‘I came into this world with nothing, and I leave with nothing but love. Everything else is just borrowed’.
Mike Skinner (The Streets)
‘For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world’.
1 Timothy 6:7 (The Bible)
The word ‘Muladhara’ translates as ‘root support’, and is the foundational chakra upon which everything else is built. It is concerned with the physical body – the only material thing we come into this world with, and our primary connection to the earth.
Located at the base of the spine, near the coccyx and perineum – this is also the place which is said to hold our latent potential energy, or Kundalini Shakti. ‘Kundalini’ is depicted as a coiled snake that lies sleeping at the bottom of the esoteric spine, or the main energy channel known as ‘sushumna’. When we balance the physical and subtle energies within the body, we create a clear pathway for this energy to rise up the spine, and when it reaches the very top, we are said to reach enlightenment…
This probably takes a lot of practice by the way. One 60 minute asana class a week might not cut it, nor does enlightenment occur when you can touch your toes….
In order to reach the top of something, we have to start at the very bottom. The base, Muladhara, also known as the ‘root chakra’ or ‘base chakra’ is closely linked to our very primal aspects; it is the first chakra to develop within the subtle body, and governs our survival instincts, stability, security, solidarity, and the sense of ‘being here’ as a physical being on the earth.
When this area is unbalanced – i.e. when we feel flighty, ‘ungrounded’ and fearful – we often experience anxiety, changes in appetite, changes in the breathing rate, and physical issues on a very basic level such as knee problems (which are known to arise from feeling ‘unsupported’).
Linked to the sense of smell and the element or ‘tattwa’ of earth, it’s interesting to note the link also between these two primal things and Muladhara chakra: Smell is the very first sense to physically develop within the human body and is actually most powerful at birth. Even at 10 weeks into development within the womb, the receptors used to detect smells are already fully developed. When born, a baby will not be able to recognise the mother by sight, and instead uses the sense of smell to detect her scent and also the scent of her milk; this is what each newborn relies upon to make that first connection with the mother and to confirm our basic needs of comfort and food. The sense of smell is also controlled by the part of the brain which controls memory. We form very strong associations between experiences, emotions and smells, and different scents can be the most powerful triggers of memory.
This sense of smell as a survival mechanism continues on into life; if there’s danger such as a fire or gas leak, it’s our sense of smell that notifies us first, whereas clean cut grass is a very powerful trigger for eliciting thoughts and memories of Summer and Spring. When you form relationships with others, you begin to recognise their smell – and anyone who has worn an item of their partner’s clothing has probably been comforted by the fact that it smells of that person…. These are all survival mechanisms displayed in a subtle way, but they’re essential to our connection with the world around us.
Our perception of survival has changed over the eons that humans have been alive what previously referred to having enough food and water to stay alive, and a safe place to sleep so we didn’t get hunted and eaten by predators, has transformed over time to our sense of ‘survival’ depending upon a complexity of different things…. That well known ‘fight or flight’ stress response is now triggered when we lose our phone, when the demands of a 9-5 job are too much, when we’re stuck in traffic, and especially when we pay too much attention to the stories the mind creates instead of being present to reality as it is right NOW.
Animals basically live in this lower chakra their whole lives; concerned only with food, sleep and reproduction (although if you’re a household pet there’s a little more added into the equation).
The point is, while there is so much attention given to the ‘higher’ chakras and aspects of ourselves such as Svadisthana chakra which represents creativity, movement and sexuality, Manipura which links to our sense of ego, power and fieriness, Anahata at the heart – linked to love, truthfulness and compassion, Vishuddhi and it’s association with freedom of expression and speech, Ajna and intuition, and Sahasrara and enlightenment ….. Well, compared to all of these, Muladhara chakra is a little….. unglamorous…. There are plenty of Yoga studios called ‘Anahata’, plenty of people attempting to strengthen Manipura chakra, but no one finds the name ‘Muladhara’ particularly sexy these days….
