Connecting with our human development through a series of 7 paintings
By Jessie Jewels
In June of 2020 I completed a 200 hour integrated vinyasa yoga teacher training with Coral Brown. We were asked to create a "book report" demonstrating our learning of the sacred Hindu texts The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar. We could chose our own way to express this knowledge other than just the traditional written report. Being a visual learner I chose to paint my final project. Using the structure of the chakras I integrated the teachings of these sacred texts with the concepts from our training.
To me the chakras are a lens into human development. In Indian philosophy chakras are centers of spiritual power in the human body. Chakra is a Sanskrit term which means “wheel” or “disk” and is derived from the root word “cakra”. Chakras take in, incorporating and emanating energy to keep us functioning at optimal levels. The purpose of the chakras is basically to bring us back into a state of harmony and inner peace. The journey towards opening the seventh chakra the "thousand-petaled lotus" is what helps to give us an inner strength.
1st Chakra: Muladhara (moo-la-dah-rah): (Root Chakra) Foundation/Base
Located in the base of the spine muladhara chakra is your foundation of being. It establishes the deepest connections with your physical body, the environment and with the earth. In order to be in alignment with this chakra and for you to feel safe and secure your basic necessities need to be met. Things like food, shelter, safety and nurturing. When your root chakra is not in alignment you might feel fearful, anxious, tired or chronically disorganized. To embody this chakra through asana (posture) vrksasana (tree pose) promotes balance and centering while strengthening and toning your core and legs, including the adductors, ankles and feet. To hold this posture it requires a stable grounding through your standing foot and concentration.
I feel my muladhara chakra is in alignment when my body and mind are grounded with a sense of a strong foundation. This chakra is associated with the element earth so, in my painting roots dive deeply from the standing foot of the asana figure. At the same time a golden stream of Prana (life-force energy) is entering the form through this rooting.
From the silhouetted figure’s arms eight branches shoot out reaching towards the sky. This is a reference to the eight limbs of yoga written about in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. This could be looked at as the foundation of yogic beliefs. The eight limbs serve as a guideline for a meaningful and purposeful life. The limbs address the ways of moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. Yama (Restraints), Niyama (Observances), Asana (Posture), Pranayama (Breath Control), Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi (Pure Contemplation).
Mantra: I am strong, stable and safe.
2nd Chakra: Svatisthana (svah-te-stah-nah): (Sacral Chakra) Dwelling Place of the Self
Located in the pelvic area svatisthana chakra is the center of creative energy. This can be expressed as procreation but is not limited to this. When we cook, bake, garden, or make art we are creating. We create when we find a new solution to an old problem or when we take raw materials, physical or mental, and transform them into something new.
To embody this chakra through asana (posture) utkata konasana (goddess pose) stimulates the pelvis and encourages the flow of prana for better functioning of the reproductive organs. It lengthens and stretches the quads, hamstrings, abductors, and groin. It also builds strength and stability within the lower body creating a strong base for the hips and spine.
The svatisthana chakra is associated with the element of water and the feminine qualities of lunar energy. In this painting I chose to exemplify the reflective quality of water with the luminous moon being the focal point.
Mantra: I am free to express and create.
3rd Chakra: Manipura (man-e-pur-ah): (Navel Chakra) Dwelling Place of Jewels, City of Gems
Located at the solar plexus the manipura chakra is the center of self-esteem, personal power and individual identity. It is also related to the metabolic and digestive systems. A healthy balance in the manipura chakra would be shown as having motivation, purpose, and confidence.
To embody this chakra through asana (posture) dhanurasana (bow pose) is dynamic and full of potential. It strengthens the back muscles, improves posture and stimulates the organs of the abdomen. It also stretches the entire front of the body, including ankles, thighs/groin, hip flexors, abdomen, chest and throat.
The manipura chakra is associated with the color yellow, the element of fire and the solar energy of the sun. I chose to illustrate in this piece a silhouetted yogi rising from flames surrounded in a lustrous yellow gem.
Mantra: I realize my potential.
4th Chakra: Anahata (anna-HA-tha): (Heart Chakra) Unstruck
Located in the heart region of the body the anahata chakra is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras integrating the evident with the spiritual. The heart chakra is related to being able to love yourself. Being able to give and receive (love) with equal ease. Feeling kindness and compassion for yourself and others. Having a sense of 'we' instead of only 'I'. Feeling a general sense of belonging and trusting in your heart as an inner compass.
