Anodea Judith on the Relationship Between Chakras and Yoga Practice
Since first learning about the chakras in the 1970s, Anodea Judith has made teaching them her life’s work. Her first book Wheels of Life (1987, revised 1999: Llewellyn Worldwide) has sold more than 250,000 copies and been translated into 15 languages, with a number of best-selling books to follow. She calls them portals between the inner and outer worlds that provide a template for transformation and a map to manifest the lives we want to live. Jodi Mardesich recently spoke with her via Skype.
How did you come in to this line of work?
I came in through the door of yoga, back in 1975, almost 40 years ago.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I mostly grew up in Connecticut, and was always fascinated with psychology, so much so that when I was in high school I was going to night school in the Junior college to get started on my psychology. Then I went to Clark University, and was disillusioned with what they were teaching in psychology there, so I headed west to California. I had a long checkered journey studying consciousness, psychology, and yoga, going back to school, making my living as an artist—lots of things.
What kind of yoga did you study?
The first yoga I came across was called Integral Yoga, founded by Swami Satchidananda. They didn’t have many yoga teacher trainings then, and yoga didn’t have the popularity that it has now. I studied many many different kinds over the years: yoga therapy, Anusara, Kripalu, Iyengar, as well as lots of somatic therapy techniques, such as bioenergetics and trauma work.
Why is it a good idea for yoga teachers and yoga practitioners to have an understanding of the chakras?
The chakras came from the yoga tradition. Yoga is designed to open the body so the prana flows through more easily, and the chakras are central organizers of prana. It’s possible that some of the postures came from observing kriyas, which are spontaneous movements of the body resulting from awakened kundalini.
Do yoga schools put enough much focus on that? Sometimes it seems teacher training is mostly about the asanas.
Well, I think some of the yoga teaching you find in classes here and there is more asana focused, and they don’t talk about chakras and subtle energies so much, but I tell you, everywhere I go, I hear people say, “Your book was required for my teacher training,” so I think it is beginning to be of primary interest to people seeking the deeper experience of yoga.
You also teach a chakra yoga training as well?
I do, and I just finished a book on chakra yoga.
When is that coming out?
What does chakra yoga teacher training offer?
It’s a weeklong training on how to teach the chakras through yoga, what asanas or postures go with opening or affecting which chakras, how to work with the subtle energies, breathing practices, and guided meditations.
Is it a complement to other training?
I have a complete certification program that involves a variety of courses, some focusing on psychology and healing, others more on yoga.
Do you have a daily practice yourself?
I meditate pretty much every day, though I’m not perfect, and miss it sometimes. I try to do at least some yoga every day. I‘ve create a flow of seven chakra-based sun salutations that has become my personal practice, with variations for each chakra that incorporate a full range of yoga postures.
I want that!
There’s a version of it recorded in the Chakra Balancing Kit that Sounds True published about ten years ago, and there’s also a description of it in my Chakra Yoga Teacher Training Manual, and I’ll probably make a video of it one of these days. The first chakra goes into a reversed lunge, for example, second chakra includes a pigeon, third chakra is a lot of warrior poses, Ardha Chandrasana, and plank pose, fourth chakra is more the heart openers, the fifth involves working in bridge pose, shoulderstand, and plough, and sixth chakra involves the eagle, or Garudasana, with some more balancing postures. Seventh chakra works in a backbend, sometimes a headstand. So there are variations all the way up and down.
These poses are added to the structure of the traditional sun salutation?
Yes. So that’s my home practice, and I can do it in 20 minutes or two hours, depending on how much time I have. If I want to run through it quickly as a fast vinyasa, I can do that. If I want to spend more time in poses or bring in more variations, I can take a longer time with it.
How did you go from having something that resonated with you to really making that the focus of your work and turning a vision into books and art and all the things you’re doing?
It happened slowly. It became what I was doing, the lens I was looking through. I had this burning desire to write my first book, Wheels of Life, which took me quite a long time because I was learning to write. Once the book came out, that opened doors.
In terms of how do I take an idea into manifestation, that’s what my more recent book, Creating on Purpose, is about: manifesting through the chakras. That’s the top-down journey, where you begin in your highest consciousness, your will, your energy, your passion, and bring it down to manifested form. So I actually followed that path and manifested quite a bit in my life.
That’s interesting. Most approaches focus on starting at the root chakra, and going up in order, supposedly because you can’t balance a chakra if the ones below haven’t been balanced or are not awakened.
There are good arguments for both ways. Working the chakras from the bottom up is the liberating current; from the top down is the manifesting current. You go from fixed form to freer and freer forms on the way up—earth, water, fire, air, sound, light and consciousness. In the ancient texts they called it mukti, which means liberation or freedom. The downward current in the ancient texts they call bhukti, which actually means enjoyment. But I take it all the way down and call it manifestation as we go from idea to then an image, then a word, then into relationship, action, passion, and completion. So it gets denser as you go down: consciousness to light to sound to air to fire, water, and earth. The old texts even described the chakras as condensing chambers—for condensing energy into the different levels of manifestation. It all depends on what your intention is: Are you liberating or do you want to manifest? And believe me, you don’t have to have perfectly balanced chakras in order to do either one.
A version of the story appears in the November 2014 issue of CATALYST magazine.