Features and Occasionals

Chakra Series: Chakra One

By Todd Mangum

When the first chakra is balanced, we have what is needed; we feel safe and secure. Until this chakra is balanced and its issues addressed, we will find it hard to focus our attention elsewhere. If we are always in a crisis or survival mode, we have little energy to devote to other areas of our life. It makes little difference whether the threats to our survival are real or perceived; both situations trigger the adrenals to respond.

The adrenal glands lie atop the kidneys and are actually two glands in one, the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. The adrenal medulla is responsible for our ability to respond instantaneously to any stress. This part of the gland releases adrenaline. We have all felt this response upon being frightened—when the heart beat increases, muscles tense, palms sweat, and we become hyper-alert—ready to respond to ensure our survival.

The adrenal cortex secretes the steroid hormones such as cortisol, also called hydrocortisone, aldosterone and DHEA. These hormones mediate our longterm response to stress by managing blood sugar levels and fluid balance among other things. The adrenal cortex also produces a little testosterone, estrogen and progesterone in both men and women.

Recognized Western medical diseases of the adrenals include one called Cushing’s syndrome which is an excess of cortisol. Another, Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, is a deficiency of both cortisol and aldosterone. Both of these are extensive imbalances of these glands and require prompt medical attention. From the conventional medical standpoint the glands are either perfectly healthy or they present life threatening situations.

Western medicine fails to understand that areas exist outside of normal which do not yet constitute medical emergencies. Many people suffer from adrenal exhaustion without complete failure of the gland. Relative adrenal excess can also exist which doesn’t yet qualify as Cushing’s syndrome.

Adrenal stressors

Adrenal function is compromised by these activities and conditions:
Skipping meals
Inadequate protein
Too much sugar or junk food
Insufficient sleep and relaxation
Prolonged infection
Chronic pain
Severe allergies
Any ongoing toxic exposure

Symptoms and signs of adrenal dysfunction

Unrefreshing sleep
Poor recovery from illness or frequent illnesses
Low blood pressure
Low body temperature
Progressive exhaustion with physical exertion
Low physical reserves in general
Sleep disturbances.

There are other possible causes for all of these problems, but if you are plagued by very many of these symptoms, having an exam done to evaluate your adrenals may be helpful. Conventional Western medical tests will reveal little unless the condition is extreme. More relevant and progressive tests are available which evaluate the saliva for the adrenal hormones. Many practitioners are starting to use these tests. Treatment can include the use of both DHEA and cortisol but these should be done only with proper guidance because these hormones function within optimal ranges and more is not necessarily better.

You can begin to address some of these first chakra issues on your own.

Examine the relationship you have with the Earth and your body. Do you view them as prisons from which you will be set free at death? Look around your house. Is it a home? Your adrenals will not rest until you feel safe and secure.

Of course, a healthy diet which stabilizes the blood sugar through proper balance of protein and carbohydrates is of paramount importance. Minimizing stimulants like caffeine is essential; by themselves, they can create a panic state. A well-balanced multivitamin is invaluable to offset the deficiencies created by chronic stress. Additional vitamin C and B5 (pantothenic acid) are especially helpful.

Herbs known as adaptogens play a special role in helping us respond to stress. These include the well-known herbs like Panax ginseng and Siberian ginseng, as well as rhodiola and ashwagandha. As the name implies, adaptogens help us adapt. They are unique in that they can calm an overactive adrenal system, or rejuvenate and energize an underactive one. In other words, they help us stay in balance.

Licorice root is a specific for low adrenal function, and contains substances which are very similar to the adrenal hormone aldosterone. Aldosterone helps the body retain fluids by conserving sodium. (One has to be cautious with licorice root if high blood pressure is a concern.) Chinese medicine has a large repertoire of formulas to address adrenal imbalances. These will often include the kidney qi tonics and herbs to strengthen kidney yin or yang. A Chinese medical diagnosis can be very helpful.

Additional ideas to reduce stress and balance the first chakra

Get a massage or any bodywork.
Plant a garden.
Take a yoga class.
Get a colonic.
Improve the quality of your terrestrial home (buy organic, recycle, etc.)

A simple exercise

The greatest assistance of all, however, is always available from the Earth herself. A simple exercise to enhance this connection is to walk barefoot outside in contact with the ground. Walk around and really feel that you are always supported.

Next, let a tree find you and sit with your back against the trunk. Feel how it’s anchored, its roots reaching deep into ground. Just being with the tree with a sense of appreciation is enough. Sit back and relax.

Characteristics of the first chakra

Location: Near the base of the spine, in the perineum.
Governs: Our understanding of the physical world.
Main issue: Survival and security.
Externalizes: As the adrenal glands.
Element: Earth.
When balanced: We feel grounded.
Color: A harmonic of red.
Key words: Matter, body, home, family, food.
Influences: Feet, knees, legs, bones, large intestine, rectum.
Deficiencies: Manifests as an inability to draw to oneself the material things needed for survival.
Excess: Hoarding, inactivity, obesity, fighting for your place in the world/war.
Imbalances: Manifests as hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatica, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and knee and foot trouble. Emotions dominated by fear, panic and anxiety.

The chakras are a metaphysical system of the body from the yogic tradition, used in both religious and medical Hindu and Buddhist canon. The chakra energy centers are usually depicted as seven lotuses of rainbow colors arrayed along the spine and up into the head. Under­standing of this system has been long been used both to heal illness and to promote spiritual enlightenment.

Todd Mangum, M.D.’s series on the chakras explains how this conceptual framework can be used to expand our understanding of how our bodies work. He covers the traditional and contemporary interpretations of the chakra system corresponding to various systems of the body. To be healthy is to have a free and balanced flow of energy through the body, and engaging this powerful symbolic system can help us to achieve and maintain health in a far more nuanced and active way than Western medicine can by itself.

This article was originally published on March 29, 2013.