Spinning the Seven Sacred Centers: Ayurveda And the Chakra
The popular seven chakra system is well known in the West. Chakra, meaning vortex or wheel, are the sacred centers of spiritual transformation. Everything from clothing, home décor, and oracle cards sport the seven subtle centers with their associated rainbow of colors. Popular western literature corresponds each of the chakras with a fundamental human need. The root chakra, or Muladhara, is associated with the need for survival.
The second chakra, Swadisthana, is associated with the need for emotional flow, desire, and sexuality. The third chakra, Manipuri, is associated with self-worth. The fourth chakra, Anahata, is associated with love. The fifth chakra, Vishudhi, is associated with the need for expression. The sixth chakra, Ajna, is associated with insight and intuition. And the 7th or crown chakra, Sahasrara, is associated with connection to the divine.
However, ancient scriptures on the chakras such as the 16th-century text, Sat Chakra Nirupama, do not associate the seven chakras with fundamental human needs. This association was, to my knowledge, first made by Carl Jung in a series of lectures that have been republished as “(1932).
Likewise, the association of rainbow colors (red for the 1st chakra, orange for the 2nd and so on up to purple at the crown) was made first in the 1970s in a book titled “,” by Christopher Hills. Ancient Sanskrit and Tibetan texts on chakras and the subtle energetic body (also known as the Pranamayakosha) have various numbers of chakras and a variety of color schemes that do not follow the “ROYGBIV” rainbow-schema.
For better or worse, the seven chakra system has become reified in yogic culture; the seven chakras system is the “standard” system with which most students and teachers of yoga are familiar with. Many students and teachers of yoga may also have some familiarity with Ayurveda, the “Science of Life.” Ayurveda is a system of earth-based holistic medicine that was originally developed in ancient India but has evolved for contemporary application. Ayurveda uses three archetypal categories, called doshas, to understand balance in the body.
These categories are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is like air and ether. It is light, dry, and cold, and responsible for everything in the body that moves, communicates, and transports. Pitta is like fire. It is hot and slightly damp. Pitta is responsible for digestion, metabolism, and transformation in the body. Finally, Kapha is similar to earth and water. It is slow and stable. Wet and cold. Kapha is responsible for our stability, immunity, and strength.
How do the Doshas Relate to the Chakras?
How do the doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, relate to the seven sacred charka centers? This is where we begin to blend the wisdom of Ayurveda, Vedic Astrology, and Yoga to understand the deep interconnections of our subtle, energetic, and physical bodies. Each of the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) has five sub-doshas. These sub-dosha are specific areas of the mind-body that are governed by Vata, Pitta, or Kapha.
It is at the level of these fifteen sub-doshas that we can see correspondences with the chakra system. Because the physical, emotional, energetic, and mental bodies all layered one on top of another like an onion, this means that the physical body affects the energetic body; the layer of the Self where the chakras reside. The energetic body affects the mental/emotional bodies and so on.
Yoga students and practitioners and subtle body healers have long attributed the glandular system as having correspondences with the chakra system. In this model, each chakra corresponds to one of the body’s major glands, which aligns in similar locations to the seven chakra system.
In this way, the gonads correspond to the root chakra, the pancreas to the second chakra, the adrenals to the third chakra, the thymus gland to the heart chakra, the thyroid and parathyroid glands to the throat chakra, the pituitary gland to the third eye, and the pineal gland to the crown chakra. This model is a wonderful way to understand the possible connections between the physical body and the energetic body that contains the chakra. It does not, however, clarify the relationship between the chakra and the three primary doshas of Ayurveda.
Understanding the Sub-Doshas
In other to understand how the doshas correspond to the chakra, we must know something about the fifteen sub-doshas. It is not, however, necessary to understand each of the fifteen sub-dosha to understand their relationships to the chakras. Instead, we just need to understand the most essential sub-doshas and their relationships to the physical and energetic bodies.
