What are Chakras?


Body ChakrasBody Chakra FlowChakras are centers of energy, located on the midline of the body. There are seven major chakras, and they govern our psychological properties. The chakras located on the lower part of our body are our instinctual side, the highest ones our mental side.

There are seven main chakras, each with its own unique meaning, color, sound, animal and much more. You can view information on each specific chakra by clicking on its symbol further on in this post.

As you can see on the illustrations to the right and left, chakras are located in the center of the body in a straight line following the spine. Each color represents its associated chakra.

Chakras are located in the very center of the body and open to the front of the body as well as the back. The root chakra however opens towards the ground to connect us with “Mother Earth” and the crown chakra opens towards the sky to connect us with a “Higher Power” or “God”.

The chakras can have various levels of activity. When they’re “open,” they’re considered operative in a normal fashion. Ideally, all chakras would contribute to our being. Our instincts would work together with our feelings and thinking. However, this is usually not the case. Some chakras are not open enough (being under-active), and to compensate, other chakras are over-active. The ideal state is where the chakras are balanced.

Chakrology

Chakrology is a neologism sometimes employed by Alternative Medicine practitioners or esoteric philosophers for the study of chakras. There are many different chakrologies, some of them based on ancient Indian Hindu Tantric esoteric traditions or Western occult analyses, as well as ancient Greek and Christian references.

There are numerous traditional and modern models of the chakra system of the human subtle energetic body. As the system is subtle, these differences may co-exist and be perceived as foregrounding and backgrounding different qualities or attributes for specific reasons or purposes rather than perceived as vying for ascendancy. That said, the bodymind is a system, refer systems theory and no chakra is supreme. Chakra work in dialogue and in relationship to each other. This dialogic model is how Ayurvedic Medicine view the energetic interplay of the Chakra. This dialogic model of the Chakra is directly comparable to the human endocrine system and how different glands chemically signal and communicate to each other.

Hindu

In Hinduism, the concept of chakras is part of a complex of ideas related to esoteric anatomy. These ideas occur most often in the class of texts that are called Āgamas or Tantras. This is a large body of scripture, most of which is rejected by orthodox Brahmins.

There are many variations on these concepts in the Sanskrit source texts. In earlier texts there are various systems of chakras and nadis, with varying connections between them. Various traditional sources list 5, 6, 7, or 8 chakras. Over time, one system of 6 or 7 chakras along the body’s axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system may have originated in about the 11th century AD, and rapidly became widely popular. It is in this model where Kundalini is said to “rise” upward, piercing the various centers until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine.

Tantric

The chakras are described in the tantric texts the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancak, in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara chakra. They are therefore part of an emanationist theory, like that of the kabbalah in the west, lataif-e-sitta in Sufism or neo-platonism. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. It is the purpose of the tantric or kundalini forms of yoga to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtler chakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.

Vajrayana and Tantric Buddhist

According to contemporary buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku, the heart chakra is very important for the feeling of existential fullfilment.

A result of energetic imbalance between chakras is an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fullfilment.

When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary, they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalizations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience.

When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one’s senses and touch real feelings.

Chögyal Namkai Norbu Rinpoche teaches a version of the Six Lokas sadhana which works with the chakra system.

The kye-rim (Tibetan) and dzog-rim (Tibetan) stages work with the ‘chakra’ (Tibetan: khorlo).

Bön

Chakras, as pranic centers of the body, according to the Himalayan Bönpo tradition, influence the quality of experience, because movement of prana can not be separated from experience. Each of six major chakras are linked to experiential qualities of one of the six realms of existence.

A modern teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche uses a computer analogy: main chakras are like hard drives. Each hard drive has many files. One of the files is always open in each of the chakras, no matter how “closed” that particular chakra may be. What is displayed by the file shapes experience.

The tsa lung practices such as those embodied in Trul Khor lineages open channels so lung (Lung is a Tibetan term cognate with prana or qi) may move without obstruction. Yoga opens chakras and evokes positive qualities associated with a particular chakra. In the hard drive analogy, the screen is cleared and a file is called up that contains positive, supportive qualities. A seed syllable (Sanskrit bija) is used both as a password that evokes the positive quality and the armor that sustains the quality.

Tantric practice eventually transforms all experience into bliss. The practice liberates from negative conditioning and leads to control over perception and cognition.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche teaches a version of the Six Lokas sadhana which works with the chakra system.

Chinese models

Traditional Chinese medicine also relies on a similar model of the human body as an energy system, except that it involves the circulation of qi energy.

