Kundalini, Chakras, Prana and Two Real Intertwining Snakes

Figure 1: (a) Top: Chakras and how to activate them; 
Bottom Left: (b) Intertwining snake snakes in my house; 
Bottom Right: (c) Nadis and cakras from http://edgeba.webs.com/thekundaliniserpent.htm
(Please click on the photo to get full enlarged version)

by Simon Borg-Olivier

In this blog I want to discuss some points about Kundalini energy and Chakras. Much of the information available on the subject of Kundalini is esoteric and so not easy to justify with rational conventional science. I think the best explanation of the science of kundalini comes from Jana Dixon and her excellent book ‘The Biology of Kundalini”. The main purpose of this blog is to elucidate a few simple points that relate to the physical locations of the chakras and how controlling these can help you to improve the health of your spine, your internal organs and your circulation.

In Figure 1b and the in the attached video below are two beautiful 3 metre pythons that live in our house (mostly in the roof). My herpetologist mentor Professor Rick Shine says that they are either making love or wrestling for dominance for mating. Actually seeing them do this is very rare and special and so reminds me of many amazing things including the double stranded helix of the DNA molecule that holds the blueprints of our genetics. They also remind me of the mystery of kundalini, the coiled serpent-like energy lying mostly dormant at the base of our spines.

The inter-coiling of two snakes is such a common symbol in our mythology that is represented most obviously in the Caduceus, which is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. One myth suggests that Hermes saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. He separated them with a wand and thus brought about peace between them. As a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of love and peace. This is related to the seemingly combatant sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems coiling up the spinal cord. Mostly the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are seen to have opposing functions, the sympathetic is for ‘flight, fight or freeze’ while the parasympathetic is for ‘relaxation, recovery and rejuvenation’. In many situations one will dominate and subdue the other, but in some situations such as in heightened sexual arousal both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together in harmony to hopefully create love and peace.

In hatha yoga the two spiralling snakes are referred to as the nadis (subtle channels) Ida and Pingala and the spinal cord contains the sushumna nadi. When viewed from above the head the spiralling of these channels looks like the yin yang symbol or even the ancient swastika symbol . The places where the snake-like spiral nadis crossover up the trunk is the supposed location of the main chakras (energy centres) of the body. Each of these main chakras corresponds to and seemingly has relationships with main endocrine glands and also major nerve plexi. The ‘opening’ or ‘unlocking’ of, and the voluntary control of the chakras is a major aim in hatha yoga and can in fact be the tool that allows yoga and yoga therapy to be effective. In order to heal any part of the body especially the internal organs or body systems the only thing we can actually control is our mind, which can control muscles, which can affect posture movement and breathing.

A common belief in yoga circles is that a key step to allowing the kundalini energy to rise up the spine is to open up or unblock the chakras. The question is …‘What does this mean on a scientific level? In this blog I want to describe prana (energy or life energy) and, what can be thought of as its more subtle form, chitta (information or consciousness), then describe a few key points related to the regions associated with the main spinal chakras and their associated nerves plexi and endocrine glands. These are the points that the mind can focus on while regulating posture, movement and breathing. These points can make any physical yoga practice as well as any physical exercise or therapy safer and more effective to give health and longevity as the main aim and strength, flexibility and endurance as by-products.

What is Prana
Prana (aka Chi, Qi, Ki) in the body includes energy in the form of:

  • Electrical energy
  • Heat energy
  • Glucose and other energy carrying molecules
  • ATP (and other energy carrying molecules
  • Electromagnetic radiation

What is Chitta (Citta):

Citta (consciousness) in the body includes information in the form of:

  • Neurotransmitters
  • Immunotransmitters
  • Hormones
  • Electric signals
  • Electronic signals
  • Electrochemical signals
  • Electric fields
  • Magnetic fields
  • Electromagnetic fields

General Instructions to help you open or unblock chakras:

For the modern body (i.e. a body that lives mainly in chairs and doesn’t move much) it is suggested that the main focus should always be move actively into poses without the help of external forces such as gravity, momentum or the force on part of the body on another (e.g. using your hands to pull you into a posture). Then the best long term results come from allowing main emphasis after moving actively into a pose to be to lengthen and relax.

Figure 1a shows how work in a simple posture such as sitting cross-legged in order to open or unblock the energy moving through the chakras.
Below is a more general set of instructions that can be adapted and applied to most postures.