Vata rules everything in the body that moves, communicates, and transports and governs the hollow spaces of the body. In this way, the colon and its energy are ruled by Vata dosha. The colon is, essentially an empty space whose job is to move waste out of the body. The specific sub-dosha that governs the energy of the colon is called Apana Vata. Apana Vata corresponds to the energy of the first chakra.
When there are problems with elimination then often times there is an emotional and energetic correspondence to the first chakra. Healing strategies for Apana Vata and the First Chakra include herbal therapies that encourage elimination such as Triphala, Ayurvedic Massage therapy (abhyanga), and essential oils such as sweet fennel and sweet orange.
The second chakra is located in the pelvis where some of the largest bones of the body are located. In this way, the energy of the second chakra, Swadisthana, relates to Kapha Dosha which is responsible for our immunity, strength, and stability. The specific sub-dosha which relates to the second chakra is called Avalambaka Kapha; the sub-dosha that governs the energy of the lower back and pelvis.
Often if there is difficulty with the lower back it means we’re lacking support, emotionally, financially, or physically. This lack of emotional flow and support relates to the functioning of the second chakra. Healing strategies for the second chakra include movement therapy such as Tai Chi, dancing, and belly dancing. Emotional release techniques, oil massage, and Ayurvedic spa treatments.
The third chakra, Manipuri, located at the navel relates to Pitta Dosha, which is responsible for our digestion, transformation, and metabolism. The energy sub-dosha Ranjaka Pitta corresponds to the energy of our liver. The third chakra can emotionally contain issues of self-worth and repressed anger.
In this same way the energy of the liver, Ayurvedically, can become “heated” when someone represses emotions or anger. Healing strategies for the third chakra and Ranjaka Pitta include deep relaxation, continuous oil pouring on the forehead (called Shirodhara), vigorous exercises such as martial arts, and ayurvedic spiritual mentoring around issues of shame and self-worth.
The fourth chakra, Anahata, located at the heart also relates to the energy of Pitta Dosha, specifically the energy of Sadhaka Pitta, the sub-dosha that is responsible for the “flame” of our passion. This sub-dosha becomes imbalanced when we experience mild depression or an inability to find our true calling. Healing strategies for the fourth chakra include heart-based meditation, oil massage, especially around the heart center, and aromatherapy using rose oil and sandalwood oil.
The fifth chakra, Vishudhi, the throat center corresponds to the energy of Udana Vata, the “wind” that governs speech, the throat, and breath. When this energy is out of balance we may experience stuttering, mumbling shyness, or disorders of the throat. Healing strategies for the fifth chakra include chanting mantras, singing kirtan, journaling, and the application of Nasya oil (nasal oil).
The sixth chakra, Ajna, located at the center of the forehead relates to the energy of Alochaka Pitta, which rules sight, vision, and the eyes. When this center is out of balance we may experience vision problems or lack of insight. This chakra corresponds to our intuitive ability; our ability to see into the future clearly; our vision and our ability to manifest. When out of balance we may have difficulty focusing, have poor memory or nightmares. Healing strategies for the energy of the sixth chakra and Alochaka Pitta include the use of mandalas and yantras, coloring, creative visualization, and Shirodhara (pouring oil on the forehead).
And, finally, the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, relates to the energy of Prana Vata, which rules the nervous system. When this energy is out of balance we may experience rigidity of belief, difficulty learning from experience, and integrating our experience. Healing strategies for the crown chakra include meditation, aromatherapy using orange, Bulgarian lavender, and bergamot. Shirodhara is also an effective remedy for the seventh chakra.
In order to experience true, radiant health and well-being, we need to have more than just the physical body in good working order. Our physical heart may be working fine, but if we are experiencing depression, we can not say that we actually are in “perfect health,” from an Ayurvedic perspective.
