Learn about the significance, history, uses, and benefits of the Mala beads, which practices use them, and how they can support your spiritual...
The Chakra System is an ancient map of psychic or subtle energy traditionally used for meditative exercises.
Historically, it has been difficult for science to prove the existence of chakras as they are of subjective experience and consciousness itself. But in the modern-day, we can find tangible connections between chakras, neural plexuses, endocrine glands, the immune system, and by extension, all biochemical reactions in the body.
Public interest in chakra theory is increasing, and there is a growing number of books and articles available on the subject. Likewise, there is an increasing demand for alternative medicine and health care methods, including energy healing. In addition to the general interest in chakra philosophy, research increasingly suggests that mind-body traditions, such as yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, and meditation, could potentially provide effective treatment for a large variety of both mental and physical ailments. All of which claim to harmonize and strengthen the body's energetic system. Some still consider it a woo-woo pseudo-science, so why not try experiencing the chakras yourself?
Yogic philosophy, as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the second century BC, is based on the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. This includes Yamas (ethical disciplines), Niyamas (individual observances), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (self-realization or enlightenment). Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago to deliver practitioners from the cycle of suffering (Duhkha) or dis-ease. “Dis-ease” can refer to lacking a sense of comfort and safety, but also reflects that if a person feels uneasy and the internal stress response increases, the potential for the disease process to progress also increases. Modern Western yoga, and most research on yoga, has focused on three principal components: breathing exercises, postures, and meditation. Each of these affects neurobiological functioning.
The word chakra means spinning wheel. Chakras are transducers of prana, or life-force referred to as the energy body. While there are different thoughts and opinions, most agree on seven main chakras running along the spine and 88,000 throughout the whole body, and 72,000 nadis or pathways. By becoming more attentive to one’s own energy (also called the subtle body) and prana—and by calming and directing its flow through yogic practices—an individual can help to regulate the body’s systems and internal state. Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1972) explained that the ancient chakra system consists of seven chakras depicted as a spinal column, with three interweaving channels, the Sushumna, the Ida, and the Pingala Nadis, that contain crossing-points as the sites of the major chakra energy centers.
Historically, a few primary texts form the basis of our understanding of chakra theory and the related Kundalini yoga in the West today. One is known as “The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shakti Yoga ” by Woodroffe (1919). It is a classic interpretation of the ancient Sat-Chakra-Nirupama (from 1577), where chakras are described variously as “vortices of etheric matter” and “centers of consciousness.” The two other texts are from the 10th century. The Padaka-Pancaka contains descriptions of the energy centers and related practices, and the Gorakshashatakam gives instructions for meditating on the chakras.
Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, one of the leading researchers on the physiology of chakras, did some important work in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, supporting that chakras have a physical basis. He developed the “Chakra Instrument” designed to identify emissions of physical energy from the human body in the form of light, electrical, or electromagnetic energy. This instrument was able to find a measurable difference when subjects concentrated directly on a specific chakra, but only when the subject had previously practiced mental activation. No change was observed in the subject when a chakra was tested. The results suggested not only the existence of a scientifically measurable chakra location but also the importance of mental concentration on these areas for activation. Dr. Motoyama gives detailed exercises for mental concentration in his book “Theories of the Chakras.” His work, however, is not known to have been subjected to any peer-review process.
In modern integrative medicine, there is a theory that the chakras are bodily energy portals and transducers of subtle energy into usable energy, such as electrical and chemical signals within the body. The 2009 textbook on “The Scientific Basis of Integrative Medicine” by Wisneski & Anderson elaborated on the concept of “subtle energy medicine.”
Another theory developed by Dr. Maxwell hypothesizes that intercellular gap junction connections provide a physiological mechanism underlying subtle energy systems described in yoga and other disciplines such as acupuncture. Three physical aspects of chakras are distinguished and integrated through gap junction mechanisms and proposed to have arisen during embryological development. Furthermore, electrical conductance associated with a high concentration of gap junctions could generate phenomena that, when subjectively experienced, have the radiant qualities attributed to chakras. This theory provides a scientific rationale for many details of chakra theory that have previously been unexplained and offer a new orientation to conceptualizing and studying such subjective phenomena.”
In addition, there have been many modern comparisons and translations of the philosophy and theory behind yoga and the chakra system with the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system. From a neurophysiological perspective, in line with Dr. Porges's newly developed polyvagal theory, the “progression” of the chakras relates to the evolutionary progression model of autonomic nervous system responses.
