Mala beads are a strand of beads that is used for counting during a mantra meditation. They are also called Buddhist beads or Buddhist prayer beads. Mostly a mala looks like a necklace with 108 beads with a guru and a tassel but it can also have 21 or 27 beads (in the form of a bracelet) for shorter meditations, with markers at 7th or 21st or 27th beads which are different size to guide you. The user can wear the mala as a necklace or as a wrapped bracelet during the day to remind him/her of the meditation or yogic practice.

In the early days the beads were meant to be used by laypeople as a way of adapting monastic discipline to the limits and demands of ordinary people’s lives. A popular legend is in the form of the Mokugenji Sutra tells how the beads came about. It says says King Vaidunya once said to the Buddha, “In recent years, disease and famine have swept my country. The people are distressed, and I worry about this night and day without interruption. Ours is a pitiful condition. The totality of the dharma is too profound and extensive for us to practice, given these circumstances. Please teach me just the main point of the dharma so that I may practice it and teach it to others.”

The Buddha replied: “King, if you want to eliminate earthly desires, make a circular string of 108 bodhi seeds and, holding them always to yourself, recite, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.’ Count one bead with each recitation of these three.” The recitation is called the Three Jewels of Buddhism.

This is the earliest story about this Buddhist practice which clearly shows that it was meant for ordinary people who could not abandon the worries of secular life as easily as monks in the monastery. The beads were later adopted by monks maybe because of their effectiveness in calming the mind for anybody who uses them. Subsequently different Buddhist sects either retained the number of beads or divided them into consecutive twos or fours for brevity or informality. Some sects attached a decorative tassel flanked by talismans or amulets depending on their local tradition.

The use of prayer beads is common in Christianity (the rosary), Buddhism, Islam, and many other old religions. That is because all religions benefit from the mind focus.

Malas are always made with either 7mm or 8mm or 10mm round beads which glide easily through your fingers. Traditional ones are made with Rudraksha beads, lotus seed beads, yak bone, Bodhi seeds, or wood. These are usually for general purpose use. Healing malas are made from gemstones. Gemstones come in different colors which give them specific energies and properties. If you browse our store you will find malas made from black onyx, amazonite, rose quartz, gold vermeil, aquamarine, amethyst, tourmaline, moonstone and other gemstones. Each type of gemstone imparts different benefits to the user. In other shops you will also find malas made with glass beads or glass crystal which are usually used for color therapy, but they are rare.

How to Use Malas for Meditation

Mala beads have been used for meditation by Buddhists and Hindus for centuries. The traditional Rudraksha mala dates back to the 10th century. It is quite easy to use a mala for meditation if you follow the following 8 steps to get started:

    1.  Decide the intention of your practice and choose your mantra or affirmation.
    2.  Sit quietly in a cross legged position or on a straight backed chair if you cannot cross your legs.
    3.  Close your eyes and watch the speed and depth of your natural breath.
    4.  Now breathe deeply and focus on your mantra or affirmation.
    5.  Hang the first mala bead gently on the middle or ring finger of your right hand.
    6.  Place your thumb on the guru bead and begin reciting your mantra.
    7.  At the end of the mantra push the mala bead away with your thumb and move onto the next bead for another round. Continue until you reach a count on 7, 21, 27, or 108.
    8.  If you wish to do another round of mantras or affirmations, do not skip over the guru bead. Instead, turn the mala around and move in the opposite direction.

Benefits of Using Malas for Meditation

  • First and foremost malas are tools mainly for two things: to keep count and to help you to concentrate. You can either use the beads to keep count of the mantra you are chanting or your breath. The point of counting is to know when to come to a stopping point. You might only have 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes of free time so you chant a mantra 7, 21, 27 or 108 times, depending on the length of the mantra. For example chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” 108 times takes 2-3 minutes for most people and chanting the compassion mantra 21 times takes about 20 minutes. So the counting acts like a timer to guide you.
  • Sitting still, calm and focused is generally hard for most people so the mala and the mantra are essential tools that you can use to achieve better attention, focus and enhanced self-awareness.
  • The beautiful gemstone necklaces hold a special significance for the wearer/user depending on where they come from, the power imbibed into them and the gemstones used. All in all you feel and experience an energy resonance while holding the beads and this increases over time as you wear and use them for meditation and prayer.
  • The usual way to use a mala is to track a mantra meditation. The repetition of a single sound, for example “om” or “Om Mani Padme Hum” or any other mantra is deeply transformative.
  • Meditating with a mala helps to calm the mind, regulate blood pressure, deepen and slow down the breath and redirect the focus of the mind towards positive spiritual patterns. With a nice break from daily worries you come out of meditation with a better mood.
  • Chanting gives you that focus and concentration on the words you are repeating and, by constantly hearing the words and furthering your understanding of them, a spark might go off and an “Aha!” moment might arise.
  • Choosing a Mala

    One way to choose a mala is to use your intuition. So if you are shopping around and a particular mala attracts you it is the right mala for you right now.

    Another way is to set an intention for your yoga/meditation practice then find a mala with the right gemstone. For example, if you find it difficult to stick to tasks, decisions or relationships, onyx will help you to stay grounded in your choices. Then you can see your decisions through or you can commit better to a relationship.

