III.30 नाभिचक्रे कायव्यूहज्ञानम्

 nābhi-cakre kāya-vyūha-jñānam
“[From saṁyama] on the navel cakra, knowledge of the organization of the body.”

In Core of the Yoga Sūtras, Mr. Iyengar states, “Many think that cakras are the subject of Haṭha Yoga and that Patañjali does not speak of cakras. I would like to bring to your attention that Patañjali does, in fact, deal with the cakras.” Mr. Iyengar correlates the seven major cakras with the following sūtras: muladhāra, III.32; svādhiṣṭāna, III.34; manipūraka, III.30; anāhata, III.35; viśuddhi, III.31; ājña, III.33; sahasrāra, III.37. (See Core of the Yoga Sūtras, pp. 162-3.)

Mr. Iyengar’s yoga practice is founded on and develops profound appreciation and respect for body experience. It is not a practice that endorses denial of body sensations but considers those sensations to be opportunities for learning and growing in awareness and understanding.

It is exciting to me to come to the next group of sūtras in that they are, as Mr. Iyengar points out, explicit examples of Patañjali directing the yoga practitioner’s awareness to the body. Here, in III.30, Patañjali says that from saṁyama on the nābhi cakra, the practitioner gains kāya-vyūha-jñānam, knowledge of the organization of the body. Patañjali here echoes III.28, in which, by focusing on the moon, the practitioner gains knowledge of the organization of the stars. Patañjali tethers the cosmic to the personal.

Nābhi is the Sanskrit word for the navel, or belly button. It is cognate to “navel,” and like the word for navel in many other languages, it has a secondary meaning of center.  It comes from the root nabh, “to burst,” and is related to nābh, which means “aperture.” Through the umbilical, the mother’s body nourishes, cleanses, regulates the growing embryo. That symbiotic connection to mother remains perhaps an aperture, an opening; the navel is a center of our life force.

The nābhi cakra is called, in Haṭha Yoga texts, the manipūraka (“lustrous gem”), and it can be considered as well to be the realm of the solar plexus. The element associated with it is fire, and that fire relates to our sense of identity, to the movement of our energy, and to our experience of power.

In her wonderful book Eastern Body Western Mind, Anodea Judith explicates the Haṭha Yoga and Tantric understandings of the cakras and she frames this traditional knowledge in the context of modern psychology. She cites Jungian approaches, practices of somatic therapy, and child-development theory.

In considering the third cakra,  Judith reflects on what she sees as our milieu’s distorted fascination with power:

Immersed in our own feelings of powerlessness, we are fascinated by the triumphs of others, and glean a perverse satisfaction from following the continual struggles for supremacy and control–over ourselves, other people, other nations, and Nature herself–but always power over something. … Raised into obedience by parents and teachers, trained for cooperation with larger corporate, legal, military, and political power structures, we have become a society of victims and controllers.  –Anodea Judith, Eastern Body Western Mind, p. 168

Judith believes that many of us suffer from injury at the third cakra, and that healing here can be a nexus of transformation for the whole being.

She quotes one of my favorite psychologists, Alice Miller (see II.12), in describing how much of our child rearing and education is authoritarian, seeks to “break the will” of the child through shaming and punishment. It is, in Alice Miller’s words, “poisonous pedagogy.” Shame, Anodea Judith continues, collapses the third cakra, interferes with the child discovering her own natural rhythms, developing confidence in her own impulses and actions. The child develops either deficiency at the third cakra level, identifies with being powerless, a victim of others; or she compensates with excess, learns bullying compensations, seeks control over others.

She asks how we might gain a sense of our own empowerment, a power that would be a power with, and not over, others.

Ego is the Latin pronoun for “I.” Our use of it today is similar to the Sanskrit term ahaṁkāra (from aham, “I,” + kṙ, “to do”). It is the experience of oneself as separate; it is the experience of agency. Anodea Judith says the ego is like a house. To have a sense of power from within is to have a sense of ownership of oneself, autonomy in one’s life and choices. Anodea Judith insists that we must develop this healthy autonomy–our inner authority–in order to be in healthy, interdependent connection with others.