This perception is apparent in modern culture too; we’re very concerned with our looks, our sexuality, expression, relationships, enjoyment, power and enlightenment etc…. but there is little focus on the very basic elements of ourselves, and the foundations that all our thoughts words and actions are built upon. In order to reach enlightenment at the top and truly be ‘free’ we have to understand who we are at a very basic level first, and find our roots and our center.
So, in order to find harmony in other areas of life; to have the energy to do what we need to do in life, to recognise how and why we do certain things and to build a ‘self’ that is stable, balanced and fully present, we begin with Muladhara chakra.
Root Chakra Practices
‘Earthing’ or ‘Grounding’
To walk on the earth is one of the simplest, yet most effective forms of finding our sense of being ‘grounded’. Especially if you live or work in a busy, noisy and urban area, taking time to do this can serve as a very effective way of ‘coming back down to earth’ when the mind is especially busy.
Earthing involves connecting the body to the earth, and commonly includes walking on (preferably wet) grass, sand or earth. To be ‘grounded’, practices also include eating root vegetables, ritualistic burying of objects, gardening and showering or washing the face with cold water. For more information, on earthing click here.
Circling and massaging the feet
Many issues within the body – both physical and subtle – begin right at the feet. The fascia that covers our muscles and tissue all the way through the body begins at the feet, and if there’s tightness or tension here, it can cause problems way up through the whole body, right to the top.
Yoga’s sister science of Ayurveda stresses the importance of Abhygya or self massage, and pays special attention to the feet. Before you go to bed at night, or when you wake up, spend just a few minutes massaging the soles of the feet, separating the toes and easing out any achiness in them. By releasing unnecessary tension from the feet, they’re more able to physically connect to the ground, therefore improving our sense of balance – not just in a balancing asana, but when walking and running too.
Circling the ankles and pointing and flexing the feet can create more fluidity and spaciousness within the joints and tendons, allowing for improved circulation and a larger range of mobility in the ankles, which therefore allows more ease of motion in the rest of the foot, leg and overall body.
Personally, I roll a tennis ball underneath the soles of the feet each morning in order to wake up the thousands of nerve endings in the feet, and to open up the muscles and tissue there. I find it physically releases tension through the legs and back especially, and actually does make me feel more ‘grounded’ and present before I begin the day.
Building strength in the feet, ankles, knees and legs
Our feet are our primary way of physically connecting to the ground, the legs are responsible for helping us move from place to place, and when there’s an injury or issue in this part of the body, it’s difficult to ignore.
By simply standing alternately on the heels and then the tip-toes, the arches and muscles of the feet will strengthen, which can aid in treating ‘flat feet’ and prevent the common runner’s injury of plantar fasciitis.
Translated as ‘Earth’, ‘Prithvi’ is the element that allows us to feel solid and grounded. This mudra is useful to practice in times of uncertainty, anxiety, when travelling and after a chaotic day.
Simple breathing practice.
When it all gets too much and it seems as though there’s no way to ‘still the mind’ as it rushes off into the future, repeat the mantra “I am here, I am now” to yourself in your head or out loud, as you bring awareness to your physical foundations; the feet standing on the ground, the sitting bones on the chair, or the hands touching something solid and real and NOW. Notice the breath drawing in and out of the nose, and emphasise breathing deeper and longer and louder (use ujjayi breath if you are familiar with it).
Looking after ourselves in a very basic way is also a good practise, enabling us to ‘come back to earth’. The body we’re given is of course a valuable asset, and it’s important to keep it healthy and nourished, but remember ‘we’ are not the body, we are the essence inside that is driving it around…. Obsessing over the appearance of the body is one of the fastest ways to bring ourselves further away from realisation, enlightenment, and knowing ‘who’ we are…. To keep ourselves nourished with healthy food, enough movement, good company and a curiosity for discovery and adventure in life help to reveal our truth and our most beautiful self.