Dr. Candace Pert, the pioneer of psychoneuroimmunology, also described each chakra in her groundbreaking book, “Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.” She used a helpful analogy to think of each of the seven chakras acting as a “mini-brain” or center of the organization, coordination, and communication. She explains how they are nodules of both electrical and chemical activity, receiving, processing, and distributing information from and to the rest of the “body-mind.” The mini-brains are composed of an endocrine gland, a central nerve plexus, and the spinning energy of the chakra. The endocrine glands manufacture hormones and supply them to the bloodstream, continuing to the major organs and tissues in your body. The seven nerve plexuses transmit nerve impulses, and the seven spaces are also dense with neuropeptides, which she nicknamed the “molecules of emotion.” So, all of these distinct structures – neural, energetic, hormonal, and biochemical – act together, but still with a form of self-sufficiency. Therefore, the chakra system also serves as a model of the “body-mind” where the associated endocrine gland in the body, the neuropeptides are the emotions; the nerve plexus correlates with the thought and the subtle energy with spirit.
The endocrine system provides the pathways from the physical body, through the hormones, to the psychological and emotional body. The major glands of the endocrine system are the adrenals, reproductive organs, thyroid, parathyroid, hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal. Overlapping the endocrine system is the chakra system, which includes the following: (1) root chakra—associated with the adrenals, (2) the sacral chakra—associated with the generative (ovaries for women and testes for men), (3) the solar plexus chakra—associated with the pancreas, (4) the heart chakra—associated with the thymus, (5) the throat chakra—associated with the thyroid, (6) the third eye chakra(located between the eyebrows)—associated with the pituitary gland, and (7) the crown chakra—associated with the pineal gland.
Modern interpretations of yoga have helped make it applicable to contemporary lifestyles. In 1932, Dr. Jung, founder of analytical psychology, during his talk on the “Psychology of Kundalini Yoga” (1932), said on the significance of yoga for the West: “Our lack of direction borders on psychic anarchy. Therefore, any religious or philosophical practice amounts to a psychological discipline, and thus a method of psychic hygiene.” A concept closely related to the chakras is kundalini energy. Dr. Jung also said, “When you succeed in awakening the Kundalini so that it starts to move out of its mere potentiality, you necessarily start a world which is different from our world. It is the world of eternity.” A symbolic bridge builds on the energy centers, like stepping stones of consciousness, along what Dr. Jung termed axis Mundi. Yogis call this the Sushumna Nadi - the vertical channel that runs through the sacred energy centers of human beings and all living things.
Joseph Campbell is an American comparative mythology and religious scholar. He describes the Kundalini as "the figure of a coiled female serpent—a serpent goddess, not of ‘gross’ but ‘subtle’ substance—which is to be thought of as residing in a torpid, slumbering state in a subtle center, the first of the seven, near the base of the spine: the aim of the yoga than being to rouse this serpent, lift her head, and bring her up a subtle nerve or channel of the spine to the so-called "thousand-petaled lotus" (Sahasrara chakra) at the crown of the head. She, rising from the lowest to the highest lotus center, will pass through and wake the five between, and with each waking, the psychology and personality of the practitioner will be altogether and fundamentally transformed" (Campbell & Osbon, 1998).
Western chakra theorist Anodea Judith wrote the book “Eastern Body, Western Mind,” which integrates these ancient yogic philosophies with modern psychology and science. From Judith’s perspective, she defines a chakra as “a center of organization that receives, assimilates, and expresses life-force energy” (2011). She explains how each chakra is associated with different properties and characteristics of both physiological and psychological functioning. She describes chakra theory as an ancient system of spiritual anatomy, which claims how spiritual connection emerges developmentally and suggests a correlation of the chakra progression to Western theories of psychological development. In comparison to Erik Erikson’s theory, the lower chakras connect with a basic sense of security or “trust vs. mistrust,” and identity or autonomy and initiative vs. shame/doubt.
In contrast, the upper chakras connect with love and intimacy, authenticity, integrity, and inner wisdom. And following Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the chakra energy flows from basic physiological safety and belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization, and finally, to self-transcendence. So, the chakra system can also serve as a seven-leveled philosophical system that maps physical, emotional, and spiritual energy and concepts onto the mind-body.
In the book “Anatomy of the Spirit: Seven Stages of Power and Healing” (1996), Caroline Myss, a theologist and medical intuitive compared and described parallels between the 7 Hindu chakras, the seven Christian sacraments, and the mystical Jewish Kabbalah, which contains twelve centers. In another Myss book, “Why People Don’t Heal, and How They Can'' (1997), she states, “Your biography becomes your biology.`` In other words, psychology drives physiology, and your whole life story, which includes all of your experiences, beliefs, and choices, is embedded in every layer or level of your being. Myss describes the function of chakras like a computer program or an information database: "Every thought and experience you've ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event records into your cells”. This ties into the importance of reforming one’s narrative, from victimhood, disempowerment, and helplessness, to meaning, empowerment, and purpose.
