The concept of Chakras is intimately tied to the Kundalini Yoga practices. Our understanding of these ideas has evolved greatly over the centuries but these practices find their first mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Yoga Upanishads. There are around twenty Yoga Upanishads believed to have been first codified over four millennia ago. The texts are contained within and form an integral part of the four Vedas.
Kundalini Yoga: A Natural Scientific Approach to Peak of Eight Fold Yoga (An Old and Rare Book)
Kundalini Yoga, of which the chakras are a part, is a powerful yogic technique, and must be performed properly, to minimize unintended physical or mental side effects. Adverse effects are not uncommon when these techniques are performed in a manner disassociated from their true, original context. We must remember that a meditative technique is not a narcotic; neither is it a quick-fix to escape your reality. All yogic practices require an attunement of body and mind as a prerequisite. Kundalini Yoga even more so. The saying - a little knowledge is dangerous - holds especially true here. These techniques should only be performed under the guidance of an experienced guru.
Chakras (Pocket Guide)
Any discussion of chakras carries with it a strong mystical flavor. But it is also a topic much misunderstood. The unchecked profligacy of web-based encyclopedias that anyone can edit has contributed greatly to the confusion. The information thus inseminated is hardly consistent.
A lot of the notoriety associated with chakras and kundalini is because many recent practitioners and self-styled yoga experts, in the last couple of centuries, have tried to present the chakra-based meditations as a fast lane for experiencing esoteric bliss. While this may have a basis in truth, it is not the whole truth. The esoteric experiences are side-effects. True goal of yoga is to attain moksha, the state of enlightenment, where all karma is dissolved, freeing the soul from the vagaries of mind and body. Focusing on the intermittent experiences is detrimental to growth and has the potential to do more harm than good. It’s akin to the tail wagging the dog.
In this post, we will try to debunk some of the myths associated with the Chakras and give you a clear and contextual introduction to what the Chakras entail under all that mysticism and mumbo-jumbo.
Chakra Energy Healing System
According to most modern schools of yogic thoughts, there are believed to be seven major chakras and a number of minor ones. Some others limit this number to 4, 5, or 6. We’ll be discussing here the seven chakra version. But before diving into their details, let's briefly examine some of the symbolisms normally associated with the chakras.
Kundalini Yoga Chakras in Human Body
The Yoga Upanishads from the Vedas use a vivid lotus flower symbolism to describe the shape of the various chakras. The number of petals this lotus has is different for each chakra. Sanskrit alphabets (Devanagari script) inscribed onto the petals of the lotus represent the different vrittis, or attributes belonging to each of the chakras. The chakras representations often display, within their lotuses, various geometrical shapes: triangles, circles, rectangles, and crescents.
Yoga Chakra- The Wheel of Yoga
In the popular literature on the Chakras, you may often see the seven colors of the rainbow ascribed to the seven major chakras. But if you compare different accounts you will find that the colors ascribed to the chakras are inconsistent. The principal reason why we find so many conflicting accounts of the chakra’s colors is actually simple: the original Yoga Upanishads do not associate specific colors to the chakras. This association is a recent, and to some extent arbitrary, addition.
The same goes for another of the popular beliefs that the chakras are associated with emotions, such as: fear, guilt, shame, etc. Such claims have similar dubious origins and don’t seem to have much to do with the original interpretation of the chakras within the Vedas.
While not every new thing is bad, it’s important to understand the context behind these modifications. Many modern yoga practitioners and scholars believe that, even though the rainbow colors (and the related emotions) may not have originally been a part of the Vedic theory of chakras, they may still act as a useful imaginative aid for the meditation. We should be looking at such associations - the colors, and the emotions - with this caveat. We’ll also be examining this ‘imagination vs reality’ question in some more detail in the last section of our discussion.
A discussion of the seven major chakras follows. Four of these seven, lie in our upper bodies: the heart, the throat, the brow, and the crown. The upper chakras govern our conscious actions and higher mental functions. The three lower chakras - root, sacral, and navel - govern the instinctive responses and the unconscious, primitive parts of the individual selves.
