Working with the Body's Natural Energy System: Chakras for Greater Alignment, Strength and Creativity
I’m just back from Colombia, where Simone and I had a great time visiting friends. What a beautiful and complex country: sophisticated, unequal, stunningly beautiful and ecologically diverse, sometimes dangerous, often friendly, and so much more.
Our time there reminded me that there is never, of course, one story of any place—or of any person. Sometimes the complexity can even feel overwhelming.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about looking inward, listening deeply to the more difficult parts of our own stories, and getting the kinds of support we need to do that work. How do we do that without getting overwhelmed? How do we make order of the complexity?
Do you ever feel like your body and your life is like a messy house? There are so many things everywhere, and you don't quite know where everything is or where it all belongs....so you just kind of make do with what you can find but sometimes you get tripped up on something left around on the floor?
That is how I lived in my body for much of my life: it worked, I could run and dance and feel okay, but when I really quieted, I could also see that it was messy inside and often that mess would get in my own way.
One tool that has helped me enormously is yoga: yoga helped me come to more order, more peace and more energy.
Though a lot of contemporary yoga focuses on the external qualities, yogic philosophy and practice gives us really powerful tools to look inside and create more peace and health on a deep internal level.
I’ve found the teachings around the chakra system especially helpful. The chakras are energy centers that run up the body from the base to the top of the spine and above, each correlating to a different physical and emotional quality.
Often when we experience challenges in life, the energy of that challenge gets blocked in the body, and specifically in the correlating chakra.
When the chakras are in balance, we have greater understanding of and freedom with our stories. Balancing our chakras also strengthens the immune system and gives us more energy and vitality—on both the physical and emotional levels.
The philosophy of the chakra system also teaches us that we need to establish security—in the lower chakras—before we can release the upper chakras and be more heart centered.
We’re like trees: we need to be well grounded in order to be open to the winds and flexible.
This profound lesson helps us with our writing—we can’t look into those difficult places in our own stories or be our most creative and playful unless we feel grounded and supported.
It also helps us have more compassion—for ourselves and for others; when people don’t feel that security they are less flexible, open and heart centered.
The lower three chakras help us develop strength and a sense of security; the upper chakras help us open our heart and come into more aligned communication.
Pay attention to your own energy system. Over time you can notice where you are out of alignment, what needs to be cleared in your body and get the energy flowing more freely so toxins don’t build up.
I find it helpful to start through focusing on the lower chakras—on what gives you strength and security.
You can also get some results simply by bringing your mindful attention to that area of your body and paying attention to feeling grounded and supported.
You can practice with my video here.
The holidays are upon us. In my house, Simone is particularly excited; we’re going to do a lot of baking together, and next weekend, we’ll string up our lights in our living room.
But the holidays are also a time that bring many of us into stress—to top all the stress that so many of us are feeling in the larger world.
As an early holiday gift and a sign of my thanks for you all for being in my life and for being part of my community, I want to share a short video to help you come back to your center and get through the season—or any time that is challenging for you.
I’ve found that one of the biggest stressors in our lives is the disconnection between mind and body.
This disconnection helps explain our nation’s current health problems, our sexual abuse epidemic, and our environmental crises, to name just a few things, and it affects us both as a society and as individuals.
We live in such a segregated, siloed way that there are very few practices that help us bring mind and body back together.
But when we bring meditation, yoga and writing together, we can begin to make connections again between the different parts of ourselves.
Click above or watch here: https://youtu.be/hL0liGYAGeQ
In this video, I offer a balancing meditation, some gentle yoga to awaken the spine, and a writing prompt. Done together, the practice invites you to listen to yourself, reconnect with your integrated self, and tap into your inner knowledge and creativity.
This is a nice, gentle practice that you can do every day.
I hope that you’ll enjoy the video and the practice. As you practice more, you’ll find the experience deepens.
The poem I read in the video, Guest House, by Rumi, translated by Colman Barks, is one I often use because it’s a good reminder to be present with whatever arises and to cultivate gratefulness. And every time I read it, it brings something else up for me.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I’d love to hear any experiences you have with the practice. And of course, please share with any friends who may be interested.
We all have stories, but how do we listen to them mindfully so that they lead us to our true purpose and we don't get overly attached to the thorny pieces?
In our complicated world, how can we calm our nervous system so that we are more available to ourselves and others?
I'm so excited to share with you my conversation with Jillian Pransky, a yoga teacher of over 20 years and the author of the newly published book Deep Listening, in which we discuss these questions.
In our conversation, we talk about:
Jillian's also a great storyteller, and she tells some memorable stories that I think you'll enjoy!
