The body is made up of a number of layers of energies. The Upanishads, which are the religious and philosophical texts, were the first to explore the concept of the three part body called the Shariras. These house the five subtle energy layers called Khosas, which are interpenetrating layers or sheaths that envelope human existence and are divided as shown:
- Sthula Sharira
This is the gross or physical body that houses the physical or anatomical layer called Annamaya khosa – the Physical Body. This is the outermost sheath and relates to the need for food, drink and physical wellbeing.
- Sukshama Sharira (has also been referred to as the astral and wisdom energy)
This is the subtle or pranic body and houses three energy layers called the:
(a) Pranamaya Kosha – the Energy-Breath Body or physiological sheath.
(b) Manomaya Kosha – the Mind-Emotion Body or mental sheath.
(c) Vignanamaya Kosha – the Wisdom Body or intellectual sheath.
- Karana Sharira
This is the innermost or causal body, which defines the mysteries of life. It houses the final and most subtle Kosha called the Anandamaya Kosha which is the Bliss Body or the spiritual sheath of joy and bliss.
It is the Sukshama Sharira that is the seat of the chakra system. This system originated in India between 1500 and 500 BC in the oldest text called the Vedas, which are the earliest Sanskrit literary records and the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism. It includes thousands of complex energy channels and points, called nadis, as well as a major central and two side channels, called ida, pingala, and shushumna. Where three nadis meet in the body, they form a triangle and this triangle makes up a chakra which can be open, closed, flowing or blocked.
The word ‘chakra’ is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘wheel’ or ‘circle’ and its literal translation means ‘wheel of spinning energy’. A chakra is like a whirling vortex-like powerhouse of energy, and may also be referred to as a whirlpool or whirlwind.
Different systems identify anywhere from 5 – 114 chakras or energy centres in the human body. However, there are seven main and many minor chakras through which there is a flow of energy. Together they provide the right balance of energy to every part of our body, mind and spirit. Although they are invisible to the eye, these spinning wheels of spiritual energy keep our bodies and spirits in balance. They are governed by spiritual laws and principles of consciousness, and can be used to cultivate greater harmony, happiness and wellbeing in our lives and the world.
The chakras store the powerful life force that is referred to as prana by yogis, as ch’i by the Chinese and ki by the Japanese. This dynamic energy is the ultimate pure healing energy and is the precious universal life force that permeates everything. This energy is all around and within us and all things and is what keeps us healthy, happy and vibrant. When the chakras are open and aligned, our energy is constantly free-flowing, allowing prana to flow through them. However, if one of the chakras spins too quickly, is blocked or moves slowly then this can affect our well-being both physically and mentally.
By learning about the seven chakras, we can become more in tune with the natural energy cycles of our body. We can use this information to connect physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances with the chakras that empower them. And with those discoveries, we can begin to balance our chakras and live a healthy and harmonious life.
The seven major chakras are sited between the base of the spine and the top of the head and are aligned along the length of the spinal column. They each correspond to specific organs as well as physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual states of being and influence all areas of our life as outlined below:
- Muladhara, Root or Base Chakra
This is the first chakra. It is red in colour and associated with the element Earth. The name Muladhara comes from the word Mula which means root and Dhara which means support. It is here that a dormant energy called kundalini is stored.
This chakra is located at the very base of the spine, near the tailbone, just below the belly button and is associated with the spine, pelvic floor, first three vertebrae, legs, feet, bones, large intestine and adrenal glands.
The root chakra can be viewed as the foundation for our body as it is the closet to the earth. Its role is to ground us by connecting all our energy with the earth. This chakra is about survival and providing us with everything we need to feel a sense of security both physically and emotionally. It focuses on maintaining an existence and being constant and stable.
It is connected with our emotional needs, for example letting go of fear and feeling safe and it controls our fight or flight response as well as governing our instincts and potentiality.
When this chakra is working well and is balanced we feel connected to our human experience and we feel sturdy, stable, secure, supported and have a sense of accomplishment and peace when we think about our needs ie money, safety, and shelter.
If the root chakra is overactive we feel insecure and lose energy. We experience a variety of ailments such as anxiety disorders, fears, or nightmares, paranoia, procrastination and defensiveness. The role of fear is to keep us alive so the body goes into fight or flight mode even when there is no real threat.
Physically, the root chakra is associated with problems in the colon, with the bladder, with elimination, or with the lower back, leg, or feet issues, so we may experience digestive problems, lower back issues, hip pain, and ovarian cysts in women or prostate issues in men.