Muladhara, the Root Chakra, lies at the tip of the spinal column, between the perineum and the pelvic bone. This is where the Kundalini sleeps. The sleeping Kundalini is represented by a serpent wrapped three and a half times around a smoky grey lingam. It is the foundation of the energetic form of the body. To awaken your Kundalini shakti you must begin here.
It is a Chakra, associated with the element Earth. Its color is red. It's represented by a red lotus having four petals. Brahma is the deity for this chakra.
Muladhara deals with survival and is blocked by fear. A blocked Root Chakra gives rise to fear, nervousness, low self-esteem, and an attitude of unreasonable distrust towards others. When this chakra is balanced, we become rooted in the present, making us less prone to unpredictable vagaries of the monkey mind. Opening the root chakra gives us a sensible, secure, and stable outlook in our day-to-day lives.
LAM is the seed mantra for the Root Chakra. Bhastrika pranayama and Mula Bandha are some of the yogic practices that help open the Root Chakra.
The Svadhisthana or Sacral Chakra lies two finger-widths above the Muladhara, and below the belly button. The Sacral Chakra is considered the seat of the ‘Self’. The dormant Samskaras (the potential karmas) in Muladhara finds expression in the Svadhisthana Chakra. Raising the Kundalini above Svadhisthana is very difficult as it requires confronting and overcoming sexual desires. Sometimes it takes years of rigorous practice and is considered major spiritual progress for a sadhaka, or a student of spirituality.
Svadhisthana is a Water Chakra, associated with the color orange. It is represented by a lotus with six vermillion petals. Inside the lotus lies a white crescent moon representing the element of water presided over by Varuna. Vishnu is the deity for this chakra.
Svadhisthana deals with pleasure and is blocked by guilt. Sacral Chakra blockage causes emotional and psychological disorders and can sometimes manifest as sociopathic tendencies. A balanced Svadhisthana gives the ability to express feelings with openness and freedom. The person can be passionate as well as easily blend with society. Sexual attractiveness increases dramatically if this chakra is balanced.
VAM is the seed mantra for Sacral Chakra. The associated yoga poses include Vajroli Mudra and Ashvini Mudra.
Manipura or the Navel chakra, according to the Yoga Upanishads, lies along the spinal column close to the navel and slightly below the solar plexus. Some later interpretations call this the Solar Plexus Chakra, which may not be the correct way to look at things especially since, in the larger theory of chakras, there exists another minor chakra, Surya Chakra, which is more closely associated with the area around the solar plexus.
Manipura Chakra is the home of Agni and Samana Vayu. This is the neuro-physiological confluence where the Prana and Apana Vayus meet in balance. Manipura governs metabolism and is associated with the pancreatic glands and the adrenal cortex. This chakra also controls the sense of sight and the action of movement.
It's a fire chakra and is associated with the color yellow. It is represented by a lotus with ten petals, each representing one of the ten prana vayus. Rudra, a fierce avatar of Shiva, is the deity for this chakra.
The Navel Chakra deals with willpower and is blocked by shame. Blockages to this chakra can cause severe behavioral issues. On one hand, such blockages can cause us to become passive and indecisive, while on the other hand, they can also lead us to indulge in overly domineering and aggressive behavior. Both states are plagued by a constant feeling of apprehension, fear, and unease where we find ourselves unable to set or adhere to boundaries in our interaction with others. Opening the Navel Chakra balances this fire and imparts a sense of dignified control to our external and internal behavior.
RAM is the seed mantra for Navel Chakra. Uddiyana Bandha, Agnisara Kriya, and Nauli are some of the yogic practices prescribed for clearing the blockages associated with the Navel Chakra.
Anahat Chakra, or the Heart Chakra, lies upon the central channel of the spine, right next to the heart.
