In the December 2005 Catalyst, we introduced the Indian system of human energy. In brief, chakras are vortices or spinning centers which emerge through the interaction of matter and energy. Chakras act as interfaces between our physical bodies and larger cosmic forces. Each chakra associates with a specific nerve ganglion or network, and each ganglion works like an antenna that receives and transmits information relevant to the areas governed by its chakra.
The first of the seven major human energy centers is the root chakra. As the names imply, the first, root or base chakra is the foundation upon which everything else rests.
Any chakra can be excessive or deficient or both. Deficiency in the first chakra may create an inability to draw to oneself the material things needed for survival. To compensate for the anxiety this creates, a person might eat continually, creating excess weight in order to feel secure and grounded. Imbalances in this chakra manifest as obesity, hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatica, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and knee and foot trouble. Fear, panic and anxiety dominate the emotions. When this center is balanced, individuals feel safe and secure in having what is needed.
Until this chakra is balanced and its issues tackled, individuals find it hard to focus attention elsewhere. Always in a crisis or survival mode, one has little energy to devote to other areas of life. Whether the threats to survival are real or merely perceived makes little difference; both situations trigger the fear and anxiety response.
The root chakra is closely associated with the adrenal glands, which lie atop the kidneys. Through understanding the physiology and function of the adrenals, we can better understand its scope of influence. The adrenals are actually two glands in one — the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex secretes the steroid hormones like cortisol, also called hydrocortisone, aldosterone, and DHEA. These hormones mediate our longer term response to stress by managing the blood sugar level and fluid balance, among other things. The adrenal cortex also produces small amounts of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone in both men and women.
The adrenal medulla releases adrenalin, responsible for our ability to respond instantaneously to stress. We have all felt the effect of adrenalin when frightened: the heart rate increases, muscles tense, palms sweat. We become hyperalert and wide awake, ready to respond to ensure survival.
Short-term stress does little harm, but we are not meant to endure the chronic, unrelenting stress so many experience today. When this happens, our coping mechanisms malfunction, first by going on overdrive and getting out of synch, then by becoming exhausted. For example, a person may feel run down and exhausted all day, but when bedtime arrives be all wired up and unable to quiet the incessant mental chatter.
Adrenal stressors include constant anger, fear, worry or guilt, especially if these emotions concern issues we feel are related to our survival or security. Skipping meals, inadequate protein and too much sugar or junk food, insufficient sleep and relaxation, prolonged infection, trauma, chronic pain, severe allergies, and any ongoing toxic exposure all create stress on the adrenals as they attempt to compensate for these stresses.
Signs of adrenal dysfunction include fatigue, nervousness, anxiety, unrefreshing sleep, poor recovery from illness or frequent illnesses, hypoglycemia, low blood pressure, low body temperature, progressive exhaustion with physical exertion, low physical reserves in general, and any sleep disturbance.
Of course there are other possible causes for all of these problems, but if you are plagued by very many having, an exam done to evaluate your adrenals may be helpful.
Conventional western medical tests will reveal little unless the condition is extreme. 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 constitute medical emergencies. Many people suffer from adrenal exhaustion without complete failure of the gland, or relative adrenal excesses which don’t qualify as disease. More relevant and progressive tests exist which evaluate the saliva for the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA. If your primary care practitioner is unfamiliar but interested, two companies performing the tests provide excellent information: Diagnos-Techs, Inc. in Seattle (800) 878-3787 and Great Smokies Lab in North Carolina (800) 522-4762. Treatment can include the use of both DHEA and cortisol but these should be done only with proper guidance since these hormones function within optimal ranges and more is not necessarily better.
Steps you can take at home to balance the adrenal include addressing all the issues relating to the first chakra. 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. 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, stimulants can create the panic state. A well-balanced multivitamin can help offset deficiencies created by chronic stress, and additional vitamin C and B5 (pantothenic acid) may also be useful.
Herbs known as adaptogens play a special role in helping us respond to stress. As the name implies, adaptogens help us adapt, calming an overactive adrenal system or energizing an underactive one. Panax ginseng and Siberian ginseng are among these adaptogens. Licorice root, which contains substances very similar to the adrenal hormone alderostone, is a specific for low adrenal function. Aldosterone acts to help the body retain fluids by retaining sodium, so be cautious if high blood pressure is a concern. Chinese medicine also has a large repertoire of formulas to address adrenal imbalances, including the kidney qi tonics and herbs to strengthen kidney yin or yang. A Chinese medical diagnosis is necessary to use them appropriately.
Additional ideas to reduce stress and balance the first chakra include massage or any body work, colonic therapies, yoga, gardening and exercise. To improve the quality of our terrestrial home, buy organic, recycle, join the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
The greatest assistance of all, however, is always available from the Earth herself. A simple exercise to enhance this connection (in warm seasons) 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. Or get a pedicure or a professional reflexology treatment. Reflexology is a therapy where practitioners methodically massage the entire foot. Besides feeling incredible, it can benefit the entire body.
Todd Mangum, M.D., of the Web of Life Wellness Center is a holistically oriented physician practicing in Salt Lake City.