In the circuit of qi, called the Microcosmic orbit, energy also comes back down the front torso channel (equivalent to the nadis of Hatha yoga), and enters the tan tiens: when it returns to the heart (and cycles down and reascends to the head) further meditation/contemplation or union with deity develops. In Macrocosmic orbit the qi is also guided through the main channels in the limbs.

Common currency and popular models

The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. In New Age practices, each chakra is often associated with a certain color. In various traditions chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualized as lotuses/flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra.

The chakras are thought to vitalize the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered loci of life energy or prana, also called shakti, qi (Chinese; ki in Japanese), kuch-ha-guf (Hebrew), bios (Greek) & aether (Greek, English), which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadis. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance.

The New Age movement has led to an increased interest in the West regarding chakras. Many in this movement point to a correspondence between the position and role of the chakras and those of the glands in the endocrine system. These ideas first appear in the writings of theosophical authors like C. W. Leadbeater, who wrote a book on the Chakras.

The seven principal chakras are said by some to reflect how the unified consciousness of humanity (the immortal human being or the soul), is divided to manage different aspects of earthly life (body/instinct/vital energy/deeper emotions/communication/having an overview of life/contact to God). The chakras are placed at differing levels of spiritual subtlety, with Sahasrara at the top being concerned with pure consciousness, and Muladhara at the bottom being concerned with matter, which is seen simply as crudified consciousness.

Western derivative models and interpretations

The first western reference on chakra commonly accepted by modern scholars is from a disceple of Jakob Böhme namely Johann Georg Gichtel. Gichtel, in his book Theosophia Practica (1696), directly refer to inner force centres which are strictly related with eastern chakra doctrines. Anyway it is the shakta theory of 7 main chakras that many people in the West adhere to, largely thanks to a translation of two Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book titled The Serpent Power. This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into what is predominant western view of the Chakras by the Theosophists, and largely the controversial (in theosophical circles) C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras, which are in large part his own meditations and insights on the matter.

Rudolf Steiner (one-time Theosophist, and founder of Anthroposophy) says much about the Chakras that is unusual, especially that the chakra system is dynamic and evolving and is very different for modern people than it was in ancient times, and will in turn be radically different in future times. In contrast to the traditional eastern teachings, Steiner describes a sequence of development from the top down rather than the bottom up. This is the so called ‘Christos Path’ which has not always been available to humanity. He also seems to ignore the Thousand Petaled at the crown of the head and mentions cryptically an Eight Petaled chakra located between the Ten Petaled and the Six Petaled. In his book How to Know Higher Worlds Steiner gives clear instructions on how to develop the chakras safely into maturity. These are more like life disciplines than exercises and can take considerable time. He warns that while quicker methods exist, they can be dangerous to one’s health, character, or sanity.

Many New Age writers, such as the Danish author and musician Peter Kjærulff in his book, The Ringbearer’s Diary or Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, have written their opinions about the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their appearance and functions.

Another unique interpretation of the seven chakras is presented by writer and artist Zachary Selig. In the book Kundalini Awakening, a Gentle Guide to Chakra Activation and Spiritual Growth, he presents a unique codex titled “Relaxatia,” a solar Kundalini paradigm that is a codex of the human chakra system and the solar light spectrum, designed to activate Kundalini through his color-coded chakra paintings.

Additionally, some chakra system models describe one or more Transpersonal chakras above the crown chakra, and an Earth star chakra below the feet. There are also held to be many minor chakras, for example between the major chakras. Chakras are also used in neurolinguistic programming to connect NLP logical levels, with spiritual goals on the crown, intellectual on the forehead and so on.

Endocrine system

The primary importance and level of existence of chakras is posited to be in the psyche. However, there are those who believe that chakras have a physical manifestation as well. Some authors say that there is a relationship between the positions and functions of the chakras and of the various organs of the endocrine system. It is noted by many that there is a marked similarity between the positions and roles described for chakras, and the positions and roles of the glands in the endocrine system, and also by the positions of the nerve ganglia (also known as “plexuses”) along the spinal cord (branching to plexuses by endocrine glands or organs), opening the possibility that two vastly different systems of conceptualization have been brought to bear to systemize insights about the same phenomenon. By some, chakras are thought of as having their physical manifestation in the body as these glands and their subjective manifestation as the associated emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences.

Seventh Chakra Crown Chakra Sahasraram Chakra
Sixth Chakra Third Eye Chakra Ajna Chakra
Fith Chakra Throat Chakra Vishuddha Chakra
Forth Chakra Heart Chakra Anahata Chakra
Third Chakra Solar Plexus Chakra Manipura Chakra
Second Chakra Pelvic Chakra Svadhisthana Chakra
First Chakra Root Chakra Muladhara Chakra
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