In classical yoga class, prana is the energy that drives life and interpenetrates the physical body. The prana flows through subtle nerves called Nadis, and the three significant Nadis begin at the base of the spine: the Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. The Ida is feminine, characterized by receptivity, introspection, coolness, and rest, ending at the left nostril. The Pingala is masculine, expressing the energetic qualities of action, heat, and decisiveness, ending at the right nostril.; Lastly, the Sushumna is the central channel that carries the merging of these two energies, and when prana is not regulated, dis-ease results.
B. K. S. Iyengar (2002) noted that the SNS corresponds to the Ida Nadi and the PNS to the Pingala Nadi. Yogic texts describe the right nostril as heating, activating, and externally oriented, and the left as cooling, passive, and internal. These qualities suggest the functioning of the SNS and PNS, respectively. Dr. Shirley Telles and others (2000) found empirical evidence for this correspondence. By manipulating the nostrils and breathing, an individual can work with the subtle energy channels to consciously shift dominance from one branch of the ANS to the other. This practice is part of the science of Swara Yoga (Rama, Ballentine, & Hymes, 1979, p. 79). Mel Robin explains that “connections between nasal laterality, cerebral-hemisphere laterality, and the two branches of the ANS are implied in the ancient accounts of Swara yogis” (Robin, 2009, p. 627). Pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, include examples of this, such as Anulom Vilom and Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing).
The seven chakras are located in different body parts and have their own distinct properties. In addition to the seven main chakras, hundreds of other chakras have various locations throughout the body. They run upward from the spine to the crown of your head. Here is a list of the different locations of each of the seven chakras:
Root Chakra (Muladhara): Muladhara chakra sits at the base of the spine, in the tailbone area.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana): The second chakra is two inches below the navel in the lower abdomen.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura): The location of the third chakra is in the upper abdomen around the stomach area.
Heart Chakra (Anahata): The Anahata chakra is in the center of the chest, just above the heart.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha): The location of the Vishuddha is in the throat.
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna): The third-eye chakra is in the forehead, between the eyes. It is also called the brow Chakra.
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara): The final chakra is at the top of the head.
According to anthropologist and spiritual expert Avia, certain animals are parallel representations of the seven chakras. The chakra animal symbols include the following:
Root Chakra (Muladhara): Elephant: The elephant demonstrates our learning to respect our dependence on the Earth. It charges through blockages, protects, and thrives off of togetherness. The chakra animal motto is “I provide.”
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana): Crocodile: The crocodile demonstrates the recognition of individual needs and self-care. It encourages creativity, adaptability, balance and goes deep to find guidance and resurfaces with answers. The chakra animal motto is “I develop.”
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura): Ram represents self-knowledge and growth, strong will, motivation, and determination. It lives by instinct and trusts its gut feelings. The chakra animal motto is “I recharge.”
Heart Chakra (Anahata): Antelope: The antelope represents the ability to care for others, community awareness, joy in supporting others, and receiving the same for yourself. It often feels solutions rather than relying on logic. The animal chakra motto is “I share.”
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha): White Elephant: The white elephant represents purification, communication, and harmony. It seeks creative ways to convey their thoughts and feelings. The animal chakra motto is “I express.”
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna): Black Antelope: The black antelope explores inner realms, enjoying inner and physical journeys. It is truthful and guided by inner vision. The animal motto is “I guide.”
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara): Egg: The egg represents purity, potential, and ultimate truth. It can create universal change and is constantly expanding and ascending. The chakra animal motto is “I reveal.”
According to Corene Summers, well-being and mindfulness expert, meditation guru, and chakra healer, each of the seven chakras has a sacred site on earth that contains pockets of energy. Here is a list of the places many yogis travel to practice yoga and generate power to different chakras in their bodies:
Root Chakra: Mount Shasta: Mount Shasta, located in California, embodies this grounding process. Native American tribes have long believed that the dormant volcano had healing powers and spiritual nature that has been felt by many people when they are near it.
Sacral Chakra: Lake Titicaca: Lake Titicaca borders both Peru and Bolivia. It is the largest lake in South America, and it's highly navigable, making it popular for boaters. This lake is the birthplace of mythological royalty. The lake emits both feminine and masculine qualities, making it the core for self-expression and creativity as the Sacral Chakra in the human body.
Solar Plexus Chakra: Uluru (Ayers Rock) & the Oglas: May believe that the Solar Plexus is located in Uluru, Australia. It is a World Heritage Site that is sacred for many reasons. Uluru has a powerful energy. It can re-energize a person to reach a higher version of themselves. A 600 million-year-old rockface in Uluru has its history carved into it.
