Perhaps you have just gone for that single complimentary yoga lesson. Or only read casually about how physical and breathing exercises can energize your being. Maybe you are a long-time enthusiast of the esoteric knowledge of the East. Whichever one of those you may or may not be, you have almost certainly heard of chakras. Here, we will try to explain them with chakra colors attributed to each one and the illustrations of chakra symbols alongside.
Origin of the Chakra in Hindu Mythology
‘Chakra’ is a Sanskrit word which can mean wheel, circle or cycle, depending on thche context. The word and its various depictions are a popular theme in Hindu mythology and belief.
The 3,000-year old text of the Puranas refers to time (and space) as an endless cycle. The tale of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, of which the Bhagvad Gita (Song of God) is a part, is shown as being narrated by a spinning wheel that introduces itself as Kalachakra, Endless Time.
The chakra is also a divine weapon carried by several gods and their avatars. Krishna, the chief protagonist of the Mahabharata is shown in his many-armed form holding an index finger up, and upon it sits the Sudarshan Chakra.
This chakra is described as a disc-like object with 10 million teeth in two rows which spin in opposite directions. Hindu scripture says that the Sudarshan Chakra was made out of the ‘Dust of the Sun’.
The Chakras in Yoga
The first mention of chakras in the practice of yoga occurs in the other revered tome of ancient Hindu scripture, the Vedas. The written words of the Vedas have been dated to between 1,500 B.C. and 500 B.C. but their system of thought goes further back in time.
The Upanishads – which may be considered summaries of the Vedas – speak of the seven chakras, or focal points of energy, present in every human body. They are generally shown as running in a straight line from the crown of the head to the base of the spine, with those from the neck downwards aligned along the spinal cord.
Retrieving all the hidden meaning from such ancient texts and, in some cases, what seem to be deliberate puzzles introduced to mask true meaning and profound knowledge from all but the most serious of scholars, makes a complete understanding of the yogic texts a practically insurmountable challenge for the layperson.
The True Form of the Human Chakras
Most people today learn of the chakras from reading translations (or extracts of translations, or less-than-scholarly improvised interpretations) of the original Sanskrit texts.
While definitely more convenient than learning an ancient language, this robs the eager learner of the true context of what has been said; there is a stark disparity between how chakras were first described and the way they are popularly visualized. Chakra diagrams further the misconception.
The revelation: what most people today envision as a static circular object is actually a spinning disk.
Picture that for a moment. Seven chakras of living energy, each rotating with a life force beyond anything we could possibly perceive, pulsating with potential within you. Most are stunned to discover this crucial aspect of the human chakras, and ecstatic to picture it for, and within, themselves.
A chakra is not simply a ‘region’ in the body, but a conscious, living portal that connects parts of the human soul to the eternal energy of the Universe. That flow of energy travels both ways. The esoteric knowledge of the ancient Hindu texts reveals how a practitioner of exercises like yoga can harness that energy and control its passage.
The Seven Chakras
There are seven main chakras which relate to the practice of yoga. Apart from these seven which are all aligned with the spinal cord, the original Indian texts which explore yoga in detail speak of as many as 114 secondary chakras.
These lesser chakras are located on the torso and limbs and, just like the main chakras, each corresponds to a particular aspect of the soul and of physical wellbeing.
Here, we explore the seven main chakras, in order from the base of the spine to the top of the head:
- Muladhara –the Base or Root Chakra (located at the lowermost bone of the spine, the coccyx)
- Swadhisthana – the Sacral Chakra (located at the sacrum bone, aligned with ovaries/prostate)
- Manipura – Solar Plexus Chakra (located at the navel)
- Anahata, the Heart Chakra (located at the heart)
- Vishudha, the Throat Chakra (located at the center of the throat region)
- Ajna, the Brow Chakra or Third Eye (located just above the brow line at the pineal gland)
- Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra (located at the top of the head)
Each chakra reigns over particular facets of our lives. When misaligned or ignored, they can negatively affect those facets. Conversely, nurturing particular chakras can help to alleviate physical symptoms and have a healing influence on the organs with which they are associated.
Muladhara – Common Name: Root Chakra
The Muladhara is the foundation of the seven chakras not just because it incidentally is at the base, but also because it works as a grounding force. The Kundalini (Sanskrit for ‘coiled one’) is located here.
The Kundalini is the female force in every person, which rests like a coiled serpent when undiscovered. The practice of yoga rouses her and allows her to rise up through the higher chakras and for the individual to attain higher levels of enlightenment.
On a physiological level, the root chakra dictates the function of the adrenal glands, and the body’s excretory system. It is represented by a lotus with four petals within which is a square, and within the square, a downward-facing equilateral triangle.
Swadhisthana – Common Name: Sacral Chakra
The Swadhistana is located at the sacrum bone near the genitals, and thus affects the ovaries in females and the prostate gland in males.
This chakra is associated with personal creativity and also with sexual energy. It lets us experience physical pleasures, including taste (‘Swadh’ is Sanskrit for ‘taste’). The Sacral chakra is shown as a lotus with six petals. Within it is a circle, and a crescent moon lies at the base of the circle.