I ask myself about the state of my third cakra. Iyengar practice has taught me much about my own postural tendencies. I tilt my tailbone back and push the sacrum forward. I am well-muscled in the shoulders and back, and I roll the shoulders forward, like armor, and I drop my chest. This presses my front ribs down. When I lift my chest, my low ribs lift too.  I seem to spill out to the front. In some ways, I present as a person with both excess and deficiency at the third cakra. This expresses pretty well my inner struggles–I oscillate between bursts of energy and periods of depression and doubt. I compensate for low vitality with pushing forward.

I have learned how the cakras interrelate in me, how grounding in the first cakra–feet and legs to pelvic floor–supports the flow of life that brings a softening and supports the third cakra, which must be mobile and integrated, kindled as it were, to support the fourth cakra, the heart and breath. I find strong movement–walking, running, and abdominal work–especially important for that kindling. It integrates my energy, discharging disturbances, affirming an experience of “I am,” “I do,” that I am the authority of me.

The third cakra is an area of processing, of feeling experience, of digesting–both literally and figuratively. Is the abdomen hard or tense? What am I feeling there? Lying supine on the floor is always a good baseline beginning to practice for me. What is the state of myself here on the floor? How does my back release down? How is my belly?

I am considering the third cakra anew in recent years because I have become active in politics. Yoga practice teaches me that yoga is about more than the mat. It is about my connection to the world around me. To me, that means politics. I am not necessarily comfortable in the role I am in or doing the tasks I have taken on. In the last election, I knocked on many doors, and at quite a few, the resident who answered, quite politely, told me she did not like politics. I felt, immediately, “I don’t either!” And yet I am persevering with my discomfort, with my doubt, with my uneven bursts of energy and with my own ongoing developing sense of “I am,” because I am here, and politics is more than the games of a chosen few.

People often say, with pride, “I’m not interested in politics.” They might as well say, “I’m not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.” … If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics.  –Martha Gellhorn, “White Into Black,” in Granta ()

To come to a sense that politics might be possibility–not power over, as Anodea Judith says, but power with–is a profound thing. To connect with another person about what we need to make the future livable, what our common interest is, gives a critical sense of community. Locating ourselves in ourselves is an important first step. I am here. I do.


“By saṁyama on the navel area or nābhi cakra, also called manipūraka cakra, a yogi can gain perfect knowledge of the constitution of the human body. He knows the activities of his each and every cell and therefore becomes a master of his own body. According to yoga texts, the navel is known as kandasthāna (kanda=egg or bulb; sthāna=region). The root of all the nerves is in the navel. From the navel, 72,000 root nerves (in haṭha yoga terminology, nāḍīs) branch out. Each root nerve is connected with another 72,000 nerves. These 72,000 multiplied by another 72,000 branch off into various directions, supplying energy to the entire system. The navel is considered to be the pivot of the sympathetic, and the brain of the parasympathetic nervous system.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.30

“The navel is the source point from which we develop in the womb. Oriental medicine teaches that on the energetic level, we continue to be recreated from the navel after birth. From this knowledge there evolved a detailed system for the assessment of the health of the organs and systems of the body by visual and palpatory examination of the abdomen.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.24

• What poses and/or exercises have brought you more awareness of the nābhi cakra? What is the effect on the region of backbends, forward bends, twists, abdominals (for you)? Do you sense this cakra in movement: when walking or running, lifting, climbing? How is it a center of movement for the body?
• Have you experienced tightness or hardness of the abdomen? Laxity or disconnect? How is the area an emotional center (for you)?
• Consider how cakras teach about posture. What have you learned about how you stand, where your energy is, what tends to collapse, what pushes forward, what disconnects? Specifically, how does the nābhi cakra help you locate yourself?
• Do you experience yourself as a victim? Do you act in controlling or bullying ways?
• Has knowledge of your body, working with the body, changed your sense of yourself in the world? Has it helped you be more effective, changed your sense of your role or your responsibilities?


noun in compound

navel, center point (from nabh, “to burst”; related to nābh, “aperture”)


neuter noun, 7th case plural, “on”

wheel, circle, disk (from car, “to move”)


feminine noun in compound



masculine noun in compound

organization, ordering, arrangement (from vi-, “away or against,” + ūh, “remove”; “to array”)


neuter noun, 1st case plural

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)


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