The Manipura Chakra and Your Self-Confidence

I’m sure everyone has had moments of self-doubt and anxiety. I’ve definitely had some of these moments too. When we were introduced to the different chakras I was intrigued to learn that these chakras can influence our behaviours, and even our physical wellbeing.

When you are feeling a lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem, it could be that your manipura chakra is underactive.

The manipura chakra, or the solar plexus chakra, is the third chakra in our body, located in the navel and corresponds to the 4th lumbar spine (L4).

It is associated with self-confidence, personal growth and transformation, and self-development. Hence, a balanced manipura chakra will lead to healthy self-confidence and self-esteem. You will also feel that your life has purpose and determination. Physically, because the manipura chakra is associated with the digestive endocrine glands, it will also present itself in a well-functioning digestive system.

Symptoms that the manipura chakra is blocked or underactive (low energy flow):

  • Lack of confidence
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Seeking help or validation from others
  • Heightened victim mentality
  • Depression

Symptoms of an overactive manipura chakra:

  • Stubbornness
  • Arrogance
  • Need to control others
  • Getting angry and aggressive often
  • Easily pass judgements on others

Of course, an imbalanced manipura chakra may bring about some physical symptoms too, such as: anxiety, fatigue, issues with the digestive system, frequent gas and constipation.

Here are some ways you can balance your manipura chakra:

Using sound: mantras and affirmations

  • You can recite (or listen to) affirmations to harness positive energy. Examples to affirmations for the manipura chakra are
    • I am worthy.
    • I am strong and courageous.
    • I am confident.
    • I am capable of achieving my desires in life.
  • You can also chant the bija mantra for manipura chakra: RAM, like how you usually chant Om or Aum.
  • The manipura chakra corresponds to the frequency 528Hz so you can listen to sounds/music at this frequency as well.

Using asanas and pranayama

These poses can help to realign your manipura chakra:

  • Virabhadrasana A, B and C (Warrior I, II and III)
  • Phalakasana (Plank)
  • Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
  • Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
  • Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved triangle pose)
  • Navasana (Boat pose)

Image source

Practising Kapalabhati Pranayama is good way to activate the chakra too.

Using meditation

To balance chakras using meditation, you need to bring your awareness to the location of the chakra, in this case, it would be the solar plexus, just above the navel.

  • Sit in a comfortable Asana such as Sukhasana or Padmasana, hands on your lap. Relax your whole body with a couple of breaths and close your eyes.
  • Bring your awareness to the Manipura Chakra location, that is just above the navel.
  • Since this chakra is associated with Yellow color, therefore, imagine a yellow source of light just above your navel.
  • Now take deep breaths and try to warm the navel region. Maintain the whole process for 5-10 minutes.
  • Chant the mantra RAM (Manipura Seed Mantra) during the meditation

Hypermobility in Yoga

Have you ever wondered how are some people so naturally flexible? They can walk into a yoga class and without warming up go into a full forward fold. These people may be hypermobile. While they can perform asanas that require flexibility effortlessly, they are also at risk of injuring themselves.

Hypermobility is where joints can easily move beyond their normal range. This is because the tissues that hold them in place, the ligaments, are too loose or “lax”. Sometimes that could be due to the bone structures in the joints. Weak muscles around the joint may exacerbate hypermobility.

Hypermobility may also be a result of diseases affecting connective tissues (e.g. ligaments) such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Most of the time, hypermobility is inherited and cannot be prevented. Many people with hypermobile joints do not face any issues throughout life, in fact, most of us are on the spectrum on hypermobility – some of us have naturally hyperextended elbows and knees. But for those who experience pain and complications – on the other end of the spectrum – they may be considered to have Joint Hypermobility Syndrome.

Hypermobile people usually find themselves naturally “good” in yoga as they are able to get into many difficult poses that require flexibility. In fact, some of them can do a full split without warming up! However, with hypermobility comes instability. One way to visualise this is to look at our shoulder, which is the most mobile joint in our body and also the most commonly injured and dislocated.

In a non-hypermobile body, the ligaments are naturally “tight” to restrict our joint movements to a certain range. This creates joint stability. In hypermobile people, they lack this natural signal of tightness to stop them from going beyond the normal range of motion, thus risking injuries. With the deeper range of motion, they may overstretch their muscles which besides hurting the muscles, also weakens them, making the muscles less efficient at supporting their weight during impact activities.

