Find Your Roots
Before we dive into the Root Chakra, perhaps a general overview of the Chakras is in order. “Chakra” translates as “wheel” or “disc” and refers to energetic clusters in the subtle body. There are seven major chakras located along the spinal column. These chakras are found where the three major “nadis”, or energy channels, intersect. Picture one central channel running up your spine (Sushumna Nadi) and two other energy channels wrapping around it in a double helix formation (Ida and Pingala Nadis).
We can learn to clear, balance and energize our chakras to bring health and balance to our lives. A balanced chakra system bridges heaven and earth, male and female, mind and body, above and below, inner and outer, matter and consciousness. (Anodea Judith, Chakra Yoga). There are many techniques for clearing the Nadis and balancing the Chakras, including Asanas (physical yoga postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques), Karma (right action) and meditation.
The practice of Kundalini Yoga is focused on clearing the Chakras to pave the way for the ascension of Kundalini energy. As the story goes, “Shakti,” the Hindu Goddess of primordial energy is what everything is made of - the basic life force within and around you. It is said she is always seeking Shiva, her divine partner, who represents pure consciousness. In her search, Shakti rises up the spine, piercing and awakening each chakra in turn. In this way, she becomes Kundalini-Shakti -- the vital energy that awakens the chakras.
Kundalini-Shakti is depicted as a serpentlike goddess, who is coiled around the root chakra. When awakened, she journeys up the spine, piercing and activating each chakra. At the crown chakra, she merges with Shiva, and is united with Shiva in blissful union. Her awakening is not always gentle, she pushes up against blocks until they are dissolved. The practice of opening the chakras, paves the way for Kundalini-Shakti, so that we too can experience blissful union. (Anodea Judith, Chakra Yoga) When a Chakra is balanced, the benefits of that Chakra are realized. When it is out of balance, certain symptoms of dysfunction can manifest in your life. A chakra can become imbalanced within itself, or in relation to other chakras. For example, someone who is not very grounded in their lower chakras, may live in their head or use excessive spirituality.
“Granthi” is the Sanskrit word for “knot” and refers to the stuck places in your chakras, places where the Sushumna Nadi gets locked up and does not allow the prana (life-force) to pass through. That’s why they speak of the Kundalini-Shakti energy piercing each Chakra, un-tying these knots. These knots are places where we are “not” - places of constriction and resistance inside ourselves. Our work is to untie these knots. On the other hand, Bandhas, which we use in yoga class, are the practice of creating knots on purpose in order to help the prana flow to new places. When the knots are held, the prana builds up, when the knots are released, the prana flows. The Mula Bandha is the Root lock, related to Chakra 1, and is located in the pelvis. Uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock, is related to Chakra 3, and is located in the Solar Plexus. The Jalandhara bandha is the chin lock, and is related to Chakra 5, the throat chakra.
The first chakra is the Root Chakra, located at the base of the spine and the pelvic floor, and even extends to the legs and feet. The root chakra is concerned with our biological needs for food, shelter and safety. It is about our physical being, and our connection to Mother Earth. This chakra involves your survival instinct and fear of abandonment by others. It’s healing emotion is trust. The root chakra is about grounding, stability, security and support-- cultivating a grounded and safe relationship with the world. Each chakra has a color, a sound, and even an element. The Root Chakra is red, is the sound “Lam” and is governed by the Earth element.
One way to connect with the Root Chakra is to fully inhabit your body. It is essential to fully inhabit your body in order to connect with your inner body… where your true self, and the divine resides. The key to inhabiting your body is to embrace the first chakra element, which is the earth. The density of the earth element is what keeps us grounded, connected to our bodies and the earth, focused, disciplined and present. The Root Chakra is also essential to manifesting things. (The ultimate guide to chakras: Athena Perrakis) As matter gains form it gains density, and density of matter is the realm of the Root Chakra. The act of creation requires grounding, in order for our creations to be lasting.
We can explore our root chakra energy in yoga class as well as in life. The earth element’s properties are gravity and solidity, so we can pay attention to the energy that is connecting us to the floor in a yoga pose, or the solidity of our muscles and bones that hold us up. Solidity also gives you something to push into, which generates energy. When you push a hand into the solid floor, your arm muscles wake up. This is best seen in the first chakra paradox: “Push down to rise up.” For example, the harder you push down into the earth, the higher you can jump. Through the foundation of our yoga postures, pushing down into the earth, we can fill up the body with energy.
