So…What are Chakras?

The word cakra (Sanskrit) anglicised to chakra means wheel or spinning wheel.  In the Tantric traditions, from which the concept derives, chakras are focal points for meditation within the human body, visualised as structures of energy resembling discs or flowers.

They are conceptual structures (according to yoga tradition chakras are part of the subtle body) however they are located where human beings experience emotional and/or spiritual energy.

Some say that there are as many as 114 chakras all over the body, however in this blog we will be looking at the seven-chakra system used in the West.

The 7 main chakras are located along the length of the spine, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Within the physical body the spine has an important role to play and it also plays a vital role in the circulation of subtle energies.

Nadis are energy channels in the subtle body that are believed to transport prana, or life-force. There are 3 main nadis:

  • sushumna nadi (central nadi) – is the most important of the nadis, rises within the base chakra following the length of the spine to the crown chakra. It’s also known as the channel of fire or Sarasvati, one of Indias sacred rivers.
  • pingala nadi – also known as Surya, the sun or the Yamuna river. The pingala nadi emerges from the right side of the base chakra and travels up the body in a series of curves crossing back and forth over the sushumna nadi.
  • ida nadi – also known as Chandra, the moon or the Ganges River. The ida nadi emerges from the left side of the base chakra and travels up the body, creating the other half of a symmetrical pattern.

Ida, pingala and sushumna meet at the brow centre and form a plaited knot of energies where they flow as a single current.

Some authorities indicate that ida and pingala form a pattern that passes around the chakras, while others indicate that the chakras emerge at the interception of ida and pingala with sushumna (see images below)

Chakra History

Scholars believe that the chakra system originated in India between 1500 and 500BC in an ancient text, the Vedas. However, wisdom was passed down orally from teachers to disciples, so the chakra system is likely to be much older than this. Although the origin of the chakra system is very old, the most common version in use in the West today came together as recently as the 1900s.

The modern western seven-chakra system arose from multiple sources, starting from a Sanskrit text written by Purnananda Yati (in 1577) the Shat-Chakra-Nirupana, which was translated by Sir John Woodroffe who then wrote a book in 1919 called The Serpent Power, and Charles W. Leadbeater’s 1927 book the Chakras which introduced the 7 rainbow colours of the chakras.

Based on the teachings of Indian Tantra, the chakras have been used for centuries as focal points for healing, meditation, and achieving a gamut of physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits, from improved health to ultimate enlightenment.

It’s important to note that there isn’t just one system, there are many. Depending on what text and what lineage you’re looking at, it could be a five-chakra system, six-chakra system, seven, nine, ten, twelve and so on. The chakra system that western yogis know about is the seven-chakra system, but it is only one of many.

The Seven-Chakra System We Know Today

The Shat-Chakra-Nirupana describes the chakras as being highly elaborate with each being represented by:

  • a lotus flower with a specific colour and number of petals
  • each petal is assigned a monosyllabic mantra
  • a yantra (geometric shape) which itself has a specific colour
  • an animal or mythological creature
  • an element
  • a seed mantra (sound)
  • a male deity and an aspect of the Goddess Shakti

The below table is nowhere near exhaustive; however, you will be able to find a number of associations.

Chakra Yantra Quality Sanskrit Mantra Sound Colour Element
Crown Spirituality, Enlightenment Sahasrāra “I Understand” Silence White/Violet
Third Eye Downward pointing golden triangle within which is the third eye Awareness, Intuition, Thought Ājñā “I see” Om Purple
Throat White circle with downward facing triangle Expression, Communication Viśhudhi “I speak” Ham Blue Ether
Heart Hexagram with smoky colour Love, Healing, Acceptance Anāhata “I love” Yam Green Air
Solar Plexus Downward pointing red triangle Power, Vitality, Manifestation Manipūra “I do” Ram Yellow Fire
Sacral White crescent moon Sex, Creativity, Abundance Svādisthāna “I feel” Vam Orange Water
Root Yellow Square Survival, Trust, Grounding Mūlādhāra “I am” Lam Red Earth

 

Kundalini

“The transformative power, Kundalini, is also a great mystery. We cannot study the chakras without considering it any more than we can look at the seven colours without realising that they form a rainbow.” – The Elements Of The Chakras by Naomi Ozaniec

Kundalini means “she who is coiled” and shakti means “power”, hence Kundalini-shakti refers to the coiled power. Kundalini is referred to as feminine as from a yogic perspective, Kundalini is identical to the supreme Goddess (Shakti) and it’s said she resides in the Muladhara chakra, where she is coiled three and half times and lays dormant in most of us.

The object of hatha yoga is to firstly cleanse and purify the nadis so that prana can flow easily, and then to induce the upward movement of Kundalini (serpent power). As Kundalini is awakened and starts to travel up within the sushumna nadi, it pierces through all the chakras activating them and systematically overcoming the elemental and psychological features associated with them. As Kundalini reaches the crown chakra this marks the union of Shakti and Shiva (masculine energy that resides there), resulting in full spiritual awakening, represented by the blooming of the thousand petal lotus flower.

Closing Words

Hopefully you have found this interesting and perhaps it has spiked an interest in you to read more about this topic. There is so much more to learn and I found personally that the more I read and researched the less I knew. One thing is clear, we don’t fully understand these ancient practices, but let’s not seek to be all knowing, but to keep learning.

References
  1. Brennan, D., What Are Chakras?, 28 June 2021, https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-are-chakras
  2. Indigo Massage & Wellness, What is the origin of the chakra system?, 26 March 2013, https://indigomassagetherapy.com/uncategorized/what-is-the-origin-of-the-chakra-system/
  3. Leland, K., Rainbow Body, https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780892542192/Rainbow-Body-History-Western-Chakra-0892542195/plp
  4. Wallis, C., The real story on the chakras, 5 February 2016, https://hareesh.org/blog/2016/2/5/the-real-story-on-the-chakras
  5. Ferretti, A., Yoga Journal, A Beginner’s Guide to the Chakras, 10 June 2021, https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/yoga-sequences-level/beginners-guide-chakras/
  6. Simona, Chakra Introduction, 1 August 2016, https://www.akashayogaacademy.com/post/chakra-introduction
  7. Burley, M., Hatha Yoga – Its Context, Theory and Practice, Delhi 2000, Shri Jainendra Press
  8. Ozaniec, N., The Elements of The Chakras, 1996 Edition, Element Books
  9. Ra M, A., Kundalini Energy Guide: What It Is and How to Awaken It Within You, 27 February 2020, https://medium.com/mindfully-speaking/kundalini-energy-what-it-is-and-how-to-awaken-it-within-you-a542f8aa39ed
  10. Teacher Training Course Notes, 2021 Edition, The Devon School of Yoga, 2021