Fire is an amazing thing. We human beings are fascinated by its beauty and energy. When a fire is burning well, we can contentedly stare into the flames for hours on end. More often than not though, a fire needs constant tending to keep it from dying out or raging out of control. Our personal internal fire is no different.
Manipura chakra is the energy centre that governs the manifestation of our personal power. It is located at the level of the solar plexus, between the navel and the sternum and is thought to rule our will and autonomy, as well as our metabolism. The element associated with this chakra is fire and many of the practices we do to boost the energy at this centre are heating. Conversely, when our internal fires are a little too hot and this energy centre needs pacification, cooling practices are more appropriate.
As Anodea Judith states:
“When healthy, [Manipura] chakra brings us energy, effectiveness, spontaneity, and non-dominating power”.
When it’s excessive, we can become overbearing and aggressive. When this chakra is deficient, we can lack confidence. Maintaining a steady flame requires consistent care and attention. It is well worth the effort though, because a fully functional Manipura Chakra is a useful thing to have at your disposal when you’re pursuing a goal and trying to maintain good, solid relationships at the same time!
As an ambitious, driven sort of individual, I’ve never suffered from deficient energy at Manipura Chakra for any length of time. Oh sure, every now and then I fizzle out and need a confidence boost but generally speaking, my Manipura chakra blazes with all of the fire it’s meant to. And yes, sometimes the fire burns hotter than is sustainable…my apologies to anyone whose eyebrows have been singed.
Given that my predisposition is towards fire, I’ve spent a lifetime either consciously or unconsciously cultivating tools for maintaining some sort of equilibrium at Manipura chakra. I’m an expert at “Fire Practices” and can help anyone fan a lacklustre Manipura into a blazing flame. Many yoga practices that are encountered in every class are excellent ways to build strength and energy at this centre.
Unfortunately, I’m also pretty good at literally “burning myself out”. For a long time pacifying Manipura had been a huge challenge for me. One key discovery changed all that: the back of the body has a big role to play in maintaining the balance in this chakra.
In tantric philosophy as taught in Anusara yoga, the back body is associated with the Universal while the front body is associated with the individual. So often when we are out of balance at the level of Manipura chakra, our bodies tell the story. If we are excessive and our ego leads the way, our posture can be characterised by a forward thrust of the solar plexus area. Conversely, when we are deficient and lack confidence, we tend to shrink backwards, allowing the spine to round forward in a gesture of self-protection.
Interestingly enough, when we are straining towards a goal and embodying the physical characteristics of an excessive Manipura chakra, we tend to close off the back body and the area around our kidneys and adrenal glands gets squeezed. At a physiological level, we may be stressing ourselves out even more by compressing the area around the adrenal glands which kick out more adrenaline thereby making us feel more internal tension. It can become a vicious circle. On the other hand, if our self confidence is low and we curl forward, we end up stretching that area in an unconscious effort to soothe ourselves and create space around the adrenals.
In a yoga practice, when we over focus on strengthening the front body at the level of Manipura or when we thrust our solar plexus forward, we can be inadvertently saying that we can do it all alone, that we don’t need support or help. Conversely, when we curl into ourselves or resist cultivating strength in the abdominals, we can be unconsciously communicating our desire for support from the rest of the world perhaps because we need a little extra nurturing or because we feel like we lack the ability to support ourselves.
Balancing an acknowledgement and a trust that the universe has got your back with putting in good honest, personal effort is the ultimate expression of a well functioning Manipura Chakra. One practice that I have found tremendously helpful at cultivating that sense of trust is quite simple. Before beginning any practice or posture, I take a few deeps breaths into the back of my body. By inflating the area around my kidneys and lower back, there is an immediate sense of ease that comes into my body and my mind. As my friend and Anusara teacher Katie Lane encouraged me:
“Remember your connection to something greater, soften your sense of individual/separate self. As you draw the sides of your waistline back and release your front ribs down, invite your back body to shine with the buoyancy of the breath. Breathe here awhile. When you create that fullness in the midback, you’ll tap into a deep feeling of support”
It’s so true! I started consciously encorporating this bit of advice into my practice a couple of months back and the effect has been incredible and immensely healing. By opening into a sense of trust and dispersing my awareness away from my front body to include the back as well, my physical practice has gotten stronger and the level of my everyday sense of tension has eased. My internal fires burn much more steadily now and with far fewer destructive raging bonfires. And by maintaining that steadiness, more power is available to me more consistently.
As all of us know, our personal fire centres need constant tending, just like any other flame. Consider remembering the universal support that is available to help you tend yours. You may discover that you are far stronger and more resilient with less apparent effort than when you try to go it all alone!