So… can hypermobile people still do yoga?

Yes they can! Here are some things they should note to protect themselves:

  • Use muscle control to prevent excessive hyperextension e.g. engage the quadriceps to ensure that knees are not locked in standing postures
  • Micro-bend the knees and elbows
  • There is no need to feel a stretch in every pose. Just because they can go further, doesn’t mean that they should or that it is safe to do so. If no stretch is felt in a pose, it just means that stretching is not their work in that pose. They can shift their focus to stabilising themselves and their breathing.
  • In poses, think of bringing the joints into the centre of the body e.g. in Warrior II, think of the arms moving into the shoulder sockets
  • Strengthen the muscles around the joints through light resistance in yoga. Complement the yoga practice with a strengthening routine at the gym.

If you are a teacher, you can do the following to ensure a safe practice for your hypermobile students:

  • As always, pay close attention. Notice their joints and how their bodies move during the warm up.
  • Create stability for them. If a student seems to be going beyond a safe range of motion, gently encourage them to do “less”. At the same time, understand that for hypermobile students, it may be more difficult to “back off” than to go deeper as stabilising requires more strength.
  • Cue micro-bends in elbows/knees and engagement of the muscles surrounding the joints.
  • It may be helpful to give hypermobile students some resistance, for example, give them something to push into like their elbows into your palms while in Downward Facing Dog
  • Remind students that it’s not about how far we go in an asana, but how we get there

Hypermobility is also something to take note of in other physical activities such as high impact exercises, gymnastics, dance etc where injuries may occur if joints are not taken care of.

Are you now wondering if you are hypermobile? You can find out how mobile your joints are by doing the Beighton Score Test, which is a simple system to quantify joint laxity and hypermobility. It uses a 9-point system, where the higher the score the higher the laxity. However, scoring a 9 doesn’t mean you are hypermobile. It is always recommended to have a diagnosis confirmed by a medical professional.

But whether we are hypermobile or not, we can make a conscious effort to engage our muscles and not lock our joints in our yoga practice 🙂

Beighton Score Test:


Image source

Falling asleep with pranayama

Have you ever wished you could fall asleep as soon as your head touches your pillow? I have… I often find myself lying in bed unable to drift off to slumber even though I feel sleepy. Perhaps I have kept my mind too active, too close to bedtime.

Wanting to get longer hours of quality rest, I decided to try incorporating pranayama in my bedtime routine. I have heard of pranayama prior to yoga teacher training but I was not aware that there were SO MANY pranayama techniques! Besides being able to warm your body up and get you energised, there are also “cooling” pranayama that can help you cool down, clear your mind, and maybe even fall asleep more easily. So far, anuloma viloma and murcha have helped to calm my active mind and made me feel more relaxed before I sleep. Researching more on how pranayama affects sleep, I came across many articles recommending bhramari pranayama, which is what I will be trying next!

Sharing here three pranayama techniques that may help you to sleep better 😊

Anuloma Viloma (starting from the left nostril)

  1. Come to a comfortable seated position.
  2. On the right hand, fold the index finger and middle finger to the base on the thumb, forming Vishnu mudra. Left hand can be in Chin mudra resting on left knee.
  3. Using the thumb of the right hand, gently close the right nostril and inhale using the left nostril.
  4. Close the left nostril using the ring finger and slowly open the right nostril to exhale.
  5. Inhale from the right nostril, close it with the thumb, and slowly open the left nostril to exhale. This is 1 round and you can practise this technique for about 10 rounds.
  6. The inhale to exhale ratio should be 1:2 as longer exhalations can calm your body down.

Note: It is important to start the first inhale from the left nostril as it will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (and reduce sympathetic activity), which will induce a calming effect on your body. Starting from the right will activate the sympathetic nervous system, which will do the opposite – keeping your mind and body alert and active. You may consider doing that at the start of your day instead.