Chakra 1: Muladhara  (base or earth) chakra (Sound ‘Lam’)

  • Push the sitting bones towards the feet (or at least in the direction of the thigh bones) (if the hips are flexed then also try to turn the thighs outwards and if the hips are extended then try to turn the thighs inwards).
  • Manipura chakra can be manipulated by most people in the rear from the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities).
  • Muladhara chakra can be manipulated by most people in the front of the body from the base of the pubic bone.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the rear of muladhara chakra for most postures is push the sitting bones apart and relax the urethra and the genitals.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the front of muladhara chakra for most postures is to push the base of the pubic bone away from the navel, i.e. towards the floor if you are sitting.
  • Relax the pelvic floor especially around the urethra  (but best for most people to relax urethra, genitals and anus).
  • Lengthen the toes but check they can move if you were to ask to move them.

Chakra 2: Svadisthana (reproductive, hormonal water) chakra (Sound ‘Vam’)

  • Always master lengthening the spine before learning later to shorten it (which is hard to do effectively and safely, but is what most people do).
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the rear of svadisthana chakra for most postures is to move the tail-bone away from the top of the hips (towards the floor if you are sitting or standing) in order to lengthen the spine.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the front of svadisthana chakra for most postures is to push the top of the pubic bone away from the navel.
  • Relax the pelvic floor especially around the genitals and anus.

Chakra 3: Manipura (energy, digestive, fire) chakra (Sound ‘Ram’)

  • Lengthen the lower back and the lumbar spine especially moving around L5-S1 (lumbo-sacral junction)
  • Move L5 away from the top of sacrum and the sides of the top of the hips (iliac crests)
  • Relax the muscles of abdominal exhalation so you are able to breathe with your diaphragm.
  • Generally for forward bends move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5)  forward and down (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5)  forward and up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) closer to the right hip.
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) closer to the left hip but away from the sacrum.

Chakra 4: Anahata (heart or air) chakra (Sound ‘Yam’)

  •  Lengthen the thoracic spine first then lengthen the chest without shortening the spine especially moving around T12-L1 (lumbo-thoracic junction)
  • Move T12-L1 junction away from the hips. Make efforts to actually move all the vertebrae in this region.
  • Generally for forward bends move the  ’heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) forward and down (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) forward and up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) closer to the right hip.
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) closer to the left hip but away from the sacrum.
  • Expand the chest with or without breathing.
  • Once you have breathed into the abdomen then breathe into the chest.
  • Check the fingers are lengthened but they are free to move if they need to.

Chakra 5: Vishudhi (communication or ether) chakra (Sound ‘Ham’)

  • Lengthen the neck and the cervical spine especially moving around C7-T1 (cervico-thoracic junction).
  • Move the shoulders (left and right shoulder joint complexes) apart.
  • Generally for forward bends move the head down and the neck backwards (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the throat forward and the chin upwards (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the head to the right but lift the right ear up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the neck to the left side and up in order to lengthen the left side of your neck with out shortening the left side (relative to the standing posture).
  • Relax the throat, tongue, jaw and lips (i.e. check your neck could move, your tongue is free, your jaw could move and your lips could move if asked to).

Chakra 6: Ajna chakra (third eye) (Sound ‘Ksham’):

  • Relax the throat, tongue, jaw, lips, and especially relax the outer eyes (muscles that allow you to blink) and the inner eyes (muscles that move the eye balls).
  • Allow the eye balls to roll back in order to passively gaze at the third eye centre.
These instructions can be adapted and applied to any posture or movement and will help to reduce back pain, encourage circulation, improve internal organ health, and, although I am speaking outside of the fringe of most Western science, probably increase your chances of awakening your kundalini.

Figure 2: Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss in Natarajasana:
* Push the sitting bones apart and relax the pelvic floor
* Push the tailbone down and the top of the hips backward to lengthen the lower back
* Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) forwards and upwards
* Push the front of the lower ribs backwards and lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
* Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
* Breathe into the abdomen and breathe out from the chest (Please click on the photo to get enlarged version)

Figure 2 shows how the same instructions can be adapted for us in any posture. In this case Natarajasana can be enhanced with the following instructions:

  • Push the sitting bones apart and relax the pelvic floor
  • Push the tailbone down and the top of the hips backward to lengthen the lower back
  • Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) forwards and upwards
  • Push the front of the lower ribs backwards and lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
  • Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
  • Breathe into the abdomen and breathe out from the chest
Figure 3: 'Downward Facing Dog' Posture (Adho mukha svanasana)

Figure 3: ‘Downward Facing Dog’ Posture (Adho mukha svanasana)

Instructions to Enhance the ‘Downward Facing Dog’ posture (Adho mukha svanasana) based on Chakra Location points:

Figure 3 shows how the same instructions can be adapted for use in the ‘Downward Facing Dog’ posture (Adho mukha svanasana). In this case the ’Downward Facing Dog’ posture can be enhanced with the following instructions:

