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You are sitting in yoga class when you hear your instructor say, “Sit tall with all of your chakras aligned,” and you wonder, What in the world is she talking about? You’ve heard the word chakra before but the concept can be difficult to grasp. And instead of asking and being embarrassed, you pretend to know what she means. To shed some light on the situation, let’s explore a brief but detailed explanation of a chakra.
Chakras, Elements, and the Subtle Body
Chakras are energy centers within the body. The word chakra means “wheel” or “disk.” Think of the chakras as spinning vortices of energy. Everything is composed of energy and information. Every object emanates from movement and vibration. The seven main chakras align along the spine, starting at the base of the spine and moving up to the crown of the head. (You can discover more about each of the seven chakras in detail in my previously written chakra series.)
In the ancient Indian texts, called the Vedas, you learn that the physical body is made up of the five great elements, called the mahabhutas. Those five elements are space (akasha), air (vayu), water (jala), fire (tejas), and earth (prithivi). The elements are the building blocks of nature and therefore build our bodies as well.
Ancient texts go on to explain that you also have a subtle body. This subtle body is nonphysical and energetic in nature. The subtle body is governed by prana, or vital life force. Prana circulates throughout the body and mind. It is responsible for the flow of energy and information.
In the subtle body, prana travels through channels called nadis. Nadis are circulatory channels within the body such as veins, arteries, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the digestive system, the excretory system, and the reproductive system. Think of nadis as the information highway to your mind, body, soul, and spirit, just as the Internet is the information highway that brings information to your browser.
If you have a difficult time grasping the concept of the subtle body, reflect on your mind and thoughts. Thoughts are nonphysical entities. Yet ask anyone who thinks (and that would include all of us), and they will tell you that thoughts are quite real. Scientists have been able to pinpoint areas in the brain where thoughts originate or take place, but slice open a human head and you won’t find one thought in there. According to Vedic texts, the mind, intellect, and ego also reside within the subtle body.
Chakra Energy Flow
Now let’s go back to the example of the Internet. When you want information, you want it fast, right? You’re doing research for a work project or a school report, or getting the scoop on a guy you want to date, and you don’t want to wait forever. In the infancy of the Internet, with dial-up modems, you could log on, go get a cup of coffee, use the restroom, do your nails, and then the AOL voice of “You’ve got mail” would finally vibrate in your ever-so-waiting ears. But today, in the world of fiber-optic cables and Wi-Fi, information comes pretty much as quickly as you can type in your question. And when it doesn’t come that fast, you get frustrated.
For your body to work at an optimal level, the channels through which information travels must be open for that information to get quickly to its destination. If they’re blocked, or if there is an abnormality where the information pools in a given area, you won’t receive the information you need when you need it. So the nadis are the highways or the fiber-optic cables, and prana is the package of information that needs to be carried.
In total, you have around 88,000 chakras in the body, and the seven main chakras are the information hubs. They gather information on certain aspects of your body, mind, spirit, health, and life.
When adequate energy flows to these chakras, that energy fills the area with the information each chakra needs to perform its unique specialty. Like a highway, your body is constantly moving, changing, growing, and being modified by outside influences. While you may intend to keep the energy and information flowing throughout your body at all times, your lifestyle choices, life experiences, and outside influences may hinder the flow. Fortunately, certain practices can help keep these channels open and information flowing freely. You can learn more about what you need to do to achieve this goal quickly and easily by reading my book, Chakra Healing for Vibrant Energy: Exploring Your 7 Energy Centers with Mindfulness, Yoga, and Ayurveda.
The Marriage of Tantra, Ayurveda, and the Yoga Sutras
In order to cognitively grasp the chakra meaning and the journey into the chakras, it’s important to understand a little about the story behind them. According to the Upanishads, a collection of ancient Hindu texts, purusha (spirit) is pure universal consciousness. Purusha is formless and unchanging. Out of purusha, prakruti, or physical matter, is formed. Prakruti is subject to change and influenced by cause and effect. Everything is a creation of purusha: sun, moon, stars, planets, trees, animals, and humans.
Therefore, every living thing contains the very essence of the Creator. In a sense, this philosophy isn’t much different from the Judeo-Christian view of God expressed in Genesis 2:7: “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the foundational text of yoga philosophy, the main goal in your lifetime is to find your way back to self-realization. The word self in the act of self-realization does not refer to your individual self with your unique personality and individual body but rather the awakening to the Self with a capital S, the one from which you originate.
You’re born into this world with a body, seemingly disconnected from your Creator, so how do you manage? The second-century sage Patanjali explains in the Yoga Sutras that you have to deal with the three psychic forces of the mind called the gunas, which govern the subconscious of all prakruti. The three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas.
Sattva is balanced, pure, peaceful, alert, clear-minded, and filled with light.
Rajas is the moving, active energy that is ever-changing.
Tamas is inertia, decay, heaviness, dullness, darkness, and obstruction.
These three qualities of prakruti are necessary in your life at different times. For example, your spiritual practice is sattvic, and there is a time and place for it in your day. When you need to work and accomplish your goals, you need rajasic energy. When you need to sleep at night, you need tamas so you can get your rest.
In addition to the three gunas, Ayurveda teaches that you have three mind-body types, or doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha), which manifest out of the five great elements. Each of us has our own unique makeup of the three doshas, which creates our strengths and challenges.
Through the knowledge of the three gunas and the three doshas, you can begin to navigate your body, mind, and life here on earth and start to move toward self-realization. Since the chakras are part of your physical and subtle bodies, they’re also influenced by the gunas and the doshas.
The first end goal in the pursuit of self-realization is to live a balanced life. As Tantra teaches, your goal is not to deny the body and the physical realm but to embrace it fully and draw everything good out of it that you possibly can while working your way toward an enlightened state of being, which yoga philosophy refers to as moksha, or liberation.
When you’re no longer bound by the confines of the gunas and the vacillating and changing nature of the doshas, and you can move through the chakras openly and seamlessly, you have reached enlightenment.
Imagine what it would be like to be in love with every aspect of what it means to be human. True liberation is when love emanates from your being at all times. You’re awakened to the gift of each moment and in love with every one. Nothing is a burden, for everything is light, love, and infinite being. You don’t need to be anywhere or do anything; this awareness is always with you. For you are it and it is you. That is what we’re all here to achieve.
This article is an excerpt from the book, Chakra Healing for Vibrant Energy: Exploring Your 7 Energy Centers with Mindfulness, Yoga, and Ayurveda.