By Hannah Maria
The term Chakra appears to first emerge within the Vedas, the oldest and most authoritative scriptures of Hinduism, denoting a ‘wheel’, ‘circle’, or ‘cycle’. It was not introduced as it is described in our yoga system – an internal wheel of energy contained as a focal point in the non-physical ‘subtle body’ – until around 8th-century CE within Hindu and Buddhist texts.
The idea of an internal subtle body comprised of energy and distinct from the physical body, comprised of mass, is fundamental to the Chakra concept: the energy channels (nadis) that constitute the subtle body are connected via Chakras which facilitate the flow of Shakti (power, divine energy) through the physical body. Chakras then are the points of intersection between the universal life force and our physical body, or put differently, the inlet energy taps of the human body.
Whilst different esoteric traditions in Hinduism mention various numbers and arrangements of the Chakras (the Upanishads list only four), seven (ṣaṭ) is the most prevalent in the classical system and central to the core texts of hatha yoga. As pictured below, they are arranged vertically along the spinal column (Sushumna nadi) where ida and pingala nadis meet, located roughly at the major nerve plexuses along the central nervous system. Each has its own colour, as codified below.
The root Chakra, Muladhara (‘mula’ = root), is red and located between the perineum and the coccyx or the pelvic bone (at the base of the spine). The foundation of the energy body, it is the Chakra closest to the earth element and is associated with the sense of smell and the action of excretion. Its function is concerned with earthly grounding and physical survival – indeed it is responsible for our survival instincts, security & shelter and it controls our fight or flight response. It is the base from which the three main nadis emerge: the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. It is symbolized with a yellow square at its centre. In the centre of the square is a deep red inverted triangle. The kundalini shakti is said to sleep here, waiting to be aroused and brought back up through Sushumna to Brahman, the source from which it originated.
Svadhishthana (also spelled Swadhisthana), the Sacral Chakra, is located at the sacrum, behind the pubic bone and two finger-widths above Muladhara Chakra. It is responsible for the health of the sexual organs and urinary system and is associated with the element of water, the sense of taste and the act of procreation – it contains unconscious desires, especially sexual desire. Note that as we move up the Chakra system, we change from the solid earth element primary Chakra – Muladhara – to the liquid water element of the second Chakra – Svadhishthana.
The solar plexus or navel Chakra, Manipura, is the seat of your emotional life. It is actually located slightly above the navel and slightly below the solar plexus (just beneath the diaphragm). Its element is fire and its associated with the power of transformation. It governs digestion and the metabolism. Manipura is represented with a downward-pointing red triangle, signifying the tattva of fire, within a bright yellow circle. Feelings of personal power, laughter, joy and anger are associated with this centre. Your sensitivity, ambition and ability to achieve are stored here.
Anahata, the Heart Chakra, is located in the central channel of the spine near the Heart, hence the name. In Sanskrit, anahata means ‘unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten’, so when it’s open it enables one to give and receive pure love – the ability to make decisions outside the realm of karma. In Manipura Chakra and below, one is bound by the laws of karma and fate. In Anahata one makes decisions based on one’s higher self, not the unfulfilled emotions and desires of lower nature. Physiologically, it is associated and responsible for the cardiovascular health and the health of the respiratory system and also keeps the immune system healthy. Anahata’s element is air, and its represented by a lotus flower with twelve petals. Inside there is a smoky region at the intersection of two triangles, creating a shatkona. The shatkona is a symbol used in Hindu Yantra, representing the union of male and female. Specifically, it is meant to represent Purusha (the Supreme Being) and Prakriti (Mother Nature) and is often represented by Shiva and Shakti.
The throat Chakra, Vishuddha, is located where its name suggests. It is known as the purification centre; ‘Vishudda’ means ‘pure’ or ‘purification. The element corresponding to the fifth chakra is akasha (ether) or space, and the sense is hearing. It’s associated with expression – the ability to speak your truth – and communication – both verbal & non-verbal. Because of its location, it’s often seen as the ‘bottleneck’ of the movement of energy in the body. Opening the throat Chakra can greatly help align your vision with reality and release pressure that may affect the heart Chakra, located just below. To be open and aligned in the fifth chakra is to speak, listen, and express yourself from a higher form of communication. Faith and understanding combine the essence of the Vishuddha chakra.
The sixth chakra, Ajna, is located at the third eye (in between and just above eye level) which is the conscience. ‘Ajna’ means command. Its natural element is light. This energy centre is associated with higher knowledge, the subtler aspects of sight, and intuition. The Ajna chakra resides over the eyes and visual perception. Ida and Pingala nerve energies become one at Ajna Chakra after separating from the Sushumna channel at the Muladhara Chakra and intertwining up through Muladhara, Swadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, and Visussha. As Ida and Pingala end here, the yogi moves into Sushumna, beyond time in a state of nondual consciousness. The activation of Ajna chakra is said to lead to psychic powers (siddhis), a sense of oneness and of unity with the cosmic laws.
Located at the top of the cranium, Sahasrara Chakra is the upper terminal point of Sushumna nadi. Sahasrara, which means thousand, is the ‘Lotus of the Thousand Petals’ located four finger-breadths above the crown of the head. When Kundalini Shakti is raised up to Sahasrara Chakra, the illusion of individual self is dissolved. The yogi becomes realised as one with the universal Self, the cosmic principles that govern the entire universe within the body. From Sahasrara the nectar of immortality (Amrita) flows in a constant stream. It is where Kundalini Shakti merges with Shiva. More specifically, it is located above Brahma-randhra, ‘the cave of Brahma’. It is a hole in the crown of the head. When the Yogi separates himself from the physical body at the time of death, this Brahma-randhra bursts open and the soul comes out through this opening (Kapala Moksha). This opening is also called the ‘Door to Pure Consciousness’ or door of liberation.
You can read more about blocked vs open chakras – emotional & physiological function mapping – on hannahmaria.blog.