In the Yogic world of Pranayama and meditation, a term that props up quite often is ‘chakra.’ Phrases like ‘balancing the chakras, blocked chakras and activation of chakras’ are not uncommon. But what exactly are chakras, and what is their role in Yoga? Let’s find out.
What is a chakra?
‘Chakra’ is a Sanskrit term that literally means ‘wheel or disk’ in English. In Yoga, chakra figuratively means wheels of energy in the body. They are vortices of energy that are not visible to the human eye but can be intuitively felt or sensed. They are small and spherical in shape. It is believed that these chakras hold the vital life force energy or prana in the body. Nadis, or subtle energy channels, also converge at the points of the chakras. We may experience altered physical, emotional and mental health depending on the healthy or blocked state of chakras. Blockages restrict the energy flow through the chakras, while unblocked chakras increase one’s vitality and overall radiance.
Representation of chakras
Symbolically, each chakra is depicted as a lotus flower, having a specific number of petals and a specific colour. The lotus symbolizes spiritual growth of a Yogi from a state of non-awareness to a state of complete consciousness. The lotus petals are inscribed with bija mantras. These mantras are seed sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet and represent the psychic energy corresponding to each chakra. Furthermore, a geometrical symbol called yantra can be found inside each chakra. Each yantra corresponds to its chakra’s associated element and bija mantra.
The major chakras and their location
Even though the human body has an infinite number of chakras, there are seven main ones:
- Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra) located at the base of the spine;
- Svadhishthana Chakra (Sacral Chakra) located at the pelvis;
- Manipura Chakra (Solar Plexus Chakra) located at the navel centre;
- Anahata Chakra (Heart Chakra) located at the heart centre;
- Vishuddhi Chakra (Throat Chakra) located near the base of the throat;
- Ajna Chakra (Third Eye Chakra) located near the eyebrows;
- Sahastrara Chakra (Crown Chakra) located just above the crown of the head.
These chakras are located in the astral body; more specifically in the astral spinal cord which lies inside the physical spinal cord. The astral body can be understood as the spiritual body that exists in a different dimension than the physical body. It is pure energy. The human body has an invisible network of energy channels called nadis, which are similar to nerves but intangible and subtler in nature. The channel flowing through the centre of the spinal cord is called the sushumna nadi which originates at the perinium and end at the crown of the head. The seven major chakras are located along this pathway.
Purpose of the chakras
The seven chakras are associated with and affect the health of the organs and glands of their respective area by acting as distribution centres of energy. They distribute prana to the regions they are associated with. Furthermore, these chakras can be either balanced or imbalanced, depending on our lifestyles and surroundings. For instance, the Muladhara chakra is located at the base of the spine. When it is imbalanced, one might feel unstable or ungrounded. And if it is in a state of balance, it will bring about confidence, independence and a feeling of stability. Now, whether a chakra’s functioning is reduced due to a blockage or increased because of too much energy flowing to that region, both the scenarios will create an imbalance in the overall pranic flow in the body.
Relationship between chakras and Hatha Yoga
A good lifestyle incorporating the Yamas and the Niyamas, or both physical and mental aspects, helps keep these chakras in balance. A proper diet keeps the five elements of the body (water, earth, air, fire and ether) in balance. Yogasanas prepare the body for better pranic flow, thus stimulating the chakras and improving their functioning. Correct breathing techniques maintain this energized state. The chakras can also be unblocked or maintained in a healthy state by meditation and visualization. Let’s take the example of the Vishuddhi chakra. The thyroid gland is situated in the throat region. Certain asanas like Halasana, Setubandhasana or Sarvangasana stimulate the thyroid gland, thus improving its functioning. In this context, if the practitioner moves the attention from the physical to the astral body, concentrating on the Vishuddhi chakra while physically maintaining the asana, the benefits will increase. So, we can say that shifting one’s awareness to the chakras during Yogic practices improves the flow of energy through them.
Now that we know that the chakras powerful energy centres in the body, we can start to understand their importance in maintaining a good balance physically, mentally and emotionally. It is vital to improve the pranic flow to each of these centres. We can think of the network of chakras as an intangible map that helps us see the connection among the physical, emotional and mental pathways of our being. It gives us a holistic idea of how the mind, body and energy are connected. Aligning these energy centres while meditating can also help us in our spiritual journey by expanding our awareness and consciousness as a whole.
About the Author
Hardik is an E-RYT 500 & YACEP (Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider), Yoga Alliance, USA. He has been practicing yoga for the last 9 years. Prior to finding his true calling in Yoga, he was working with various corporates for 12 years in the Retail and eCommerce sector.