Another practice is to consider our roots. We are more stable when we energetically ground, sending roots down into the earth to create a solid foundation. This is the masculine aspect of our relationship to the Earth -- sending roots down. The feminine aspect is drawing up energy and nourishment from the earth. In addition to this up and down energy exchange, there is also an inward energy, which creates stability in the core. Imagine a clay pot that holds a plant, and the dirt around its roots. The pot creates enough solidity for the plant to grow, holds the water and nutrients so the plant can sustain itself. In the same way, there is a physical and energetic holding in our body. This action draws energy inward to our core and creates solidity, edges and boundaries. We feel it when we hug our muscles to the bones.
Just as our physical roots are part of the 1st Chakra, so are our ancestral roots. Our karmic memories are held here, all the thoughts and experiences of our ancestors, but also our own. These stored memories can be a source of strength and wisdom, but these stories can also surface as destructive patterns of behavior and even limiting beliefs.
When the Root Chakra is in balance, relationships are steady and strong. You are comfortable in your home and your basic needs are taken care of. You can travel and be flexible without feeling uprooted or disconnected. You are a grounded individual with a moral compass, who can afford to be empathetic. Your stability is your freedom, and others can sense it. You are comforting to be around.
When this chakra is deficient / underactive, you feel anxious, nervous--- even dizzy. You feel uprooted, unsure, and unsafe. Imagine a time when you were unsure about your job or home or a family situation. This can lead to scarcity thinking or greed. You might be inflexible and worry that you don’t have enough, even when you do. You constantly dream of what others have. When this chakra is overactive, you are stuck. You feel unable to make progress in your life, on personal or professional levels - you feel stagnant in your primary relationships.
The good news is, activating and balancing your Root chakra can be fun! Go outside! Walk barefoot in the grass or work in the garden. Connect with Mother Earth and gain the benefits of the Earth element. You can surround yourself with symbols of stability, safety and bounty. Food or drink on your meditation shrine could do the trick-- peacock feathers are another symbol of bounty and protection. I like to carry around gemstones that are known to carry the qualities of the root chakra, like Black Tourmaline, Jet, Onyx, Red Aventurine and Red Jasper. These grounding stones are all colored either red or black, in keeping with the color and energy of this Chakra.
Essential Oils and Herbs carry with them the energy of the Chakras. Depending on the herb, you might arrange it on your altar, burn it or if it’s an edible herb, you could eat it! Some of the Root Chakra herbs are Allspice (draws money and good fortune), Angelica (protects people and property), Burdock (brings prosperity and strength, releases inner negative monologues), Cayenne (grounding but also cleansing and purifying), Cedarwood (grounds and strengthens the physical body), Clove (protection and attracts what you seek, also helps you connect with memories of love or safety from childhood), Dandelion (Connected to underworld and facilitates communication with the dead), Nutmeg (ensures loyalty), Paprika (energetically grounding), and Rosemary (clears stuck energies).
Of particular interest to me are the yoga postures that you can incorporate into your practice which affect the Root Chakra. To awaken the Root Chakra, turn to standing and balancing postures with grounded feet, like Tree Pose, Mountain Pose, Samasthiti and Warrior 1. These are firm and connected to the earth. Other postures for the Root Chakra are Down dog, Full and Half Wind-Removing poses, Frog, and One-Legged Seated Forward Fold. As mentioned earlier, the Mula Bandha is associated with the Root Chakra. The Mula Bandha, located at our pelvic floor, is activated by drawing up on the perineum. Imagine it is like closing a door at the base of your spine and sending energy up to the higher chakras. Then, when you release it, energy once again flows to and from your roots, exchanging energy with the earth. It is sometimes said that you should keep this engaged throughout every yoga class, but like a bicep, it is only effective if it has mobility… the ability to lengthen and contract. So use it productively and deliberately in certain postures, releasing it in others.
Keep in mind, you may be consistently deficient in root chakra energy, or habitually have an excess. But you might also have just a temporary imbalance in your root chakra because of something going on in your life. As in all things, the first step is simply awareness. Taking the time to notice if you feel ungrounded or maybe a little too weighed down, and to make the needed adjustments using the tools that you know and a healthy dose of intuition. You know more than you realize. For example, light spicy foods might help when your Root Chakra is overactive. Laying outside in the grass might help if you’re feeling untethered. Enjoy the exploration, and remember that safety and support are always available to you here -- in your roots.
* (For further reading, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Chakras” by Athena Perrakis, Ph.D., “Chakra Yoga” by Anodea Judith, “The Yoga Book: A Practical Guide of Self-Realization” by Stephen Sturgess and “The Yoga Mind” by Rina Jakubowicz. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)