What if I Am Safe, Loved, Seen, Powerful, Loving, and Heard?
Turning Fear into Faith has become a steady practice for me since I became pregnant with my son last January. I don’t mean a religious kind of faith, but rather a faith in myself….and the universe. Fear is a very powerful energy, but like any kind of energy, it can be harnessed, manipulated and transformed. If fed, fear festers and turns into anxiety.
I know that when the classic, “What if….” questions arise it is a sure sign that I am feeding fear and laying the groundwork for anxiety. Reframing these What ifs into positive questions is a powerful practice that, if pursued diligently, can have a significant impact in reducing anxiety. The fact is, the positive question/statement is usually more likely to be true than the negative!
What if I get into a car accident? vs What if I arrive safely at my destination?
What if….. I am safe, loved, seen, powerful, loving and heard?
Fear is powerful and, when necessary, can cause us to react in ways that are life saving; like jumping out of the way of a moving car, but faith, faith is life changing. Faith and trust in oneself creates a solid base from which we can dwell with joy and insight.
Cultivating these qualities is a practice that is supported by understanding where our needs and fears originate. Separating the real from the unreal, moving from dark to light can be achieved by exploring our internal storage system, better known as the subtle body, specifically, the Chakras.
Understanding the Chakras
I view the Chakras as psycho-spiritual processing centers that assimilate and store information. They hold the personal and emotional memories of our lifetimes. The root Chakra is called Muladhara, which translates to the ‘dwelling place of support’, and when unsettled switches on the fear response which alerts the nervous system that there is danger. Whether this danger is actual or only perceived to be real, the breath quickens, there is a surge of blood flow to the muscles and the body prepares to fight, take flight or freeze.
Understanding the subtle body, as well as the physical body combined with summoning conscious thoughts that are based in faith and trust interrupts the fear feed back loop and resets the whole body-mind system.
Acknowledging what makes me feel safe gives me the tools that I need to stabilize myself when I feel unsafe. Understanding why these things make me feel unsafe helps me understand and compassionately witness my history and how I came to be the powerfully imperfect person that I am today. For example, thru my research and studies as a holistic psychotherapist I have explored the parallels between western psychology and eastern philosophy over the last 10 years.
The stages of development
I have found that the human psyche’s stages of development overlap the development of the chakras quite profoundly. Our first stage of development takes place from birth to age six- seven. It is during this time in our lives that the muladhara chakra is being formulated. The core needs that must be met at this time in our lives revolve around food, safety, security, nurturing. These are our basic needs and when one of them is unmet our foundation is disrupted and fear is the response that is engaged. I know that when I am hungry or overtired I can be pretty cranky and definitely not at my kindest, toward myself and others. I observed my reaction as we bought and moved into our home 4 years ago, even though we had a lovely home to move into it was still a very unsettling process. But being pregnant was the big one.
Fear for the baby’s health, fear for the potential stress on my marriage, fear about the changes to my livelihood… I could go on! I absolutely could not afford to let these waves of fear ruin my experience! So I worked hard to stay present, breathe, trust, I prayed, walked, sat by the ocean, communicated with my husband, nourished myself… And it worked, for the most part!
We experience these muladhara earthquakes throughout our lifetime and the way that we respond to them will be influenced by how this chakra was developed. How safe, loved, secure, nourished and nurtured did we feel as a child? What strategies did we learn to get these needs met? Are we still using them today? Are there more appropriate and meaningful strategies that we could employ?
While the deep work that helps prevent the paralyzing effects of the fear cycle is found in the root chakra, each chakra represents specific needs and there are emotional and behavioral reactions when these needs are unmet. Most of the time these reactions limit our ability to live to our fullest potential and experience deep and lasting joy.
Start this work by paying attention, observing, witnessing, but not judging your reactions to muladhara imbalances. Journal, discuss or mediate on your childhood experiences. Visualize moments when your needs are fully being met and the feeling that you experience. Manifest a safe, secure, nurturing and loving reality!
Join me at the Art of Living Retreat Center this April for The Psychology of the Chakras, where we will examine each of the chakras and their correlating stages and age of development, as well as the common behavioral characteristics and imbalances for each one. We will use dialogue, journaling prompts well as pranayama, meditation and mantra to rewrite our stories and dissolve the limiting beliefs that prevents us from living our lives to the fullest.