Anahata Chakra is the first of the four higher chakras. It bestows upon the sadhakas, the power to take decisions outside of their Karmic constraints. In Manipura and the other lower chakras, even after mastering them, one is still bound by the laws of karma and fate. However, Anahata or the Heart Chakra allows one to bend and override the seemingly inevitable instinctive decisions. An example is the action of lower animals who can’t break away from the bounds of the instinctive trap of cause and effect. It is made possible through the following of one's heart. A mastery of Anahata allows a sadhaka to rise above the base nature of actions which are based only upon our unfulfilled emotions. This is the start of the connection between our gross and the subtle selves as prescribed in the Yoga Upanishads.
Anahata Chakra is also called the Green Chakra because of its connection with the Air element. It is represented by a lotus with 12 petals. The sacred hexagon symbol is frequently associated with this chakra. The associated deity is the Panchavaktra Shiva, a multi-armed form of Shiva with 5 heads.
This chakra deals with love and is blocked by grief. The blockages of the Heart cause a person to become either cold or overprotective. Both the states being opposite manifestations of the same self-centered attitude. Opening the Heart Chakra brings balance and serenity causing our love and compassion to flow unselfishly, outward into the wider Universe, creating a singularly favorable karmic environment for our overall spiritual and material progress.
The Heart Chakra yogic practices include Ajapa Japa and other specialized Asanas. YAM is the seed mantra for this chakra. Bhakti, the unconditional devotion to the divine is arguably the quickest way to purify and balance this chakra.
Also known as Vishuddha or Vishuddhi Chakra, the Throat Chakra lies at the pit of our throats.
Purification of the vital organs of the body is the primary function of the Vishuddhi Chakra. It is in this chakra, that the Nectar of Immortality, the Amrita, generated higher up in the Bindu Visarga, a minor chakra of Sahasrara, is intercepted and distilled into a pure form. This purification at the Vishuddhi Chakra separates the raw nectar from its poisonous components. If this Chakra is blocked, the nectar, instead of flowing up, flows down to the Manipura Chakra. Down in Manipura, in its raw, impure, and poisonous form, the nectar of immortality causes decay and death.
The Throat Chakra deals with truth and is blocked by lies. Blue is the color associated with Vishuddhi. Its element is the Akasha, the aether (or ether). It is represented by a white lotus with sixteen petals. Within the pericarp is a representation of a while full moon enclosed within a blue inverted triangle. Ardhanarishwara, a form of Shiva who is half male and half female, is the deity for Vishuddhi Chakra.
Blockages in Throat Chakra affect communication and self-expression. It can cause a person to become either too shy or too talkative. Opening the Throat Chakra makes self-expression easier and in harmony with both the individual and community at large. It is the source of artistic inspiration. It is also intimately connected with the Heart Chakra. The emotions that arise from the Heart, find their true outward expressions only in the Throat.
The yogic practices for clearing the Throat Chakra blockages include shoulder stand, Jalandhara Bandha and Khechari Mudra. HAM is the seed mantra for the Throat Chakra. This chakra can be purified by mantra meditation. Singing devotional songs is another harmless and quite beneficial way to stimulate this chakra for the beginning sadhakas.
Ajna Chakra, or Brow Chakra, lies between the eyebrows. It is often referred to as the Third-eye Chakra. However, the third eye association appears to be a later addition to the theory of Chakras. There is no literature in the Vedas and the Yoga Upanishads to this effect. So, such an interpretation should be taken with a pinch of salt as it might very well be erroneous.
The Ajna Chakra, along with the last one, Sahasrara, is markedly different from the rest of the lower chakras. Ajna and Sahasrara chakras are no longer considered to exist in the physical realm but are believed to deal with a higher, transcendental plane of existence, lying beyond the material realm. The Ajna Chakra is what provides us with a direct link to the Brahmn.
There is neither a deity nor any elements associated with this chakra. However, those having difficulty curing its meditation are encouraged to visualize a linga of light as an imagination aid. As there is no element associated with this chakra, this chakra has no characteristic color. Some later traditions assign this chakra, the color, Indigo, the sixth rainbow color. The Ajna Chakra’s symbol is a lotus with two white petals, each petal representing one of the nadis, the Ida, and the Pingala.
