Thursday, March 2, 2017


"Know thyself," said Socrates. "Know your roots," another wise man (or woman!) said. "Don't forget where you've come from," we often hear (likely from our mothers). Throughout time, elders or simply those who are wise have urged us to know ourselves and where we've come from as a means of grounding ourselves in something solid and supportive. Like a tree with deep roots, the more grounded we are, the higher and more gracefully we can grow. However, knowing thyself need not be a mystical endeavor. Sometimes, we just need redirection to the practicalities which we share with our cohort of humanity.

Maslow's Hierarchy

In 1943, a good man named Charles Maslow published a "hierarchy of needs" in his paper entitled, "A Theory of Human Motivation." Categorizing needs from the most basic or "physiological" to the more spiritual or "transcendental" (not pictured), Maslow gave us a systematic structure for triage-ing our basic necessities. Of course, one need not hard science for this endeavor. Indeed, my eighth-grade students often asked why they had to learn about something which seemed so self-evident. In general, it's true that your body will most likely crave water before self-confidence, seek air before a sense of personal safety and look to release its bladder before attaining enlightenment. And while we could parlay this into a lucid discussion on politics, we'll stick to what I know best... yoga... and all its indulgent accouterments.

Just as my students had the common sense to realize the stratification of their needs before they were taught, around 3,000 years ago, many in India knew and began to codify such needs within the field of Ayurvedic Medicine. Citing the whole body as a system, the study of Ayurvedic medicine identified centers of energy called chakras, each of which, ironically, corresponded to a particular stage on Maslow's hierarchy. The first one, muladhara, deals with our most basic or "physiological needs", mainly food, water, air and cable (just kidding). And while most of us in the Western world are fortunate enough to have or have had most of these needs secured, there are a few postures in yoga which can help "unlock" the muladhara chakra should it be blocked.

Children can sometimes be the keepers of memory, collective or otherwise. Just as my students seemed to scoff at the idea that needs need to be taught, much of what goes on in our childhood is remembered thoroughly throughout the course of our lives. This is to say that, even if you're successful in adulthood, if one's (basic) needs were not consistently met as a young child, our energies or ability to live happy, fruitful lives can remain stunted (just like the tree without deep roots). And so, working with our muladhara or "root chakra" can begin to release such tensions (at least, according to Ayurvedic medicine). Below lies a few postures and ideas which can help assist in our endeavor to work through our first chakra should we struggle have our energy flow through it. Enjoy!

Chakras are at least color coordinated with Maslow's hierarchy which pretty much means they're the same thing. 

Crystals: As I said before, yoga (and it's accompanying lifestyle) comes with its indulgent accouterments. There are organic foods, massages and and array of bath oils which one encounters, not so much in an attempt at luxury but to heal or bodies... in anticipation of more yoga. And while I feel I don't mind allowing my mind (and finances) to wander deep into the yoga lifestyle even I have been a bit concerned as I've watched myself become seduced by the idea of crystal healing.

While our hierarchy of needs have been effectively proven by science, crystal healing, I'm guessing, has yet to be established as a scientific endeavor. Still, I find the idea that the precise vibration of crystals can heal our bodies intriguing. According to the Chopra Center, "[t]he root chakra's color is red." Accordingly, gems like, garnet, red jasper and bloodstone can help to open the chakra when placed on the area where it is located. This, however, may be problematic...

Postures: According to Ayurvedic Medicine, each chakra possess a location along the spine. The first chakra, or Muladhara is located, "at the base of the spine [or]... pelvic floor." As such, it may be difficult to place a gemstone in the region however, there are several yoga postures one can do to release energy from this area should it be quagmired. One pose, known as wind removing pose or pavanamuktasana is one of the easiest poses I find to exist in the Bikram series while the other, standing  head to knee or dandayamana janushirasana, I find to be one of the most difficult. Within each pose, however, one uses the region centered around the muladhara chakra as a pivot point for their stretch. Several pictures and descriptions lie below.

Wind Removing Pose: Wind removing pose arrives in the Bikram sequence when you are most relaxed. Having completed a series of intense postures in "standing series" one then lies on the floor in "corpse pose" or savasana before moving on to wind removing. Letting gravity do much of the work, one pulls their right knee to their shoulder, pulls down to stretch, does the same with their left knee and brings both knees up, pulling them down to their chest. Within yoga, they tell us the stretch massages the transverse-colon (whatever that means) but usually, you're simply too relaxed to care.





Standing Head to Knee: Standing head to knee sucks. It comes at a point in the Bikram series when you still have enough energy for effort, allowing you to move deeply into the pose so that it's extra painful. Of course, you may have looser hamstrings than I and may want to give it a try. I decided to only hold the pose for a single picture so below, lies a pic. and a separate video.

Even looking at standing head to knee makes me mad.

Letting someone else do it.

So there you have it, a few stretches to release the energy of your muladhara chakrah. It's a little like the end of American Beauty when Kevin Spacey's character claims, "[s]ometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life." While we may not agree on the last adjective in his dialogue, letting energy run its course without blockage allows us to live more peacefully. 

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