 

Murcha (Swooning Breath)

This is an advanced pranayama. However, there are variations such that even beginners can practise it and reap the benefits. Sharing here a basic variation:

  1. In a comfortable seated position, place palms gently on knees. Take a few deep breaths to prepare.
  2. When ready, take a slow inhale and tilt your head back and press palms on the knees to straighten the elbows. Keep your shoulders away from the ears. You can incorporate Ujjayi Pranayama here too.
  3. When you reach the top of your breath, tilt your chin down (Jalandhar Bhanda, chin lock) and hold your breath here (antar khumbaka) for as long as you can do so comfortably.
  4. When you can no longer hold your breath, gently bring your head back to neutral position and slowly exhale through your nostrils.
  5. Resume normal breathing and observe the effects of holding the breath before repeating.
  6. You can do this for 3-5 rounds.
  7. For more advanced options, you can incorporate Kechari Mudra (rolling tongue back) and Shambhavi Mudra (roll eyeballs towards the centre of the eyebrows, or the third eye chakra).

Note: The literal meaning of ‘murcha’ is fainting, hence you may feel some dizziness and swaying in this pranayama due to the prolonged holding of breath. The swooning effect also comes from engaging the Jalandhar Bhanda which compresses the carotid sinuses. Breath retention may induce a state of void in your mind, removing distractions.

Caution! Those with high/low blood pressure, mental disorders, brain and heart conditions should not practise this pranayama.

 

Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. In a comfortable seating position, use your thumbs to gently press down on the cartilage between your cheeks and ears.
  2. Index and middle fingers gently cover your eyes, while ring fingers are at the side of the nostrils and little fingers at the corners of your mouth.
  3. Inhale softly and deeply, and as you exhale, make a humming sound from the back of your throat. Feel the vibrations through your head and face.
  4. You can do this for up to 5 minutes.

Note: The humming sound and vibrations produces a meditative effect. You can think of it as drowning out the constant “chatter” of your overactive mind. This pranayama also has effects of reducing anxiety and relaxing the face so you can practise this any time you feel stressed or anxious too.

The Yamas and my Headstand Practice

I found Yoga Philosophy to be very abstract and difficult to understand when I first came across it during the YTT theory lessons. After thinking them through and reading more about them, I came to appreciate them more and see how they relate to our everyday lives and in my yoga practice.

Particularly, I found myself remembering some of the yamas (Ahimsa, Asteya, and Aparigraha) when I was trying (very hard) to practise my headstand.

Ahimsa – non-violence; to not hurt yourself and others with words or actions

  • I had difficulties in getting both legs up in headstand at first and felt a lot of my weight being pushed onto my head and neck, even though I tried my best to push into my shoulders. I was adamant on getting both legs up that I tried again and again, even when my neck and shoulders were getting sore. I ended up getting a sore neck the following day and I knew that I probably had pushed myself too hard.
  • Remembering ahimsa, we need to take care to not push ourselves over what we can take, and rest when it is needed.

Asteya – non-stealing; freeing oneself of jealous instincts

  • Besides the literal meaning of not committing theft, asteya also means to refrain from coveting others’ possessions, time, abilities etc.
  • In the past, it was common for me to look up from my mat to see how others were doing in a yoga class. Some of them could do advanced poses easily whereas I was struggling as I was not flexible or strong enough. As I grew older (and more mature haha) I began to understand that what others are doing does not matter to me in my own practice.
  • Even so, in trying to achieve headstand, I found myself thinking about how others seem to do it so effortlessly and wishing that I had that ability too. And then I remembered asteya – instead of focusing on my “lack”, I can shift my focus to gratitude. I am thankful that my body allows me to practise yoga and I know it is getting stronger and better every day. Also, as Master Paalu often tells us, we need to believe in ourselves and our capabilities, because it is in us!

Aparigraha – non-attachment; non-grasping; non-possessiveness

  • Aparigraha suggests that we do not accumulate more than we need. This can mean wealth or material goods, or in my interpretation in relation to yoga practice, we do not need to “accumulate asanas”, as if there’s a checklist for us to track how many poses we can do.
  • Greed and accumulation may stem from a fear of not having enough, or not being good enough.
  • Practising aparigraha may also mean reducing or removing the attachment you have to outcomes. Instead of focusing on the destination – a headstand, I can focus on the journey to achieving it. We have been taught in our training that asanas are just the final posture, the movements leading to that are what’s key. And when we have gotten our desired outcomes, we should not be too attached to it and instead remember the journey of getting there (you have worked hard!).

Thanks for reading and hope this will help you to reflect on how you have incorporated the yamas or the other limbs of yoga in your daily life or yoga practice too 🙂