Heart Chakra: Glastonbury (Stonehenge) and Shaftesbury: Located in England, Stonehenge has a mysterious history and is now associated with a place of compassion and healing. The Glastonbury corresponds with love while Shaftesbury corresponds with a will, as does the Heart Chakra.
Throat Chakra: Mount of Olives, Sphinx, and Great Pyramids: The lunar and solar alignments were in mind during the creation of the Great Pyramids, and it is now said to be a place of the throat chakra. The celestial alignment of the designs in ancient Egypt corresponds to harmony in one's mind, thoughts, and speech. The Throat Chakra is responsible for speaking one's truth, and this region of Egypt enhances and embodies this.
The Third Eye Chakra: Floating, Depending on the Aeon: There is no fixed location for the Third Eye Chakra. This Aon happens every 2,160 years and is said to be in Stonehenge. Although this changes each time, the alignment is based on the new age and usually corresponds with another chakra's location. The current site is the same as the heart chakra - Glastonbury - Shaftesbury, England.
Crown Chakra: Mount Kailas: The Crown Chakra, also known as the 'stairway to heaven,' can be found on Mount Kailas, Tibet. The Himalayas hold powers for more than their nature as they tower over the earth. The crown chakra is associated with knowledge, wisdom, and universal consciousness, making it located in a fitting area.
Each of the seven primary chakras has distinct functions on the human body. Here is a list of ways they benefit the body when aligned and what problems may occur when the chakras are blocked.
Root Chakra (Muladhara): The root chakra is the chakra of security, stability, and our basic needs. It works to make us feel grounded emotionally and physically. Aligning the Muladhara chakra reduces arthritis, constipation, and bladder and colon problems and improves emotional well-being.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana): Aligning the Swadhisthana reduces risks associated with organs, lower back pain, and impotence. Additionally, it supports self-worth and confidence surrounding creativity, sexuality, and pleasure. Healing the sacral chakra will support sexual energy and healthy sexual organs.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura): The third Chakra, often referred to as the navel chakra, manifests personal power, helping heal low self-esteem and increase confidence. It focuses on building the inner fire located around the core. When there is a blockage in the Manipura chakra, people may experience eating disorders, heartburn, and digestive issues.
Heart Chakra (Anahata): This is the middle chakra; therefore, it bridges the upper and lower chakras gap. Physically, blocks in the heart chakra can cause physical or emotional symptoms. Physical issues include asthma, weight problems, and heart issues. Emotionally, people may feel lonely and insecure, which causes people to put others before themselves.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha): The fifth chakra connects to verbal communication. A blockage indicates issues in the mouth region, including the teeth and gums. When the throat chakra is not aligned, it can result in gossiping, speaking without thinking, and issues communicating your thoughts. However, when aligned, you can talk and listen with compassion and confidence as you are true to yourself.
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna): Blockages in the Ajna chakra can cause headaches, blurry vision, hearing problems, and concentration issues. To align the sixth chakra, you must be in touch with reality and touch with their tuition. The results will allow people to see the big picture and follow their intuition.
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara): The final chakra is seen as the chakra of enlightenment, representing our life’s purpose and spiritual connection. It links to the other six chakras; therefore, it can affect all organs mentioned and the brain and nervous system. Aligning the crown chakra keeps all chakras open for bliss and enlightenment and avoids traits including stubbornness, skepticism, and narrow-mindedness.
The first five chakras are associated with the physical elements, fire, water, earth, ether, and air. The thousand-petal lotus represents each chakra. They are also around the yantra, which translates into “machine.” It is a combination of forms that depicts the function of the chakra. Finally, a certain number of petals surround the yantra.
In addition to the physical shapes, each chakra has a unique color. It is ordered in the colors of the rainbow, upward from the base of the spine. In addition, each chakra has its seed, known as the bija mantra, and when people chant these sounds, the frequencies create energy in the body.
Root Chakra (Muladhara): The first chakra is related to the earth element. The yantra within the lotus flower points downward with an arrow, and the three points have unique meanings. This includes the forms of consciousness (conation, cognition and affection), experience (feeling, knowing, and doing), and the three divinities (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). Its seed sound, or bija mantra, is “lam,” and its color is red.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana): The second chakra relates to the water element. The yantra is a circle with a crescent, representing water and the moon. Its bija mantra is “vam,” and its color is orange.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura): The Manipura chakra is related to the fire element. Its’ yantra is a red, vibrant, inverted triangle that pushes the energy down, obstructing the movement of Kundalini. Its seed sound is “ram,” and its color is bright yellow.