    A third way to choose a mala is through color. Each color is associated with a certain range of frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum. That means each color will benefit you in a certain way. If you are working on your chakras, then you definitely will want to choose according to color. You have a problem telling the truth or speaking clearly? Then choose a mala made with blue gemstones, such as amazonite. After meditation wear your mala as a necklace all day and it will help you to open the throat chakra. In the same way if you have trouble giving or receiving love, then buy a mala made with rose quartz. As you wear it daily it will open your heart chakra.

    Quality of Mala Beads

    Quality matters when you buy a mala because you want it to last a long time and withstand use on and off the mat. The string that the beads are strung on must be premium thread or good quality wire (that has passed the 30lb test). When you buy a gemstone mala, look for beads that are A or B or C grade because those are high quality gemstones. Check the method of knotting as well to make sure that it is a good finish and that the piece will last you a long time. Ask the seller if he/she stands behind the product because they should be willing to restring your mala if it breaks too soon. Make sure that the mala comes in a natural fabric bag (cotton, linen, silk or velvet) that you can use for storing when the mala beads are not in use. If not then get that bag yourself separately.

    Mala beads are beautiful to wear, they can be healing if they are made with the right gemstones and they enhance your meditation by focusing the mind on the mantra. Browse our store to find the right mala beads for you. You will benefit from them to the full!

    Powerful healing male made of amethyst and aquamarine gemstonesLakshmi male made of 216 beautiful, heart-opening gemstone beads of Pink Tourmaline, Citrine, Garnet and Rose Quartz beadsPowerful healing male made of heart opening rose quartz beads

    Authored by Sipiwe Mashingaidze

    Sipiwe Mashingaidze is the author of a number of books on holistic health and spirituality. She became interested in holistic health when she developed recurring health problems in her 30s and 40s that doctors could not eliminate. She only managed to eliminate her symptoms completely in 2008 when she did her own research and changed her diet. That is when she decided to write her first book. You can link with her on Facebook or visit her website here. If you would like to write an article for our blog, please read our guest posting guidelines.

    “The science that describes what is appropriate and inappropriate, happy or unhappy life, and describes the guidelines for what is essential and irrelevant for a long life, and everything about life, called Ayurveda.”

     

    -Charak Samhita

     

    Widely regarded as “Mother of all Healing”, Ayurveda was originated in India some 5000 years ago. It is believed to be the most ancient and well-grounded medical system in the world with its holistic approach to health, which is equally relevant in modern times.

    Considered as the traditional form of healing in India, the knowledge of this healing method was passed down through ancient Indian spiritual texts, called the “Vedas”. “Rig Veda” and “Atharva Veda” are two old Indian scriptures that describe the science of Ayurveda.

    Meaning of Ayurveda

    The Sanskrit word Ayurveda literally means, “science/wisdom of life” (Ayu = Life and Veda = Wisdom/Knowledge/Science). Believed to have been passed on to humans from the Gods themselves, it is perceived as a rare combination of science, art and philosophy. Not only it focuses on harmonizing the body with nature but also reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.

    The ancient Vedic literature by Indian seers has clearly laid out the guidelines to keep up well being as well as fighting illness through therapies, massages, herbal medicines, diet control and exercise.

    Father of Modern Ayurveda

    A physician named Charak is known as the father of Ayurveda due to its easy-to-understand compilation of Charak Samhita, a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda.

    Aims and Objectives of Ayurveda

    There are two main objectives of Ayurveda:

    • To protect and maintain the health of a healthy person (The preventive Aspect)
    • To treat the disease and giving relief to sick person (The Curative Aspect)

    According to Charak Samhita, “The purpose of Ayurveda is to protect the health of the healthy and to alleviate disorders of the diseased.”

    In other words, Ayurveda lays great emphasis on preservation and promotion of well-being thereby preventing the diseases. It mainly emphasizes on the pro-longevity of an individual.

    Connection between Ayurveda and Yoga

    According to the Hindu Scripture Bhagavad Gita (the song of the Lord), “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”

    Yoga and Ayurveda are two interrelated branches of a similar incredible tree of Vedic learning that encircles all of human life and the whole universe. They are known as inseparable sister sciences, with Yoga as a spiritual science and Ayurveda as the “science of life”. Together they emphasize a complete approach to the wellbeing of the body, the mind, and the spirit, that ultimately leads us to the state of Self-realization and liberation from the cycles of birth and death.

    In today’s perspective, Yoga is viewed in its therapeutic way, but originally it is not a medical science. It does not address either physical or psychological disease or their treatment in a primary manner; in fact it aims at the spiritual transformation of the individual.

    The yogic exploration of consciousness, the subtle energies of breath and mind, and various types of spiritual practices are all inter-connected. Yogic texts contain discussions of meditation, concentration, mantra, ritual, pranayama, asana, and related factors but as part of spiritual practice, not as a therapy or treatment.

    We do not find any therapy sections in the standard Yoga texts and it is not a major topic of concern in Yoga philosophy. This is because the concern of classical Yoga is penance, austerity and devotion not therapy, which is viewed as the field of Ayurveda. Most importantly, we do not find in Yoga texts a discussion of disease, pathology, diagnosis, or treatment strategies apart from the approach of Ayurveda. There is no Yoga system of medicine in terms of diagnosis, pathology, and treatment, apart from Ayurveda.

