Inside each of us are seven sparkling, powerful jewels awaiting excavation. You’ve likely heard of these mystical, shining lights during yoga classes, in social media ads for spiritual courses or on someone’s t-shirt… Ready to unpack the chakras?
In this article we’ll discover:
- The history of the Chakras
- The relationship between the Chakras and our body’s energy channels
- How Chakra Yoga works and how it can impact your life
- A deep dive into the 7 Chakras and how they can be used in your Chakra Yoga practice
The History Of Chakras
“The Seven Gods have seven spears and seven lights. They hold seven glories.” – Rig Veda 8.28.5 – Translated by David Frawley
Described in the Vedas, a large body of religious texts from ancient India which are thought to have been compiled between 1500 and 500 BC, and derived from the Sanskrit root cakra – chakra means “wheel” or “disk”.
Chakras are concentrated energy centers of the body, often visualized and depicted as spinning wheels of light.
Rooted in the ancient philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism, chakras hold a prominent place in the science of yoga.
The chakra system says that the human body consists not only of bones, tissues, and organs, but also of energy fields layered around the physical being. These layers form the subtle body, or the energy body.
Energy Channels And the Chakras
According to Eastern medicine, we have over 72,000 invisible channels called nadis circulating through our bodies. They carry life force energy, referred to as prana in Indian systems, and chi in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Prana is omnipresent and omnipotent, and continuously flows through three major nadis – which connect with thousands of minor nadis to distribute prana throughout the whole body and beyond – along the spinal column.
The three main energy channels start at the base of the spine and ascend through the head.
- Sushumna Nadi – The central energy channel runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
- Ida Nadi – The lunar energy channel represents Yin, which is symbolic of the moon, the left side of the body, the feminine.
- Pingala Nadi – The solar energy channel delineates Yang, noted as the sun, the right side, the masculine qualities.
Ida and Pingala nadis crisscross each other as they spiral upwards and connect to opposite nostrils. Where Ida and Pingala intersect with each other and Sushumna, are the seven main chakras.
What are The Chakras
“Chakras are organizational centers for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of life-force energy. They are the stepping stones between heaven and earth.” – Anodea Judith
The chakras define cross sections of the physical human body, in the form of nerve plexuses, which house organ systems.
And understanding where the gross anatomy fits into this seemingly esoteric chaos tends to open (third) eyes to the perfect organization, deeper magic, and higher connections available when we unite with these inner sources that correspond to the elements out in the Universe.
Chakras are responsible for lovingly taking in, incorporating and emanating energy to keep us functioning at optimal levels. When a major or minor chakra in our energetic body is blocked or not functioning properly, illness is more prone to occur – physically, psychologically and spiritually.
Wellbeing on all levels can affect and is affected by the chakras. Not taking in enough energy, through proper nourishment of the mind, body and soul, may lead to or be caused by depression. By bypassing feelings such as anger, or not speaking our truth, we may be unconsciously impeding healthy energy flow.
Physically, each chakra governs specific organs of the body which come along with hormones and emotions… When chakras are constricted, blocked, or too open, organs don’t operate effectively which contributes to disease, fluctuating energy levels, emotional imbalances, negative thought patterns and general lack of wellbeing.
Working with the chakra system is tapping into external and internal forces so that we may feel and function our best, in harmony with the world around and within us. The ancient yogis understood that to change our life, we have to effect change from within. One way to alter our inner reality is by working with the chakras.
Chakras are spheres of energy collaborating to maintain balance as they spin clockwise at various speeds which causes them to vibrate at different frequencies that invoke their associated color and sound. So how do they fit into your yoga practice?
Chakra yoga combines aspects of numerous yogic traditions to activate the energy centers.
Asana – the physical part of the yoga practice, originally meaning “posture” or “seat,” now also including sequences, salutations, transitions and many hybrids – is designed to clear, heal and realign the chakras, and cultivate and control the flow of prana within them.
Stabilizing your physical body through asana practice rebalances your subtle body. Equilibrium in the chakras, which correlate with basic states of consciousness and regulate specific behaviors, makes it easier to overcome outdated patterns, beliefs and habits – or liberate the mind and expand consciousness.
Blocked energy in a chakra – due to habits or environment – can result in emotional, mental or physical imbalances, which may show up as anxiety, lethargy or other issues. By working with the energy centers in yoga practice, we can begin to unravel the blocks that prevent us from living to our highest potential.