Coral Brown is a teacher of teachers, drawing on two decades of experience in yoga, philosophy, and holistic counseling to provide nurturing and open space for the processes of healing and transformation. She has trained in the Iyengar and Jivamukti methods and is a senior teacher of Prana Vinyasa Flow. Coral leads teacher trainings, retreats and workshops around the world and regularly contributes to Yoga Journal. You can learn more about her work at coralbrown.net.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
In House: Tucker Shelton on Going Beyond the Physical
Yoga has a wonderful tendency to reach out into every part of our lives. Some come to the mat searching for balance and flexibility, and find that they leave feeling spiritually fulfilled. Some come for the peace of mind that yoga creates, and find that their bodies become strong and capable in the process.
We recently spoke with recent Art of Living Retreat Center guest instructor Tucker Shelton about the far-reaching effects that yoga can have on our lives – the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits that often seem to seek us out and find us, rather than the other way around.
Going Beyond the Physical
I attended my first yoga class in college. I didn’t have a physical practice or fitness routine at the time, and yoga seemed interesting. But in that first class, I got so much more than what I bargained for. I experienced such a feeling of coming home. It was a moment of peeling back the veil, and discovering that there was more waiting for my life. I had a feeling of excitement, exuberance, release, and passion pouring out of me, all at once. It felt so healing and nourishing – and after that class, I’ve never looked back.
Many students approach yoga because they’re interested in fitness and flexibility, but then, something deeper begins to happen. Asana, the physical part of yoga, is actually only one of eight limbs of the practice. I had a teacher once who said that Asana is the gateway drug to yoga, that the physical practice opens your body, and then, because the body and spirit are so intertwined, you start to embody the other aspects of yoga as well. The way you eat, the way you interact with other people, your perspective on life; all of these tend to change when you begin to explore yoga in its fullness. Physical movement is only a small part of the big picture.
A Whole-System Practice
After one of my heart chakra classes, one of the participants came up to me and said “During that practice, and under your guidance, I had a moment of realization. I suddenly knew, in that moment, that it was time to open my heart again to loved ones that I haven’t spoken to in 20 years.” And after that class, she immediately went and contacted her sister and father, and started to take measures to repair those relationships. We tend to think of yoga as a physical practice, but the physical element transforms our emotional and intellectual states as well. It’s a whole-system practice. When you open up your body, the spirit tends to follow.
There are so many different ways of approaching yoga. I’ve seen people go to one yoga class and decide that it isn’t for them, that all yoga classes are the same. But yoga is such a broad practice, and every teacher, every class is different. It’s important to explore different classes to find what works best for you, and to not get stuck in one way of practicing, either.
In the courses that I teach, I really like to bring a sense of playfulness to the room. We tend to get very serious about practice, don’t we? So I have an interest in spicing things up and bringing some fun and humor, while also exploring the depths of yoga. I focus on spinning the whole wheel of yoga, and trying to access the fullness that’s waiting for us.
My goal in teaching is to assist other people’s experiences. To be there as somebody who helps participants find the space for their own transformation. I’m not trying to reach in and twist something and turn it and shift their life – I’m just trying to provide a palette from which they can start to paint their own work, whatever that might be.
Sanskrit: The Divine Vibration
I find it a very rewarding meditative practice to incorporate Sanskrit into my yoga. For me, Sanskrit is yet another form of yoga – each of the sounds in the Sanskrit alphabet is considered sacred, a divine vibration that, when you combine them to form a word, is the energetic signature of that object.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, so when you speak the Sanskrit word for a pose or an action, you are stepping into that legacy, embodying that seat. It’s not just speaking a word, it’s speaking what that word represents into existence. You quite literally feel the vibration through your system, and those words resonate with your chakras and your energy body.
Interconnection and the Space Inside the Lotus
My favourite thing to share with students is a passage from the eighth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad.
This text focuses on the heart center. Inside of the heart is a city, and inside of the city is a temple, and inside of the temple is a lotus, and inside of this lotus is the space, and inside of the space is everything that has ever existed, and that will ever exist. All the elements, all the stars, all the planets – past, present, future. And this space is inside of every single being, every single thing that exists.
