Continuing our journey through the chakra system: identifying the centers of energy to work through your physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances. Also don’t miss Chakra One, Two and Three.
Chakra Four: Anahata
When the poet E. E. Cummings wrote the line “love is the whole and more than all,” he might have been thinking of the fourth chakra—anahata—also known as the heart chakra. Judith’s chapter on this centrally-located chakra goes deep into what she feels is at the core of all emotional and energy blockages: an absence or challenge to giving and receiving love. This is quite intuitive, since love is what connects us to ourselves and to others, and this bond is crucial to crossing the rainbow bridge into higher states of awareness through the chakra system.
Located at—you guessed it—the heart, anahata is also where the element of air will or will not enter the body. It is associated with the color green, a fitting metaphor as it is here where the energy of the lower chakras and upper chakras combine: where, like plants, we grow down into our roots and up into flowers and leaves. At this literal midpoint of the chakras, it is where we find balance in our lives and realize our right to love and to be loved.
Anahata forms during the ages of 4 to 7, after we’ve established our individual selves (see the third chakra) and are ready to form connections with those around us. But before we can play nicely with others, we must have an intuitive knowledge and respect for ourselves. Thus, self-love is paramount for keeping anahata open and balanced.
Issues can arise in this developmental stage from a variety of sources. As was true of the lower chakras, our families have much to do with shaping our ability to love ourselves and others. We learn by imitating our parents how we should comport ourselves in relationships, and any and all abuse—be it sexual abuse, verbal, general neglect, or a conditional giving of love—will provide a skewed image of love. Moreover, balance in anahata includes that of what certain branches of psychology deem the anima and animus—the feminine and masculine parts of our personalities. In our society, girls are taught to nurture their emotions and be more passive, whereas boys are told that sensitivity is a sign of weakness. As we grow up, we thus look to others to complete the male/female balance within us, via a spouse or partner who may have the opposite dominant traits, depending on what we experienced growing up.
But without respecting emotions and needs, we as individuals become incomplete. This can manifest itself differently in men and women although both suffer from an essential form of grief: fear of rejection and lack of faith in authentic love. Men may hold themselves rigidly, with a puffed chest and strong, broad shoulders; they overcompensate in this area of the body for the repression of their inner, vulnerable child-selves who were told that their feelings need to be pushed back. In women, the chest may appear concave with a pear-shaped body type, and show an excess of emotion that flows erratically in wild spurts.
If our relationships are built upon these uneven foundations, then we may find them difficult to sustain for the long-term. For a man who depends on his wife to inject feeling into his life, what will he do if she leaves—and vice versa? This type of crisis is why much fourth chakra work happens in mid-life. (Note, though, that the masculine/feminine tendencies are ascribed to the sexes not by any objective standards, but only because of social “norms”—a balanced chakra indeed has both in equal measure. These personalities can manifest themselves in both sexes, and often fluctuate within the same person.)
Outside of these socially enforced restrictions to the heart chakra, there are of course general symptoms of excessive and deficient flows of love. Excessive types will overcompensate for their internal wounds with effusive love for others; they can be codependent and demanding, possessive of their partners and obsessed with finding relationships in a way that, in effect, prevents any real bonds from forming. By contrast, deficient types use their wounds as an excuse to isolate themselves emotionally. They have trouble reaching out to give or receive love—which may reflect in rigidity in the chest and arms—and instead passively wait for others to heal their scarred hearts. Life events can trigger excessive and deficient behaviors alternately, and it is healthy to be able to balance this internal flow of emotion and respect its fluctuations.
Unblocking the heart charka involves looking inside oneself and addressing any and all wounds we’ve experienced to love in our lives. Outside of physical actions, therapy is a good way to work through issues of self-acceptance, grief, and forgiveness toward those who have left and hurt us in the past. Focusing on the breath—the flow of air in the chest—can bring certain emotions to the surface of our consciousness as well. In yoga, practicing pranayama breathing, whereby you breathe quickly in and out through the nostrils, can invigorate and connect you with your breath. General poses for opening the heart include sphinx pose, upward-facing dog, camel pose, cat/cow pose, and fish pose—all of which allow the heart to shine forward and the collar bones to spread wide.
Having a healthy and open heart chakra is key to rising into the upper chakras, where we let go of the steadfast connection with the self. Once we can accept ourselves and our worth by beholding—a non-judging form of observing and witnessing—we’ll be prepared to turn that gaze even more attentively toward our intellectual and spiritual selves in chakras five through seven.
Chakra Five: Visuddha
It’s a common plot line in movies, television shows, and books: at the crucial moment in a relationship, one that for all intents and purposes seems to be heading toward a happy ending, one person finds themselves stammering over those three little yet oh-so-important words. Saying “I love you” is often as difficult, if not more so, than simply feeling it, and this transition is representative of our move between chakras four and five. Here, in the center of communication and creativity, we cross into the range of the upper chakras where symbolism and abstraction come into expression. And if our fifth chakra is blocked, it may be nearly impossible to express our inner truths (a friendly mnemonic would be true blue, the color of visuddha), from deep statements of “I love you” to the simplest statement of existence, “I am.”
