It would be hard to dip into the yoga scene these days without seeing or hearing the word chakra.
As yoga’s popularity continues to grow in the West and (as I’ve observed) that interest continues to deepen into the more esoteric aspects of the yogic system, chakra has become a household term. Widely considered as a map of the energetic body, complete with specific colors, scents, sounds, and even psychological traits, chakras are those mystical things we love to talk about “aligning” or “balancing” or “un-blocking” in order to become centered, happy, and healed.
Scholars of Sanskrit, history, and yogic philosophy challenge the West’s interpretation and (in some cases) skewed understanding of the chakras. To say that a chakra gets misaligned, for example, makes virtually no sense in scholarly understandings of the fluidity of the energy body. To assign a certain sound, color, or even location to a chakra may also be considered by some as a non-sensical approach.
Contemporary yogic trends allude to 7 chakras; classical Tantrik Yoga references systems of 6, 7, 9, 15, and 21 chakras; Tantrik Buddhism teaches of 5, while realized master Sadhguru speaks of 114 chakras (of which, 108 are able to be activated).
So: who is right? How do we know which map to follow? And what’s the purpose of it?
While questions like this keep the scholar in me up at night, the healer in me has found this to be true: each chakra map has its benefits. Each one can help us to sharpen our awareness and strengthen our skill of interoception to connect with what’s going on in our energetic bodies.
What are chakras?
Chakras are energetic centers of force where nadis or yogic energy channels in the body come together.
How can we use them for healing?
They are significant when it comes to yogic healing and also spiritual evolution practices for a few reasons:
- As in other Eastern healing traditions, we want our energy to flow in order to stave off disease, decrease inflammation, and promote optimal wellbeing: working intelligently with the chakra system helps us do that.
- Yogic techniques have the power to balance and activate specific chakras: when we know which chakra needs attention, we can use the techniques specifically suited for that center of force to heal.
- Hatha yoga is rooted in the law of resonance: when we attune to a certain type of energy in the body (via the chakra), we connect with the macrocosmic aspect of that energy.
What would be an example of all this?
I’ll share a chakra healing story to offer some more clarity.
Digestive challenges brought me to yoga therapy. I’d experienced periodic stabbing pains in my abdomen for nearly two decades; there were bouts of heartburn that would last for days; sometimes I was ravenously hungry, other times I could barely eat.
I also learned in my yoga therapy consultation that I had a lot of suppressed anger and, although I took some pretty courageous action in my life, didn’t feel a sense of internal confidence. I may have looked tough, but I didn’t feel strong. I didn’t feel it in my gut.
From a chakra standpoint, these symptoms all point towards an imbalance at the level of manipura: the navel chakra. The states we associate with manipura are inner fire, healthy digestion, courage, and willpower. When out of balance, these states can manifest as suppressed or uncontrolled anger, digestive issues, and lack of fire.
Understanding this changed my life in two major ways:
- I could finally connect the dots of the multi-layered wellness challenges I’d been facing.
- I learned yogic tools that specifically addressed balancing and energizing manipura chakra to get to the root and heal in deep, sustainable ways.
This changed the entire course of my health, and my life.
Healing through the chakras: what does it look like?
I couldn’t possibly assign a panacea of an approach to working with the chakras and healing. But there are certain basics that we can learn to become aware of the chakras and their properties.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll reference the contemporary 7-chakra system that most of us are familiar with. Here’s what to look for when tuning into the chakras:
Muladhara: the root chakra
Located at the level of the perineum, the root chakra is the battery of our being. It is responsible for vitality, basic needs like food, sex, shelter, and survival, and also a sense of belonging to tribe. There is a sense of grounding, tranquility, and stability when resonating with muladhara. When imbalanced or blocked, it can manifest as laziness, lethargy, anxiety, and feeling a lack of safety in the physical realm.
Svadisthana: the sacral chakra
Located at the level of the sex organs, the sacral chakra maintains characteristics of creativity, sexuality, pleasure, imagination, and a certain flowing ease with life. Enjoying worldly pleasures, being the social butterfly, and feeling in tune with one’s own sexuality resonate on svadisthana. When imbalanced or blocked, it can manifest as jealousy, overwhelming emotion, depressive feelings, frigidity, or obsession with money and pleasure.
Manipura: the navel chakra
Located a few finger-breadths below the navel, the navel chakra is the center of willpower and dynamism. Manipura connects with healthy digestive fire, a deep sense of strength, dynamic vitality, courage, and willpower. Martial arts masters are a great example of those resonating on manipura in a harmonious way. When imbalanced or blocked, there may be signs of lack of discipline, trouble making decisions, lack of inner fire, or excess anger.
Anahata: the heart chakra
Located at the center of the chest, near where the rib cage meets, the heart chakra is the center of universal love: the ability to give and receive love with absolutely no condition. Anahata maintains characteristics like peace, non-judgement, and states of love and affection without any object. Anahata is extremely potent when it comes to yogic healing. When imbalanced or blocked, this can manifest as inability to give or receive love, apathy, rigidity, and generally feeling closed and lacking compassion.
Vishuddha: the throat chakra
Located at the pit of the throat, the throat chakra resonates with states of more refined creativity, higher intelligence, and certain levels of clairvoyance. Connecting with vishuddha helps us with an elevated perspective of time and space. When blocked or imbalanced, there can be subtle signs of disconnecting from the world – especially through a longing to maintain an elevated and refined state.
Ajna: the third eye
Located at the center of the forehead, the third eye is the mental command center. Qualities like single-pointed focus and concentration, clarity of thinking, and intuition are associated with a strong ajna. When blocked or imbalanced, we may see things like fuzzy thinking, lack of focus, and lack of mental peace.
Sahasrara: the crown
Located just above the top of the head, the crown chakra is, in many systems, beyond a chakra: it is the gateway to divine bliss. Sahasrara goes beyond duality, so that energizing through this center brings one into direct experience of ultimate reality.
When we build awareness around these centers of force – where they are, what they feel like, and the qualities associated with each – we start to see ourselves through a more holistic lens of wellbeing. Have you felt any of these qualities in yourself? Where have they shown up in your body, your mind, your life? Start there. Awareness is the foundation to a sustained path of healing.