(Click above or watch here: https://youtu.be/BywY5dFjCqc)
If you want to listen to the conversation you can listen here:
You can see more about Jillian and her new book Deep Listening at her website www.jillianpransky.com.
As always, I love to hear from you. Let me know your reactions to the conversation and your own experiences with deep listening. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
Today is MLK Day. Our world is full of great injustice and suffering, and also great heroism, love and hope.
This is also inauguration week: we don't know what will come, but we do know that we will be called upon to be agents of peace and hope, that our voices will be more important than ever, and that we will need to stand up for what we believe in. We can do this work best if we clear out the pain that so many of us store in our bodies, if we can ground and come into our own stability.
A few days ago I wrote about the power of shifting our energy to joy through our bodies. Today, I want to share with you a piece I published recently in Spirituality and Health magazine about learning through my yoga practice to listen to the pain that was stored in my body, and the ways I unlocked and released that pain to clear my body so I could be more available to meet the present moment.
For much of my life, I felt as if the external toxins of the world were lodged directly into my body. But through bringing my mind and my body together in yoga and writing, I have been able to protect my physical body on a much greater basis from those external toxins.
Sometimes those toxins are chemical. Sometimes they come from direct physical contact. And sometimes, the toxins are emotional/psychological/political.
In this article I talk about the ways in which, listening to my body, I came to know my own story better, and how knowing this story better helped me live with both more ease and more agency in the world. I went through this process largely without a road map, and it's my honor now to help others with by providing more direction than I had.
This is a personal article. I’d love to hear any reactions or questions you might have, and please share it with others who might be interested or who might benefit from it.
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Finally, just a reminder. If you're interested in exploring how your story is stored in your body, please consider working with me. As always, I love to hear from you with questions or comments!
Align Your Story, my online class that brings together writing yoga and mediation begins this week. This is my signature class, and I'm excited to start it with a new group of students. I have a few more spaces. See more here: http://www.nadiacolburn.com/alignyourstory.html
A four week In-person Narrative Healing class I’ll be leading in Cambridge, MA begins January 25th. This is a new opportunity to bring embodied creativity and healing together in a small, in person group community. I’d love to see you there. See more here: http://omnamocenter.com/narrative-healing/
And I’m available for one-on-one work, either in person or over skype. Please reach out for a first exploratory session.
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THE WRONG I NEEDED TO WRITE
(published in Spirituality and Health here: http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/wrong-i-needed-write)
When I think back on the first years of my yoga practice, what comes to mind first is Pigeon Pose. Actually, when I think back on my experience with Pigeon Pose, it’s remarkable that I stuck with yoga. Because in Pigeon Pose I felt as if I was being tortured. No, this is not hyperbolic speech. Each time I went into Pigeon Pose, I’d have images flash through my mind of terrible situations: women piled onto the train to Auschwitz, unable to move; women crossing illegally into the U.S., jammed together in the back of trucks with no air to breathe; women being held down, against their will.
Relax into the pose, the teacher would say, and I’d try to not to come out of the pose. I’d try to stay a little longer.
Most often, when people are in pain in a yoga pose, it’s because they are doing something their body shouldn’t do. But I was pretty sure that I wasn’t overly straining my physical body. In fact, even though I hold tension in my hips, I’m also pretty flexible in my hips and always have been. My Pigeon Pose looked pretty good from the outside. But inside, it sent me into turmoil—and that made me curious.
So I kept coming back to yoga classes, and my body became more flexible, and I became more able to focus my mind on the movements themselves—at least until we got to Pigeon Pose. And still I found I couldn’t stay with my body. The more I focused on what my body was feeling, the more I felt a kind of panic. So instead, I moved between the images in my head and some larger space, up above them, some distanced perspective from which I could come in and out of the scene.
In retrospect, it is no surprise that Pigeon Pose, which is a hip opener, triggered me. We often store our physical experiences directly in the body—and mine was childhood sexual abuse. Even when the conscious mind cannot remember, the body holds onto its own lived experiences in its cells. Yoga helped me practice coming in and out of this memory—even if I couldn’t put it into words. It taught me, if in a coded way, pieces of my own story that I had not, for a long time, been able to access.
We need to listen—and, at the same time, we need to have frameworks and stories to process what our bodies tell us. We need to be attentive and come out of the conscious mind. And then we need to make connections between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind and knit our experiences back together.