Visuddha is, like anahata, a gateway of sorts between our upper and lower halves. Located at the throat, it is where unconscious desires and needs from below combine with the conscious will of above and manifest themselves into active speech. As a result, chakra five is closely connected to chakra two: the action of letting go in the former (visuddha means purification) balances the letting in that we do when we feel in the latter. You may have been in a situation where you had fully formed in your mind something that you wanted for yourself or for others to know, only to be frustrated that it went unrecognized. “I’m not a mind-reader,” someone might say to you, and that’s true of all of us: we need to talk, and connect with visuddha, to engage with the world around us. It provides us with a path between the inner world of the self and the outer world.
The upper chakras tend to have less definitive developmental start and end points age-wise, since there are fewer ways to externally track their evolution; they’re also even more unique to each individual. We can estimate, though, that the fifth chakra forms during ages 7 to 12, when we begin to have a concept of time and can imagine alternate realities; these skills are the markers of creative thinking. We’re also—hopefully—more secure in our relationships with others, and thus better able to trust that our expression will be reciprocated and secure in the world.
While there are many means of self-expression, the primary mode will always be the voice. Like all sound, our voices comprise vibrations which cycle in a rhythm; this makes chakra five a deeply intuitive form of energy, one that is connected to the routines of our day and moods and the cycles of emotions that flow up from the heart. Getting enough sleep is important to balancing this chakra—indeed, when we have enough rest and are attuned to the increasing or decreasing energies of our bodies, we can be our most creative.
Naturally, problems with chakra five appear in the voice and neck/shoulder area of the body. When true expression is restricted by lies—the demon of this chakra—whether they be secrets kept from us or by us, we feel tension and stress as part of a fear response: we are afraid of revealing some inner part of ourselves or have knowledge blocked from us by others. This happens all to often with children ages 7-12, who may be kept in the dark about certain realities (even with good intentions) or enlisted to keep secrets about other family members. When parents lie, yell and scream, or exert absolute authority over their children, then they are taught that those limits to expression are the rule. Like traumas to the heart chakra, these conditions tell us that our authentic selves are not to be exposed or are unworthy. There is a denial of the mantra of vissudha, “My voice is necessary.”
When we develop a deficient response to these expressive obstacles, there is little to no communication at all. A person is blocked internally and may not even consider the fact that they have something to say, let alone that others would listen to it. Speaking is a challenge, and the voice is weak and timid. An excessive fifth chakra may appear to have no problems communicating, for they can talk non-stop. However, this behavior is not different from a lack of words, since it is mostly a way to exert excess energy and be in control of a situation. Fundamentally insecure, they use words that are largely vacuous. Because both deficient and excessive types lack a firm sense of grounding, it’s common to move between both extremes: the chakra is not strong enough to maintain a balanced vibration pattern, so it opens and closes rapidly.
In today’s world, having issues with chakra five is very difficult to avoid. Noise pollution is everywhere, especially in major cities, and when we’re plugged into earphones, keep stressful, unnatural schedules, and rely on misleading or incorrect expressions from the media to determine our needs and sense of self our inner voices are easily drowned out. Judith cites alarming evidence of the long-term effects of such distractions, including a slower maturity rate in babies raised in noisy environment.
While it might be impossible to completely disconnect from the modern world, taking time to hear ourselves can lead toward a better connection to the truth. Meditation and sitting quietly for a few minutes a day allows us to check out and recalibrate our vibrations—like a power nap. In a more active approach, listening to certain kinds of music as well as repeating chants and mantras can engage our voices to achieve specific mental states or connect to chakras that need attention. Non-verbal expression like writing can also fill voids in communicating with people who are not present or when trying to express more complex ideas. When you’re on your mat, try fish pose or upward plank to open the throat, or plow pose to massage it.
Last night in my yoga class, after having read this chapter, I found myself more able to breathe with voice—to let out audible sighs—when fatigued or straining to hold a pose. It was incredibly helpful to have that release, and to my great surprise I began to notice how many other people were making noise throughout class even outside our shared opening mantra “om.” Together, we formed a greater breathing organism full of dynamic energy, one that encouraged the kind of exploration of potential that is, in essence, our creativity. I once had a teacher who said, as he guided us into an awkward and difficult balancing sequence, “We do crazy things on our mats so that things in our lives don’t seem as crazy.” This was not all that comforting at the time, but now I understand that it is, in some respects, the principle governing chakra five. There are so many possibilities within ourselves, and all we need to do to make them real is give them voice.
Next: The Chakra System and You – Part IV (Final)
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