Special Feature The Alchemical Cauldron The body’s power battery
The nature of Fire THE SOLAR PLEXUS in our body is the home of third chakra, known as manipura in Sanskrit, and the seat of our personal power. It is elementally associated with fire, the energy known, as agni in Ayurvedic scripts. Fire expresses it self in many ways in nature: solar heat, stellar brilliance and flashes of lightning, it seethes and smoulders underground and erupts spontaneously in soaring infernos or devouring land in destructive conflagration, to engender new growth. Primordial fires of passion sweep through the body, consuming. All living things are in some way fertilised, tempered, ripened or destroyed by forms of fire. Fire-making is the discovery that defines us as humans. We learned early that fire could be manipulated like a dangerous ally to provide warmth, light, and a deterrence to predators and insects.
The shining light of Selfhood For millennium peoples have danced around the sacred fire to the beat of the drum and still we are mesmerised and hypnotically attracted to the living activity of flames. People love a good fire, it reflects our own invisible, internal fire that animates our substance and manifests in the flickers and excitations of psychic life. The contained flames of hearth and altar represent the transformative inner spark that transposes possibility into conception. We burn offerings - solid plant incense is altered to the ethereal with inspiring spirals of smoke. Divine spirit is depicted as an indwelling fire that can be coaxed or quenched; in myth, as in reality, fire sometimes destroys so that from the purified residue or ashy presence, a new world may come into being. The Greek Heraclitus imagined a kind of fiery ether as the primary constituent of the cosmos and the soul as composed of similar fire. ‘You cannot know the fire from words alone. Enter the fire if you want to know the truth.’
Being centred: what does it mean? Commencing the climb of our spiritual ladder of embodiment was primarily about grounding ourselves and establishing our roots in the physical body. Once the stable foundation was in place, it was then time to discover the fluid body and surrender to the flow of the life force within and without. Now we contemplate the third stage - to ignite the fires of our inner core power as we coax the life force upwards on the ascending journey into integrated wholeness. This is where we learn that letting go and surrendering was in fact an act of will; relaxed and grounded, we must now summon the wherewithal to direct our energy flow to move forward with decisiveness, discipline and confidence. By learning who we are and connecting to our will with focussed, balanced power we can move successfully to the mature act of commitment and bind our selves to a worthy course of action.
Fuelling the power of will Our creativity is fuelled by our power of will and once we become aware of this, and do the daily work of releasing tensions as much as we can, we can start using our power centre. Under the law of self-determination, our free will extends to decisions about the quality of life we choose to lead, because free will is always stronger than pre-ordained destiny. The modern fixation on fictional characters with “super powers” demonstrates the manifestation of a universal longing, an innate drive to access and express the dormant powers in all humans, powers to which most of us are not awake. In truth, the whole of humanity is ordained to realise its true (subtle) Self at its own pace and in its own way. “Will-power” can be summoned through spiritual practices such as yoga for an accelerated evolution. Sutra 5,1.27 (111.30) tells us that by concentrated meditation upon the solar plexus, full knowledge and mastery of the body is attained.
The jewelled city within One can think of Manipura (translated as “Place of gems” or “diamond-city”) as the bright sun in the body; it is the third centre for unrefined emotions and personal power. In the human energy system, the third chakra is approximately located in the solar plexus, our geometric centre of gravity, sitting over the stomach and the nerve ganglia under the diaphragm. All about assimilation, it filters energy into our vital organs so that they can break down nutrients for digestion. This chakra governs the stomach, abdomen, upper GI tract, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney spleen, adrenal glands and the middle spine area behind the solar plexus. It is also responsible for the mechanisms of metabolism for both the gross form of food and the mental aspect of ideas. Ailments that arise from imbalance of Manipura chakra are indigestion, acid stomach, ulcers, hepatitis, gallstones, inflammation of the pancreas and diabetes. Manipura directs energy to the islets of Langerhans that are situated in the pancreas. These produce insulin to lower high sugar levels and also glucagons to raise low blood sugar.
