If you have ever been to a yoga class, chances are you have heard about chakras. But what exactly are they? Chakras are the energy centers in our bodies, located along our spinal cord through which our energy flows.
The word Chakra, from old Sanskrit, literally translates to wheel, and the idea is that the chakras are supposed to spin and draw in energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of the body in balance.
Before we dig into the chakras, it is important to get one misconception out of the way. The one thing that a lot of people don't understand is that there is more than one chakra system in existence.
The most famous version, the one described here, entails seven chakras (technically 6+1), but this became popular only after around 1600. Before that there were many different schools that taught 5, 6, 7, all the way up to 28 different major chakras, with plenty more minor ones.
Now you are probably thinking - “Well, which one is true?” The answer depends on the tradition that you follow, and the energy within that person. There are only three chakra centers that are universal to all forms, specifically, chakras in the lower belly, the heart, and the crown of the head, since these are three places in the body where humans all over the world experience both emotional and spiritual phenomena.
Apart from those three though, there is a huge variety in the original literature in the number and location of chakras.
As long as people accept that there is a lot that we don't know at this point about the chakras, that should be good enough.
Chakras are primarily associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, and to understand the chakras you first have to understand a few concepts about these philosophies.
The first concept that is fundamental to understanding chakra, is prana. Prana in Sanskrit means “life force”, and that is how you should think of it, as a cosmic force, that is the essence of life.
The second concept is called Kundalini. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Kundalini can be described as:
“the feminine form of the Sanskrit adjective meaning "circular" or "coiled." In yoga, the word applies to the life force that lies like a coiled serpent at the base of the spine and that can be sent along the spine to the head through prescribed postures and exercises. On the way, the kundalini passes through six chakras, or points of physical or spiritual energy in the human body. At the seventh chakra, the yogi is said to experience enlightenment. The Kundalini experience is frequently reported to be a feeling of electric current running along the spine.
But without further adieu, let's get to the chakras.
Location: Top of your head
Known in Sanskrit as the Sahasrara (I.A.S.T), this is the highest chakra, what every yogi aspires to reach. It is a state of pure consciousness, within which their is neither object or subject. When the Kundalini Shakti reaches this point, it is nearly akin to reaching enlightenment in Buddhist tradition.
The chakra is symbolized by a thousand-petal lotus flower.
Location: Center of your head, slightly above eye level.
The Ajna is the chakra of perception and knowing. The dreams you have for your life are held in this chakra. Blockage of this chakra can result in things like mental rigidity and depression. It is symbolized by a lotus with two petals.
Location: Base of the throat
The Vishuddha is the chakra of communication, creativity, self-expression, and judgement. It is concerned with the senses of inner and outer hearing, the synthesizing of ideas, healing, transformation, purification and space. Blockage can show up as creative blocks, dishonesty or general problems in communicating ones needs to others. It is symbolized by a sixteen petaled lotus.
Location: In your chest, just above your heart
Anahata, or the heart Chakra is the place that we radiate love, compassion, joy, and happiness from. It allows us to feel sorrow, anger, lust, and sadness. The Heart Chakra is where we will find our true self, but only when we learn to accept ourselves and learn to truly love others. It is symbolized by a lotus with twelve petals.
Location: Above the naval, but below the rib cage
Manipura, this is the energy center of our entire bodies. The Solar Plexus Chakra is responsible for self-discipline, willpower, and self-esteem.
This chakra is represented as an upward pointing triangle representing fire in the middle of a lotus with ten petals.
Location: Lower abdomen, just below the naval
Svadhisthana is the chakra that is the seed to our creativity, physical reproduction, and our connection to others. It is the centre for feeling emotion, pleasure and intimacy. It is also where our sense of abundance blooms.
It is symbolised as a six-petaled lotus
Location: Base of the spine
Muladhara is the chakra associated with foundations, meaning our basic survival skills, and self reliance. It is often linked to money which gives you financial independence. Dormant Kundalani is said to be resting here, and it the job of the yogi to develop this energy so that it eventually reaches the crown chakra.
It is symbolised as a four-petaled lotus with a yellow square at its center representing the element of earth.
The chakras are thought to provide vitality to life. The equivalent in China would be qi, and in Greek and English it would aether. There are many advantages to further studying this subject.
The chakra system allows us to organize our lives in a balanced and wholesome way. The specifics of the practice, meditation and yoga, fall naturally into the scheme of things. It is not necessary to be obsessive or literal about the chakras. It is not even necessary to visualize them. What is important though is that we gain access to the subtle levels of life where hidden potential lies and to unlock it.