    Ayurveda tends to all aspects of medicine including diet, herbs, drugs, surgery, bodywork, and its own special clinical techniques like Panchakarma. It brings in ritual, mantra, and meditation for healing the mind. Also, it provides life-style suggestions for health, life span, and disease prevention as well as special methods for rejuvenation of body and mind. It includes the practices of Yoga from asana and pranayama to mantra and meditation as part of its healing tools.

    Yoga is a journey of finding happiness and love within your own true-self through your inner spiritual practice. This does not mean that we cannot use its aspects in a therapeutic way, yet this is not its primary intent or orientation. If we want to turn Yoga into a medical system, this requires turning Yoga in the direction of Ayurveda. Disease is also mentioned briefly in some Yoga texts as it is viewed as one of the fundamental obstacles in spiritual practice. And to avoid this obstacle, a yoga practitioner is always directed to Ayurvedic treatment. Yoga for healing should be applied according to Ayurvedic guidelines of diagnosis, treatment, and health maintenance.

    Today Yoga is emerging itself as a new yet powerful concept in the field of therapy with its various types of practices like Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation.

    Ayurveda provides the appropriate life-style recommendations for a Yoga practitioner, whereas Yoga provides the spiritual and psychological ground for Ayurveda and its higher applications.Thus we require both Yoga and Ayurveda for a truly holistic and spiritual growth of an individual.

    The Doshas Concept in Ayurveda

    All the materials and creatures are composed of five basic elements called Panchamahabhutas. These five basic elements are: Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal), Wind (Vayu) and Space (Aakash). The structural aspect of a human body is made up of these five basic elements. But there is also a functional aspect of our body which is governed by basic physical energies known as Tridosha (or Doshas). Each individual has a unique balance of all three of these energies and the ratio of Vata-Pitta-Kapha is present in every cell, tissue and organ.

    They are three in number, Vata, Pitta and Kapha Doshas. The balance of Tridosha leads to health and imbalance leads to disease condition.

    Vata

    Vata represents space and air, and controls all movement in the body, including the flow of blood to and from the heart, the expansion and contraction of lungs that makes breathing possible, and the contractions that push food through the digestive tract.

    The person with a Vata prikiti is typically of slight, thin build, and demonstrates great enthusiasm, imagination, and vivaciousness. Vata types grasp new concepts quickly, but forget things easily. They have bursts of mental and physical energy, love excitement and constant change, and display dramatic mood swings. Vatas tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns.

    When out of balance, Vata types experience dry or rough skin, constipation, Dehydration, frequent viral infection, tension headaches, cold hands and feet, anxiety and worry, fatigue, poor and irregular appetite, insomnia, arthritis, and difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight. The Vata constitution is characterized by swift change, and, as a result, it goes out of balance more easily than the other doshas.

    Diet Instructions to balance Vata:

    • Include sweet, salty, and sour tasting foods in your diet.
    • Avoid bitter, astringent and pungent tasting foods.
    • Eat warm, oily, or heavy foods.
    • Avoid cold foods.
    • Best oils to be used are almond, ghee and sesame.
    • Avoid ice cream and frozen yogurt.
    • Eat boiled or steamed starchy vegetables.
    • Eat ripe fruits.
    • Herbal tea is a good option.
    • Use mild spices like cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, coriander, salt, cloves, mustard and black pepper.
    • Chamomile, fennel, ginger, lemon etc. are advisable.
    • Raw honey, jaggery (raw sugar), maple syrup, molasses are good as a sweetener.
    • Avoid using brown sugar and white sugar.
    • Include Vata balancing herbs such as ashwagandha, ginger and triphala in your diet.

    Yoga Asanas to balance Vata:

    Sun Salutation should be practiced slowly. Standing Poses like Tadasana (Mountain pose), Varikshasana (Tree pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)  and Virbhadrasana (Warrior pose) should be practiced. Savasana is advisable for a longer period. Pranayama like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril), Bhramari (humming bee breath), or even Ujjayi (Victorious Breath) are good for balancing Vata Dosha.

     

    Pitta

    Pitta represents fire and water, and governs metabolic activities and digestion and regulates appetite. It maintains the proper body temperature and converts external images into optic nerve impulses.
    Pitta types are often of medium build and medium strength and typically have blond, red, or light brown hair with freckled or ruddy skin. The basic theme of the pitta constitution is intensity.

    Pitta types are ambitious, self-disciplined, enterprising, articulate, intelligent, and outspoken. When in balance, they are warm and loving; out of balance, they can be demanding, sarcastic, critical, argumentative, or jealous. Unlike Vata types, Pittas experience intense hunger and cannot skip meals.

    When out of balance, Pitta types experience rashes, inflammatory skin diseases, heartburn, peptic ulcers, an occurrence of acute inflammation or swelling in body or joints, Feeling of nausea or discomfort upon missing meals, Diarrhoea, an uncomfortable feeling of heat in the body, visual problems, irritability, premature greying or baldness, and tend towards compulsive behavior (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders, etc.).

