The wonderful thing about time is that it gives you perspective. Sure, it's important to be in the present moment, but there's something you learn over the years that is akin to good wine, whose flavor is enhanced through the delicacies of the aging process.
Relationships are like that, and my relationship with yoga, like any love affair, has gone through its ups and downs over the decades. It began in my early twenties when my body was naturally flexible. I took to it like a duck to water and fell immediately in love. I couldn't understand why everyone wasn't doing yoga—but this was long before it became the fad it is today, where everyone is doing yoga. Like a born-again convert, I preached about yoga incessantly to anyone who would listen.
Friends asked me to show them what I was talking about, so I demonstrated some poses and they copied them. That was my first teaching, woefully without any training whatsoever. There were very few training programs available forty years ago, when "yoga" was a word so unusual people thought you meant that fermented dairy food that comes in little plastic cups. In fact, we didn't even have yoga mats, but practiced on towels in baggy white pants. My own practice was my teacher training, and at that time, it was enough just to demonstrate a pose. I don't even remember alignment cues in the classes back then; mostly a teacher just demonstrated a pose and we all copied it. I was barely ahead of my students, but I persevered.
I arranged my classes according to the chakras, and that's how it all began: this incredible journey back and forth across the Rainbow Bridge. People were transforming week to week and begging to know more. So was I! What was this incredible formula for wholeness that I had discovered? Where could I learn about its origins and practices? How could I teach this to others as a guiding template for life? Where could I get more training to do what I was feeling called to do? Having found the thread, I continued to unravel the mystery of the chakra path.
No path exists without obstacles—they are the Divine's way of teaching you deeper lessons. My obstacle was a case of Lyme disease that went undiagnosed for five years and made me so sick that I couldn't do yoga for about ten years. Looking back, that was a bit of a blessing, because I developed more than just yoga. I read voraciously, went back to graduate school, got a Master's degree and Doctorate in psychology, wrote some of my books, and began teaching a combination of physical and psychological practices. I studied bioenergetics and learned different ways to push energy through my body. But it was the same energy, whether it was called prana or charge or life force. I grew stronger.
Meanwhile, yoga was catching up to me. New styles were emerging, everyone was now selling yoga mats, and classes were no longer in living rooms but in large studios, sometimes heated like a sauna. I picked up my practice again, not without pain, but with diligence. I found teachers to study with, certifications to take, and watched the movement grow. Multiple teachers, each with their own style, came on the scene. Yoga Journal was filled with cute little outfits and mats were lined up in rows by the score with hundreds of students twisting this way and that.
It became a craze, and I was happy for it. I knew what a boon yoga could be to your life—after all, I had wanted everyone to do it back in the 1970s when most people didn't know what it was. I jumped on the boat and renewed my practice, rebuilding my body. But I was no longer twenty years old, and Lyme disease had taken its toll. Yoga started to become a grand show, a gymnastics competition in which I couldn't compete.
I backed off of the public classes and continued my own practice—more slowly now, paying deep attention to my subtle energy. I tried to sort out in my own body the wide variety of alignment cues I had studied from different teachers. I learned how the tension between the opposites of rooting down and rising up, extending out and hugging in, building strength and letting go in surrender, accompanied by the eternal movement of the breath in and out—these were the warp and woof of yoga. Between those places of polarity, yoga happened.
Carl Jung said the mark of maturity is the ability to hold the tension of opposites. I always understood that in psychological terms, but now I understood it in my own body. I worked the elements of the chakras: earth, water, fire, air, sound, light, and consciousness into the Tantric discipline of union between polarities.
I discovered that even though the earth was seemingly inert, its solidity had a power. Grounding became the key that starts the movement through the chakras. Like plugging in a television set, it enabled you to receive on all frequencies. You could engage with the earth plane and enter your body more deeply, using to direct energy through your legs and spine.
I discovered that water has a flow and that we aren't meant to hold perfectly still in poses, but to find the flow of energy that occurs between polarities, when both sides are simultaneously embraced. The chakras are the stepping stones between Heaven and Earth, and the core of the body is the central organizing principle. Alignment is the key here, but it isn't just shoulders over hips, or knees over ankles, but alignment of our deepest principles with our highest source. This was the orientation of the second chakra, which governs how you move.
Once that alignment occurs, something is activated in the energy body and this awakens the third chakra, whose element is fire. Fire was what I needed, and for a while I got the fire burning so hot I started to burn out. Was it my busy professional life, or was I just pushing too hard?
I learned to soften, and the energy flowed of its own accord. Softening helped to open my heart, deepen my breath, and I began to let go of outcome and tune in even deeper to the process. Getting older, I had less compulsion to prove anything to anyone, and more value in my own experience. My inner guru awakened.
Now refinement and attunement were most important, and this was the key to opening the fifth chakra of communication. Outer cues didn't do it for me; I had to find it within. I could feel that place in myself when a pose fell into place and opened to grace. It was, as the sutras say, a state of effortless effort. I was coming home again.
Without even realizing it, something started to grow in my meditation. It was a subtle inner illumination, a soft glow of iridescent light that was sometimes there when I closed my eyes. It revealed a beautiful palace inside that I call the Inner Temple. The key to the sixth chakra, illumination, turned on the light that showed me the splendor of that temple.
Every day is an awakening—which is the key to the seventh chakra. It is not a sudden enlightenment that takes you out of this world, but a slow dawning of realization that grows just beneath your plane of awareness. It is consciousness that sees and hears, consciousness that loves and takes action, consciousness that feels and runs the body. In fact, it is consciousness that runs the whole show.
These are the seven keys to the yoke of yoga, the means whereby the individual soul and body are yoked with the eternal divine, the finite and the infinite, the mind and body, heaven and earth. These keys are Entering, Aligning, Activating, Softening, Attuning, Illuminating, and Awakening. Each one unlocks one of the chakras by embracing the architecture of your soul. I have now put them in a book, coordinated them with yoga poses, illustrated them with beautiful color pictures and yes, alignment cues, but also laced them with meditations for moving the subtle energy, bioenergetic exercises, and all that I know about accessing your chakras.
This book is my tribute to forty years of yoga, on and off the mat. It is not so much about telling you what to do as it is about opening the way for you to know within yourself what to do. It is about opening a door to the deepest centers inside you, the seven vital chakras that form the full spectrum of human existence.
We are all on the Rainbow Bridge together, traversing the vast distance between earth and heaven, bringing them ever closer together. The body is the vehicle for that journey, with consciousness as the driver. Yoga is the royal road. And the chakras are the indispensable map.
Anodea Judith, PhD is the founder and director of Sacred Centers, and a groundbreaking thinker, writer, and spiritual teacher. Her passion for the realization of untapped human potential matches her concern for humanity's ...