A brief introduction
The Chakras can be seen as first, and foremost the energy centres, or vortices of power of the energetic body. They correspond ‘downward’ to the physical level and their functioning is related to the governance of various organs, glands and areas of the body. They also correspond ‘upwards’ so it is also true to say they are areas of the, largely, untapped brain, or unconscious mind.
Chakra work is part of the process of awakening kundalini, the ‘nuclear’ power/energy of the body, and raising it to the head from its base in either mulhadhara or svadishtana chakra. It is also the activation of the untapped power of the mind, the awakening to full consciousness or enlightenment.
At the successful establishment of kundalini in the higher brain centres, the full potential of the human being is reached, enlightenment is present. All the dualities are reconciled and achieve unity in consciousness.
Work on the ajna centre, the command centre, is usually undertaken first. It awakens the inner teacher, and focuses the consciousness on the higher mental aspects. Then work is begun from mulhadhara upwards. If work starts on mulhadhara first, without the guidance from ajna, there can be problems being swamped with issues relating to security and sexuality without any clear path through the morass.
From and to the chakras flow the nadis, the energy channels similar to the lines of chi in Chinese philosophy and medicine. The nadis are channels for the movement of prana, energy and consciousness and exist in a network around the body.
Three of the main channels, ida, pingala, and sushumna emanate from the base of the spine and are important in the awakening of kundalini. Sushumna runs centrally, parallel with the spinal column. Ida and pingala make figure of eight patterns as they wend their way up the body, intersecting at the sites of the chakras, and ending at the base of each nostril, ida at the left, pingala at the right. They also relate to all the dualities – moon (ida) and sun (pingala), female/male, shakti/shiva as well as the two sides of the brain – right and left.
Nadi sodhana (cleansing of the nadis) is an alternate nostril breathing practise, which helps to clear the energy channels in the body. It also helps in awareness of left and right brain activation. The right and left nostrils naturally alternate, with one nostril becoming fully open for a period of approximately an hour and a half, then the other nostril takes over. Activation of the left nostril activates the right brain, the right nostril the left brain. Different activities are easier if done in harmony with the appropriate part of the brain and body in harmony. Of course, modern living can disturb this natural rhythm, so regulating this movement is an important first step.
This knowledge, in the yogic tradition, although a little of it is also known to science in the ‘west’ has led to the whole science of swara (svara) – and the manipulation of prana for healing and other purposes. It is as important to open the sushumna (which passes through the chakras) as it is to raise the kundalini, as this main nadi needs to be cleared for kundalini to pass through.
Nothing is quite as it seems. Because something exists on the physical level doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist on an invisible plane too. Likewise, ideas, feelings, psychic abilities can manifest on the physical plane.
In yoga, the human being is said to have five bodies or ‘sheaths’, (the koshas) the first is the ‘food’ body, of flesh, blood, nerves, the second the energetic body, of the nadis and chakras, where the different pranas mingle, and where pranayama or breath regulation predominantly operates. The next two bodies are mental – the lower ‘chattering’ mind and the upper ‘discriminating’ mind, and the final ‘sheath’ is the blissful body. So the chakras will have their manifestation in the five different bodies (except arguably the blissful body, where all systems are dissolved into unified consciousness) and, as they manifest on different planes – from the gross to the infinitely subtle, they will evince different aspects. Prana can be seen at the gross level as synonymous with the breath. As it moves through the sheaths it becomes a stream of energy particles, a series of thoughts – both gross and subtle, and perhaps finally, a tiny particle of pure, atomic consciousness itself, the spark of life.
Just some of the many aspects and correspondences associated with the chakras are enumerated below – but it is well to note that different yogic schools can vary as to the colours for example, or what aspects are invoked. However, there are going to be crossovers as one moves between chakras, and also correspondences that will come to the fore according to what level the chakra work is operating on. It is a guidebook, it is not the journey itself.
As with all yoga, use what seems useful, feel your way, and ultimately look within for guidance.
Different asanas or postures focus attention on different parts of the body, so are associated with different chakras.