  • Muladhara Chakra:
    • Push the sitting bones down
    • Have your outer feet parallel but try to turn your thighs outward
    • Relax your pelvic floor (with the combination of all these instructions most healthy people will be naturally activating the lower transverse abdominus fibres and this will cause co-activation of the muscles of perineum)
  • Svadisthana Chakra:
    • Move the tailbone as far away from the hands as possible and lengthen the rear of the trunk and spine
      • Press the front of the feet into the floor as if you raise the heels but the downward pressure of the ‘sitting bones’ won’t let you (this will activate the ankle plantar flexors, which will move the thighs further away from the hands and further lengthen the spine)
    • Move the tailbone as far away from the hands as possible and lengthen the front of the trunk and spine
  • Manipura Chakra:
    • Move the top of the hips away from the floor
    • Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) towards the floor
    • Breathe into your abdomen
  • Anahata Chakra:
    • Push the front of the lower ribs away from the floor
    • Lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
    • Breathe out from the chest
  • Vishudhi Chakra:
    • Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
    • Bring the head towards the floor and the neck away from the floor
    • Relax your throat, tongue, jaw and lips
  • Ajna Chakra:
    • Gaze at your navel centre
    • Relax your the muscles of outer eye that allow you to blink
    • Relax your inner eye muscles

 

Instructions to Help you Lift up into a Handstand (Adho mukha vrksasana) based on Chakra Location points:

I have already discussed this at length in previous blogs but in this short video, taken at one of my workshops by Regi Clarence, you can see how to apply these instructions to help you to lift rather than jump up into a handstand.
Essentially they are the same basic instructions as for the ‘downward facing dog’ pose except you begin with all the weight on your palm, with your fingers gripping the floor and the shoulders above the fingers if possible. In order to lift up by your self you need to also be able to c0-activate the shoulder flexors with the underarm muscles (latissimus dorsi and pectorals major in order to create a shoulder stabilising amsa bandha. Come to the tip of your toes and then apply the following instructions almost the same as those for dog pose:
  • push your sitting bones down
  • lift the top of the hips up to lengthen your lower back
  • lift the ribs away from the floor and lengthen your upper back
  • push the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) towards the floor
  • breathe into the abdomen while you are lifting up (it is also possible to do an inhalation retention as you lift but this can cause dangerous increases to the pressure in the head)

******

For more information on prana, chitta, nadis and chakras please join our two award winning and very educational 120 online courses:

‘Teacher Training Essentials: Yoga Fundamentals”

Yoga Synergy Online Teacher Training and Education

‘The Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’

Yoga Synergy Online Teacher Training and Education

 

TEACHER TRAINING COURSE (200 hour Yoga Alliance Accredited): You can learn more about the YogaSynergy System and can qualify to teach in our style through our online and live International teacher and student training courses.

Exercises for the Healthy Development of Babies and Children

by Simon Borg-Olivier

In this 9 minute video I am using my understanding as a physiotherapist and yoga teacher Simon Borg-Olivier to give exercises to my 9 month old son Eric. This training takes advantage of the natural spinal reflexes that are most prevalent in babies. These spinal reflexes help to facilitate the  exercises that I am getting him to practice. I think it beneficial to gently and intelligently introduce the first stages of these exercises from as early as one day old. At the end of the video you can see some photos of how Eric and his sister (who was given a similar program as a baby) have developed up to about 7 years old.

Babies and children can be exercised from a very early age. I believe it is important to play with your children and also to massage them. I would like to also emphasise that you have to be careful with what you do of course, and always monitor your child’s reactions (for example smiling or crying). Many people tend to be overcautious with young children when actually even babies are quite resilient and really thrive with physical stimulation. As in the case of adults it is important to build up to each new exercise in a slow, gentle and progressive manner. Also for children it is important to not pull them unexpectedly by their arms or legs as this may damage their joints, but with gentle training even babies can use their own strength to hold their entire body weight.

