INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
What is a chakra?
A chakra is a spinning wheel of energy, and in Hindi the word means spinning wheel. There are 7 main chakras and several minors ones in the body. Each chakra spins at the speed of light with its own frequency, corresponding to the 7 colours of the spectrum; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (think rainbow).
Click here to listen to a 15 minute explanation of the chakras – it is a meditation of sorts so get comfy.
Chakras collect, transform, and distribute energy acting as junctions between the physical body and the energetic or magnetic formless body. They cannot be seen, only sensed.
“From the great spiral galaxies, thousands of light years across, to the billions of atoms swirling in a grain of sand, the universe is composed of spinning wheels of energy. Flowers, tree trunks, planets, and people — each made of tiny wheels turning inside, riding upon the great wheel of the Earth spinning in its orbit through space. A fundamental building block of nature, the wheel is the circle of life flowing through aspects of existence. At the inner core of each of us spin seven wheel-like energy centers called chakras.”
From “Wheels of Life” by Anodea Judith
Chakras and the Physical Body (Anatomy)
The chakra system has become an integral part of the Tantric teachings. The Tantrics believe that the chakras receive, assimilate and transmit the creative energy of the universe called Shakti.
The 7 main chakras correspond with many of the main plexus, where your nerves collect at your spinal column and they correlate with many of the glands of the endocrine system. However, the chakras are not a physical system. Think of them as centres of consciousness.
Let me explain.
It is estimated that there are anywhere from 75,000 upwards to 300,000 channels in the body that transmit energy, these pathways are called nadis. The energy flowing in the nadis act similarly to the electrical and chemical signals that travel to and from your brain via your nervous system. However, they are not the same systems.
Nadis are subtle energy channels of prana or life force and can be thought of as conduit for consciousness. If you are familiar with Chinese medicine, think of the nadis acting like the meridians and the prana is similar to chi. The main nadi associated with the right side of your body, and your left brain is called the Pingala. It means orange coloured and it has a positive charge. It represents your masculine, and in Chinese philosophy it would be called the Yang element. The Ida nadi generates on the left side of your body, it is associated with your right brain and your feminine or Yin qualities. Ida means moon and it holds a negative charge. There is one central nadi, which travels the same path as our spinal cord called the Sushumna. The Ida and the Pingala travel along side the Sushumna in a criss-crossed fashion. Where these two main nadis intersect, a chakra is created.
The two channels criss-crossing the spine represent the Shakti or Kundalini (serpent) energy. This imagery is not only familiar in Hindu and Indian texts but we’ve come to associate it with health in Western medicine, think of the “rod of Asclepius,” (pictured here) used by health organizations as their symbol.
How can your awareness of the chakras help you in everyday life?
“Butterflies in our stomach, frogs in our throat, pounding in our heart, or the experience of orgasm — these are all manifestations of the presence of chakras in our body.
“From “Wheels of Life” by Anodea Judith
Free flowing energy creates health and vitality. Yogis believe that your basic physical and mental health depends on the functionality of the chakras as they “manage” your energy.
Chakras can become blocked, depleted and even over stimulated by life events. Each of the 7 chakras are related to particular functions on the physical and psychological level. For example, people who feel confused or very fearful may have a depleted Root (Muladhara) chakra. On the other hand, if they are overly possessive and controlling it may mean that energy from the Root chakra needs to be released as it might be blocked. Physical aliments like chronic lower back pain or sciatica can also benefit from balancing the Root chakra energy.
Therefore, learning to become aware of the chakras and unlocking a “blocked” chakra or balancing a chakra, could be the key creating a healthier life for your body, mind and spirit.
How can you cultivate a greater awareness of the chakras?
A full awaking and unblocking of the kundalini energy and the chakras needs the guidance of a trained teacher. However, you can turn your awareness towards these energy centres by concentrating on them, using visualization, and breathing techniques to safely improve their function. The physical practice of Yoga is one of the most empowering ways to access the chakras. Along with the asanas, (poses) which help draw energy to and from them, certain pranayama (breathe work) practices and mediation can assist in developing a greater awareness, leading to a healthier flow of energy.
Learn more about each chakra:
Solar Plexus (Manipura)
Third Eye (Ajna)
I’ve created a colouring book based on my exploration of the chakras! It’s called Outside Your Lines – click here to learn more.
FURTHER READING . . .