There are some ways we can remedy the energies of the chakra and the sub-doshas. Ayurvedically, we use specific herbal remedies, essential oils, marma points (similar to acupressure points), ayurvedic yoga, Healing Light Yoga, and traditional therapies like oil massage and oil pouring to create balance in the sub-dosha and the corresponding chakra. We also use a mantra (sound current), gemstones, and yagyas (Vedic astrological remedies) and spiritual mentoring to create balance throughout the physical, emotional, and subtle body centers.
Because health is holistic, involving mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being, the chakras are a vital window into our physiological balance. They are also a conduit towards understanding our life’s path on earth; what we have come here to experience, know, and understand. The chakras are the guideposts to our largest life lessons and creating sustained balance throughout the chakra allows for spiritual awakening. This awakening of the spirit is the true aim of yoga and Ayurveda.
Dinacharya: Your Daily Yogic Routine
Translating to “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old sister science of yoga that assists practitioners in leading their lives by way of intuitive rituals. In adhering to one’s specific needs, those utilizing the practice of Ayurveda fall into rhythm with the seasons of self, emulating Mother Nature’s transitions and revelations in spring, summer, fall, and winter.
The Ayurveda practice of dinacharya, or “law of nature,” consists of daily self-care routines, which provide structure for instilling balance and establishing cohesiveness in the physical, mental, and emotional bodies.
Dinacharya is based on the philosophy that human beings run on a biological clock dictated by the patterns of the sun and the moon; different times of day adhere to different types of energy. These energies, known as doshas, connect the body and the mind in functionality. Three doshas exist: vata, kapha, and pitta; each dosha is associated with elements found in nature.
The first and early waking hours of the day 2am to 6am, and their afternoon inverse 2pm to 6pm, are identified as vata, which is associated with the elements of air and ether, or a sense of lightness. Movement is incredibly important at these times, as they are both transitional periods. In the early hours of the morning, it is believed that sleep and dreams are most active and that we are most receptive to thought; in the afternoon, many experience the need to mobilize to reenergize, sparking creativity.
From 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm, it is said our kapha energy governs the manner in which we show up in the world. Kapha works in relation with earth and water, countering vata’s airiness with a sense of grounding.
Pitta energy runs its course through our systems during the hours of 10am to 2pm, and 10pm to 2am. Related to fire and water, waking pitta hours are correlated with high productivity. During the wee hours of the evening, typically the mind is resting, but the internal organs are vigorously cleansing the body, preparing us for the next day to come.
A Path to Balance
When the body and mind are in balance with these cycles, we experience a sense of contentment in all areas of our lives. As represented by the changes in even a matter of hours, the human condition is not static. It is not uncommon for one of the doshas to dominate at different points in time, regardless of where the dosha cycles suggest we should be landing on the energetic spectrum. We do not remain in a place of equanimity without putting forth awareness and effort, but it is possible to achieve balance through establishing a dinacharya routine.
Dinacharya practices help to establish congruence in our vata, kapha, and pitta energies.
When instability encroaches into our energetic cyclicality, we may feel noticeably “off” and over time, unbalanced physical, mental, and emotional bodies breed disease and dis-ease. Benefits of dinacharya can be experienced almost immediately, and can serve vitality for decades when adhered to properly.
Components of dinacharya can be incorporated into virtually any time of day, and can be quite extensive; according to Aryuvedic Physician Vasant Lad, there are nineteen steps composing a proper morning awakening of the physical and mental bodies alone. Many traditional dinacharya practices applicable to specific hours of the day can be adapted and become inputs to forming a consistent self-ritual.
Wake Before the Sun
This vata time of day is believed to be one of quiet connection. Once the sun is in the sky, the clock of Ayurveda ticks to kapha, signaling it is time to move and be productive. Waking earlier than you usually may begin the day offers a chance to connect energetically with self, rather than your inbox first thing.
Because the morning boasts fresh energy and serenity, this segment of the day has the potential to serve as an undistracted platform for meditation. Perhaps your sit consists of a few quiet moments, or maybe lasts a bit longer. Returning to a mindfulness practice at the end of the day allows for you to come full circle with your day’s experience, and is effective in supporting more restful sleep.