This passage presents such a rich idea of interconnection, and when we bow to each other and honor each other in our yoga practice, we are bowing to that space inside of each of us where we meet, where we realize that we are truly one.
Why the Art of Living Retreat Center?
When I came to see the Art of Living Retreat Center for the first time, it was just so overwhelming and beautiful. We were here at such a perfect time of year, when the leaves are falling and changing colors. The beautiful sunrise that you get to see every morning coming up, the beautiful architecture of the center – and the energy of the space itself – has such a nourishing and uplifting feeling. We just loved every second of being here. And the food was incredible.
The Art of Living Retreat Center offers many yoga retreats for all ages, body types, and experience levels. If you are interested in learning more, click here.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
In House: Val Spies on Finding Bliss with Chakras
Many of us begin a yoga practice to improve our physical condition and relieve stress. Then the after-class euphoria becomes more and more noticeable, and we start to ask, “Why do I feel so good? What is happening within to generate this feeling of well-being?” Val Spies shares her thoughts on the chakra and kosha systems of the yogic tradition, and how attuning these systems can help us find bliss.
The Doorway to Bliss
Through purifying, healing, and strengthening our physical bodies in the postures of Hatha yoga, we start to notice subtle shifts in our ability to connect with inner peace. Through practice, we build a precious relationship between our physical bodies and the mental, emotional, and spiritual layers of our being. As our awareness strengthens, so too does the desire to dive deeper into the studies that bring balance and bliss into our lives, inviting us to explore the subtle aspects of this beautiful yoga practice. This doorway to bliss begins to open when the inner and outer layers of the self start to find balance and equanimity with each other.
Chakras: The Subtle Body Experience of Yoga
For thousands of years, the yogic tradition has understood the subtle layers of reality that exist beyond our physical perceptions. There are two subtle body teachings that help us understand the magnificent possibilities of happiness: the chakras and the koshas. Both the chakra and kosha systems are like maps that help us more effectively navigate our experiences, from the physical to the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of ourselves and our lives.
Chakra is often translated from the Sanksrit as “wheel”: the chakras are the energy centers that emanate from within and around our bodies. In many traditions there are said to be seven primary energy centers that run along the spine. Each center relates to an aspect of our lives. In order to find balance in the mind, body, and spirit, the emotional and physical aspects of the chakras listed below must be clear of blockages.
- Sahasrara – Crown – connection to the infinite / divine
- Ajna – Third Eye – wisdom / intuition
- Vishudda – Throat – communication / truth
- Anahata – Heart – love / compassion
- Manipura – Solar Plexus – power / strength / leadership
- Swadhistahana – Sacrum – passion / creativity / intimacy
- Muladhara – Root – home / earth / security
The chakra system is deeply rich and complex, just like the richness and complexity of our human experience. This brief overview is a glimpse into this remarkable field of study. Through study, practice, and self-reflection, the chakra system offers us a wonderful map to discover so much about our lives, and how to achieve a greater state of harmony.
Koshas: The Sheath
The second study focuses on the koshas, the layers of the self. Often translated as “>sheath” from the Sanskrit, the five koshas navigate our human experience from the physical to the spiritual dimensions. We can begin to explore them from the physical body inward, through sheaths of prana (life force, energy), the mind, the witness consciousness, and the spiritual core (universal bliss). Just like the chakras, the koshas are an incredibly rich piece of yogic philosophy. Understanding and harmonizing these sheaths is a study worth exploring!
Learning the divine play of inner exploration and the surrender to higher consciousness is our calling. Once your eyes are opened to this calling, you’ll find yourself on a fascinating path that leads you through a more elevated experience of life.
Deepen Your Experience
Practice yoga, meditate, chant, enjoy nature, and begin your exploration of the subtle body with teachers who devote their lives to being your guide on this magnificent journey. The Yoga Philosophy and Chakras Retreat is offered at the Art of Living Center in Boone on April 29-May 6th. Join me, Val Spies, and my good friend and celebrated national teacher Roger McKeever. With time for self reflection and inspiration, plus hiking, walking the labyrinth, and outdoor activities to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains, this promises to be a joyful, insightful, and unforgettable week.
Let’s start here. Atha Yoga Anushasanam. Now the Inquiry of Yoga.
Val Spies is the owner and director of the Lotus Pond Center for Yoga Teacher Training.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.