My yoga classes set the stage for me to listen to my body, but classes didn’t really prepare me or give me a real context or tools to understand the kind of triggers that might come up—or the ways really to listen to the stories as they were unfolding through my practice. Over time, I worked with many modalities. I started to practice Kundalini yoga and then, once my body was more comfortable and had cleared out a lot of the stuck energy, turned to sitting meditation and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. What I discovered is that I needed attention both to my body and to language; I needed both movement and stillness; I needed, ultimately, mind, body, and spirit all to come together….
At first I was writing poetry. And then I started also to write prose. No doubt, part of my turn to prose was a growing desire to knit things together, to tell a coherent story. Like Hansel and Gretel, I was able to follow the moonlit pebbles that lead back to my own early experiences and that ultimately lead me back to myself.
And when I did this, I received a great gift: I was able truly to come home.
This does not mean that home is always a warm and easy place. It’s not as if, at the end of the practice, we can turn on the lights and all the witches will be revealed as simply a bad dream, a figment of our childhood imaginations. People were brought in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and illegal immigrants continue to face unbearable situations in their search for a better and freer way of life. And women and children and men continue to be sexually assaulted and abused.
The fruit of our yoga practice and our spiritual practice is not that we can simply relax in our comfortable, safe yoga studios and drop the outside world and simply enjoy the present moment. The fruit of our practice is that we can come to better see the world as it is; that we can find peace and equanimity even amid injustice and pain; that we can discover our stories and accept them; that we can experience joy and happiness and relaxation and not turn away from our own suffering or the suffering of others.
HOW THE MIND AND BODY WORK TOGETHER
On Saturday, in the middle of a snowstorm, I led a two and a half hour yoga and writing workshop. I wanted to lead something joyful because I’ve been feeling some real heaviness in the air—especially in response to the political climate in America. And I personally was feeling like I needed a pick me up.
I think of these pick me ups as healing boosts not just for individuals but also for our whole society, because who wants to let certain unnamed people have too much control over our inner lives? Claiming our joy is also an act of resistance. And we absolutely don’t need to be in denial to experience joy. We can let our joy and our sorrow, our joy and our rage stand right next to one another.
Anyway, after a yoga set and some writing and meditation, I asked the class if they were up for some dancing, and I was really happy when they said yes. So there we were, dancing to fun music on a snowy day. And the more we moved to the music, which I turned up loud, the more we shook out those toxins that were stored in us, the more I felt like we were, paradoxically, in real harmony with the snowy stillness and quiet of the day.
This is one of the things I love about bringing writing and yoga together; the practice allows us to open the door just a bit wider to the full range of our experiences and emotions. It allows our bodies, which hold so much, to open up a bit more, and to enter into a different kind of dialogue with us.
Even though we weren’t writing while we were dancing, I think we were more aware of the shifts in our energy and consciousness because we had brought our awareness into our practice and we had brought together our mind and body, our left and right brains. Indeed, most of the time when I talk about “writing” I’m not only thinking of writing on the page, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about our conscious awareness. When we direct attention to our body and energy, we can have greater access to awareness, well-being and creativity.
If you’d like to try some yoga and meditation together, I invite you to join my online course Align Your Story; we start next week. Although the course doesn’t include dancing, it invites you to enter into a more integrated relationship between the mind and body and to integrate mind and body to bring your writing—and your life—to the next level. See more here.
Here is what one past participant said about the healing she experienced through the course:
I have one functional vocal chord and one paralyzed vocal chord. There are moments in my life when energy flows freely through me, and in those moments I am able to speak without strain or pain. These moments are rare. Most of the time I have great difficulty moving my voice from my belly up to my vocal chords and through my mouth. I'm so grateful for Align Your Story. I've tried many forms of healing, and have been so stuck for a long time, but things in me are moving now. I've been working my way through the course at my own pace and have experienced a freeing up of my energy and a lot of relief in my symptoms. My voice is getting stronger. I'm finding ways to connect it to my body differently. I'm coming back to life. In the time of this course alone, I've started two new projects, two blogs that I wanted to create for a long time. –Cathy K.
I’m also hosting an in-person four week Narrative Healing Session at Om Namo Yoga Studio in Cambridge starting Wednesday January 26th. This will be a very powerful, healing class that helps us break through blocks, uplift our energy and listen to our bodies in new ways. The course will give you some tools to do that both in the studio and at home. Class size is limited to six, so there will be community and plenty of individualized attention. See more here.
And finally, I’ll be offering another yoga writing workshop at Om Namo on March 11th.
Reach out to me, as always, with any questions. I love to hear from you!
And please share this newsletter and resources with anyone who might be interested. Thank you! I’m so glad you are part of this community.
I’ll write again later this week with another story of the mind-body connection that helped me unlock some deep healing.
Emotional Healing & Mindful Writing Blog | Nadia Colburn
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society.