The main spinal reflex that I take advantage of is the ‘stretch reflex’ (myotatic reflex). The ‘stretch reflex’ causes the reflex activation (tensing or ‘switching on’ of any muscle that is unexpectedly lengthened by a force that is external body (such as gravity or the use of another persons limbs). I use this reflex with Eric, for example, by having him sit up cross-legged and then while holding his thighs I (an external force) gently try to push him backwards (spinal extension and hip extension). The sudden lengthening of his abdominal muscles (spinal flexors) and the front of his hips (hip flexors) makes his abdominal muscles and  the muscles at the front of his hips (hip flexors) active (tense or ‘switched on’) and thus helps him to practice doing ‘sit up’ exercises. Similarly, when I hold him in the air by the hips facing down and let his upper body fall towards the floor, the back of his trunk and back of his hips get a sudden lengthening (stretch) and this cause the ‘stretch reflex’ activation of the his back muscles (spinal extensors) and the muscles at the back of his hips (hip extensors). In another exercise I balance Eric on my shoulders and then I move suddenly causing Eric’s legs to move away from my shoulders and causing his inner thighs to unexpectedly lengthen. The sudden lengthening of his inner thighs initiates a ‘stretch reflex’ activation of his inner thigh muscles, which enable him to squeeze his thighs against my shoulders so as to not lose his grip. The same principle allows Eric to stand on my hand. Although his balance is not yet developed, so he can not stand by himself (and would not encourage standing at his age anyway) he nevertheless has no problems standing on my hand because as soon as his knees want to bend with gravity the muscles in front of the knee (knee extensors) become lengthened by the (external) force of gravity and cause a ‘stretch reflex’ activation of these muscles to keep him standing. All of this work can be also applied to adults in similar ways.

This video and lot of related information for adults is taught in the Yoga Synergy online course ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga’ as well as the live 200 hour ‘Yoga Synergy Teacher Training’ Courses.

 

The Sad Passing of Guruji Sri BKS Iyengar

 By Simon Borg-Olivier, 20th August 2014

Today was the passing of our beloved Guruji. For those of us who were privileged enough to have met him and study under his guidance it is a sad day. We send our love to him and his beautiful family, especially to his two children Geetaji and Prashantji from whom we have also learnt so much. I think that the world of modern yoga owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Iyengar. We are all lucky to have been living in the same time as him. Very few people who practice yoga today have not been affected by his brilliant teachings.

Sri BKS Iyengar, Our first meeting, January, 1986; One month Australian and American Intensive Course; Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune, India

 

I have so many great memories of Guruji as I am sure so many people have as well. On this special but sad day I just wanted to share a few of his sayings and some old photos that me and Bianca Machliss have from our studies with him in the 1980′ and 1990′s.

I had the honour and privilege of meeting and studying with Sri BKS Iyengar 8 times from 1986 to 1997.
To me he was the wisest of the wise, the strictest of the strict and one of the most playful and often childlike people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
In January 1986 Guruji told us words about yoga that have resonated with me every since. He said that …
.
”Yoga is when every cell of the body sings the song of the soul.”
.
— B.K.S. Iyengar January, 1986; One month Australian and American Intensive Course; Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.
************

Read the rest of this entry »

Accessible Spinal Movements for Internal Health, External Energy and a Pain Free Back

Basic Spinal Movements

In this blog I will be examining a sequence of postures done from a simple standing posture that in its simplest form involves moving the trunk and spine into its 8 main ‘pure’ positions. This is one of the most effective and accessible practices for anyone and can give tremendous release of back and other pain as well as significantly increasing energy levels, improving functional core strength, reducing stress and improving the health of your internal organs.

The key to effective spinal movements and core stabilisation is to always be able to breathe into the abdomen using the diaphragm and always initiate each spinal movement from the region of the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5). Once you release the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation that many people habitually use to ‘engage their core’ using abdominal breathing or at least the feeling that you can breathe into the abdomen, then the spine is free to move from its base at the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) near the sacrum. Once you move your spine using the internal forces (trunk muscles) rather than external forces such as gravity, the use of another limb or momentum, then this will create tremendous core strength. In other words to move the spine you must initiate movement from the core with a sense that the core feels relaxed enough to breathe there. At this point the abdomen may feel quite soft to touch. However, once the movement begins the abdomen begins to firm because it is moving. This is an important key to functional mobile core strength and a pain free back.

Figure 1: The list of main postures in the spinal movements sequence is as follows:
1. ‘Complete spinal lengthening posture’ (Urdhva hasta merudanda 
tadâsana)
2. ‘Back spinal lengthening posture’ (Pascima merudanda tadâsana)
3. ‘Front spinal lengthening posture’ (Purva merudanda tadâsana)
4. ‘Side spinal lengthening posture’ (Parsva merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
5. ‘Twisted spinal lengthening posture (Parivrtta merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)

This simple but effective spinal movements sequence forms the basis of the YogaSynergy Fundamentals Sequence as taught in our 120 hour online course

A. Structure of the ‘Spinal Movements Sequence’ (Meru danda tada vinyâsa):

The eight main movements of the spine that are practiced in this sequence (vinyâsa) are actually 4 opposing pairs of movements. These are:

1a. ‘Shortening’ (Spinal compression) (standing with a ‘neutral spine’),

1b. ‘Lengthening’ (Spinal traction) (standing with a straight spine),

2a. ‘Forward bending’ (Spinal flexion) (lengthening the back of the body),

2b. ‘Backward bending’ (Spinal extension) (lengthening the front of the body),

3a, 3b. ‘Sideways bending’ to right and left (Spinal lateral flexion) and

4a, 4b. ‘Twisting’ (Spinal axial rotation) to right and to left side

The purpose of this smooth flowing and dynamic linked sequence of postures (vinyâsa) is to enliven the spine by moving each vertebra.