    Diet Instructions to balance Pitta:

    • Include sweet, bitter and astringent tastes in your diet.
    • Avoid pungent (hot), sour and salty food.
    • Eat boiled, steamed and raw vegetables
    • Reduce the intake of hot and spicy foods.
    • Eating sweet foods will reduce Pitta.
    • Drink warm milk with small amount of cardamom and ginger in it.
    • Avoid buttermilk, salted cheeses, sour cream and yogurt.
    • Ghee and olive oil is best to use.
    • Use Mild, cooling spices like coriander, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, curry leaves, mint.
    • Avoid jaggery (raw sugar) and molasses if your Pitta is aggravated use honey instead.
    • Include Pitta balancing herbs such as shatavari, bacopa, triphala, amalaki and haritaki in your diet.

    Yoga Asanas to balance Pitta:

    Asanas like Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Mayurasana (Peacock pose) and Bhujangasana(Cobra Pose) help to balance Pitta. Pranayama like sitali and sitkari are beneficial. Yogic Kriya Kapalbhati should be done when cool and calm.

     

    Kapha

    Kappa represents water and earth, and governs structural aspects of body and gives vital strength and physical form to cells and tissues. It prevents excessive friction from occurring between the various parts of the body. It adds the necessary grounding aspect to both mind and body. It is responsible for fertility and virility.

    Kapha types are of solid, powerful build and display great physical strength and endurance. A primary characteristic of the kapha types is contentment.

    They are relaxed, affectionate, serene, slow to anger, forgiving, happy with the circumstances, and respectful of the feelings of others. They tend to require lots of sleep, have slow digestion, and moderate hunger, though they find comfort in eating. They typically enjoy good health, but tend to become obese more often than Vata or Pitta types.

    When out of balance, Kapha types may experience colds and flu, allergies, sinus congestion, depression, lethargy, asthma, and joint problems.

    Diet Instructions to balance Kapha:

    • Include pungent, bitter, astringent taste into your diet.
    • Avoid sweet, sour and salty foods.
    • Eat more of boiled, steamed and raw vegetables.
    • Eating ripe foods will be good to balance Kapha except for banana.
    • Minimize the intake of heavy foods, salt and dairy products.
    • Use raw honey instead of other sweeteners like sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup.
    • Use oils in small amounts only even the best oil if overused will aggravate Kapha.
    • Strong spices like pepper, paprika, garlic, basil, cloves, fennel, mustard, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper will stimulate digestion, improve appetite, clears sinuses, and stimulates blood circulation which is very helpful for balancing Kapha.
    • Include Kapha balancing herbs such as turmeric, ginger and triphala in your diet.

     

    Yoga Asanas to balance Kapha:

    Back-bending Asanas like Ushtrasana (Camel Pose), Salbhasana (Locust Pose), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand Pose), Sirsasana (Headstand Pose) and Viparitakarani Mudra (Half Shoulder Stand Pose). Savasana should be practiced for a shorter period. Pranayama like Bhastrika and Ujjayi are good for balancing Kapha. Kapalbhati should also be done.

    Authored by Shobha Gupta

    Shobha is a passionate yogi, an ayurveda enthusiast and unlocking chakras mysteries is her favourite subject. Holding a degree in yoga science from the renowned Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in India, she shares her knowledge about yoga, meditation and ayurveda on Giving Hands Reiki’s blog. If you would like to read more articles by Shobha, clic here. If you would like to write an article for our blog, please read our guest posting guidelines.

     

    “The energy of the mind is the essence of life. Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
    -Aristotle

     

    As a Yoga practitioner when we ascend to the seventh stage of Eightfold Yoga i.e. Meditation, we are advised to concentrate on an object or on our breath. Focusing attention on either of them brings us a peaceful and stable mind as well as the state of awareness. In order to gain the most benefits from Meditation one should try to concentrate on the different unseen Chakras present in our subtle body from the bottom of the spine to the top of the head. These Chakras help us to discover more about our individual and collective purpose.

    The word Chakra literally means “Wheel” in Sanskrit. Life depends on the energy which we derive from our surroundings, including various things (living and non-living). This energy could be positive or negative one. A human body has a natural tendency to absorb those energies and thus life becomes energy by itself. All the physical and mental activities of our body are controlled by energy. There is an in-built energy system in our body that keeps the body activities going easily and uninterrupted.

    The energy is derived from the imaginary wheels which are the transmitters of energy are called Chakras. Sometimes, it is called the power house or storage house of energy. Chakras are energizing wheels of light and color. They have seven colors (color of a rainbow) and they radiate light. The combination of these colors and lights forms our Aura.

    Types of chakras

    In Yogic terms, there are seven main chakras are in the human body. These imaginary chakras remain dormant and imbalance until it is awakened through spiritual practices. Each of these seven chakras is found in one straight line from the bottom of the spine to the top of the head.

    They are as follows: Mooladhar Chakra, Swadhisthana chakra, Manipura Chakra, Anahat Chakra, Vishuddhi Chakra, Ajna Chakra and Sahasrara Chakra.

    The first three Chakras, starting at the base of the spine can be described as the Chakras of the matter, means they are more physical in nature. The last four Chakras can be termed as the Chakras of the spirit. The fourth Chakra in the middle of them works as a bridge to connect the Chakras of matter to the Chakras of spirit.

    These seven energy swirling wheels have their own individual traits. For instance, the seven main chakras are all different in colors. These colors match up to the colors of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet) going from bottom to top.

