06 Feb Getting to the Root of the Matter: Understanding Your Foundation in Your Root Chakra.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article introducing the Indian concept of chakras and explained them from a variety of different perspectives. The prevailing classical perspective is that they are distinct centers of the subtle anatomy of the human body, affecting our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual lives (though, some would say, only in spiritual aspirants who have awakened them).
The prevailing modern perspective is that the locations of the chakras correspond with major neurological centers, and whether or not they also exist as the subtle lotuses or wheels described in ancient scriptures, they function as important stations of mind-body connection, plus they represent a useful system for understanding psycho-spiritual health and evolution.
I want to be reverent of the origins of chakra philosophy (which has often been co-opted in the West without regard for accuracy), however, I believe that some insightful Westerners have contributed to this science in a significant way. If I continue to try to address every perspective while also attempting to avoid ruffling any feathers, I think these articles won’t be any fun to read, so I’m going to be a bit looser about mixing the old and the new. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments section at the end of the article.
Now, let’s dive into the First Chakra, called Muladhara, which is located in the region of the perineum (halfway between the genitals and anus) and or just in front of the tip of the tailbone (coccyx). In the last article I said this is arguably the most important chakra for the average human, and that’s because it relates to survival. When your survival is threatened, you might reflexively tighten up here, or even lose all control of your eliminatory functions. Your health at this state of being can be experienced as a fundamental sense of trust about getting your basic needs met, and a feeling of safety, security, and stability.
Muladhara is also known as the root chakra because it relates to the Earth Element and our sense of groundedness. It’s also the chakra most closely associated with the physical body, the physical world, and our relationship with worldly things and material possessions. It governs the legs and feet – which connect us to the earth – as well as the long, thick sciatic nerves, which, like roots of the nervous system, run from the sacrum all the way down the legs to the feet.
Balance at this state of being can be difficult for modern humans because we are generally more immersed in our thoughts, more surrounded by material goods, less present in our bodies, less on our feet, and less connected to the earth and the natural world than ever before in the history of our species. Meanwhile, although actual crises of survival are much less common than in the past for most people in the developed world, we have learned to fabricate “life or death” feelings about all sorts of everyday occurrences, which taxes the foundation this chakra provides.
It is sometimes said that there’s no reason to work on our upper chakras before the lower ones are in order, and this is especially true of the First Chakra. If, for example, you haven’t sorted out your basic needs; if you look to possessions to provide happiness and belonging; if you haven’t yet owned what Anodea Judith calls your “right to be here,” then you’re bound to be undermined in the pursuit of higher personal and spiritual development.
According to Caroline Myss, this is the chakra of “tribal power.” She says it relates to group identity, power, and beliefs. Our sense of belonging to our community “grounds” us in a manner similar to the earth and the security of home. We deeply associate belonging with survival itself, since our life begins with total dependence on our tribe to supply our basic needs. (They may also supply our deepest fears, limitations, and wounds.) In addition, our tribe teaches us core moral virtues – loyalty, honor, and justice – although, depending on our interpretation, our relationship with these concepts may be harmful rather than fortifying. Myss advises making peace with our culture because resentment toward it (regardless of whether it’s warranted) can impair our power by blocking our awareness of the sacred truth that All is One.
Imbalance at the Muladhara level of being can manifest in a variety of ways, often marked by insecurity and instability. Some examples are given below. (It should be noted, however, that while First Chakra imbalances can manifest in these ways, these symptoms could also result from imbalances of other chakras or from issues unrelated to the chakra system.)
- Anxiety, panic, depression, living in “survival mode,” fear in general, and specifically fear of abandonment, fear of running out of resources, fear of loss of physical order
- Difficulty standing up for oneself
- No sense of home; not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight or where your next meal will come from
- Difficulty making money and/or holding onto it
- Clinging to material possessions
- Inability to perceive one’s self-worth
- Feeling undeserving of having things, of having enough; “poverty consciousness”
- Rectal disorders, sciatica, varicose veins, immune disorders, problems with the bones, legs and feet
Establishing balance in the First Chakra often entails hard work; frequently, it’s the work of an entire lifetime. It’s hard work mostly because it’s deep work. It requires a willingness to go as deep as possible into one’s belief system and one’s oldest memories, and to challenge, reframe, and heal what you find there. The following strategies may provide additional support:
- Spend time in nature, preferably with your bare feet on the ground.
- Get connected to your self-worth. Hint: it’s the same worth as everyone else, and it isn’t affected by your looks, your deeds, or your abilities. Believe that you deserve to have your needs met and you have a right to be here.
- Exercise, eat well, and in general, take good care of your body.
- Eat some protein. As the most dense and slow-to-digest component of our diet, it is good for helping to ground us (although excessive amounts can dull our consciousness).
- Retrain your survival mechanisms. Ask yourself, when your adrenaline is flowing, if this is a genuine “fight or flight” situation. Breathe deeply, imagining the breath goes all the way down to the bottom of your pelvic bowl, and anchor yourself. Meanwhile, avoid getting emotionally charged unnecessarily – cut out the horror movies, for instance – and remember that you can be present and fully participating for your boss, your friends, and your family even without taking on their drama.
- Don’t let your mind monopolize your attention. Keep some of your awareness in your body, feeling what comes up throughout the day.
- Establish financial stability. When money comes to you, accept it without guilt. Really receive it with total willingness. If necessary, modify your image of yourself such that you can comfortably see yourself as a person who has enough.
- A wide array of exercises and yoga poses are prescribed for strengthening or balancing Muladhara. Two of my favorites are squatting and mula bandha – “root lock” – one of the locks or bandhas of yoga. You can look up articles on mula bandha – it’s similar to doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, but a little more subtle.
Often, First Chakra work seems never to be finished. Most of us are “householders” – we live in the physical world, we have piles of stuff, and it’s an incredible challenge to be at peace in the midst of it all. Meanwhile, our animalistic survival instincts, including pleasure seeking and pain avoidance, are wired into our nervous system. It takes real devotion to personal growth to override these instincts and take our own driver’s seat, but I believe it’s the work we’re all here to do and we all have the ability to succeed at it.
Dr. Peter Borten
- Johari, H. (1987). Energy Centers of Transformation. Destiny Books.
- Judith, A. (2004). Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
- Judith, A. (1999). Wheels of Life: The Classic Guide to the Chakra System. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
- Khalsa, G. K. (1991). Energy Maps: A Journey Through the Chakras. La Crescenta, CA: CyberScribe.
- Myss, C. M. (1996). Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Svoboda, R. E. (1995). Aghora II: Kundalini. Albuquerque, NM: Brotherhood of Life Publishing.
- White, J. W. (1990). Kundalini, Evolution, and Enlightenment. New York: Paragon House.
- Woodroffe, J. G., & P. (1931). The Serpent Power: Being the Shat-chakra-niru?pana and Pa?duka?-panchaka; Two Works on Laya yoga. Madras: Ganesh.