Ajna Chakra deals with truth and is blocked by illusion. Ajna blockage prohibits us from seeing the world as it is. We can be confused or deluded most of the time if and when this chakra is impure. Opening and purifying the Ajna Chakra lends insight into the true nature of reality and the self.
This chakra signifies the subconscious mind, supposedly a part of the brain that gets increasingly powerful with meditation. It's no coincidence that so many meditative techniques focus on the importance of concentrating your being on the point between your brows.
Ajna doesn't have any seed mantra associated with it as laid out by the ancient Yoga Upanishads. Some later traditions ascribe to it the mantras, Ksham, or the Pranava Om. Some yogic practices related to the Brow Chakra are Trataka, Shambhavi Mudra, and Bhramari Pranayama.
Sahasrara is the Crown Chakra on the top of our heads and is related to transcendence. It is associated with fontanelle. The Yoga Upanishads give the precise location of this Chakra at the intersection of the coronal and sagittal sutures of our skulls.
Crown chakra deals with cosmic energy in its most pristine form. When Kundalini reaches the Sahasrara Chakra, the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi is achieved. This is the subtlest of the chakras; a place where the spiritual energies of all the other chakras congregate and merge into a single stream of pure consciousness.
There is no element or deity associated with this chakra, though many later traditions associate it with the last and the most energetic of the rainbow colors, violet. It is represented by a lotus of thousand petals arranged in twenty layers, each layer with fifty petals. The pericarp is represented in golden color. The Crown Chakra doesn't have any seed mantra according to the original Yoga Upanishads. Some practitioners suggest using the mantra 'NG' for Sahasrara meditations.
The Sahasrara Chakra is further subdivided into several minor chakras: Nirvana, Mahanada, Visarga, Bindu-visarga, Ama-Kala, Nirvana-Kala, to name a few.
Blockages of Sahasrara arise from ego and attachment to worldly things. Such blockages cause a person to deviate from true spirituality. They readily fall prey to materialism and over-intellectualization. Such men and women are overly susceptible to rigid and narrow worldviews and are often taken in by overzealous religious fanaticism, bringing sorrow to the world and at the same time scripting their spiritual downfall.
The yogic practices that stimulate and purify the Sahasrara Chakra are Shirshasana, Vrikshasana, Khatu Pranam, and Chanting of the Pranava mantra, the divine syllable, Om. Clearing the blockages from Sahasrara brings forth true wisdom and a blissful realization of being at one with the Universe.
Yoga For Chakra Balancing: Yogasanas To Balance & Energise The Seven Chakras (DVD)
The physiological reality of Chakras has been a matter of much dispute among yogic scholars. Does a chakra exist, arguably as a neural plexus within our bodies, or is it merely a meditative tool?
The twenty Yoga Upanishads too do not give a clear-cut answer to this question. This is in stark contrast to the extensive descriptions that they contain on the various other related topics like the Pranic Flows and the Nadi Tantra. Some yogic scholars have brought attention to the curious fact that the Pranic System is often presented as a 'descriptive' text, an actual explanation of things as they exist, whereas, the Chakras are more of a 'prescriptive' text, in the vein of, things that ought to be.
The currently accepted viewpoint among the Vedic scholars, at this time, holds the concept of chakras to be a meditative device rather than a concrete biological reality within our bodies.
The scholars, however, do tend to agree that, irrespective of its actual existence, a strong belief in chakras does indeed help immensely during meditative practices. Meditating on the chakras has been observed to appreciably speed up the rise of the dormant power of Kundalini, up along our spinal columns. However, it is also understood that a belief in the physical reality of Chakras is not a mandatory requirement for Chakra meditations. It doesn’t matter much whether you believe in the reality of chakras or not. Being able to imagine them as prescribed is considered more than enough to reap their meditative benefits.
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