This sequence acts directly on the spine by guiding it to move with its own volition. The shoulders and hips are used to assist the spine in order to utilise and enhance the connections within the body.

The actual list of main postures in this sequence is as follows:

  1. ‘Complete spinal lengthening posture’ (Urdhva hasta merudanda tadâsana)
  2. ‘Back spinal lengthening posture’ (Pascima merudanda tadâsana)
  3. ‘Front spinal lengthening posture’ (Purva merudanda tadâsana)
  4. ‘Side spinal lengthening posture’ (Parsva merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)
  5. ‘Twisted spinal lengthening posture (Parivrtta merudanda tadâsana) (left and right side)

Read the rest of this entry »

Breathing (Part 1): How to breathe to help your spine, internal organs and energy levels

In this blog I will be discussing the the physical and physiological effects of breathing. There are two main reasons we breathe. The main reason is the physiological reason of getting oxygen into our cells. Perhaps surprisingly to many people the best way to achieve this is to safely breathe as little as possible (hypoventilation) to stimulate the Bohr effect which says significant carbon dioxide must be present for oxygen to be able to enter the cells (see our recent blog). The other reason we breathe could be called physical reason and it includes the effects on joints, muscles, nerves, the mind, emotions, blood floor, digestion, reproduction and immunity. In this blog on breathing (Part 1) I will be focusing on the physical effects of breathing. If you breathe, or use the muscles of breathing in certain ways you can radically improve and/alter strength, flexibility, nerve function, blood flow and internal organ health. Many people inadvertently only focus on this reason for breathing and in their enthusiasm and often lack of knowledge they over-breathe (hyperventilate) and thus miss the primary purpose of breathing. In the next blog on breathing (Part 2) I will be focusing on how to achieve the physiological effects of breathing. The advanced practitioner can control their breath in such a way the both the physical and physiological benefits of breathing are achieved at the same time.

Most people should do only natural breathing (simple breath-control) in posture and during movement:

It is best for most people (until they are very experienced) to practice posture and movement separate to specific breath-control. It is difficult for most people do more than one thing at once while they each still being learnt. What tends to happen when people try to learn posture and breathing at the same time is that either the posture or the breathing is compromised. Compromising the posture lead to damaged muscles, ligaments or joints. compromising breathing could lead to over-tension, over-stress and the problems of over-breathing (hyperventilation). Natural breathing has three fundamental properties
1. inhalation is diaphragmatic (abdominal)
2. exhalation is passive
3. the amount of breathing is minimal

Only very experienced people should practice advanced breath-control exercises in complex posture and during movement:

Simon Borg-Olivier in Parsva parivrtta san calana mudra (Image © Nick Aldridge)

Figure 1: In this photo I am moving my body and in a relatively difficult posture side-lengthening, twisting, backward bending lunging posture while doing a fairly advanced breath-control exercise. It is recommended that unless you are very experienced it is best to do natural breathing while movement. (Photo courtesy Nick Aldridge)

In Figure 1 I am doing advanced spinal breathing during complex movement. I follow a path of inhalation that lasts up to 2 minutes on some breaths and a path of inhalation that last up to 2 minutes for exhalation on other breaths. As I ‘breathe into’ a part of the trunk I simultaneously expand that part, lengthen it, relax it and focus on it as I move it. When I ‘breathe out of’ part of the trunk I simultaneously expand that opposite part of the trunk, lengthen it, relax it and focus on it as I move it. This can create quite complex patterns for the mind to visualise but it also has very heating effect and does wonders to the strength, flexibility and wellbeing of the trunk, spine, internal organs and energy levels. In the simplest physical version of this exercise I twist my body to the left side while spiralling my breath around the trunk lengthening first the back f the body, then right side, then the front and then then left side, then I repeat a similar breathing starting from the opposite side in the opposite direction. Before you attempt this it is best to practice long slow breathing in a seated posture (see Part 2 of this blog to come soon), and separately practice the movements with natural breathing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Archives