As you transform yourself, you transform the world. – Anodea Judith
What is a chakra? Yoga practitioners often hear them mentioned in class, but do we really know what they are? More importantly, do we know why we should care?
A chakra is a vortex located within the body that holds psychospiritual information. The word chakra means “wheel”. Chakras are named as such because they are said to spin or whirl like a wheel. In her book Eastern Body Western Mind, Andoea Judith compares the chakras to compact disks. Like a CD, they store information and spin when they are activated. When we listen to a CD, as long as there is no inappropriate interference, we enjoy the music that has been recorded. If the CD is dirty or scratched, the music will experience some sort of disturbance at the blemish’s location.
Chakras store information about us. All of our past experiences and deeply held beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world are stored in the chakras. Chakras are like filing cabinets. Each chakra is associated with a particular phase of psychospiritual development. Like filing papers away in their appropriate folders, our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and experiences are stored in a corresponding chakra.
The chakras are part of our pranic, or energetic, anatomy. Even though we cannot see them, we all have experienced them in a physical way. The chakras are at work when we have a stomach ache before giving a big presentation, place our hand at our heart upon receiving shocking news, or hold our head in our hands because we are deep in thought.
Matter is made of energy. Our physical bodies are composed of and enlivened by prana. Nadis are the energy channels through which prana flows. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says there are 72,000 nadis! The three primary nadis are the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis.
Pingala nadi begins at the right side of the base of the spine and ends at the right nostril. This side channels our solar energy. It gives us drive, intention, ambition, and taps into our masculine nature. Ida nadi begins at the left side of the base of the spine and ends at the left nostril. This side channels our lunar energy. It allows us to be intuitive, receptive, yielding, and taps into our feminine nature.
Sushumna nadi runs from the base of the spine to the top of the head. It passes through the seven major chakras. Lying dormant at the base of the spine is what yogis call Kundalini Shakti. This is our pure higher consciousness. We awaken Kundalini through our yoga practice. It is our intense spiritual practice, or sadhana, that signals to Kundalini Shakti we are ready and willing to do the work necessary for her to awaken. When Kundalini Shakti awakens and prana runs smoothly up sushumna nadi through all seven chakras, we experience bliss.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Simple, yes, but not easy. Energy flows through the nadis the way water flows through a garden hose. If there is a hole or knot somewhere in the hose, the water will leak or become stopped-up. Psychological and spiritual traumas cause the holes and the knots in our energetic system. It is up to us to do the work necessary to heal our chakras so that energy can properly pass through them.
Eager to get started exploring the chakras more deeply? In the coming weeks we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the chakras. For now, here is a sneak-peak at the seven major chakras, where they are located in the body, and a few of the psychospiritual associations we have with each of the chakras.
- Root Chakra: Muladhara; base of the spine, legs, feet; primary concerns are survival needs and issues having to do with our birth family and historical roots
- Sacral Chakra: Svadhisthana; sacrum, hips, pelvis, low belly and back; primary concerns are our sexuality and sexual identity/orientation, creativity and procreativity, and our emotions
- Solar Plexus Chakra: Manipura; abdomen, middle back; primary concerns are individual identity and our personal will and power
- Heart Chakra: Anahata; heart, chest, shoulders, arms, hands; primary concerns are unconditional love, relationships, forgiveness, and compassion
- Throat Chakra: Vishudha; throat, neck, mouth, jaw, thyroid; primary concerns are communication, listening, confidence
- Third-eye Chakra: Ajna; forehead, pineal gland, sinuses; primary concerns are intuition, imagination, and insight
- Crown Chakra: Sahasrara; top of head; primary concerns are connection to Source, others, and our Higher Self
References and for further reading:
Judith, Anodea. Eastern Body Western Mind. Berkeley, Celestial Arts, 2004.
Kaivalya, Alanna, Ph.D. Chakra Yoga: A Beginner’s Guide to Chakra Healing. Published by author, 2016.
Kaivalya, Alanna, Ph.D. “Essence of the Chakras.” Yoga Beyond the Mat course. Online presentation.