Your body is the journey and it is where you begin. It is your connection to the physical world, your foundation, the home of your dance. You are the place from which all action and understanding will arise, and to which it will return. You are the testing ground of truth.
– Anodea Judith, Wheels of Life
What we call home is an idea we create within ourselves. Our connection to a physical space, inanimate surroundings, and the people we love undergo the change and flux of the universe. We can’t always control our surroundings or rely on those who support us. By creating a sense of stability and safety from within we learn how to self-soothe and regulate intense emotions. The body is our initial connection to the earth and the yoga practice is a tool we use to shift how we feel. We can always come back to the practice- be it asana, pranayama, or meditation. We might use these as tools to shift states of dis-ease. The practice allows us to come back to a place where we are grounded and feel a sense of belonging.
The root chakra, Muladhara, connects us to our inner stability and grounding. When we’re balanced in this chakra, we feel a connection to the earth, to those around us, and ourselves. When we feel out of balance in this chakra, we may feel overwhelmed, agitated, disconnected, and over-excited. Seeking activities that are slower and closer to the ground, and eating foods that are dense and heavy may quell anxieties that arise. Especially as we shift into the heat of summer and months marked by activities outside, creating rituals and practices that have a grounding effect may help bring the energy downwards so we don’t overexert ourselves and burn out.
This week Clara and I focused on yoga poses that build strength in the legs and abdomen. We talked about a pranayama/breath exercise to do after a long day to slow the heart rate and deepen the breath. We shared our own rituals we do after a busy day or a day of travel. You can listen to the podcast or watch the full talk on the #PracticewithClara site. Highlights from this week’s discussion are below.s
Interview with Clara on the Root Chakra
Clara: When we connect to our root chakra, in terms of the yoga practice, we deal a lot with the legs, connecting to the legs, and feeling the connection to the earth itself. If you want to have a more earthbound practice, you would stay low to the ground. You would do things that are very leg heavy, and hold the poses for longer.
Stephanie: Why is an earth theme and connecting to the root chakra something we want to work with at this time of year? In Vancouver, being in the northern hemisphere, with lots of solar energy and heat from the sun?
Clara: This is usually a time of year that a lot of people get physically burnt out because they’re doing all of their fun, physical activities that they do outside. And to balance that energy we want to create a slower moving, a darker, heavier class to kind of counter the excitement that we’re experiencing outside.
Stephanie : Talk about some of the elements in the class this week- Stay Low- as themed around the root chakra, and the body parts you would open. For yoga teachers, what kind of things would you include in a class to honor this type of theme?
Clara: One of two ways I theme with earth classes is with a lot of standing leg poses and warrior poses.I would include a lot of hip openers. I would have a longer floor series, the lunar part of class, and I would include a lot of forward folds to invite a space for introspection.
With the earth element, you want to create a feeling of staying low to the ground. One of the descriptions of earth is generally dark and heavy. So those elements are two things that we would bring into this class.
Stephanie: Tell me about Anna Forrest and Forrest Yoga, which you add to your sequences, and what it is Forrest Yoga supports and strengthens?
Clara: I love Forrest Yoga for the therapeutics that work specifically around the lower back and activating and stretching the psoas, which I think are two things that we don’t pay enough attention to in yoga..
One of the things that Ana Forrest gets people to do is to create a roll by rolling up a mat or a blanket. The roll is rolled-up and placed between the thighs. I sometimes use a block. And the deep core work comes from hugging in at the upper inner thighs around the block. If you’re a member on the site and you’ve done the core work classes, most of that is on Forrest Yoga. It’s very subtle work, it’s really about the deep core muscles activating, the muscles that I call the stabilizers. If you want your stabilizers to work harder versus your, what I call your movers and shakers, then you need to do smaller movements in order to activate the stabilizers.
Stephanie: Parvati is the Goddess who symbolizes the Earth and is a deity I would associate with the root chakra. Can you talk a bit about Parvati’s relationship to Shiva and what they create together?
Clara: I call Shiva the patron Saint of yogis. He’s the meditator and actually quite the rebel. He’s either dancing the Tandava, which is a dance of destruction and transformation, or he’s seated in meditation. What he does is he goes to Mount Kailash and he lives in this cave. He goes up to this cave and he sits there for centuries at a time meditating.
When he’s meditating, he’s connecting to higher consciousness. Parvati, his wife, gets really annoyed and she starts to get bored because her husband is off meditating and not spending time with her.
So Parvati goes to find Shiva in deep meditation. Nobody can wake Shiva from his meditative state, but Parvati goes to him and she begins to dance and move all around him. She has a particular scent and it’s the scent of her perfume and the dance that pulls him from meditation.
Parvati is the one who brings him back to the physical world out of the ethereal realm. She has a grounding effect on Shiva, and through their connection balance is achieved.
Parvati symbolizes the earth and she also symbolizes the ultimate partner or the ultimate wife. Parvati is very disciplined and there are stories that share how Parvati started being a spiritual practitioner at the age of three or four. She actually surpasses Shiva in terms of how enlightened she is or connected to the divine, so Shiva is attracted to that aspect of Parvati. She is his equal or a little bit above in terms of her spiritual practice.
Stephanie: What are some rituals that help you ground after a long day?
Clara: I prefer meditation or putting legs up the wall. Putting legs up the wall is very grounding, it gets you into the parasympathetic nervous system. It allows me to arrive. That’s the thing that I do, usually when I show up to a hotel room or when I’m traveling. Then usually if I’m fortunate enough to have a bath I’ll immerse myself in water.
We can also come to the mat and have a connection with ourselves. Reconnecting to our spirit. I use my yoga practice now as a tuneup. I’m tuning up parts of my body and therefore tuning up parts of my mind and my spirit. – Clara Roberts-Oss
Stephanie: What are some pranayamas that have a grounding effect?
Clara: Nadi-shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, is one. Nadi-shodhana balances the hemispheres of the brain as well as the lunar and solar side of the body.
The other pranayama I would recommend would be bhramari breath, or bees breath. I would place my hands on the lower abdomen or hands on thighs, and then hum down into that area.
The last one would be a moving meditation that’s kind of like a Tai Chi movement. You stand with feet shoulder-width apart, and inhale hands upwards toward the sky and exhale hands back down toward the ground. I would do this standing to feel my feet on the ground and connect to the stability of the earth.