Even though her ancestors founded a Hindu temple in southern India and her grandfather authored a scholarly book about the Upanishads, Shirley Desai practiced no religion while growing up as a first-generation American.
Then, in her thirties, she went into business. "I was looking for a model to better understand and explain the emotional fabric of customers," Desai reflected. "In my personal life, I was learning about alternative medicine — ayurveda — and yoga to address migraine headaches." When her yoga teacher focused on poses corresponding with the seven power-points in the body known in Hinduism as chakras, Desai was intrigued.
"An epiphany came to me that the seven-chakras model could help to really explain the nature of customer emotions," she said. "I realized that as humans we had a dynamic and highly organized energy system for balancing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors." Typically imagined as wheels of energy or light, chakras are said to become jammed through trauma or neglect. But the unique set of spiritual, psychological, and social issues associated with each one, Desai decided, were "fundamental building blocks of energy for human existence, consciousness, and happiness."
Fear and safety, for instance, rule the "root chakra," located at the base of the spine: "For most of us, the root chakra is what holds us back." After admitting our fears and forgiving ourselves for being afraid, Desai advises that we apply "mountaintop thinking" — serene, soul-nurturing, yet detached — to the situation, then "say 'no' to fear. ... When we open our fists and let go of fear, we open our minds," she writes in The 7 Connections to Happiness and Harmony: Decision Making Made Easy with Yoga's 7 Chakras, which she will discuss at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland) on Wednesday, February 17.
The chest's "heart chakra" resembles a train station: "As our thought trains roll in from the base chakras with all of their emotional baggage, they meet up with the intuition and higher thought patterns arriving from above." Understandably, this "seat of our soul and reservoir of memories" wields enormous power over our dealings with others. Desai recommends that we use its energy to help us "look for the soul qualities" of our adversaries.
"In just about every interaction, I think it's important to really connect to the person on a heart-to-heart level ... to understand where the other person is coming from and learn how to laugh with the person," she said.
Progress — physical or mental, forward or backward — almost always results from decisions. Desai defines a good decision as one "that is thoughtful, confronts biases, and is appropriate for one's environment. I also define a good decision as one that is not made in haste or fear unless the situation really warrants it."
How to make those light-wheels spin? "I believe the ultimate clearing method is the divine method. When we are scared, we need to place this fear in the hands of a higher, divine source. And this divine source does not need to be tied to any specific religion or concept of God. The divine source is that spark we connect to in our hearts." 7 p.m., free. GreatGoodPlace.Indiebound.com