Heart Chakra (Anahata): The fourth chakra is associated with the air element. It has a six-pointed star consisting of two triangles as its’ yantra and pushes the energy upward and downward. The upward triangle is masculine, and the downward triangle is feminine. Its mantra is “yam,” and its energy color is green.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha): The Vishuddha chakra depicts the element of ether, which is space that informs the essence of emptiness. Its yantra is a crescent with a white circle in the middle of the lotus, representing knowledge and purity. The chakra’s mantra is “ham,” and its color is blue.
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna): The sixth chakra does not depict a specific element. Some say it relates to light, while others believe it is general and refers to everything-ness. Its' yantra is a circle with two petals representing the seed sounds. The color representing the Ajna chakra is indigo, and its seed sound is “Om” or “Aum.”
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara): The final chakra’s natural element is thought, and its yantra is a full moon. Its color is violet or pure white, and the bija mantra varies depending on who you ask. Some will say “Om,” “Soham,” or “Ah” is sufficient, while others will say silence is the better option.
Balancing the chakras through certain practices is vital in a healthy chakra system. Meditating and chanting the chakra bija mantra is effective, but many additional tricks and techniques are available. Here are five of the practices you can use:
Practice visualization: visualizing healing energy pouring through the body along the spine will help restore balance in the body. You may feel specific body parts getting warm, tingling, or experiencing pressure. Additionally, you may see colors. Those are indicators that the energy is shifting and releasing, helping balance the chakras.
Connecting with nature (grounding): An unbalanced root chakra may result in anxiety, insecurity, and fatigue. It is essential to balance your root chakra by connecting to the earth’s energy through spending time outdoors. Walking barefoot on earth’s natural ground is one of many ways to balance the chakras.
Color therapy: Let your mind guide which colors you wear, depending on what resonates with you. This will help you choose colors that match your frequency. For example, your root chakra may be out of line if you are not feeling secure. This may be a time to wear red, helping you filter the color needed to help balance the energy center.
Sound meditation: Each chakra has different sound frequencies that correlate with it, and these vibrations can clear energy blockages to support energy flow within your chakras. Try taking a sound bath by practicing the sound that corresponds to the chakra you feel is out of line.
Mudras: Mudras are used in yoga class to cultivate awareness of energetic fields in the body, making them effective in opening up our seven primary chakras. The word “mudra” translates to “gesture.” There are hundreds of mudras you can use, each with a unique symbolism and placement of the palms and fingertips.
Chanting: Each chakra has its own sound wave, or Bija mantra, that helps heal and align the energy. As you meditate, move cyclically through each chakra, using the corresponding chant and focusing your energy on that area of your body. You will work your way from your root chakra to your crown chakra and then back down to your root chakra, repeating as necessary.
Each of the seven major chakras is connected. This includes the root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third-eye, and crown chakra. They work as a system that runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. A physical and emotional imbalance may occur when the chakras are not in line. This is where chakra meditation can help.
According to tradition, the chakras will open when your body, heart, and mind are pure. This happens naturally and takes time. You can progress toward the right mindset by developing the right attitude, including non-possessiveness, non-violence, and other restraints embodied in the Yamas and Niyamas.
The early traditions of Hinduism mention the concept of chakras. Details differ between the Indian religions. For example, many Buddhist texts mention only five primary chakras, while Hindu sources will refer to six or seven. Although there is a cultural history to chakras, people practice chakra exercises due to the extensive physical and mental health benefits.
Certain yoga poses can support the healing and opening of your chakras for physical well-being and emotional health.
Root Chakra (Muladhara): Balancing poses that help supports your body’s foundation help open the root chakra. This includes tree pose, mountain pose, and warrior. Hematite yoga poses, such as mountain possum wide-legged forward fold and Malasana squats, also activate the root chakra.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana): Poses that strengthen the pelvic floor, including bridge pose, pigeon pose, lizard pose, and goddess pose, are suitable for opening the sacral chakra.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura): Core strengthening poses effectively open the solar plexus chakra. Two options are boat pose and triangle pose.
Heart Chakra (Anahata): To unblock the Anahata chakra, practice heart-opening postures, including camel pose, wheel pose, cow face pose, and humble warrior pose.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha): Plow pose, fish pose, and camel pose are two solid options for throat chakras by opening the back and the front side of the neck.
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna): You can open the third-eye chakra by performing poses that connect your upper body from your lower body. Forward fold and folded eagle are two good options.
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara): You must connect to open the crown chakra with your inner self. Poses that support this include ones that conclude a yoga practice, such as savasana or corpse pose.
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