Focusing on the chakras can help to bring awareness to the movement of energy in the body. That awareness can be used to tackle problematic areas in your life and help you understand why for example, painful memories from your early life may relate to pain in certain areas of the back, why feelings of insecurity can be accompanied by problems in the disposal of waste, why lack of will can also manifest as an upset stomach… Working with the chakras can cleanse and re-energise the system, psychologically as well as physically, bringing radiance to the body and unleashing our natural creativity.
Becoming aware, moment to moment, of the movement of breath in the body allows a new subtlety of interaction with the wonderful creation that is the human being and helps on the journey to a deeper knowledge of the self.
Hatha and Tantric yoga, as the science and the art of self-study and self transformation begins with the body and the breath, awareness of the nature of emotion, then moves to the mind, to awareness of the formation of thoughts, to concentration, visualisation and meditation, and ultimately to the joyful apprehension of our spiritual selves. On the way, as the chakras are activated, the focus of our lives and thoughts, our concerns, are likely to change.
Let us joyfully embrace this changing reality, revel in the transformative power of life and ultimately create a new and loving world for ourselves and all to live in.
Mulhadhara, (the root or foundation)
Location: situated in the perineum or cervix
Shape: square, four lotus petals
Aspect: security, primal and basic needs, survival, procreation
Mantra: ‘Lang’ *
Governs: spine, anus, kidneys, bladder, autonomic nervous system, excretion
Note: moving past the bodily passions
Svadhisthana (one’s own dwelling place, inmost abode)
S: circle, crescent moon, six lotus petals
A: sensuality, sexual energy, creativity, vitality, desire
D: Vishnu, Rakini
G: reproductive system (also kidneys/bladder)
N: understanding the infinite nature of desire
Manipura (city of jewels)
L: navel centre
S: triangle, ten lotus petals
A: ego, centre of will, transformation, source of emotions, power
C: yellow, red
D: Brahhda Rudra
G: Solar plexus, stomach, spleen, liver, gall bladder, digestion and excretion
N: radiance of the body is achieved, the point of transformation between the lower and higher aspects of the self
Anahata (the unstruck sound)
L: heart, solar plexus
S: hexagram, 12 lotus petals
A: compassion, love, fellow feeling, balance, being of service
C: green/blue/smoky grey
D: Isha, Kakini, Rudra Shiva
G: heart, circulatory system, vagus nerve
N: loved and wise, inspired of speech, creating one’s own destiny, centred in positivity
Vishuddhi (purification centre)
S: crescent, 16 lotus petals
A: hearing, communication, self expression, discrimination
E: ether (akash)
C: blue/green of sea or smoky violet/grey, white
D: Sadashiva, Sakini
G: lungs, throat, vocal cords, ears
N: Free, compassionate, long living, psychic
L: between eyebrows
S: circle with two petals
A: the mind, self realisation, intuition, intelligence
C: indigo or smoky grey
D: Brihaspati, Ardhna
P: Jupiter or Saturn
G: pineal gland, lower brain, left eye, nose, nervous system, ears
N: psychic abilities, the guru chakra, enlightenment
Sahasrara (one thousands petalled, unlimited)
NB Strictly, beyond the chakra system.
L: cerebral plexus
S: formless or circle with a thousand petals
A: spiritual awareness, bliss, unity of all
E: the void
M: visarga or none
G: upper brain, right eye
N: unification of shiva and shakti, energy and matter, nirvana, kaivalya, nirvikalpa samadhi
* NB the mantras are pronounced with a long ‘a’ sound more like English ‘u’ and the ng sound folds into a vibratory ‘m’, so more nearly sounded as Lungm, Vungm etc.
© Fiona Harley, 2011
Kundalini Tantra by Swami Satyandana Saraswati, from the Bihar school of yoga publications.
The Serpent Power, The Secrets of Tantric and Shakti Yoga, Sir John Woodroffe, Dover Publications
Yoga, Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, Alain Daniélou, Inner Traditions International
Swara Yoga, The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing, Swami Muktibodhananda, Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar