Many religious traditions from the East consider the area around the belly button to be the center of the body’s energy. Taoist tradition refers to this area as the hara, while Traditional Chinese Medicine names this the the lower Dantian. In yogic tradition, this area is known as Manipura Chakra, the center of the self.
On the physical realm, this chakra is responsible for what is termed “the digestive fire” as well as the pancreas and the adrenal glands. Diabetes and other diseases of the gastric system are thought to originate from an unbalanced solar plexus chakra. Those who suffer from obesity, gallstones, and problems with the liver are also experiencing the result of an imbalance in the solar plexus energy center.
On a spiritual level, this energy center is important in regulating the relationship between the Self and the rest of the universe. When this area is over-stimulated, the individual becomes grandiose; when there is too little energy here, one is passive and uninvolved. Working with manipura allows the individual to learn and work at staying ‘right-sized’, active in the world without seeking domination.
On an emotional level, manipura helps to regulate the sense of self. Especially in today’s world, it’s all too easy to suffer from poor self-esteem, which can be manifested either in a reactive temperament or by extreme shyness and passive-aggressive behavior. Manipura is instrumental in helping us to learn to love ourselves.
If you’re interested in working with this chakra, it’s good to try such breathing practices as pranayama mula bandha, where the exhale is accompanied by the stomach muscles drawing the area up and behind the ribs. Classes that emphasize the core help to stoke the fire in this area, as do twisting asanas. Gentle movements that help to release the muscles in this area, such as Ardha Mukha Svanasana or Down Dog, Balasana or Child’s Pose, and Apanasana or Knees-to-Chest, calm help to calm an over-reactive center.
For a nice vinyasa centered on the solar plexus, come to Hands and Knees position and then move in and out of Marjayasana-Bitilasasana (Cat-Cow) several times, taking care to move slowly and mindfully. As always, breathe in when the chest expands and breathe out when the chest moves in towards the body. After a few repetitions, move from Cat-Cow into Child’s Pose and then back through the postures. When warmed up, try alternating Cat-Cow with Child’s Pose and then with Down Dog. This is a nice way to warm up the body, and it makes a good transition from opening stretches into Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations.)
If you want to meditate on the solar plexus chakra, keep in mind that the color associated with manipura is yellow. One simple symbol to use for concentration is a triangle balanced on one angle; the shape is a visual demonstration of the energy and vitality that grow from this energy center.