Chakras 101

About Chakras: The concept of chakras originates in Hinduism and appears in both Hinduism, Buddhism, and in modern practices that have taken inspiration from these. The word is Sanskrit and translates to something close to “whirlpool” or “turning wheel”, depending somewhat on the context. While there is no standardized set of chakras (depending on the source, their numbers and names and locations vary) they do tend to share a few characteristics:

  • Often associated with a nerve plexus and/or endocrine gland
  • Located along a central line of the body (some systems include “lesser” chakras that do not adhere to this and are located in other places on the body)
  • Include a number of correspondences for color, gemstones, deities, herbs, etc associated with the various chakras in both Hindi and Buddhist schools of thought, and as the concept has expanded

The 7 chakra system is probably the most common system for Westerners.  It is likely based, in part, on a translation of the Sat-chakra-nirupana (or Six Chakras Investigation) by Sir John Woodroffe (its not the easiest read in the world) and popularized by Charles Webster Leadbeater in his 1927 book, The Chakras.

The super-abridged version of this text (to the best of my understanding) is that there are three concentric (non-corporeal/intangible) channels within the spine (or perhaps in the same (non-physical) location of the spine)–the Vajra nadi (outer canal), the Chitra nadi (the middle canal), and the Brahma nadi (the inner canal) are all located inside the Sushumna (the channel within/overlapping the spine).  In some systems though, it seems that the Sushumna is the central channel with two other nadis (the Ida and Pingala, which are sort of analogous to the Chinese Yin (Ida) and Yang (Pingala)) to running parallel along side on the right and left (still other systems see them as snake like channels that cross at the chakras.

Either way, these channels are basically conduits for one’s Kundalini (which also has a varying imagery, but is most often seen as a coiled snake with three and a half turns).  What precisely the Kundalini *is* varies as well–in some cases, its almost thought of as an internal deity of sorts, in others that its a type of life energy separate from prana (which is a bit like Qi/Chi, but not really).  Usually though, its described as a sort of cosmic energy that lies coiled like a snake at the base of the spine and can be induced to rise through the body (through breathing, meditation, and exercise–like yoga, which can be all three).  As the kundalini is brought from the base of the spine (the root chakra) to the top of the head (the crown chakra), is brings a state of bliss or enlightenment.

The chakras are generally seen as a junction of sorts where the Kundalini can cross from one nadi to another. If all this sounds confusing, or like there is no consensus…well, that’s because it is confusing because there is no consensus!

For a long time, I made a conscious decision to eschew incorporating the chakra system into my practices.  I had a number of reasons for it–it seems odd to me to adopt something like this out of the context of its from which it evolved, I had a bit of a “new age bunk” prejudice against it (and, to be honest, I still have a “new age bunk” prejudice against quite a bit that I’ve seen written about the chakras), and it just sort of seemed extraneous to my practice.  But, I have a strict policy of trying new things, trying not to knock something til I try it, and I ended up in a yoga class that used it.  My bottom line: it makes an effective visualization tool which is probably why everybody and their mother’s brother’s father-in-law’s cousin’s pet parrot seem to have adopted and adapted it already!

Traditionally, chakras have been used for healing–physically*** (each chakra is thought to “rule” over a different area of the body, emotionally, and spiritually. This can be done through meditation, or energy work, through exercise (dance, yoga, etc), via breathing exercises, or massage, etc to open or activate the chakras and/or move the kundalini through the nadis.  Sometimes herbs, foods, crystals, sounds**, light/color is used as well.

Often people will talk about having “open” or “closed” chakras (or blocked, clogged, overactive, under-active, etc. If you aren’t sure about what is open or closed or under-active, overactive, etc, there’s even a fairly decent quiz to help you out…but you can probably figure it out on your own too. An open chakra is one that is balanced and functional, allowing energy to circulate freely. A closed chakra is one that either is blocked/clogged/congested or has been “shut down” (more like shunted around) purposely (sometimes this is called being locked).  These terms are often interchanged, but are just as often used separately to mean different people…it all depends on the person.  Conversely, an overactive chakra is a chakra that is overcompensating for one that is blocked.

Some people think that the blocked chakra is the source of distress or illness, but I mostly disagree.  Mine isn’t a terribly popular POV, but I tend to think that it works the other way around– distress (emotional, physical, or spiritual) causes a chakra to become blocked.  For this reason, I’ve found that having someone else do “work” on your chakras, is largely ineffective over the long term because all they are doing is temporarily fixing the symptoms.  Truly balancing your chakras (so that they more or less remain that way with minor tweaking for a longer period of time) requires you to directly address the problems causing the blockage.  Its sort of like…if you have pipes in your house that keep getting clogged and you keep tossing Draino down the drain, for a short time it clears them up and everything flows just fine.  But what you don’t realize (because you don’t take the time to look) is that the real problem is  a bottle cap stuck in the pipe, which needs to be snaked out (or taken apart) so they gunk (like hair or food particles) stops getting stuck on it in the first place–you can keep tossing Draino down the sink, but it will never actually fix the problem.