To embody this chakra through asana (posture) natarajasana (dancer’s pose) opens the chest and ribcage to create more space for your breath. This asana also tones and lengthens the entire leg and hip muscles. It also stretches your shoulders and biceps, and improves balance and concentration.
The anahata chakra is associated with the color green and the element of air. I chose to illustrate air with the passing of a gust around the dancer.
Mantra: I trust my inner compass.
5th Chakra: Vishuddha (vi-shu-ddha): (Throat Chakra) Pure
Located just above the pit of the throat this chakra represents the qualities of purity and dignity. The vishuddha chakra is said to facilitate communication, true self-expression and a desire for the mysterious. Exposure to vast open spaces, to fine arts, star gazing or pranayama (breath control) balance the vishuddha chakra.
I chose to eliminate the use of a physical asana (pose) from this chakra upward because of the more subtle elements characterized by the upper chakras. This chakra is commonly associated to the subtle akasha (ether) element and the color blue turquoise. Starting at the base of the painting I depicted the universe swirling to create Prana (energy, life force) which is gathering at a center point of the figure and moving through the chakras. The Prana is moving upward through the lower 4 chakras to be communicated through vishuddha. The image is engaged in a pose with their throat open. They could also be viewed as singing, communicating with the universe or engaged in Pranayama (the breathing exercise of Yoga.)
In The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar states that the word Pranayama consist of two parts: prana and ayama. Ayama means “stretch” or “extend,” and describes the action of Pranayama. Prana refers to “that which is infinitely everywhere.” He says that it could be described as something that flows continuously from somewhere inside of us, filling us and keeping us alive: it is vitality. Desikachar goes on to state that in ancient texts such as the Yoga Yajnavalkya it tells us that someone who is troubled, restless or confused has more prana (infinite energy) outside the body than within. If prana does not find sufficient room inside the body there can only be one reason, it is being forced out by rubbish. He says that through daily Pranayama practice what we are trying to do is reduce the rubbish and so concentrate more and more prana within the body. Because we can influence the flow of prana through the flow of our breath, the quality of our breath influences our state of mind and vice versa.
To balance this chakra: pranayama, singing and playing refined music, fine arts, science fiction, star gazing, vast open spaces, mountain tops.
Mantra: I am in alignment with my truth.
6th Chakra: Ajna (Ag-yah): (Third Eye Chakra) Command/Summon (not based in knowledge)
Located in the center of the forehead between the eyebrows this chakra represents seeing beyond the physical form and the material world to access our inner guidance. Ajna is said to be the cosmic vision, illuminating everything as it is without the filter of your past, your expectations, or your judgement. It is said that the 2 physical eyes see the past and the present, while the third eye reveals the insight of the future.
The traditional element associated with the sixth chakra is called mahat, meaning supreme, a culmination of all the elements into one. Some would also refer to this as the element of 'Light,' without which the 'third eye' one would be unable to 'see' or perceive things.
I chose two passages from the Bagahavad Gita to exemplify the 6th Chakra “They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die.” (13:27) “Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal.” (13:28) I believe this means that when you are rooted in your deep knowing that you are connected on the most basic foundational level with every living being than you do not crave to be something else or to change other people or yourself. You already have everything you need and already are the Universe itself.
Portrayed in the painting is Lord Shiva. His third eye is a symbol for developing the sight of knowledge. It is said that our 2 eyes are not always sufficient to judge things and know realities. The third eye has been seen as a way to reach higher levels of consciousness while still being present in a physical body.
From the Yogic point of view, it is said that when the pineal gland or ‘third eye’ is awakened, one is able to see beyond space-time into time-space. It raises the frequency on which one operates and moves one into a higher consciousness. The pineal gland is also responsible for secreting two extremely vital brain fluids related to our mental health. Those are melatonin, which is the hormone that induces sleep, and serotonin, which is the chemical that helps to maintain a happy, healthy balanced mental state of mind, among other functions.
Mantra: I trust in the process.
7th Chakra: Sahasrara (Sa-has-rar-ah) (Crown Chakra) Thousand Petaled / Dwelling Place without Support
Located at the crown of the head this chakra’s energy motivates us to seek a deeper connection to the divine. It represents that which is beyond time. This chakra is energetically in alignment when self-divinity has been realized.
The sahasrara chakra is associated with being beyond time and space. I chose to paint a mandala to represent this chakra since mandalas represent wholeness. They are a cosmic diagram reminding us of our relation to infinity, extending beyond and within our bodies and minds.
Mantra: I am that which I seek.