By Emma Loewe
As an editor at mbg and author of a book on spiritual self-care, I’m not a total stranger to the seven chakras. These energy centers—each one corresponding to a certain part of the body and phase of life—are referenced in meditation, visualization, and yoga practices often. But beyond common phrases like “root yourself” and “use your third eye,” my knowledge of how to connect the chakras to my everyday life was pretty limited.
That is, until I connected with Erica Matluck, N.D., N.P. of Seven Senses, who seeks to help people heal from ailments past and present, conscious and unconscious, using the chakras as guides.
How the chakras can help with stress management.
As a nurse and naturopath, Matluck sees value in fusing Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. She helps clients use the body’s more metaphysical energy centers to overcome very physical blocks.
There are a lot of things that are special about Matluck’s approach, but what I find the most valuable is her emphasis on acknowledging how different phases of life leave many of us wounded, but by acknowledging those wounds we can start to use them as attributes. She uses chakras as a framework to think about our past and how much of it we are carrying with us, for better or for worse.
Earlier this year, I joined Matluck for a seven-day total immersion in the chakras (psst—she has another one coming up in Italy!) and walked away better equipped to deal with a block that I (and the vast majority of people, I’d imagine) sometimes deal with: chronic stress.
Stress relates to the first three chakras in particular since these are the ones where our shadows, or the darker sides of ourselves that we tend to repress, are thought to reside. Here are a few chakra-centric ideas and exercises that have helped me reframe stressful moments as opportunities to learn a little more about myself and my tendencies.
The Root: Identify what kinds of stress makes you feel unsafe.
The root chakra is thought to be the body’s foundation, and it develops in the first seven years of life. We might not remember too much from that time period, but its subconscious lessons follow many people into adulthood, according to Matluck.
“The mostly unconscious tension we’re dealing with in that time of our lives is attachment, which is necessary for survival, and authenticity, which is expressing what’s true for you,” she explains. She gives the example of a toddler crying for apple juice and being given milk. They instinctively wanted one thing but were given another. Then, they internalized the message that they needed to quiet some of their desires in order to fit in and be safe.
It happens to everyone, and this isn’t to say that parents should be giving their kids apple juice all the time, but it can ingrain this idea that in order to be safe, to be rooted, you need to give up a little part of yourself. Moving into adulthood, that can lead to frustration, a lack of authenticity, and a fair amount of stress about how you’re being perceived in the world.
“For so many people, fears limit them from living that great, authentic life. It’s a big one that drives stress because in adulthood we find ourselves in relationships we don’t want to be in but are scared to leave or are in a job we don’t love but are scared to leave. It tends to be these unconscious fears that keep us in jobs or situations we don’t want. That’s the work of the root,” Matluck explains.
Exercises for the root chakra:
Here are some exercises that Matluck recommends for getting to the root (no pun intended) of this chakra and overcoming some of the fear you’ve been holding on to since early childhood:
- Practice foundational yoga poses, like mountain pose, making sure to fully engage your lower body and feel your legs on the ground before employing your arms.
- The next time you feel stressed, visualize yourself as a tree, with roots extending into the earth, anchoring you so you can stand stable, tall, and confident.
- Journal on the question “Where do I sacrifice authenticity to feel safe?”
The Sacral: Rethink how you react to stress when you first feel it come on.
The chakras build upon one another, and the root speaks to our most basic and primitive needs: for food, shelter, etc. The next chakra up, the sacral, is all about the need for emotional connection. It develops when we’re 8 to 14 years old and just starting to recognize how we feel about others and how others make us feel about ourselves.
When negative emotions about ourselves or others come up, it’s human nature to want to silence them or run away. But the work of the sacral is sitting with feelings of shame, stress, or sadness without fumbling to distract yourself. It’s also about differentiating the emotions that belong to you from the ones that belong to others. This can be a challenge, especially for highly sensitive people who pick up on everyone’s energy all the time—but it’s worth it.
“When you can differentiate between your feelings and the feelings of others, that level of awareness will change your life,” says Matluck. “You won’t need to change what other people are doing. It’s a change that comes from within.”
Exercises for the sacral chakra:
It’s no surprise that mindfulness techniques like meditation can help you with this emotion-driven sacral chakra. Here are some to try out:
- Stay in uncomfortable yoga poses for long periods of time, like pigeon. Don’t break them at the first thought of “I can’t.”
- For one day, keep a journal of every time you distracted yourself from a negative thought or feeling using food, social media, etc.
- Try a “sit of determination,” or a long meditation in which you don’t move at all and instead just let itches or aches pass. Remember that stress also leaves the body eventually, just like these physical sensations do.
The Solar Plexus: Analyze the pressures from society that stress you out.
The solar plexus is all about owning your personal power. Developed when we’re 14 to 21 years old, this chakra relates to the stories that society tells us about the “right way” to be. It has some similar themes to the root chakra since it’s another time in life when we shut down parts of ourselves to fit in. But in doing so, we’re only really stressing ourselves out more.
Forging a healthier relationship with this chakra means accepting all sides of yourself, even those that you’ve deemed troublesome in the past. “The theme of self-acceptance comes up. It’s really a re-evaluation of who you are,” says Matluck. “Instead of thinking of these parts of ourselves as limitations, can we make them our gifts?”
An exercise for the solar plexus chakra:
There’s something really beautiful in accepting your flaws, instead of working through them or pushing them away as we’re often told. One way to do it is by spending a few minutes writing a “fix-it list” for yourself filled with qualities you don’t like. Then, reframe each one as a positive. So a perceived flaw like “I have trouble saying no to other people” becomes “I care about others so much and always try my best to make them happy.” From that perspective, it’s really nothing to stress about at all.