything: I Am and everything IS. However from the perspective of our life and our identification with our individual self, we aspire to realise what we already are. So we practise yoga and awaken the chakras, as outlined in this article.
The Chakras: the Path of Return
In introducing the bindu and the sahasrara, we have flown into the mystical realms, beyond thought and concept. But the chakras are dynamic aspects of our embodied personality which relate to our everyday life. By exploring them, we start to discover previously hidden and unsuspected potential in ourselves. They reveal joy, meaning and wisdom which allow us to live in heaven, but on planet Earth. Exploring the chakras can be invaluable on our life’s path to awakening.
The Edge of Infinity , published by Mandala Yoga Ashram, chapter 2:
‘The Chakras – an Introduction’ which is a more classical, symbolic and energy-based explanation of the chakras.
‘The Chakras: Keys to a Quantum Leap in Human Evolution’ which gives an explanation of the evolutionary and ecological perspective of the chakras.

[1] The mooladhara, swadhishthana and manipura are often considered “lower’, whilst the anahata, vishuddhi and agya are considered “higher”. Ultimately, nothing is higher or lower. When speaking of high and low in relation to the chakras, there is no judgmental connotation intended. One is often under the impression that the quicker the “lower” chakras are discarded, the better! This is not the case. They are not only an essential part of our lives but indispensable in our evolution. We do not need to reject but rather balance them by awakening the so-called “higher” chakras.
[2] For the sake of clarity, I have chosen to define intuition and insight to be different: intuition arises within the agya and concerns the world and the mind, whilst insight arises from the bindu in which there is a quantum shift in our self-identity.
[3] Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen (778-897), Chinese Chan, or Zen, master.