A well-rounded chakra yoga practice is aimed at unblocking the chakras so that the prana can move freely. Such practice can include asana, pranayama, mudra, mantra, and meditation to purify and balance all the nadis and chakras or target those that need to be restored.
How to balance your chakras using chakra yoga
To restore balance in your chakras through yoga:
- Tune in to how you’re feeling by concentrating on the breath, scanning the physical body, focusing on one part, or any way that brings you into yourself.
- Notice any imbalances. These may show up as physical pain, strained breath, or otherwise.
- Figure out which chakra to stimulate to counteract the imbalance. For example… If you’re feeling low energy, consider poses that target the solar plexus chakra to rekindle your inner fire. When experiencing anxiety, choose grounding poses for the earthy root chakra. For expressing your truth, pick poses to open the throat chakra.
Read on to learn more about each chakra!
The 7 Chakras
Some traditions, such as Kundalini yoga, say there are eight chakras, whilst others work with nine, twelve or 114… Let’s dive into the seven main chakras – which are related to all areas of the mind, body, soul and environment – so you can begin to work with them in your practice.
#1: Root Chakra – Muladhara
The first chakra is located at the base of the spine and is the foundation of the energy system. It’s the ground of existence and physical wellbeing, and helps us feel safe, connected and cared for. It determines survival instincts such as hunger, procreation and sleep.
- Sanskrit name: Muladhara
- English translation: Root
- Element: Earth
- Colour: Red
- Sense: Smell
- Location: Tailbone, pelvic floor, perineum
- Related body parts: Feet, legs, lower back, bladder, nose
- Emotions: Safety, security, confidence, stability, energy, primal urges
- Imbalances may manifest as: Anxiety, diminished sense of security and belonging
- When in balance: Feelings of confidence, safety, grounding, stability, welcome
- Balancing practices and asana: Walking, balancing poses that draw the earth’s energy from the feet upward to nourish the entire body (mountain pose, warrior poses)
- Bija mantra: Lam
- Affirmation: “I am safe.”
#2: Sacral Chakra – Svadhishthana
Located in the pelvic area, the second chakra is your center of creativity, self-expression, emotions and pleasure. Desires, pleasures, reproduction and joie de vivre are governed here.
- Sanskrit name: Svadhishthana
- English translation: Abode of the self
- Element: Water
- Colour: Orange
- Sense: Taste
- Location: Pelvis, sacral spine
- Related body parts: Hips and pelvis, reproductive organs, adrenal glands, gall bladder, tongue
- Emotions: Sensuality, joy, ability to ‘go with the flow’, self worth, creativity
- Imbalances may manifest as: Attachments, cravings, addictions, sexual frustration, lacking motivation and joy
- When in balance: Strong sense of connection to yourself and others, easy access to joy
- Balancing practices and asana: Spending time in or near water, hip focused yoga poses (pigeon, squat, lizard), twisting postures stimulate the abdominal organs and improve circulation in the pelvic area (reclined triangle, revolved bound angle), creative activities, cooking and savoring your food
- Bija mantra: Vam
- Affirmation: “I am creative.”
#3: Solar Plexus Chakra – Manipura
Situated at the navel, the third chakra shines bright yellow. Manipura is the core of your identity, ego, personality, sense of willpower and determination. The Solar Plexus regulates digestion, eyesight and locomotion.
- Sanskrit name: Manipura
- English translation: City of Jewels
- Element: Fire
- Colour: Yellow
- Sense: Sight
- Location: Just above the navel, lumbar spine
- Related body parts: Stomach, mid-back, liver, spleen, intestines, eyes
- Emotions: Willpower, determination, ego, inner strength, dominance, focus
- Imbalances may manifest as: Low self-confidence, increased stress
When in balance: Feelings of confidence and capability
- Balancing practices and asana: Sun salutations, abdominal strengthening poses (boat), twisting asanas to activate the agni (internal fire), trataka (yogic gazing), challenges that invoke courage, dynamic pranayama practices (Kappalabhati, Bhastrika)
- Bija mantra: Ram
- Affirmation: “I am strong.”
#4: Heart Chakra – Anahata
The fourth chakra is located near the heart and is the seat of the self. This gateway and invitation to love determines your sense of touch and enables you to feel compassion, generosity and respect towards yourself and others.