Stoking the digestive fires The body’s digestive process breaks food into substances that can be absorbed and used for energy, growth and repair. We should be more mindful of every type of food that we put in our bodies; cognisant of its nutritional value and action on our different body systems; asking ourselves if it is cleansing, alkalising, too high in sugar, congesting perhaps or is it strengthening for bones or calming for the nervous system? We must follow our wisest instincts about how healing each bit of food will be for us or whether it robs us of vitality and life force. Energetically, the solar plexus chakra stokes up the fuel reserves of our body and when it is awakened, we feel fearless and any obstacles in our path are burned away as we meet the world on our own terms.
Those gut feelings Internal knowing is almost visceral. We all sometimes have that “gut feeling” or perhaps our stomach knots, or “butterflies” in confronting stressful situations. The nerve receptor sites of the solar plexus are very similar to brain tissue and it is sometimes known as the enteric brain because it responds to the same neurotransmitters as the brain does. Psychological factors also impact hunger and digestion, influencing the movements of the intestine, secretion of enzymes and other digestive functions. Intense sadness or anger, for example, will set off a chain reaction that stimulates hunger, perhaps causing weight gain and digestive problems. Longstanding or reoccurring diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or colitis affect emotions, behaviours and daily functioning. This two-way association is called the brain-gut axis. Because of rich connections to the autonomic nervous system, the digestive organs are often the sites of psychosomatic illnesses.
Gathering point of energy The functioning of this chakra is highly complex; it is the door into the centre of our being where we are able to feel peaceful, calm and centred. Prana/life force expresses itself in Manipura by drawing in solar radiance as a type of Prana called “Samana” and transmutes it into a form that enables the flow of vital energies throughout the physical body to be regulated. Samana vayu, as it is called, expands the abdominal cavity on inhalation and relaxes it in exhalation. It is responsible for turning food into nourishment and information into ideas. It is a gathering point for lines of subtle energy, the nadis, which control all bodily functions, as well as being a powerful nerve plexus. Different healing modalities call this centre tantien or hara; the chi energy pump, that pumps out fresh Prana/chi energy to all parts of the body. As well as being the point of distribution of life energy it is our principal source for action, energy and power; which also applies to the mental processes, emotions and feelings.
The seat of ‘I am’ The solar plexus chakra is the centre of personal identity, the seat of the ego from where we can say ‘I am’. This is the place from which we express our Selves and manifest our self in the world and form boundaries for ourselves. We learn how the world perceives us and we experience the emotions of others by becoming a mirror to them. The charismatic people who are established in themselves with a well-developed third chakra are recognisable by the strong aura of light that emanates from them. We too often risk losing an authentic sense of self because we are so keen on creating a good impression; we tend to engage in a warped perception where we don’t see our selves from our own awareness but rather from how others see us. Positive work on this chakra means accruing inner strength and self-worth to make a stand for our Selves. We learn the true meaning of responsibility, the ability to respond confidently in our personal power and not evade situations that call for decisive action. We learn the more potent meaning of “power within” to create and accomplish, rather than “power over” something or someone. ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.’ – Bruce Lee Fire in the Belly Claiming our innate power, and taking over the driver’s seat of self, means setting an intention to move forward beyond our fears with commitment, discipline and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is an energetic commitment that buttresses our surrender to the inner teacher, whereby “will” and tenacity determine the rapidity of our progress. In the yoga world this drive is known as “tapas”; (literally translated as to cook) the libidinous fires of urges, instincts, affects and desires are worked on as the “stuff of the self”. It helps us summon the courage to express our true nature and find our soul path (dharma). (Yoga sutra 3.1/1.21 states that attainment of spiritual consciousness is rapid for one who seeks it with an intense urge.) Indeed discipline is required to cultivate our personal power.
The human competitive animal Manipura is the area where we store stress and negative emotions, especially those that we have not been able to express such as the challenging issues of competition, comparison, control, worthiness and judgement. Competition is an ingrained pattern of familial and societal life, that is perceived as the main way to success and being successful is how we define our self worth; we judge, compare and blame as a matter of course. In the third chakra, the survival issues of the first chakra resurface but now in the human emotional and mental world of our workplace and relationships. Awareness is to be developed to turn around the self-limiting feelings of being threatened and jealous of other’s success, before they impede our own progress. We need to keep the tenuous balance between self-inflation or self-aggran-disement and deflating our real worth.