    Unbalanced state of Chakras

    All chakras are inter-related, despite the fact that they run over various characteristics and functions. If one chakra is unbalanced, it could be due to the chakra below it being unbalanced. They work individually and collectively at the same time. If our energy centers become blocked or worn-out then our body cannot act in a proper way and this, in turn, can give birth to a series of problems on any level. When one or more of the chakras are in a state of imbalance, the mind/body health becomes compromised since imbalanced chakras are those that have blocks. A blockage in the chakra originates from traumatic or negative experiences during a lifetime that have not been discharged. Negative thoughts or belief patterns will also cause blocks. The above mentioned psychosomatic conflicts are a result of insufficient energy being flowed to and within the chakra, due to blockages.

    In the following content, we will discuss about the different types of Chakras and learn how to balance them by the help of Yogasanas.

    The Seven Chakras

    Here’s a brief description of the 7 most significant Chakras and how to recognize if one of them is blocked or unbalanced. The different types of Asanas (poses) are also listed here in order to get them balanced and unblocked.

    Mooladhar Chakra • Root Chakra

    Color:  Red

    Element:  Earth

    Location:  Base of the Spine.

    Objective:  It relates to the physical body and connection to the Earth. Just like a foundation, it is the chakra of stability, security, and our basic needs; and is concerned with the basics of survival: food, shelter, safety, comfort and belonging. It encompasses the first three vertebrae, the bladder, and the colon.

    When the Root Chakra is unbalanced:  You may feel “stuck and sluggish” and just can’t seem to move forward in life.  You may feel ungrounded and self-rejected. This frequently happens following traumatic events, financial problems, family problems, death of a loved one, and major life changes.  A blockage in the root chakra prevents the release of grief, guilt, and sadness, contributing the inability to move forward and preventing you from following your destiny.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Shashankasana (Hare Pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Vrikshasana (Tree Pose), Virbhadrasana (worrier Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knees Pose) and Padhastasana (Hand under Foot Pose).

    When the Root Chakra is balanced:   You feel safe and secured, release negative emotions, regenerate confidence and strong will power to move forward in life. A balanced Chakra encourages you to explore new potential, find your life’s purpose and achieve success. A balanced Root Chakra is also responsible for generating flow of energy to all other Chakras.

    Swadhisthana Chakra • Sacral Chakra

    Color:  Orange

    Element:  Water

    Location:  Below the navel.

    Objective:   It is associated with our connection to the other people, creativity, energy, confidence, and sexual health.

    When the Sacral Chakra is unbalanced:   You may feel a lack of energy flow throughout the entire body and also extremely lethargic and unmotivated for life leading to sadness, loneliness, and mild depression. You may experience difficulty allowing yourself to become emotionally and sexually intimate. Sometimes, you may feel abused, hurt and confused.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Rajkapotasana (King Pigeon Pose), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Naukasana (Boat Pose) and Utkatasana (Chair Pose).

    When the Sacral Chakra is balanced:  You feel energized and confident in all aspects of your life. You feel inspired and are able to express your creativity. You are able to live in the moment and experience life to the fullest.  Physical tasks become easier while stamina increases. You radiate positive energy that attracts people towards you.

    Manipura Chakra • Solar Plexus Chakra

    Color:  Yellow

    Element:  Fire

    Location:  Above the navel and two inches below the breastbone.

    Objective:  It relates to transition from simple to complex emotion, energy, dynamism, will-power, assimilation and digestion. It is also associated with our physical center, personal power, desire, inner-strength, instincts, and “gut” feelings.

    When the Solar Plexus Chakra is unbalanced:  You may feel very stressed all the time that results in poor memory and lack of concentration. You feel like a victim in the world and often feel powerless. You will find it difficult to follow your gut feelings, leaving you in distress and discomfort.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Mayurasana (Peacock Pose), Salbhasana (Locust Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Parivritta Trikonasana (Revolved Angle Pose), Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose).

    Some Kriyas like Agnisaar, Nauli and Kapalbhati.

    When the Solar Plexus Chakra is balanced:  Balancing and opening the solar plexus chakra enables you to feel focused in your mind, body, and spirit. You will feel relaxed and comfortable in your own skin.  The energy of this chakra permeates to the other chakras and influences them positively. It allows you to be more aware of your own energy and being, comfortable in your decisions, and psychologically connected to your “gut” feelings so that you may act accordingly with confidence.

    Anahat Chakra • Heart Chakra

    Color:  Green

    Element:  Air

    Location:  Center of Chest.

    Objective:  The heart chakra is our source of love and compassion. Love doesn’t mean only love for others; it also applies to self-love and self-acceptance. The heart chakra is the focal point of your spirit as well as the focal point of the chakras, making it a vital energy center for our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. It is associated with love, compassion, safety, trust, adventure, self-compassion, forgiveness, and relationships. It is referred as seat of balance within the body.

    When the Heart Chakra is unbalanced:  You may feel detached from the world around you. It can lead to a disconnection from your loved ones, love for yourself, and love for your other belongings. You may face Problems in relationships and you tend to lose hope and trust.  You may lose sight of beauty, love, empathy, and compassion. You hold grudges and become needy in relationships, and this often leads to anger and distrust. A weak heart chakra can be at the root of heart disease, asthma, and allergies.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Ushtrasana (Camel Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Chakrasana (Wheel Pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) and Rajkapotasana (King Pigeon Pose).