- Sanskrit name: Anahata
- English translation: Unstruck
- Element: Air
- Colour: Green
- Sense: Touch
- Location: Chest, thoracic spine
- Related body parts: Heart, hands, lungs, blood, nerves
- Emotions: Love, compassion, energy, connection, authenticity, generosity
- Imbalances may manifest as: Lost sense of connection, anger, numbness
- When in balance: Able to give and receive love, develop spirituality, engage in intimate relationships
- Balancing practices and asana: Self-compassion, kindness towards others, massage (give and receive), honesty, postures that open the chest and shoulders (cobra, camel, wild thing, eagle), nature, Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Bhavana).
- Bija mantra: Yam
- Affirmation: “I am loved.”
#5: Throat Chakra – Vishuddhi
The fifth chakra is your center of communication, creative expression and originality, and helps you speak and be heard genuinely – by yourself and others. Located in the throat, Vishuddhi governs your authentic voice.
- Sanskrit name: Vishuddhi or Vishuddha
- English translation: Place of purification
- Element: Ether, space
- Colour: Blue
- Sense: Hearing, speech
- Location: Throat, cervical spine
- Related body parts: Throat, vocal cords, ears, mouth, upper lungs, endocrine glands
- Emotions: Authenticity, self expression, confidence, communication
- Imbalances may manifest as: Impaired authentic expression, struggles with communication, inability to take in nourishment, ear, nose and throat issues, blocked creativity
- When in balance: Confidence to express creativity and all aspects of self
- Balancing practices and asana: Expressing yourself, speaking your mind, listening to others and to music, singing, humming, being silent, being authentic, postures that bring awareness to the throat and neck (shoulder stand, bridge, plow, fish)
- Bija mantra: Ham (pronounced ‘hum’)
- Affirmation: “I am expressive.”
#6: Third Eye Chakra – Ajna
The sixth chakra is your point of intuition, your access to clear thoughts, self-reflection, inner vision and guidance. Ajna is the control center, the seat of the mind, the connection between body and mind. Of great spiritual significance, the third eye is said to unite the two major pranic forces in the body to open up the mind to inner stillness, divine sight and intuition.
- Sanskrit name: Ajna
- English translation: Perception
- Element: Light
- Colour: Indigo
- Sense: Sight, intuition
- Location: Between the eyebrows, in the center of the skull
- Related body parts: Pineal gland, lower brain, sensory organs of the head
- Emotions: Trust, intuition, intelligence
- Imbalances may manifest as: Confusion, headache, dizziness, difficulty trusting and following intuition
- When in balance: Ability to see things clearly without distortion from ego and experiences
- Balancing practices and asana: Meditation, visualization, using intuition, trusting gut instincts, postures that bring awareness to the head and stimulate the third eye (headstand, dolphin, child’s pose)
- Bija mantra: Om
- Affirmation: “I am connected.”
#7: Crown Chakra – Sahasrara
The seventh chakra is unique in that it’s not an intersection of energies, but rather an opening. The highest energy center is the gateway to pure consciousness. Here lies your faith, dedication, inspiration, and connection to the infinite, limitless and divine.
- Sanskrit name: Sahasrara
- English translation: Lotus of a thousand petals
- Element: Beyond elements
- Colour: Violet, white, clear
- Sense: Beyond senses
- Location: On or slightly above the top of the head
- Related body parts: Upper brain and beyond
- Emotions: Equanimity, balance, serenity, spiritual connectivity, wisdom, enlightenment
- Imbalances may manifest as: Feeling negative and disconnected from spirituality, the world and the higher self
- When in balance: Able to experience peace, tranquillity and a positive attitude
- Balancing practices and asana: Meditation, observing silence, postures that promote concentration and balance (lotus, headstand, handstand)
- Bija mantra: Silent Om
- Affirmation: “I am divine.”
The end of the rainbow
So… Chakras are constantly spinning vortexes of energy that radiate from a subtle energetic pathway within the spinal column. These energy centers are the bridge between the body and universal consciousness which control mental and physical behavior and reactions.
Chakra yoga is an illuminating practice for elevating health, self-awareness and spiritual wisdom. Combined with additional mindful practices, such as meditation, pranayama and mudra, you’re sure to find more balance in body, mind and soul.
How do you feel about the chakra system?
- New age’y rainbow of twirling discs, or accessible wisdom to help reach and heal deeper parts of yourself?
- Which chakras will you work with on the mat, and how will you take them off the mat?
- How about a cozy cup of chai as you tune in to the rainbow within?