The Manipura chakra controls the functions of the abdominal organs, including the digestive system and the pancreas, as well as the sense of sight. It is also the chakra that controls the human ego and sense of individual identity.
Nurturing this chakra helps improve mental acuity and extend personal control over the subconscious mind. A ten-petalled lotus containing a downward-facing equilateral triangle is the symbol of the Manipura chakra.
Anahata – Common name: Heart Chakra
Located in the upper torso in the region of the heart, the Anahata chakra is the realm of compassion, romantic and platonic love, and of healing. It reigns over sensory perception through touch and also regulates the function of the lungs and the thymus.
It is symbolized by a lotus with twelve petals containing two equilateral triangles, one facing up and the other, down, superimposed upon each other to form the shape we know popularly as the Star of David.
Vishudha – Common Name: Throat Chakra
Associated with the thyroid gland and the sense of hearing, the throat chakra also controls speech and our ability to express ourselves to the world.
This is the chakra on which to concentrate to improve your ability to communicate and heighten both your command of your own words and expressions, as well as your perception of the words and expressions of the people around you.
The Visudha chakra is depicted as a lotus of sixteen petals containing an equilateral triangle which is pointing downwards. A circle lies inside the triangle, its circumference touching all three sides.
Ajna – Common Name: The Third Eye
As we approach the top of the chain of the seven main chakras, the ideas and elements of the subject become significantly other-worldly.
Located between the brows, the Ajna chakra is perhaps the most widely known and recognized of the chakras. It is believed that mastering it can imbue one with supernatural abilities.
Hindus and Buddhists often place a ritual dot or elongated mark at the location of the Ajna chakra, particularly after prayer. This symbolizes an awareness that our actions should be dictated by the mind’s eye instead of just the two physical eyes we possess.
The Third Eye can be said to be a link to a sixth sense, beyond the physical world that science can perceive but well within the realm of the human soul’s abilities.
The Ajna chakra is represented by a lotus of two large petals and a downward-facing equilateral triangle inside.
Sahasrara – Common Name: Crown Chakra
The topmost of the chakras is the Sahasrara. It can be said to be a representation of the highest plane of awareness of which we are capable, a link to the Creator that cannot otherwise be perceived.
Mastering the Crown chakra is a feat that few have ever been able to achieve, but its rewards are beyond description. It is associated with ‘moksha’, the state of being completely free of the baggage and limitations of the material world.
Even reaching the periphery of the Sahasrara’s infinite abilities will imbue the yoga practitioner with a sense of happiness, bliss and transcendence that no other experience can induce.
The thousand-petalled lotus, symbol of an Enlightened being like the Buddha is synonymous with the Crown chakra.
Mantras are word sounds that are repeated to invoke the effects of the reverberations that those sounds produce. In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, chanting mantras unlocks chakras and also parts of the mind that we otherwise cannot access.
Each of the seven main chakras has its own mantra:
- Muladhara – lam (pronounced ‘lum’ as in the word ‘lumber’)
- Swadhisthana – vam (rhymes with lam above)
- Manipura – ram (pronounced ‘rum’ as in ‘rumble’)
- Anahata – yam (pronounced ‘yum’ as in ‘yummy’)
- Vishudha – ham (pronounced ‘hum’ as in ‘humble’)
- Ajna – Om or aum (Om is called the sound of Creation and is pronounced in three parts, ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’)
- Sahasrara – Silence (the highest level of consciousness transcends sound)
Besides function, each chakra is also associated with a color. This refers to the color of the aura of the individual chakra. It is believed in some circles that eating natural food (usually of the same color) associated with a chakra strengthens it.
- Muladhara – Red. The ruby and red coral are stones associated with this chakra. Root vegetables and hot spices open this chakra.
- Swadhisthana – Orange. Garnet, moonstone, tiger’s eye and garnet are its gemstones. Fruits like mango, oranges and melons and food like honey, almonds and walnuts make the Swadhisthana more receptive.
- Manipura – Yellow. The stones topaz, citrine and jasper are linked to the Manipura chakra.
- Anahata – Green. It is unlocked via the rose quartz, commonly called the Romance stone, as well as jade and emerald.
- Vishudha – Blue. Topaz, lapis lazuli, blue opal, aquamarine and azurite are associated with the throat chakra. Tangy fruits like lemon and lime and herbs and spices like salt and lemongrass help you to access its potential.
- Ajna – Indigo. Associated with amethyst and quartz.
- Sahasrara – White (and sometimes purple). The diamond, moldavite and clear quartz stones are linked to this highest chakra.
The Elements of the Chakras
As with virtually all ancient cultures and systems of belief, the Hindu system of the yoga chakras associates a particular element with each. Here are the seven:
- Muladhara – Earth
- Swadhisthana – Water
- Manipura – Fire
- Anahata – Air
- Vishudha – Ether
- Ajna – Time
- Sahasrara – Thought
Unlike many other systems of self-improvement, and perhaps contrary to what you may have heard, the use of chakras in meditation does not involve a steep learning curve. You do not need ‘qualified’ instructors or manuals to begin.
Yoga was always supposed to be an individual’s journey of realization and ascension to the Supreme. It is good to have read this article to become aware of the possibilities and your potential, but the Universe will be pleased just to see you give yourself to the personal journey for which your soul yearns.