Effort is rewarded Power issues arise with the third chakra, whereby people may react in a dominating and controlling pattern or the polarised opposite state of avoidance - weakness and subservient victim-like behaviour. This duality gives rise to struggle not only in our emotions and minds, but also in our physical body as tensions, and in the energy field of our aura. As we become more aware of this ingrained conditioning we notice that the pendulum can swing either way and that we needn’t be attached to either pole. This awareness leads to a more transcendental quality, whereby the positive qualities of the third chakra can emerge; and we become leaders who take initiative by doing what needs to done for the good of everyone. Maturity is the reward of “doing the work” and living mindfully through the challenges of the power centre, heeding lessons in judicious use of our power in a relaxed yet vibrant way, frees up energy to rise to the heart chakra, where we experience the transformation of power into love.
Blaze your own Trail The ‘Hero’s Journey’ is a metaphor for what life calls us to do and the path it takes us on. Joseph Campbell first developed the concept of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ to describe the common narrative among many of the world’s great myths and legends. The warrior is an empowered person with a definitive sense of selfhood. They have the inner strength and resilience to see their dreams materialise into reality and the stamina to meet the physical and mental challenges. This means honing our instinctual nature to “fight the good fight”, to choose light or the highest good. The warrior is deeply established in self, not anchored in the external world and doesn’t always seek approval confirmation from others. Warriors won’t sabotage themselves and squander energy by giving their power to others to define who they are. When we connect with the world from an abiding sense of self we embody the heroic qualities that instil confidence and trust in others; this way we can influence situations and people with impeccable integrity. ‘You are not born a winner or a loser, you are born a chooser.’ Our girdle of support Bodily core strength is cultivated by accessing the deepest abdominals; the transversus abdominus and the deepest back muscles the multifidus, in conjunction with other muscles such as the internal obliques. These core muscles are difficult to feel, impossible to see and do not create movement, so it can be hard to recognise them initially. With time and practice we can become more aware of these stabilisers and enjoy improved power in exercise and daily life. Contracting the deep abdominals correctly is called Uddiyana bandha in yoga and occurs sequentially with a “zipped up” pelvic floor. Improved core stabilisation not only protects you from injury, it will also have you standing taller and looking stronger, providing you with the deep strength to take your physical life to the next level.
Embody the starfish Being conscious of our power source, as a firm yet mobile core, we can then initiate movement by radiating out from this locus in a radial symmetry and integrating the body parts through the centre in fluidic continuity to distal parts. Imagine the umbilicus attaching the foetus to the navel or a starfish, which radiates outwards with its sensitive extremities extending and feeding back into its central mouth. We too can use navel radiation as the dominant pattern of movement initiated from the navel centre and migrating out to the periphery of the body through the limbs, which then feed back into the navel centre. This way we sustain stability, fluidity and generate more power without extraneous muscle strain. Connecting to your Inner Power
Yoga poses Core strengthening poses, the warrior series, all twists.
Auspicious Herbs and oils to power our centre Herbs Hot, peppery spices to spark digestion, chai spices, ginger, chamomile, marshmallow, lemon balm, golden seal, wood betony, sarsaparilla, rosehip, rosemary, milk thistle, horsetail, white willow bark, liquorice, dandelion, turmeric, meadowsweet. Oils Aniseed, basil, black pepper, cajeput, carrot seed, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, coriander, fennel, ginger, juniper, all the citruses, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, patchouli, peppermint, pimento, spearmint,
Things we can do to stand in our personal power • Take up a daily physical discipline and stay enthusiastic for the process • Do safe core exercises • Eat mindfully, wholesomely, ethically, no yo-yo dieting, no obsessive food habits • Follow your dharma, choose work that reflects your passions and natural talents • Make the best of what you have • Power walking • Take a lead in something, anything • Laugh more, laugh a lot • Don’t be shy, wear some bright yellow • Eat iron rich foods, probiotics, yoghurt, citrus fruits • Learn belly breathing and how to do Bastrika breath work