    When the Heart Chakra is balanced:  Balancing and opening the heart chakra makes you feel secured and comfortable in your relationships, which enhance the love for self and others. It enables you to feel compassion, empathy, and forgiveness for others, and reconnects you to your surroundings. It prompts you to generate adventure and zest for life. Peace and harmony flourish in relationships with others and self.

    Vishuddhi Chakra • Throat Chakra

    Color:  Blue

    Element:  Sound

    Location:  Hollow of Throat.

    Objective:  The throat chakra is associated with communication, expression, freedom, responsibility, and leadership. This is our source of verbal expression and the ability to speak our highest truth.

    When the Throat Chakra is unbalanced:  You may feel you can’t convey verbally, physically, and emotionally. The throat chakra connects us to our ability to express ourselves, therefore creating a number of issues if this chakra is blocked or unbalanced. Severe injury in this area can cause this chakra to close, making it extremely hard to express one’s feelings and emotions.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Sirsasana (Head Stand Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand Pose), Halasana (Plough Pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Singhasana (Lion Pose) and Viprita Karani (Half Shoulder Stand Pose).

    When the Throat Chakra is balanced:  Balancing and opening the throat chakra enables you to express your emotions and communicate freely, without worry of criticism or judgment from self or others.  It promotes honesty and harmony with our feelings and actions, and encourages us to live more authentically and free.  A balanced throat chakra helps us with successful communication in relationships and at work, and is particularly useful to those with careers depending on communication and self-expression.

    Ajna Chakra • Third Eye Chakra

    Color:  Indigo

    Element:  Light

    Location:  Between the Eyebrows.

    Objective:  The third-eye chakra is associated with the mind, ideas, thoughts, dreams, instincts and psychic abilities. It is also responsible for your sense of purpose in life, self-reflection, perception, discernment, and trust of your own intuition.

    When the Third Eye Chakra is unbalanced:  You may feel assaulted with your own thoughts, unable to process them successfully and may feel stuck in an emotional and intellectual trench. You lose your feelings of instinct, making your judgment blurred and causing you to make poor choices. With a blocked third-eye chakra, you become closed to new ideas and fall off the paths of your true destiny. You get headaches and feel tension in your brow area often.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Vajrasana (Diamond Pose), Savasana (Corpse Pose), Garudasana (Eagle Pose), Makarasana (Crocodile Pose), Natrajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose), Hal asana (Plough Pose), Padmasana (Lotus Pose) and Yoga Mudra .

    Some Kriyas are like Tratak and Kapalbhati.

    When the Third Eye Chakra is balanced:  Balancing and opening the third-eye chakra promotes clarity, inspiration, and innovation.  It enables you to follow your dreams and enhances your natural psychic abilities and spiritual connections.  A balanced third-eye Chakra enables you to learn from your past, be present in the now, and see and achieve your future. You have a strong sense of your own inner truth and listen to and follow it as it guides you on your life path. Dream interpretation becomes easier, intuitions are stronger and clearer, and you feel a deeper connection to the universe.  This sense of being “guided” opens up doors of possibilities to achieving your goals.

    Sahasrara Chakra • Crown Chakra

    Color:  Violet

    Element:  Thought

    Location:  Top of the Head.

    Objective:  This is the chakra of enlightenment and spiritual connection to our higher selves, others, and ultimately, to the divine. It is associated with God (or your particular belief system), spirituality, divine wisdom, enlightening, connection to the universe, imagination, awareness, and optimism. This is the connection between you and the divine. Your brain functions and central nervous system are controlled by the crown chakra.

    When the Crown Chakra is unbalanced:  You feel disconnected from the spiritual side of life and as though you are living without any direction or purpose.  Since this chakra affects the six energy systems below, and consequently your entire being, a blocked crown chakra can lead to many psychosomatic diseases and ailments such as migraines, headaches, depression and other nervous system disorders and feelings of being lost and insignificance.

    Balancing through Asana (Poses):  Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose), Savasana (Corpse Pose), Sirsasana (Head Stand Pose), Vrikshasana (Tree Pose), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose), Padmasana (Lotus Pose) and Anjali Mudra .

    When the Crown Chakra is balanced:  You feel a strong spiritual connection with yourself, the universe, and God.  Energy entering and leaving the Crown facilitates your flow of positive energy with the other six chakras, and creates the outlook we hold on life. In other words, if you succeed to balance this chakra, you will lead to deep purification, transformation and rejuvenation in your life.

     

    Authored by Shobha Gupta

    Shobha is a passionate yogi, an ayurveda enthusiast and unlocking chakras mysteries is her favourite subject. Holding a degree in yoga science from the renowned Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in India, she shares her knowledge about yoga, meditation and ayurveda on Giving Hands Reiki’s blog. If you would like to read more articles by Shobha, clic here. If you would like to write an article for our blog, please read our guest posting guidelines.

    “There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then there is another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity”.
    –Rumi


    The daily need for bread, cloth and shelter is well known truth of entire human race. One can afford to skip a meal, live under the tree for days and can manage with any type of cloth but to skip a breath is hardly possible. Thus, breath is essential to life or in other words we can say, ‘Breath is Life’.

