Deeper Dimensions of Chakrasana: Wheel Pose
Classic hatha yoga texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Vashistha Samhita, and the Goraksha Samhita, make no mention of chakrasana. However, the ancient texts of tantra and kundalini yoga hold this asana in the highest regard. In the tantric tradition of Sri Vidya, chakrasana is used for shakti chalana—the awakening of kundalini shakti, the primordial pool of energy and intelligence that resides in the human body. In its advanced stages, chakrasana is used for granthi bhedana, the piercing of the three knots (special points of latent energy in the body), and assists kundalini in awakening from her timeless slumber.
Chakrasana can introduce our conscious awareness to the chakras—clusters of dormant energies that give chakrasana its name.
Far more than making the body wheel-shaped, chakrasana can introduce our conscious awareness to the chakras—clusters of dormant energies that give chakrasana its name. Eventually, using the power of breath, mind, and mantra, we attain a direct realization of the chakras and their latent energies. In the esoteric tradition of hatha yoga, chakrasana creates a bridge between six chakras. In the tradition of kundalini yoga, it bridges seven chakras; and in the tradition of Sri Vidya, it links nine chakras in one continuous flow of consciousness. First let’s look at the physical aspects of chakrasana and how it is practiced in the hatha yoga tradition.
In the tradition of kundalini yoga, it bridges seven chakras; and in the tradition of Sri Vidya, it links nine chakras in one continuous flow of consciousness.
Gaining Access to Chakrasana
A few preparations will develop the integration, activation, and strength needed to keep the spine working uniformly in chakrasana—and energetically connect the legs and pelvis with the shoulders and arms. Without that connection, you may find yourself fairly immobile and stuck in the shoulders, which can impede your ability to lift up through the whole body. The key is to transmit the power of the arms and shoulders to the feet, and the power of the feet and legs up into the torso, making the upward lift less laborious.
The key is to transmit the power of the arms and shoulders to the feet, and the power of the feet and legs up into the torso, making the upward lift less laborious.
Start by sitting with the knees bent and the feet on the floor hip-width apart and parallel. Lean back and place the hands on the floor a little behind the shoulders with the fingers pointing toward the feet. Roll the shoulder blades toward the spine to feel the collarbones broaden and the upper chest open. Take a breath or two, opening the rib cage but drawing the lower ribs into the body. Soften the elbows and keep them slightly bent as you press the hands and feet equally into the floor and lift the pelvis so the torso is level and parallel to the floor, and the pelvis is in line with the chest. Draw the ribs up and away from the inner arms. Hold and breathe for 5 to 10 breaths. Keep the navel, heart, and pelvis lifting with a strong engagement in the pelvis and lumbar spine to keep the hips from sagging toward the floor, and to keep the chest and rib cage from hanging off the shoulders.
Setu Asana (Bridge Pose)
The bridge pose is an excellent preparation and beginning stage of practice for chakrasana. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor hip-width apart and parallel. Press your arms into the floor alongside the body. Push down through the balls of the big toes, roll the inner thighs inward, draw up through the pelvic floor, and lift the pelvis. Inhale and roll up through the spine, lifting the chest by pressing the shoulders and arms down and the shins forward. Press the spine toward the front of the body. Then to open the shoulders and upper chest, shift slightly to one side and roll to the outer edge of the opposite shoulder, drawing the shoulder blades toward the spine. Shift to that side and draw the other shoulder blade under and in, bringing your weight onto the outer edge of both shoulders. You may clasp the hands together on the floor and press the arms down. Lift the heart, and press the sternum toward the chin. Hold for a couple of minutes, stretching the shoulders and the front of the body.
Another variation of the bridge pose (not shown) intensifies the backbending aspect and the opening across the groin and lower belly. Roll into the pose as before, then come up onto the toes to lift the pelvis higher. Bring your arms further under the body and bend the elbows to place the hands on the back of the pelvis with the fingers either pointing toward the waist, or to the side of the waist. Then lower your heels so the feet are flat on the floor, hip-width apart and parallel. This will bring the sacrum to rest in the hands, and the weight of the pelvis will settle through the forearms into the upper arms on the floor. Hold and breathe, feeling the release deep in the belly and lower spine. Release the hands to roll down and rest.
Chakrasana in Two Steps
From the bridge, release the arms and roll down through the spine. Now reach overhead and place the hands flat on the floor near the ears with the fingertips pointing toward the top of the shoulders. If you don’t have enough rotation in the shoulders to bring the palms flat on the floor, stop here. You may repeat the bridge pose, or the table pose, and practice postures like gomukhasana (cow’s face pose) and adho mukha shvanasana (downward dog pose) from the forearms to develop upper body flexibility and strength.
With the palms flat on the floor near the ears, press through the hands and roll up into the bridge pose as above. You’ll be on the back of the shoulders. Breathe and sense the distribution of your weight, and the connection between the hands, pelvis, and feet. Shift your weight toward the feet. Then press the feet to lift the pelvis and chest and bring the top of the head to the floor. Work to lift the pelvis further, pressing the sacrum into the front of the body, as in the bridge pose. You may find it easier to get the desired lift in the pelvis by coming up onto the toes. Press the hands into the floor to take the weight off the head.
If you are comfortable here, shift your weight toward your feet again and move your shoulder blades into the body and toward the waist as you press both the hands and the feet into the floor to further lift the pelvis and straighten the arms, or at least move the arms toward being straight. Adjust the feet so they point straight forward and the thighs track directly out from the hips. Avoid splaying the knees out to the side, and keep your knees over your heels so the shins are vertical. Press the chest forward between the upper arms, while pressing down through the feet to draw the pelvis and chest away from each other, and decompress the lumbar spine and make your body round. Hold and breathe. Experience yourself expanding internally with the breath, and feel the breath moving equally into the hands and feet. Work toward an even, smooth breath—and ease and stability in the pose.