The root chakra may be underactive or blocked if our survival needs have generally been taken care of. In this case we may experience frequent day dreaming, trouble concentrating or feel that our head is in the clouds affecting our balance and connectedness to the earth.
- Svadhishthana, Sacral or Naval Chakra
The second chakra is orange in colour and associated with the element of water. The Svadishthana translates to ‘the place of the self’. It is about our identity as a human being and what we do with our life. It is responsible for bringing us creative energy to help enrich our life.
It is located in the lower abdomen, above the genitals and pubic bone and below the navel. It is here where our creative life force energy lives and helps us to enjoy our life on earth. This energy motives us to enjoy the fruits of our labour including indulging in pleasurable activities including sex and intimacy.
This chakra focuses its energy into building a strong immune system and keeping the physical body functional and active. Physically it is associated with the lower abdomen, kidneys, bladder, circulatory system and the reproductive organs and glands. Emotionally it is associated with sexuality, sensuality and reproduction. It represents desire and is responsible for pleasure, procreation and our sexual and creative energies.
When this chakra is balanced we relish in the pleasurable things that life has to offer without overdoing them. We feel pleasure, passion and joy. Sex, good food and creative activities will be inspiring and enjoyable. We feel successfully fulfilled and have a sense of wellness and abundance.
When this chakra is overactive we may experience issues around addiction-like behaviour, obesity, hormone imbalance, restlessness, and gluttony. We may find ourselves enjoying things that are not nourishing for our soul or health.
When it is underactive we may experience depression, impotence/sexual dysfunction, decreased sex drive, and a lack of passion and creativity, fear of change, uninspired creatively or feel emotionally unstable
- Manipura, Solar Plexus Chakra
The third chakra is yellow in colour. Manipura translates to ‘lustrous gem’, and is associated with the element of fire. This chakra governs our self-confidence and will and is the centre of our personal identity and where our personal power is born. It rules all aspects of our personality and ego, especially our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and identity.
It is located at the solar plexus area, which starts in the centre of the belly button and extends up to the breast bone or where the two sets of ribs connect in the centre of the chest. It is here that we often feel that things are either right or wrong, often described as a gut feeling. This chakra governs all things metabolic, digestive, and stomach-related.
When it is balanced we experience self-confidence, a sense of wisdom, decisiveness and feel our personal power. When it is overactive we may have anger or control issues as we exert our power over others. This may manifest as being quick to anger and we may feel the need to control and micromanage others. There may also be a greediness and a lack of compassion or empathy. Some physical symptoms may be experienced such as digestive issues or even imbalances in your internal organs like the appendix, pancreas, liver, and kidneys.
When this chakra is underactive or blocked there will be a feeling of our personal power having been taken away either by another person or through extenuating circumstances leaving a feeling of a lack of energy in our third chakra. We may experience low self-esteem, have difficulty making decisions. We may feel bad about ourselves, outwardly express apathy, procrastination, or be taken advantage of easily. Physically we may suffer from stomach ache of some kind digestive issues or gas.
- Anahata, Heart Chakra
The fourth chakra is green in colour. Anahata translates to “unhurt” and is associated with the element air. It represents the point where the physical and the spiritual meet. This chakra is where our love, compassion, and kindness are empowered. The heart chakra is associated with relationships as well as love, compassion and emotions in general. It’s about the love that we hold for ourselves and others. It is also associated with health and healing.
It is located at the centre of the chest and is level with the heart. It encapsulates the heart, the thymus gland (which plays a vital role in our endocrine and lymphatic system), the lungs and the breasts and radiates from the breastbone up to the throat. It is the middle one of the seven chakras and connects the higher chakras (the heaven) with the lower chakras (the physical world).
When this chakra is aligned and balanced it is able to feel love equally for the self and others, even in challenging times we are able to still see compassion and kindness in others.
When it is overactive we lose our personal boundaries and start to make unhealthy choices, all in the name of love. We find ourselves always putting the needs of others before our own. Physical symptoms include a fast heart rate, palpitations, heartburn, and interpersonal relationship issues.
When this chakra is underactive or blocked we may feel that it’s hard to get really close to anyone. We may build a wall around our heart and not let anyone in. Physically, we may feel out of touch with our body and suffer from circulation problems. A closed heart can give way to grief, anger, jealousy, fear of betrayal, and hatred towards the self and others, especially in the form of holding a grudge against something or someone. Holding onto hurts harbours negative feelings and cuts off opportunities for love.
