The following is a revised version of an article I wrote and posted here about 4 years ago or so. I thought it would provide some useful background to our next Citrakarma/Yoga+Art session at The Color Shack, coming up Sunday June 28th from 1-3pm. We’ll be exploring manipura chakra through yoga postures and aromatherapy, and then we’ll put some paint on a canvas! You’ll go home with a 12″x12″ canvas that you can truly make your own, or stay with the theme of the Lotus Glow we’ve been threading through each of the last 4 workshops. Click here to register.
Around the time I turned 40, I noticed that indeed my body, too was – kindof dramatically – turning 40. Most of the changes were normal, natural, but some have noticeably altered the way I feel and move. My digestive system is becoming more sensitively attuned to what I’m feeding it and in some instances has strongly resisted my desires to keep giving it the strong, spicy, acidic diet I’ve always loved. It’s as if the fires of digestion have smoldered to the point where they create only acrid smoke that has nowhere to go but back up the digestive tract. When I pull out my ayurvedic cookbook and start actively reducing the pitta elements in my diet, I feel so much better, and not just in my belly.
Let’s look, too for a moment, at the belly in psychological terms. In Kundalini yoga (the most psyche-oriented of all of the schools of yoga), the belly is the location of the manipura chakra, the center of transformative fires. At least symbolically, engaging a strong manipura energy (through the practice of Kundalini Yoga) is a positive force and necessary for continued growth and transformation. In Carl Jung’s interpretation, manipura is where we burn through our passions and desires in order to begin to realize our individual nature. In the wisdom of the chakras, manipura is where we put forth ambition, where we exercise power and is sometimes associated with the years when we are forging (to use another heat-related metaphor) our careers and defining who we want to be.
Around the time of a particularly strong bout with these uncomfortable changes to my system, I’d dreamt intensely for two or three nights in a row; twice a recurring dream where I was trying to teach yoga in my studio but was constantly thwarted, interrupted or otherwise distracted by people and things and activity. I decided to work with the imagery in those dreams in terms of what was going on my life at that moment, and who the dream-ego as well as the dream characters were in the scheme of my own life at that time. What was it that I thought I wanted and what was still in the way that I was ignoring or repressing?
It was perhaps not enough that I’d changed my life to pursue a path I felt would bring me a deeper sense of satisfaction along with the opportunity to really give something of value to people (i.e., I started teaching yoga, and that desire came relatively late in my life). That alone was not going to bring me to a fuller realization of myself. There are still boxes full, rooms full of “stuff” and relationships to unpack that in my dreams, are literally, in my way.
Following the course of kundalini, I might consider that becoming a yoga teacher is still (unconsciously) bound up with the ego’s desires and “burning through” that want could create the space to more deeply connect with what my yoga practice means to me, and how I can take that deepening awareness – that more genuine relationship of my self to myself – to my students. Through yoga we become more real to ourselves. It follows necessarily that we become more real to those around us.
Which is all to say I’ve tried to stay very focused on the mid-region, in my own practice, but in my teaching too. I always assumed my yoga practice alone would keep me fit physically and mentally but as I get older I want to bring more practices into my life that benefit the whole person: ayurveda, restorative yoga, pranayama, meditation as well as active svadhyaya or self-study through dream work and one-on-one Jungian analysis. These practices enhance the equanimity, the sense of balance and calm I get from yoga and give me the energy, the joy to pursue all the things in my life that keep me sane and present and help me to grow and stay creative: my teaching, music, art, food, home, family and friends.
Be extra aware of and nice to your “belly” this week – both with what you put in it that will help keep your agni, your digestive fires, balanced and active, but also, give some thought to the psychic force of the manipura chakra. What’s vivid, burning, and intensely alive for you right now and what does it mean for your own, unique sense of personhood? What’s the fire in your belly?