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Thoughts from Vintage Yoga...

Past, Present, & Future

I want to take a step back this week. To enhance my learning about the chakras, I signed up for an online course from The course is titled “Chakras Illuminated: The Modern & Ancient Function of the Chakras” and is led by Christopher Wallis who holds numerous degrees in religion, classical Indian religions, Sanskrit, and other philosophies.

One of the very first articles I read challenged what I’ve learned so far about chakras. An article in the course titled, The Six Most Important Things You Never Knew About the Chakras brought to light a couple of points I’d like to share with you. During my yoga teacher training, it was emphasized that in the practice of yoga and its related philosophies, it’s important to acknowledge and respect the cultural traditions that are the roots of this more than two thousand years old practice.

In the article, The Six Most Important Things, Wallis explains that the chakra system presented in “Western” practice (which is what I’ve been studying) is very different from beginnings of the “Tantrik” traditions from over 1,500 years ago. I knew, based on my yoga teacher training, that our Western approach was different, and now I found myself wondering, “How different?” And “If you take out western ideas, what’s left?” “Am I going to have to start all over?” The answer is no, and so the journey continues.

This is not to say that everything I’ve learned and shared so far is "right" or “wrong,” it’s just different. One difference, according to Wallis, is that the “psychological states associated with the chakras are completely modern and western.” He even mentions one of the authors, Anodea Judith, whose two books (Wheels of Life and Eastern Body Western Mind) have been primary sources for me. In traditional Sanskrit writing there is nothing to support Judith’s presentation of western practice. Considering the western practice is only about 100 years old, I became curious about modern thought which brought these ideas to Western society.

Several sources credit Carl Jung as being instrumental in developing connections between modern psychology and the mystic ideas of ancient practices. He traveled around the world and spent a considerable amount of time during the 1930s in India, where he was introduced to Hindu philosophy. Jung’s understanding of the chakra system and other beliefs may have come from a translation of a 16th century work written by a man named Purnananda who described the seven-chakra system (although there were beliefs of as few as six, sixteen and even more energy points in the body). According to Wallis, this translation was done in 1918 by John Woodroffe a British lawyer who studied Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy.

Human nature has embedded within us the desire for greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. This leads me to believe that modern psychology has simply connected the dots. Practitioners and scientists, such as Anodea Judith and Carl Jung, have taken these centuries old ideas, applied their modern understanding to them, and given us tools which have the potential to change lives. From my viewpoint, that doesn’t make them wrong or right, it simply makes them “new” and different. (Wallis also makes this point)

Now my expectation is to learn more about the original chakra system, respect the nature and authenticity of the ancient practice, and understand how modern culture has adapted it.  

So, as I continue this journey, I will attempt to share with you both perspectives and allow you to develop your own understanding. Because, ultimately, in my opinion, each of us will do exactly that. Develop our own understanding. And that’s the beauty of it all! You get to decide what elements add value to your life and apply them in whatever way benefits you. More on that in my next post.

With Love & Gratitude,

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