- Vishuddha, Throat Chakra
The fifth chakra is blue in colour. Vishuddha translates to ‘very pure’ and is associated with the element called the ethers, in which all things are contained. It is the first energetic centre that differentiates humans from all other life forms and the first of the three solely spiritual chakras. The lower ones manifest themselves in a more physical way.
It is located in the throat area in between the collar bone above the heart chakra and is connected to the compassion and love we feel for ourselves and others. It radiates down to the centre of the heart and up to the centre of the eyes. It is associates with the thyroid, parathyroid, jaw, neck, mouth, tongue, and larynx. It is concerned with expression and proper communication of our personal inner truths with clarity, and also with creative impulses.
When it is balanced we are able to speak clearly and with love, kindness and honesty and also able to fully listen which is both enlightening and inspiring to others.
This chakra becomes overactive if we have spent time and energy trying to be heard, but feel ignored or invalidated and so we will often interrupt others. The physical symptoms include pain in the throat, with frequent infections, cavities or mouth ulcers.
When blocked or underactive we have trouble speaking our truth and find it hard to pay attention and stay focused. We may feel shy or stay quiet. We fear judgement from others which further affects our ability to speak and express our emotions. This blockage can physically develop into a sore throat, thyroid issues, neck and shoulder stiffness or tension headaches and digestive issues because energy is diverted away from the throat chakra and often ends up being swallowed or sent down to the third chakra.
- Ajna, Third Eye or Brow Chakra
The sixth chakra is the colour indigo and is associated with the element known as the cosmos. Ajna translates to ‘beyond wisdom’ as this chakra opens up our mind to information beyond the material world and the five senses. The third eye is open to extrasensory perception and intuition or psychic energy. It is responsible for all things between us and the outside world. There is a physical small pinecone-shaped pineal gland in the brain that takes in light and is responsible for helping us feel awake in the daytime and fall asleep at night.
This chakra is positioned at the level of the forehead, between the eyebrows, and radiates down to the mouth and up to the top of the head. It affects our organs including the pituitary gland, eyes, head, and lower part of the brain. It is associated with imagination, clarity of thought, and dreams and governs our intuition, as well as our psychic abilities.
When it is balanced we feel equally in tune with both the physical and material worlds and we recognise and are able to tap into and receive psychic information as frequently as we receive information from our five senses, without feeling overwhelmed.
If it becomes overactive then we will spend most of our time engrossed in psychic activities like tarot card readings, astrology and paranormal experiences and become overwhelmed and distracted from living a human experience.
When it is underactive or blocked we may have trouble accessing our intuition, trusting our inner voice and recalling important facts or learning new skills. If our other chakras are unbalanced then it is likely that this chakra will be also. We then may behave in a more judgemental, dismissive way and become introverted. We may also experience depression, anxiety and physically suffer from headaches, dizziness and other brain health issues.
- Sahaswara or Crown Chakra
The seventh and last chakra is the colour violet and is associated with the element called the cosmos. Sahaswara translates to ‘thousand petal lotus’. This chakra is pure consciousness energy, and is the centre of enlightenment and our spiritual connection to our higher self, others and ultimately the divine. It governs understanding, higher consciousness and our link with universal spirit and the divine. This is where our own personal consciousness is located. Conscious energy is everywhere and in everything and it connects us to the entire universe.
It is situated on the top or crown of the head and it radiates down to between our eyes and then extends upwards and outwards, connecting us to the energy of the rest of the universe.
When aligned and balanced it is said that the realisations that occur within us are along the lines of pure awareness, consciousness, undivided and all expansive. Basically it is bigger than us and part of the great universe. It is like a Buddhist achieving nirvana, and once we achieve it we are not human anymore we have conquered suffering and death.
The journey of attempting to achieve this balance brings us happiness, good health, and wisdom. Trying to balance our seventh chakra will align and balance our other chakras. However, unlike the other chakras, the crown chakra is often only opened up fully through specific yogic or meditative exercises, or at certain times. This is not a skill set we can simply call upon at any given moment. We may be able to get a taste of it, though, through daily practices of activities such as meditation, prayer, moments of silence and gratitude and then we may have those moments of spiritual connection. Practicing spiritual development and balancing our other chakras will bring us closer to experiencing the consciousness energy in our crown chakra.
It is not possible to have an over active crown chakra, because it is the seat of universal energy and innately infinite. It is not possible to exist in the material world and be overcome with conscious energy. When it is blocked or underactive it may create feelings of isolation or emotional distress, a feeling of being disconnected from everyone and everything. However, these feelings are natural for humans.
HOW CAN A VARIED YOGA PRACTICE AFFECT THE CHAKRA SYSTEM?
