Chakras; a word pretty much guaranteed to divide the room, but one which holds an immense depth of ancient wisdom. To some, Chakras are something ‘hippies’ talk about, relate everyday troubles to; (“she can’t stay in a relationship because her heart chakra is so closed”, or “you need to open up your sacral chakra and go with the flow more!”). To others, Chakras represent subtle yet powerful opportunities to recognise where we may be out of balance physically or emotionally, where we may have subtle ‘blocks’, and how we can create more free-flow of energy through the body and mind in order to realise our own personal potential.
What Are Chakras?
The definition of a ‘Chakra’ according to the Oxford dictionary is ‘one of seven centres of spiritual power in the human body, according to Indian thought’. The Chakra system does indeed span from ancient Indian and mystical philosophy, originating between 1500 and 500 BC from the ancient Vedic texts. The Sanskrit word ‘Chakra’, sometimes spelled Cakra, literally means ‘wheel’, but the chakras are also thought of as vortexes, each holding a specific type of energy related to various organs and emotional states. There are actually many, many Chakras, but the main seven wheels of energy are:
Muladhara – the root chakra
Svadisthana – the sacral chakra
Manipura – the solar plexus chakra
Anahata – the heart chakra
Vishuddhi – the throat chakra
Ajna – the third eye centre
Sahasrara – the crown chakra
Each Chakra also links to a certain element, colour, and associated mantra, as well as having many different crystals, herbs, activities and affirmations that can strengthen or balance the energy at these centres.
East Meets West
No matter which side of the divided room you stand on when it comes to Chakras, something I always mention to my students is that it doesn’t really matter what a Chakra is or isn’t; it matters what they represent. In Anodea Judith’s brilliant Eastern Body, Western Mind, the spiritual and practical are woven together, so the reader is able to understand what each chakra represents, and how to work with it to find emotional and physical balance.
Eastern Body, Western Mind is not simply a book about the Chakras; it introduces the reader to Jungian psychology, somatic therapy, childhood developmental theory, and metaphysics – all of which have a firm grounding in Western psychology. Jungian psychology seeks to unite the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind, helping us uncover deep-rooted subconscious beliefs, habits and even past traumas, so we can make sense of our emotions, thoughts and behaviour. Anodea explains that the third Chakra – the Manipura or ‘solar plexus’ Chakra, evolves within us between 18 months to 4 years of age, when we are amidst the ‘terrible twos’ stage, and attempting autonomy and self-will. The solar plexus Chakra is linked to confidence, an inner fire, personal sense of self, and power. Any major issues that occur at this stage of life then, such as a child’s confidence being damaged, or excessive control over a child, could therefore impact the energy at their solar plexus Chakra and continue to cause issues later on in life.
As we continue through the book, we discover what happens when a Chakra is excessive, such as excessive energy at the first or ‘root’ Chakra, where Anodea explains;
‘An excessive first Chakra draws so much energy that it cannot move the energy downward to ground, or upward to the rest of the body. This creates excess solidity that has trouble embracing change’.
We also learn about deficient energy in each Chakra, such as a deficiency in the heart Chakra, where Anodea explains;
‘Rigid boundaries keep the inside from coming out and the outside from coming in, resulting in isolation, which perpetuates deficiency’.
The chapters then progress to provide an abundance of tools and techniques to balance each specific Chakra, from movement to artwork, self-reflection exercises, and working with the emotions associated with each energetic centre. Dotted with personal experience and case study stories, the insights and practices throughout the book are both fascinating and deeply therapeutic, and can help us all understand ourselves on a much deeper level.
What I Enjoyed Most About Eastern Body, Western Mind
I actually first picked up Eastern Body, Western Mind when I was a lot younger, as my mother had read the first edition in the late 1990s – perhaps that planted the seed for what was to come! Now, the book is well-thumbed with plenty of bookmarks and pages folded over. As a Yoga teacher who also lectures on teacher training courses, I’m always developing ways of teaching somewhat ‘mystical’ subjects like Chakras, Nadis, Koshas and meditation techniques in a way that everyone in the room can grasp. Eastern Body, Western Mind has been a wonderful tool to help me not only understand myself and my subconscious better, but it’s still a book I use today to help translate ‘woo woo’ topics into practical, simple and useful aspects we can share with our students.
Who Would Benefit From This Book?
Whether your mind is firmly set in the West, or you’ve explored other Eastern topics before, Eastern Body, Western Mind really does pull together the best of both worlds, making the Chakras simple to understand, yet complex enough that you could easily spend a lifetime delving into them. I believe anyone working in mental health and mind-body therapies would greatly benefit from reading this book to gain a new perspective from which to work with their clients, and equally, anyone experiencing personal issues could also use the book therapeutically too. For anyone currently studying or teaching Yoga, the Chakras are a fundamental part of the tradition, and Eastern Body, Western Mind can help teachers guide their students to understand the Chakras in a grounded, practical, useful and potentially transformative way. If at first the 488 pages seem daunting, know that you definitely don’t have to read this book perfectly in order – after glancing through the introduction, delve into the Chakra you feel is most appropriate to work on within yourself, and expand from there. Perhaps after many years of reading, you’ll be able to pass the pages on to someone else who will benefit from this wisdom too.