A Brief History of Yoga and the Chakra system
Yoga is a living philosophy that has many branches and interpretations. Its roots run centuries deep and there is no one creator of the practice. Our modern day views come primarily from a blend of Ashtanga, Hatha, Tantric & Kundalini schools of thought.
The practice of yoga can be traced before written texts because of artifacts found in the Indus Valley (now Pakistan) from 3000 BCE.
The first time yoga appears in written text is in the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest written tradition of India, the root of Hinduism and the root of Yoga. They were composed between 1700 – 1100 BCE by Vedic Aryans. The chakras first appear in the texts of the Vedas too.
The Upanishads, dating from 2000 BCE to 200 CE, are the next body of text widely recognized in the history of yoga. The chakras were developed in these important texts and again explored in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dating around 100 CE.
The scholar Patanjali drew upon older texts and oral traditions to compose 196 Yoga Sutras (short poems). This work is the basis of Classical Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga and the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the modern interpretations of the classic teachings of Patanjali’s sutras (ashtanga means eight-limbed in Sanskrit).
The 8 limbs have been studied and interpreted over the centuries and are a guide for yoga practitioners. They inform the teachings of a wide variety of yoga paths like Hatha, Kundalini, Karma (action) Bhakti (devotion) Jnana (wisdom) and Mantra yoga.
Briefly, the first two limbs, the yamas (discipline) and the niyamas (restraints) have 5 principles each that teach us to how to live with others and how to treat ourselves. They are meant to help us replace negative attitudes and behaviours with positive ones. The 3rd limb, asana, is the one that is most familiar. This is the physical practice of yoga postures or poses. The 4th you may have encountered in yoga classes too, pranayama or breath work. The next 4 are subtle and sometimes difficult to articulate because they are teaching us to go within. Pratyahara is the art of sense withdrawal, dharana teaches us to focus and dhyana is meditation. The last limb, Samadhi is loosely translated to spiritual absorption.
You can study and interpret them to make them your own, many have, however, it is important to know that traditional 8 limb yoga is based on classic Vedic philosophy and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These traditions saw spirit and the body as two separate states. Their teachings focused on rising above this world, the source of suffering, to enlightenment in the spirit realm. This system is referred to as dualistic meaning body and spirit are separate.
Between 450 – 1100 CE the Tantric philosophy rose as a challenge to the previous Yogic traditions of the Vedas and Patanjali. It was a grass roots challenge, a yoga for the people uprising in thought and practice. The Tantrics embraced the idea that being human is a divine gift and one that should be celebrated. They sought the integration of the self with the higher Self. They believed that the body is a temple and a vehicle for enlightenment whereas the Vedics were focused on leaving the body and the natural world in an attempt to commune with spirit.
The non-dualistic thinking of the Tantrics has revolutionized Yogic philosophy. Tantric philosophy in the West is often only associated with a sexual tradition and while it does put sexuality in a sacred context, the Tantric teachings are very extensive and deal with all aspects of life.
The modern blur of the these two traditions . . .
Most yogis in the West embrace a blend of all these teachings without really knowing it. The beautiful thing is that the traditional teachings of the classical 8 limb approach has merged with much of the Tantric philosophies serving life in this millennium.
Anodea Judith, “Wheels of Life” (Highly recommend for a deeper study)
Anodea Judith, “Eastern Body Western Mind” (Amazing insights especially if you are interested in Western psychology)
Beryl Bender Birch, “Power Yoga” (Short overview, with great emphasis on anatomy)
Carolyn Myss, “Anatomy of Spirit” (Amazing read, linking the Eastern Chakras with Christian and Jewish philosophies, powerful book pertaining to healing)
Chris Chavez, Notes from Teacher Training (My own notes – good luck trying to read them)
Deepak Chopra, “The 7 Spiritual Laws of Yoga” (Beautiful overview of Yoga in general)
Georg Feuerstein, “The Yoga Tradition” (For the academic!)
Mahan Kirn Kaur Khalsa, “Bound Lotus, An Instructional Manual” (Based on Kundalini Yoga – very inspiring)
Ray Long, MD, FRCSC, “The Key Muscles of Yoga” (For the fellow anatomy geeks, great graphics too)
Sarah Powers, “Insight Yoga” (Beautiful introduction to Yin Yoga, Sarah weaves Chinese & Indian traditions together in a magical way)
Wikipedia (Always verify!)