To release, reverse the steps above: lower until the top of the head touches the floor and then the back of the shoulders. Then roll down through the spine as in the bridge pose. Release the arms and rest a few breaths before drawing the knees over the torso to ease any strain in the back. Gently rock from side to side. Then come into the child’s pose or another gentle forward bend to soothe the back.
The Deeper Dimensions of Chakrasana
Chakrasana strongly engages the legs, arms, pelvis, and shoulders, but its greatest impact is on the spine and the organs in the torso. In this pose, the spine is uniformly pressed toward the front of the body, opening not only the inner space of the body, but drawing our conscious awareness to all the chakras along the spine. According to hatha, kundalini, and tantra yoga texts, the chakras are centers of consciousness and creative intelligence that form our subtle and causal bodies. The spinal cord and its inherent forces, which structure the physical body, directly correspond to the chakras seated deep in our subtle and causal bodies.
In our physical bodies, we inevitably face a challenge when we attempt to cultivate sensitivity toward the chakras. Because our eyes face outward, we are accustomed to seeing only what is in front of us. Even as we visualize our back, we first have to bring it before our eyes. This neurological imposition on our mind forces us to imagine the chakras on the front of the body rather than in its deepest interior. But once you are in chakrasana, your familiar perception of physical reality becomes totally disoriented. By practicing diaphragmatic breathing—a deep, continuous, circular flow of breath—and cultivating greater sensitivity to the navel center, you can naturally become more aware of your subtle and causal bodies. If you have mastered the asana and are comfortable and steady in the pose, you will experience yourself as a contained field of energy. In this state, with the eye of your mind, you can easily see and feel all six centers of consciousness and creative intelligence—the chakras. You will feel that the chakras are neither in the front nor the back of the body. They are simply a vortex of energy inside the energy field that is you. The practice of chakrasana will enable you to see, sense, and finally, experience the distinct nature of each chakra from your perineum all the way to the center between the eyebrows.
The Hatha Yoga Tradition, Meditating in Chakrasana
To practice chakrasana at all three levels—body, mind, and soul—hatha yoga prescribes that you first master this asana. And mastery, in this case, means that you are able to maintain this pose for a minimum of 12 breaths without any discomfort. How effortlessly and diaphragmatically you are able to breathe while in the pose tells you how comfortable you are.
Coordinate your 12 or more breaths with the universal mantra soham (pronounced “so-hum”). As you begin your inhalation, bring your attention to your muladhara chakra (the root chakra at the pelvic floor) and mentally concentrate on the sound so. As you continue inhaling, let your mind, breath, and the sound so move from the muladhara through the higher chakras all the way to your forehead to the ajna chakra (the sixth chakra). Your inhalation should be long and smooth—so well practiced that there is no jerk and no noise at all. By the time you reach the ajna chakra, your inhalation should culminate. Without pausing, begin your exhalation, and mentally listen to the sound ham. Let the united forces of your mind, breath, and the mantra flow from the ajna chakra all the way back to the muladhara chakra. This makes one cycle. Repeat this process 12 times, then gently release your body to the floor. After a few moments of rest, draw your knees over your torso, and sit up to practice pashchimottanasana (seated posterior stretch) to balance the energy released from chakrasana.
A Glimpse into Kundalini & Tantric Practice
The tradition of kundalini yoga makes use of the six chakras of hatha yoga plus the seventh chakra, the sahasrara, the thousand-petalled lotus at the crown. Instead of the mantra soham, practitioners mentally recite the gayatri mantra with its seven vyahritis (the utterances designating the seven planes of consciousness). The movement of the breath and the journey of the mind from the lowest chakra (the muladhara) to the highest chakra (the sahasrara) are coordinated in the same manner as soham is coordinated in the tradition of hatha yoga as described in the previous section. In the tantric tradition, and specifically in the tradition of Sri Vidya, the practice of chakrasana takes the yogi directly to the practice of Sri Chakra.
In this tradition, the seeker uses chakrasana as a gateway to enter the Sri Chakra—his own body—and as prescribed by a master teacher, performs a general meditation/worship of all the chakras, or focuses on a specific chakra. In the Himalayan tradition of Sri Vidya, as described in the tantric text Saundaryalahari, verse 41, yogis are encouraged to worship the energy of the manipura chakra by meditating on the form of the Divine Mother, Durga, with three eyes and ten arms.
The Himalayan tradition of Sri Vidya is more precisely known as samaya. In this school, yogis meditate on the goddess Durga at the navel center. The mantra they use is the nine-syllable mantra of the Divine Mother technically known as the navarna mantra. To graduate from this level of practice, yo-gis practice chakrasana, focusing exclusively on the fire at the navel center. They enter such an intense level of concentration that their entire bodily awareness is consumed in the awareness of this fire. The experience of the energy released from this practice leads the yogi to the next step: maha vedha.
Maha vedha is a unique form of initiation which empowers the yogi to loosen the knots—Rudra granthi at the navel center, Vishnu granthi at the heart center—and finally pierce Brahma granthi, the final knot between the sixth and ninth chakras. It is at this stage that a yogi is initiated into a 15-syllable mantra called panchadashakshari or a 16-syllable mantra called shodashakshari. In this way, the seeker can use chakrasana as a tool to travel through the gateway of the body to a dimension of reality where time, space, and the law of causation do not pose any barrier to consciousness—and the secrets of auspicious wisdom are unveiled.