IMO, the best way to keep your chakras open is to to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  But sometimes, that is easier said than done.  Everyone get sick from time to time, everyone has a bad day (or a bad week, or longer), etc. A closed chakra is a clue that something is wrong.  If you have a regular practice, it makes “checking in” to your chakras a little bit easier in times where it might be harder to focus.     I like to use yoga (here’s a cool article on the subject) as the means to “tune in” to what I’m feeling (emotionally, physically, and spiritually).   Sometimes I include chakra work as part of my (almost) daily tea ritual (which reminds me that I was planning to write a part 3 and forgot about it!) (I haven’t tried them, but stash even makes a set of chakra teas).  And I also use anapanasati–a Buddhist meditation technique of mindful breathing, either a “routine” of my own dividing (and inspired by Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah series’ 5 Styles of Breathing–more on this another day!) or a more traditional anapanasati sutta technique (I’ve included the English translation of the 7 factors of awakening as I incorporate them with the chakras under “to awaken”).

spirit chakra
7th Chakra–Crown Chakra–Sadhastrara
“I understand”
Anatomical associations: Pineal gland, brain
Color associations: white*, violet (violet is more common)
Other correspondences: White howlite, clear quartz*, amethyst, spirit*  (in some systems, thought), Uranus, lavender
What this Chakra does: Governs consciousness, spirituality (matters of enlightenment and/or transcendence), oneness/connection, emotions
To overcome: Judgement
To awaken: equanimity

Personal Associations: The Expansive Self–I associate this chakra with what is sometimes called the Deep-Self or God-self.  It is (metaphorically) the seat of our Divine-within and the origin of our connection with the Universal Consciousness.

third eye chakra

6th Chakra–Third Eye Chakra–Agnaya
“I see”
Anatomical association: Pituitary gland, Carotid plexus
Color associations: violet* or indigo (indigo is more common)
Other correspondences: Amethyst*, Lapis lazuli*, Soladite, air* (in some systems, light), Jupiter, clary sage
What this Chakra does: Governs awareness and intuition, guides us to see beyond the physical and mundane aspects of existence, inspiration, insight
To overcome: Doubt
To awaken: concentration

Personal association: The Judging Self–this chakra is associated with the aspect of our Self that determines what we value.  It is the thinking/visceral balance that allows us to be rational without being rigid and intuitive without being flighty.

throat chakra

5th Chakra–Throat Chakra–Vishudda
“I speak”
Anatomical associations: Thyroid gland, Cervical plexus
Color associations: Blue or green (usually blue) Other correspondences: Sodalite*, Blue Lace Agate*, Chrysocolla, water* (in some systems sound), Mercury and/or Neptune, pine, mint*
What this Chakra does: Governs speech and expression, direct interpersonal communication, healing, and creativity
To overcome: Deception
To awaken: serenity

Personal Association: The Talking Self–this is the chakra that is associated with the aspect of ourselves that most people use or relate to the most.  The Talking Self is our Ego (per Jung).

heart chakra

4th Chakra–Heart Chakra–Anahata
“I love”
Anatomical associations: Thymus gland, Cardiac plexus
Color Associations: Green* or yellow (usually green)
Other correspondences: Green Adventurine, Amazonite*, malachite, peridot, rose quartz, water* (in some systems, air), Venus, rose*,  red clover
What this Chakra does: Governs ego, balance, compassion, love and self esteem, forgiveness
To overcome: Grief
To awaken: rapture

Personal association:  The Mirror Self–this the chakra associated with the unbiased, objective reflection of our Self that 1) we need to learn to identify, and 2) we need to learn to love.

solar plexus chakra

3rd Chakra–Solar Plexus Chakra–Manipura
“I do”
Anatomical associations: Pancreas, Solar plexus Color associations: Yellow or orange (usually yellow)
Other correspondences: Citrine*, Yellow Calcite, Amber*, Topaz, fire* (in some systems water), Mars and/or the Sun, Calendula, lemon balm, yarrow*
What this Chakra does:  Governs (non-sexual) desire, will power, inner strength, vitality and gut instinct, personal power
To overcome: Shame
To awaken: persistance

Personal Association: The Shadow–this is the chakra associated with the aspects of our Self that embody those traits and ideas that we are most ashamed of.


sacral chakra

2nd Chakra–Sacral Chakra–Swadhisthan
“I feel”, “I want”
Anatomical associations: Lumbar plexus, sex glands
Color associations: Orange or red-orange (usually orange)
Other correspondences: Red Jasper, Carnelian*, Red Coral, fire, Moon, damiana*, cardamom*
What this Chakra does: Governs sexual desire, intimacy, expressing emotional and sexual needs, creativity
To overcome: Guilt
To awaken: analysis

Personal Association: The Wounded Self–this is the chakra associated with the aspect of our Self that is both healer and patient, the part of us that has been wounded by the world and needs to be loved, and needs to learn to forgive.  It is the seat of our conscience.

root chakra

1st Chakra–Root or Base Chakra–Muladhara
“I am”
Anatomical associations: Sacral Plexus, Adrenal glands
Color associations: Red
Other correspondences: Black Obsidian, Black Tourmaline, Hematite*, garnet, ruby, earth (element), Earth (planet) or Saturn, Earth deities, cinnamon, cedar*
What this Chakra does:  Governs self preservation, security, fight or flight response, primal instincts, our connection with Earth (I think of this as the “grounding chakra”)
To overcome: Fear
To awaken: mindfulness

Personal Association:  Wild Child–this is the chakra that is associated with the Wild Child, also called Fetch (in the Feri tradition) and (maybe) a little overlap with the Anima/Animus (per Jung).  Wild Child is the deeply physical, sensation-based aspect of our Self that is a lot like a child of 5 or 6.

Notes:

*my correspondence preferences, when there is more than one choice

**chakras are also thought to correspond to a different sound frequency, in addition to light/color (the Root chakra is the lowest vibration, the Crown chakra is the highest), and there are murdas that can be chanted to facilitate this

***I don’t put a whole lot of stock in a blocked chakra=diabetes, etc…but…in a subtle way, I’m down with the idea that our mental and spiritual (energetic) state affects our physical state

More information on my personal associations can be found in this post.

(all images were made with this online program)

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