Survival and security
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 gland.
When balanced: we feel grounded.
Color: a harmonic of red.
Key words: matter, body, home, family, food.
Influences: feet, knees, legs, bones, large intestine and rectum.
Deficiencies: manifest as an inability to draw to oneself the material things needed for survival.
Excesses: hoarding, obesity, fighting, conquests and warmongering.
Imbalances: manifest as hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatica, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and knee and foot trouble. Emotions dominated by fear, panic and anxiety.
Chakra one, the root chakra, is the foundation of our connection to the Earth. For indigenous communities the Earth has long been a sentient being and all of its creatures considered relatives. However, for many people in our modern world, this connection is weak or non-existent. Earth is often viewed as an inanmate object, a commodity, rich in resources to be exploited. We have lost our sacred connection to the entire web of life.
When the first chakra is unbalanced, one may feel ungrounded, adrift, and often alone. It makes little difference whether the threats to survival are real or just perceived—both situations trigger the adrenal glands to respond to the stress.
If we are always in a crisis or survival mode, we will have little energy to devote to other areas of our life. But when the first chakra is balanced, we feel safe and secure.
The adrenals lie on top of the kidneys and are actually two glands in one, the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. The adrenal medulla secretes adrenaline and is responsible for our ability to respond instantaneously to any stress. We have all felt this response upon being frightened, when our heartbeat increases, muscles tense, palms sweat; we become hyper alert and wide awake. At this point we are able and ready to act to ensure our survival.
The adrenal cortex secretes the steroid hormone cortisol (also called hydrocortisone), aldosterone and DHEA. These hormones mediate our longer-term response to life’s stresses by managing blood sugar levels, electrolytes, blood pressure, energy level and immune response to both injuries and inflammation and infections. The adrenal cortex also produces a little testosterone, estrogens and progesterone in both men and women.
Recognized Western medical diseases of the adrenals include Cushing’s syndrome which is an excess of cortisol. Another is Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency—a deficiency of cortisol, aldosterone and often DHEA as well. Both of these are extreme imbalances of these glands and require prompt medical attention.
From a conventional medical standpoint, the adrenal 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 excesses also exist which don’t yet qualify as Cushing’s syndrome.
A broader perspective
Skipping meals, inadequate protein, too much sugar or junk food, insufficient sleep and relaxation, prolonged infection, trauma, chronic pain, severe allergies and any ongoing toxic exposure all rely heavily on the adrenals to compensate for these stresses. Symptoms and signs of adrenal dysfunction include fatigue, nervousness, anxiety, 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 sleep disturbances.
Other possible causes exist 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 blood tests will reveal little unless the condition is extreme. This is not a failure of the blood tests’ ability to reveal a problem. Rather, the ranges of “normal” set by Western medicine are so low that very few people will get any diagnosis using these ranges.
Other tests exist which evaluate the saliva for cortisol and DHEA, the adrenal hormones. Rather than test just one morning sample, the saliva test collects four samples over the course of one day. A 24-hour urine collection test for cortisol can also provide useful information.
Treatments can include the use of both DHEA and cortisol. These should be done only with proper guidance. These hormones function within optimal ranges; more is not necessarily better.
What can I do on my own?
Steps you can take to balance the adrenals include addressing all of the issues related 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.
Of course, a healthy diet which stabilizes blood sugar and energy levels through proper balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats is of paramount importance. Moderating stimulants such as caffeine is essential since these by themselves can create the 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.
Adaptogens and tonics
Herbs known as adaptogens play a special role in helping us respond to stress. 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. Panax ginseng and Siberian ginseng are well-known adaptogens.
Another adaptogen, licorice root, is a specific for low adrenal function. It contains substances similar to the adrenal hormone aldosterone, which helps the body retain fluids by retaining sodium (be cautious with licorice root if high blood pressure is a concern). Licorice root also helps maintain healthy cortisol levels by inhibiting an enzyme that converts cortisol to a less potent form of the hormone.
Chinese medicine has 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 is advised to use them appropriately.
Also to consider
We have access to many ways of reducing stress and balancing the first chakra: Get a massage or any bodywork. Plant a garden. Take a yoga class. Get a colonic. Exercise.
To improve the quality of your terrestrial home, buy organic. Use non-toxic cleaning and bodycare products. Refuse to spray your home and yard with toxic chemical anti-microbials, insecticides, pesticides and herbicides. Avoid buying plastics and over-packaged products. Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and then recycle as much as you can, including single-use plastics.
The greatest assistance of all, however, is always available from the Earth herself. A simple exercise to enhance this connection, when weather allows, is to walk barefoot outside in contact with the ground. Walking on soil, grass, cement and in streams, lakes and the ocean will work. Feel the connection between your feet and the Earth.
Next, let a tree find you. Sit with your back against the trunk. Feel how it’s anchored, its roots reaching deep into the ground. Visualize the energy from your root chakra streaming downward along the path of the roots. Allow yourself to feel supported and grounded. Just being with the tree with a sense of appreciation is enough. Sit back and relax.
NEXT MONTH: Chakra Two, The Sacral Chakra.
Todd Mangum, M.D., of the Web of Life Wellness Center is a holistically oriented physician practicing in Salt Lake City.