Yoga into the Jewel: 3rd Chakra, Manipura

Yoga Illumined 2012, Shelli Lopes-Barnes

Shelli Lopes-Barnes, Yoga Illumined 2011 graduate mentors Yoga Illumined 2012 students

“The Jewel is in the Lotus” – is what the Tibetan Buddhist mantra “Om Mane Padme Hum” translates to in English. The Manipura chakra, or 3rd chakra is the Jewel in the Lotus of the Body. It is “The City of Jewels.”

Manipura chakra is the energy center – located at the Solar plexus, at the diaphragm, behind your belly button and in the upper lumbar to mid-thoracic that often regulates the modulation of your voice when you speak. Unless of course, you work through lots of breathwork, Yoga, vocal exercises, etcetera at getting the sound out from the base of your spine, muladhara – and then you speak from that place we call “Para,” – the deepest part of sound in the physical body.

In the Yoga Illumined teacher training, we emphasize finding your own Voice, not just as a Teacher, but in all aspects of your life. Shelli Lopes-Barnes, who graduated in 2011 and mentored throughout 2012 most comfortably expresses through healing and massage and we encourage the Yoga in this.

These chakras in the body are incredible things – you dissect a human cadaver, and you’ll never find a chakra: this is a direct quote from Guruji – Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, pictured.

Guruji, Yoga Illumined

The word Guruji in Sanskrit translates to “beloved teacher”

But you can certainly feel each chakra. Manipura chakra is the seat of Self-Confidence and Self-Love or their opposites: Self-Abnegation and Self-Loathing. So of course, as Caroline Myss explains, the shadow side sits right smack next to the light side of the self – and we work on these at the 3rd chakra level.

The 3rd Chakra is the seat of the Ego – the idea of one’s Self as an individual. It is the place where one’s own individual voice pours out from the grand symphony of voices in the Universe. As a singer, I’m fascinated by sound and Voice and expression, and it’s interesting to note the 4 levels of Sound according to Vedic tradition: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhiri. It seems that the Pashyanti level of speech – which gives sound Meaning – originates from the Manipura chakra level. And this is why, at times, when one is afraid to speak out, vocalize or sing, the voice wavers.

And so we work on this at the level of Manipura – as the 3rd chakra is where “butterflies in the stomach” originate. It’s that fear of standing out as individual. And the key thing to note in our world – is that we are always going to be asked to stand alone, stand our ground and speak our individual truth – while honoring the Universal. This is the key lesson of Manipura – that the individual self must be loved, the ego taken care of, and spoken sweetly to – because it is also an incredibly vulnerable and hungry part of the body. It warehouses, among other internal organs, the stomach, the small intestine and your big breathing diaphragm muscle.

Yoga Illumined 2012, Yoga Teacher Training, Yogafly

Robin in supported Navasana – boat pose

I actually planned quite a few abdominal strengtheners/Pilates style crunches and Navasana variations (pictured) for my 3rd Chakra class – and then when I got to the room, I changed my mind. The group who came didn’t need to contract their abdominal muscles – the group who came to learn about the 3rd chakra this past weekend – needed to expand, lengthen and protect this center of the Self. Now, I do realize there’s a lot of Self-love that comes with abdominal crunches (ha ha) – but it’s true – strong abs help you with all sorts of things like handstands. But beyond handstands, there is really the greater need to let our bellies soften and breathe. In fact, the softer my belly is, the easier it is to hit those high C’s my opera coach likes to coax out of me. And not only this, the softer my belly is, the more at ease I feel in the world and in general.

The poses we did this past weekend to protect and strengthen the Jewels in the lotus of Manipura chakra included:

We chanted to Shri Rama – and I talked about the Ramayana and Ram’s significance. Ram is the seed sound or bija mantra of Manipura chakra. Ram is considered the “playful mind of God”. He was quite the Warrior and is symbolic of the force within us of great strength that becomes even greater when we surrender and align all the chakras.

And of course, I had to bring in Sita – Ram’s feminine consort. Sita-Ram, Sita-Ram, Sita-Ram. It’s nice to have some feminine softness in the belly even as we stand our ground in the many battles of the world.

I spoke about imbalances in the Ego and the 3rd chakra including taking things too personally in the world – or too impersonally. The 3rd chakra is the seat of Ahamkara – which to me translates as “knowing there is an I”. Or Knowing there is an “I-am.” What we fill in after the “am” is really up to us at each moment. This is the place where we figure out symbolism of the myth of Narcissus – narcissism: “Narcissus walked by a pool of water and decided to drink some. He saw his reflection and became entranced by it. He killed himself because he could not have his object of desire.”

I think it’s always intriguing to note when we relate too much on reflections, photos or videos of our individual selves. It’s a tremendous thing to have all these wonderful means of photographing one’s self, etcetera. But we have to watch when we “kill” ourselves symbolically when we don’t like a photo, a video or a portrayal of us on another medium. Or when we like our individual photos too much – like the Yoga-selfie craze. Now, there ain’t nothin wrong with striking poses and taking pictures of your self, but it’s still not all that accurate of a portrayal as our digital media is still incredibly FLAT – two-dimensional. I’m looking forward to more dimensionality in our media – pshaw 3-D – reach in and touch a pixel says Jinha Lee. And we rely so heavily on the sense of Sight. There are so many senses, ahem Helen Keller. The truth is, how anyone else sees you, is their particular lens of the world and holds some valid, particular truth. But how you see and beyond seeing, KNOW yourself is what you get to walk around with and sleep with and wake up to and die with.

I quoted Rumi (which I do a lot) who said,
“Become the mirror as well as the face in it.”

The Spirit loves being transcendent while also manifesting as an individual in this world. This Union between Individual and Universal (Yoga) is the work of a lifetime (or trillions of lifetimes, depending on your particular bent). But well worth the spiritual discipline and practice.

Om shantih om,

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