Chakras are the most embraced aspects of yoga in the west but perhaps also the most misunderstood. Most people have acquired their understanding of chakras from an amalgam of traditions like Reiki, Tai chi, crystals, and New Age teachers. What I am presenting in this article is the classical Yoga interpretation of chakras, which are an integral aspect of Yoga theory and practice.
The meaning of chakra in Sanskrit is “that which revolves, or a wheel”. The existence of Chakras is not an abstract or metaphoric concept, their existence can be substantiated by everyone who has experienced the chakras as a sensation in the body of a spinning wheel during meditation or spiritual practice. However, it is important to remember that while Chakras do have their reflection in the physical body they are located in the subtle and not the physical body. That is why we can experience their existence only when we are in an altered state of consciousness.
Many of the techniques used in chakra healing today in the west utilize external measures like gems, herbs, bodywork, color therapy etc. to treat them. While any work on the chakras can stimulate their functions, the effect of such therapies will usually be transient and short lived. Residing in the subtle dimension, chakras can only truly be awakened through inner yogic spiritual practices, austerities and most importantly when we are karmically ready.
Each chakra has its corresponding element and planet that we have to master and transcend first to fully awaken it. The karmas that the soul brings with it in each incarnation are reflected in the horoscope as the work that we have to do on the physical plane for the enfoldment of the chakras. Like with any kind of lasting transformation, there are no short cuts, and certainly no effortless methods to awakening our chakras.
Let us examine each of the chakras in their awakened state and the inner work that goes with it:
Muladhara chakra in Sanskrit means “root or foundation” as it is located at the base of the spine. It relates to the earth element and the planet Saturn. In the physical body it corresponds to the excretory system and adrenal glands. When this chakra is awakened all fear and ignorance disappear and one has full mastery of the earth element. We are able to perceive the unity of ALL (the good, bad and ugly) solid states of matter as crystallization of the energy of God consciousness. To awaken it requires working through our fears of poverty, sacrifice, earthly obligations and stabilizing the mind and emotions. Most importantly, we need to build detachment from the physical objects of the world (ie. objects and places I need to be happy).
Svadhishthana chakra in Sanskrit means “the self abode” as it is here that the Kundalini Shakti resides. It relates to the water element and the planets Venus and Jupiter. It is located in the region of the sex organs and in the physical body corresponds to uriogential system, the testes and the uterus. When this chakra is awakened we have mastered the cosmic water element and can see the unity of all liquid states of matter, whereby all emotional disturbances and our desires (likes and dislikes) disappear. To open this chakra requires fluidity of mind and the sublimation of our pleasure cravings into devotional and spiritual aspiration.
Manipura chakra in Sanskrit means“city of gems” as it relates to the fire element and the planets Sun and Mars. It is located behind the naval area and in the physical body corresponds to the solar plexus, and the digestive system. When this chakra is fully awakened we merge with the cosmic fire element and understand that we must sacrifice our will and ego into the burning fire to illuminate our true self. To awaken this chakra we must first acquire independence and fearlessness and then surrender our ego and ambition to the divine will.
Anahata chakra in Sanskrit means “unstruck sound”. It is located in the spine at the level of the heart and relates to the water and air element and the planets Venus and Moon. In the physical body it corresponds to the heart, circulatory system, and the thymus gland. This is the site of devotion and spiritual aspiration. When fully awakened it gives the capacity for gratitude and universal compassion. Most psychological disorders involve some dysfunction of the heart chakra due to the accumulation of negative emotions and lack of love over lifetimes. To awaken this chakra we have to practice empathy and compassion for everyone and embrace all our sentiments as a manifestation of the divine.
Vishuddha chakra in Sanskrit means “very pure” as it relates to ether, which is the subtlest of all the elements. It is located in the region of the throat and in the horoscope it is ruled by the planet Mercury. In the physical body it corresponds to the larynx, respiratory system and the thyroid gland. It gives mastery over the cosmic ether element and awareness that all space in the universe is a manifestation of god consciousness. It gives pure and inspirational expression and profound speech. To awaken this chakra we must vigilantly pursue the study of the highest Truth to develop real intelligence and wisdom.
The last two chakras are beyond the five elements and are seen by some as two different functions of the same chakra:
Ajna chakra in Sanskrit means “command” as this is the command center for all the chakras. It is located near the third eye and relates the Sun and Moon in the horoscope. It is the subtle mind and in the physical body it corresponds to the cerebellum, medulla oblongata and pituitary gland. When awakened one gains mastery over the mind as well as an awareness of the unity of all minds in the universe gaining divine perception. To awaken this chakra requires transcending and integrating all the cosmic elements and their corresponding chakras.
Sahasrara Padma chakra in Sanskrit means a“thousand petaled lotus” as this is the seat of divine consciousness, where the true Self resides. As the chakra where the soul transcends physical reality, it has no corresponding embodied planet in the horoscope. The south node Ketu, the point of liberation, relates to this chakra. In the physical body it relates to the cerebrum and pineal gland. When fully awakened it gives the realization that everything is a manifestation of the Supreme Self. The experience of seeing oneself as one with all of existence one abides in the state of Self-realization. To awaken this chakra all sense of “I” and “mine” has to be transcended.
Awakening the chakras requires reaching deep into the subtler levels of consciousness and awareness. This only becomes possible when we abide in the seedbed of surrender. We don’t need to move to an ashram or monastery to do this, we can achieve it in our daily life by carrying out our life’s duties and activities with love and devotion, without judgment and outer seeking. Indeed, being of service to our fellow human beings and living our karmas by embracing that which life presents us may just be the fastest track to awakening the chakras.