Part of the practice of yoga is recognizing the chakras, which are a fundamental aspect of achieving inner peace and balance. Chakra is the Sanskrit word for ‘wheel’ and there are seven chakras arranged vertically in the body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Chakras are thought of as spinning vortexes of energy that, when balanced, lead to higher consciousness and peace.
The Third Eye Chakra (Ajna Chakra)
This chakra is located on the head between the eyebrows and is associated with imagination, intuition, concentration and focus. Ajna, the Sanskrit word meaning ‘to perceive’, is symbolized by an indigo lotus flower with two petals. This chakra is where two nadi, or energy channels, Ida and Pingala merge with the central nadi, Sushumna. This intersection becomes the center that controls all higher mental activities, including emotional and mental intelligence, psychic abilities, and insight.
The two white petals extending from the indigo body of the ajna chakra represent Ida and Pingala—the real and the imagined. In physiological terms, they are the pineal and pituitary glands. The third eye is the body’s center of command for thinking and perceiving. Its balance is important for everyday function and meditation.
Because the third eye chakra governs the brain, ears, eyes, nose, pituitary and pineal glands, and the neurological system, the physical dysfunctions associated with imbalance or blockages can be severe. Headaches, eyestrain, panic, depression, and nightmares are all linked to the ajna chakra primarily because the pineal gland is in charge of producing the hormones serotonin (mood) and melatonin (sleep patterns). These brain chemicals, when unbalanced, cause such dysfunctions.
The third eye chakra deals with self-knowledge, action of ideas, detachment, intuitive reasoning, visualization, wisdom, intellect, and understanding. A person with a balanced third eye chakra has a keen intellect, strong intuition, active imagination, and deep spiritual awareness. People with an under-active third eye chakras often rely on authorities and do not think for themselves. They are rigid in their thinking, and they focus too much on established beliefs. However, people with over-active third eye chakras tend to live in a fantasy world out of touch with reality. They may even be prone to hallucinations.
For practicing specific yoga poses or breathing techniques to balance or open the ajna chakra, there is a ‘seed syllable’ or specific sound to make while meditating. Aum, or Pranava Om is the supreme sound. When paired with asana and pranayama, it will reinforce balance and centering in the body.
Asanas for Ajna
Here are three asanas and pranayama that will help you to open and balance the third eye chakra.
Child Pose (Balasana)
This is a resting pose that stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles in a gentle way while relieving any stress or fatigue. The forward bend in the child pose puts pressure on and stimulates the third eye chakra.
How to do it: Kneel and sit back on your feet with your heels pointing outward with your knees separated (about the natural width of your hips). Leaning forward, touch your forehead to the floor and bring your arms forward in front of you, exhaling deeply. On the next inhale, bring your arms back parallel to your legs with palms open toward the ceiling. Exhale deeply and repeat to taste.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
This pose is somewhat difficult, and requires balance. The act of concentrating and focusing on maintaining your balance will also balance the third eye chakra.
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Lift up your left foot and (while balancing on your right foot) cross your left thigh over your right thigh. Point your left toes toward the floor, press the left foot back, and hook the top of the left foot behind your lower right calf. Balance on the right foot. Stretch your arm straight forward, parallel to the floor. Then cross your arms in front of your torso (right arm over the left arm) and then bend your elbows. The right elbow should be in the crook of your left elbow. Now, raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other. Press the right hand to the right, and the left hand to the left—the palms should now be facing each other. The thumb of the right hand should pass in front of the little finger of your left hand. Press the palms together (as much as is comfortable), lift up your elbows, and stretch your fingers toward the ceiling. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then unwind arms legs and arm and stand with feet on the floor. Repeat with the legs and arms reversed.
Trataka (Steady Gazing)
This is the practice of staring, or gazing at an external object. It is used to develop concentration, strengthen the eyes, and stimulate the third eye chakra.
How to do it: Fix your gaze on a symbol (a black dot, an image, etc.) and stare at it. Pay attention to each thought and feeling as it arises. Let these thoughts and feelings go so that your mind is completely absorbed in the symbol. Your eyes will begin to water, they will close, and then they will relax. Next, stare at a candle flame. Practice the same gazing technique until the eyes begin to water and then close. When your eyes close, concentrate on the ‘after image’ and hold it for as long as possible. This image exists only in the mind’s eye, and the exercise in concentration comes from trying to keep the image there for a long period of time.