    According to many Yoga scriptures, body, mind and breath are inter-connected and can influence each other. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath. Learning to breathe consciously and with awareness is the forth limb of Eightfold Yoga i. e. Pranayama, and it can be a valuable tool in helping to restore balance in the mind and body.

    “Regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind”.
    -B. K. S. Iyengar

    What is Pranayama?

    Pranayama is the blend of two words, Prana and Ayama. Prana means life force, energy, vitality, breath or vigour and Ayama means to enhance, expand and extend Prana. Pranayama is a means to channel the breath for storing energy.

    In human beings, Prana exists in the form of breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy and strength and Ayama means to extend, expand, lengthen, stretch or restraint. Therefore, Pranayama is extension, expansion and holding of breath. It is commonly known as the science of breath control.

    We inhale and exhale but the breath moves in a zigzag manner. Practice of Pranayama regulates our breathing and makes it deep, smooth and fluent.

    Pranayama is an important and integral part of eightfold Yoga. Generally, it is misunderstood as simple breathing exercise which is not true. It is more than simple exercise.

    According to Yogic terminology, it is a systematic process by which one gains control over Prana (subtle life force). It is a voluntary effort to control and direct the Prana. Thus the word Pranayama means the expansion, control and extension of subtle life force.

    Pranayama is also a very valuable exercise for the proper functioning of human body and its systems. By the regular practice of Pranayama the nerves and muscles which control the functions of the bowels and the kidneys are toned up and rendered healthier. It also influences the other systems and secures their efficient and harmonious working.

    Prerequisites for practicing Pranayama

    The practice of pranayama is vital for body, mind, brain, nervous system and overall health of an individual. One who begins the practice of pranayama, should do so only under the supervision of an expert. He must also know few precautions to overcome the obstacles during practice.

    Place

    Any place that is well-ventilated, free from irritating noises, mosquitoes and flies. A place where the basic necessities of life are readily available is suitable for the practice of Pranayama.

    Environment, season and time

    One should not begin the practice of Pranayama in the Winter (too cold), Summer (too hot) and Rainy season. If one begins the practice in these seasons, one may catch diseases. Therefore it should be commenced by the beginner in Spring and Autumn season. One attains success while doing so and keeps himself away from the diseases. Success is attained easily as both the seasons are favorable for keeping the body and mind in tune with external environment.

    Measured and controlled diet

    All aspect of human health – physical, mental and spiritual are very much affected by the food one takes. Purity of food leads to pure mind. Therefore one who takes pure and moderate diet surely gets success in his practice of Pranayama.

    Seat and asana (posture)

    The seat should be soft, thick and comfortable so the temperature of the floor should not penetrate through it. The practitioner should choose a posture in which he can sit for longer period in a relaxed manner without any discomfort and tension. However, Padmasana is considered as the most suitable posture for practicing Pranayama.

    Physical and mental fitness

    Practitioner should be physically fit and mentally prepared before practicing Pranayama. One should begin Pranayama practice after the age of 12 when almost all the systems, especially, respiratory system is fully developed to meet any resistance or pressure in holding the breath. Women should avoid the practice during pregnancy and menstrual cycle. A clear nasal passage is very important for the practice. Therefore, one must not be suffered from cold or cough during the practice.

    Proper technique

    It is necessary to practice Pranayama correctly and systematically under the guidance of a Yoga expert or instructor. Following the rules and regulations properly is advisable. If practice is irregular or incorrect it can be very harmful. Therefore, it is better not to practice at all.

    Types of Pranayama, their benefices and a step by step practice guide.

    Nadisodhana

    This is one of the fundamental types of Pranayama. This practice is also known as Anuloma-viloma.
    This pranayama balances Ida and Pingala, two of the most important nadis or energy channels, which criss-cross the central nadi and each of the chakras situated along the spine. It is an excellent relaxation technique for calming the mind and re-establish balance to the whole system. Nadi Shodhana also balances the two hemispheres of the brain. It improves mental focus by clearing out blocked energy channels in the body. If you have time for only one Pranayama, opt for this one.

    Steps to follow:

    1. Sit in any comfortable meditative posture, preferably Padmasana.
    2. Keep the head and spine erect.
    3. Close the eyes and pay attention to the breath.
    4. Close the right nostril with the thumb.
    5. Inhale through the left nostril for 5 seconds.
    6. After 5 seconds of inhaling, release the pressure of thumb from the right nostril and press the left nostril with the ring finger, blocking the flow of air.
    7. Fully exhales through the right nostril for 5 seconds, keeping the respiration rate slow, deep and silent.
    8. Repeat the same steps for the right nostril.
    9. Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.

    Note: Make sure that there is no sound when the air passes through the nostrils.

    Surya Bhedana

    The purpose of the right nostril breathing is to increase the pranic and physical energy and to revitalize the body. It boosts the nervous system, especially the sympathetic nervous system and also increases the efficiency of the digestive system.

    Steps to follow:

    1. Sit in Padmasana. Close the eyes. Keep the left nostril closed with your ring and little fingers.
    2. Slowly inhale without making any sound as long as you can do it comfortably through the right nostril.
    3. Then close the right nostril with your right thumb and retain the breath firmly pressing the chin against the chest.
    4. Then exhale very slowly without making any sound through the left nostril by closing the right nostril with the thumb.