A varied yoga practise including individually developed sequences of asanas and pranayamas can have a balancing and harmonising effect on the chakras. It helps to move our energy in our body even when we are not focussing on it.
Yoga helps to re-active the dormant energy called kundalini which is stored in the base chakra. It allows us to purify and balance the ida and pingala nadis which in turn helps to allow the sushumna nadi to flow. Then the energy can rise and flow through all chakras and when it reaches the top and all the chakras are open and in balance with one another, enlightenment can be obtained.
By practising poses that correspond to each chakra, as shown below, we can release the blocks and clear the path to the higher consciousness:
- Muladhara, Root or Base Chakra
Asanas can easily stimulate this base chakra and release any negative energy that has built up over time. We need to practise poses that ground us and yet make us feel free simultaneously. The following poses will calm the mind and bring us closer to the earth:
- Tadasana – Mountain Pose.
- Supported Malasana – Squat or Garland Pose.
In these poses when we bring our attention to our feet and ground down through the soles of our feet, we will intensify the feeling of being supported.
- Balasana – Child’s Pose
This pose is completely supported by the earth. When we rest our head on the mat we can notice the balance of surrender and support.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose
In this pose as we ground through our feet while pushing the root chakra up to the sky, this stimulates and energises it.
- Sukhasana – Easy Pose.
- Svadhishthana, Sacral or Naval Chakra
There are many asanas for opening up this sacral chakra and releasing any negative energy. The following poses can create space for us to open up the sacral area and feel the emotions that have been stored there. Deep hip openers and fiery poses that strengthen the muscles around the hips and buttocks are perfect for opening up this chakra. We store a lot of emotions in our hips and these may release in hip opening poses.
- Seated Pelvic Circles are a great warm up for the other poses.
- Baddha Virabhadrasana – Warrior poses are great to heat up the body to begin to open up the hips.
- Mandukasana – Frog Pose is great for releasing tension in the hips and alleviating lower back pain.
- Utkata Konasana – Goddess Pose
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – One legged Pigeon Pose
- Manipura, Solar Plexus Chakra
Poses that strengthen the core will give us new energy. There are also poses to cool any excess energy eg twists or bends.
- Paripurna Navasana – Boat Pose
- Ardha MMatsyendrasana – Half Lord of the Fishes Pose / Seated Spinal Twist
- Dhanurasana – Bow Pose
- Phalakasana – Plank Pose
- Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutations
- Anahata, Heart Chakra
Chest openers are great for balancing this chakra.
- Ustrasana – Camel Pose
- Garudasana(Eagle Pose)
- Marjaiasana Bitilasana – Cat/Cow Pose
- Virabhadrasana I – Warrior I Pose
- Matsyasana – Fish Pose
- Vishuddha, Throat Chakra
This chakra can be balanced through poses that will open up the throat and neck.
- Neck Stretches
- Sasakasana – Rabbit Pose
- Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
- Sarvangasana – Shoulder stand
- Halasana – Plow Pose
- Ajna, Third Eye or Brow Chakra
This chakra is best balanced through meditation, but there are several yoga poses that will help bring us back in touch with our intuitive self. The following poses are great for clearing out our third eye and energising or lighting it up.
- Virabhadrasana III – Warrioe III Pose
- Ardha Pincha Mayurasana – Dolphin Pose
- Parsvottanasana – Pyramid Pose/ Intense Side Stretch Pose
- Pincha Mayurasana – Feathered Peacock Pose
- Sahaswara or Crown Chakra
Balancing the crown chakra means balancing all aspects of ourselves – masculine and feminine, light and dark, right and left. The following poses will help to bring the crown chakra into balance and alignment and quieten the mind, but will also benefit the other six chakras:
- Padmasana – Lotus Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
- Sirsasana – Headstand
- Natarajasana – Lord of the Dance / Dancer Pose
- Savasana – Corpse Pose
To conclude, practising yoga regularly helps to bring our chakras into alignment. Through yoga and meditation we can find balance in our body, mind and spirit. Purifying our energy centres allows our health and wellbeing to flourish.
Narinder Panesar is a Reach partner and has been part of our core group for nearly 20 years. Narinder is a highly skilled therapist who has extensive experience of working with those who are alienated from their countries and communities, are victims of trauma, rape and sexual violence, war and torture and all aspects of abuse.
In addition, she is a Yoga teacher, who deeply understands the synergistic approach and as a result actively applies it to her life and work. We are honoured that she is a pivotal part of Reach’s many projects and activities.
To make contact with Narinder, please click here