Finding time to be active throughout the day is important for maintaining balance and focus, as well as setting the stage for fulfilling the day’s requirements with ample energy.
In the morning, support the waking of your body in a way you enjoy, whether it be taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood, working with kriya, hitting the mat for Pilates, or devoting time to your yoga practice to energize or unfold slowly.
The afternoon is a prime time to get the blood flowing. After your largest meal of the day is consumed at lunchtime, give yourself at least 10-15 minutes for a walk or afternoon stretch to promote blood flow, ensuring the body and mind stay fired and inspired. Evening calls for gentler movement, such as a yin yoga practice, so that sleep may be gracefully eased in to.
This practice has been an aspect of dinacharya for thousands of years, and involves swooshing oil, such as sunflower or sesame, around your gums and teeth for 15-20 minutes each day, typically in the morning. Oil pulling is effective in removing toxins and parasites, which reside in the nooks and crannies between teeth, around the tongue, and in the gums.
These organisms not only affect the outer appearance of our pearly whites, but are often the root of inflammation and infection occurring throughout the body.
To reap the benefits of a brighter smile, clearer sinuses and skin, and healthier immune system, simply drink a glass of water upon waking, melt 1-3 tablespoons of an oil of your choice either on the stove or in your mouth, gargle for 20 minutes (this can be done while preparing breakfast or lunch, reading emails, etc.), spit, and rinse with water.
Known as Abhyanga in Ayurveda, self-massaging is often practiced as a component of dinacharya in either or both the morning and the evening. According to Sandhiya Ramaswamy, regarded Ayurvedic chef and educator, abhyanga, when performed daily, enhances balance in the energy bodies and overall longevity, calms the nervous system, softens skin, and tones muscle, amongst other benefits. Using warm oil, start at your scalp and work your way down the body using your fingertips and palms. Once applied, allow for the oil to marinate into your skin for five to ten minutes, and follow with a warm bath or shower.
This Ayurvedic technique requires a very small time investment, but pays greatly in its dividends. Using silk gloves or a dry skin brush, start at the feet and work your way up to the crown of your head. According to Dr. John Doulliard, director of LifeSpa.com, a leading resource in Ayurvedic wellness, brushing toward the direction of your heart drains the lymphatic system, and can help the body move waste more quickly and stimulate the burning of fat. This technique can be practiced preceding self-massage for added benefit.
Morning and evening meals should be light in comparison to your lunchtime consumption. Afternoon is the time of day most appropriate for intake of your heaviest meal, for several reasons. The digestive system has fully awakened, and the body has ample time to break down what has been consumed without interrupting your awakening or your sleep cycle. Agni, or digestive energy, is in full force; in order to keep the fire roaring, it is necessary to fuel adequately.
According to Monica Bloom, author of “In Your Elements: A Blooming Ayurvedic Guide to Creating Your Best Life,” a warm, vegetable-filled plate should be consumed at this time. Acknowledging this may not be ideal for meals eaten at work in terms of preparation, Monica suggests preparing a large batch of healthful dishes at night, eating a small portion for dinner, and bringing the majority on the go with you the next day to save both time and hunger pangs.
Head to Bed Early
It is recommended to begin your evening ritual around 8:30pm to ensure a restful transition into your evening rest. Unwinding with a book or a bath serves as a palate cleanser between the busyness of the day and the tranquility of bedtime. Establishing an early bedtime initiative for your self can also prevent late-night, metabolism-hindering snacking; around 10pm, pitta energy kicks back in which, when awake can spark hunger, when resting allows for full-body restoration.
The above are only a select few options on the full menu of dinacharya offerings. Taste one, taste all offerings; Director of Ayurveda Programs at Shankara Ayurveda Spa Medha Garud notes that the adoption of two dinacharya-inspired changes can make a difference when enveloped into your day-to-day routine. The implementation of a personal dinacharya ritual can serve as powerful and effective insurance for physical, mental, and emotional congruence and observance.