    Note: It should not be done by people suffering from high blood pressure.

    Ujjayi

    Ujjayi breath is especially good for settling agitation or stress and balancing the mind. Use this pranayama whenever you find yourself becoming aggravated or stressed. You should notice its soothing effect rapidly. Try focusing on Ujjayi breathing while practicing yoga to help you stay focused and centered as you flow from one posture to the next. This pranayama encourages free flow of prana and increases feelings of presence, self-awareness, and meditative qualities.

    Steps to follow:

    1. Sit in Padmasana.
    2. Close the mouth and gently constrict the back of your throat as you Inhale slowly through both the nostrils in a smooth, uniform manner till the breath fills the space from the throat to the heart.
    3. Retain the breath as long as one can do it comfortably and then exhale slowly while gently constricting the muscle at the back of your throat to get the ‘‘ocean sound’’

    Note: People who are suffering from hypertension and cardiac disorders should not practice this Pranayama.

    Sitkari

    Besides building breath awareness, Sitkari cools the body and adds moisture to the system. This pranayama also helps to calm hunger and thirst and cultivate a love for solitude. In ayurveda, it soothes a pitta imbalance which is common during summer. In addition, this practice reduces fevers, fatigue and high blood pressure.

    Steps to follow:

    1. Sit in Padmasanaand close the eyes.
    2. Touch the palate with the tongue closely.
    3. Close both the jaws with their teeth closely, keeping the lips open.
    4. Draw in the air through the mouth with the hissing sound “Si”.
    5. Retain the breath as long as one can hold on with comfort.
    6. Then exhale slowly through both nostrils.

    Sitali

    Sitali Pranayama is often referred as “the cooling breath”. Like Sitkari, its practice is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system.

    Steps to follow:

    1. Sit in Padmasanaand close the eyes.
    2. Bend the tongue from their extreme ends so as to form a cylindrical shape.
    3. Inhale through mouth filling the lungs with air to their maximum capacity.
    4. Retain the air as long as one can.
    5. Then close the mouth and exhale through the nostrils.

    Note: Those who are suffering from cold, cough or tonsillitis should not do this.

    Bhastrika

    Whenever you feel sluggish, try this energetic breathing to give you an energy boost and clarify your mind. Bhastrika pranayama produces heat thus detoxify and energize the body. It also tones the abdominal muscles and the digestive system. Bhastrika balance the doshas and their associated humours: phlegm for Kapha, bile for Pitta and wind for Vata. This pranayama balances the nervous system, calm the mind and prepare it for meditation.

    How to perform Bhastrika Pranayama:

    1. Sit in Padmasana relax your shoulders, breath in and out from your nose. When inhaling, expand your belly fully.
    2. Close the mouth. Exhale forcefully through your nose. Quickly followed by a forceful inhale at the rate of one second per cycle. Inhale and exhale quickly ten times.
    3. Make sure the breath is coming from your diaphragm; keep you body still while your belly moves in and out. Take a deep breath through both nostrils then rest for a while, breathing naturally.
    4. Continue with a second cycle of 20 Bhastrika breaths, then a third and final one of 30 Bhastrika breaths.
    5. Inhale deeply and exhale completely.

    Note: Those suffering from lungs and heart problems and high blood pressure should perform it slowly.

    Bhramari

    Bhramari uses sound and breath to calm the mind and nervous system by directing the mind inwards as the eyes and ears are closed. Bhramari breath is helpful if you are feeling anxious or unsettled and also improves concentration and memory. It relieves tension in the brain thus appease headaches, reduces anger and irritability.

    How to perform Bhramari Pranayama:

    1. Sit in Padmasana and close the eyes.
    2. Keep the mouth closed and deeply inhale.
    3. While exhaling make a humming sound.
    4. In order to get more benefits close both the ears with thumbs and exhale out making the humming sound of the bee.

    Benefits of Pranayama

    • It increases the digestion and assimilation of food.
    • It improves the quality of the blood and expands oxygen in the lungs. This helps in the elimination of toxins from the system.
    • It improves the health of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, nerve centers and nerves because of expanded oxygenation.
    • It rejuvenates the glands, especially the pituitary and pineal glands.
    • It rejuvenates the skin. The skin becomes smoother and reduces the facial wrinkles.
    • The movement of the diaphragm during the deep breathing exercise massages the abdominal organs and the heart by increasing the blood circulation.
    • The lungs expand and become healthy and powerful.
    • Deep, slow breathing during the practice of Pranayama reduces blood pressure and heart diseases.
    • It helps in the weight control. The extra oxygen burns the fat more efficiently. If one is under weight, the extra oxygen feeds the starving tissues and glands.
    • In addition to this supply of oxygen to the brain cells reduces anxiety levels.

      Authored by Shobha Gupta

      Shobha is a passionate yogi, an ayurveda enthusiast and unlocking chakras mysteries is her favourite subject. Holding a degree in yoga science from the renowned Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga in India, she shares her knowledge about yoga, meditation and ayurveda on Giving Hands Reiki’s blog. If you would like to read more articles by Shobha, clic here. If you would like to write an article for our blog, please read our guest posting guidelines.

    Photo: Escola Humaniversidade