The Chakra System: An Overview
Guided meditation, scanning through the seven main energy centers in the body. 18 minutes.
The chakras are the seven major energy centers of the “subtle body” or the body of light. Though we can pull them apart in theory we can never do so in reality. Just like the five elements which are associated with the chakras in many traditions—earth, water, fire, air, ether—we never actually find any of these energies in a vacuum.
Think about it. If you were to pick up a piece of earth in your hand it would have some amount of moisture (water), temperature (fire) and density (air). It would also have some intangible quality that defied our human explanations (ether). This holds true for all the elements. Just imagine trying to build a fire without the solid material of earth to burn or the quality of air to move it.
Your subtle body comes as whole package, just as the world does. Humans pick it apart post-facto, with the power of language and vision (thank you, fifth and sixth chakras!). You will never actually find a lone chakra just hanging out on its own. Each is always in relationship with the others. If there is damage in one area, all the others will somehow be effected. If one chakra begins to come into balance, the others will receive benefits.
I will introduce each one, along with my own name for its archetype. Then I will give you its Sanskrit name and meaning, its color, and its elemental character. I'll give a little description of where to feel it working in your body and how to feel it working in your life.
CHAKRA SEVEN : THE MYSTERY
sahasrara = thousand-petaled-lotus // violet // spirit
This chakra is located at the crown of the head and can be experienced as a portal opening up to the heavens, or as an orb that radiates partly inside of and partly outside of the skull. You can think of it as a heavenly doorway, or a many-petaled flower opening up to the grace of the cosmos.
Sahasrara is the gateway to that which is beyond human understanding: the infinite, the invisible, mystery and spirit; the most subtle aspects of existence. From this perspective we see the limitations of all other perspectives—even the limitations of the chakra system itself! From here it is clear as can be that the truth of you, the truth of reality, is beyond all descriptions, labels, doctrines and maps.
When this doorway swings open, we directly realize that we are pure consciousness. For this reason, some schools of yoga and Buddhism put a huge emphasis on this chakra as the means for achieving samadhi or emptiness. Though this realization can be hugely helpful in our spiritual progress, it is dangerous to put all the emphasis on a single chakra. We can get stuck here like we can get stuck anywhere else.
If your intention is to bring balance into your life, you probably don't need a blown-open sahasrara. Just a nice healthy crown center will do; one that feels porous, perceptive and vibrant. With that a sense of trust pervades our lives, for we know that whatever happens in this body, on this earth, in this moment, is just a tiny part of something far far bigger.
If the energy here feels weak or totally blocked, you are likely suffering from attachment to your beliefs. If we are too stuck on what has happened before or what we want to happen in the future, we cannot enter the timeless knowing of Chakra Seven. Try meeting the moment as a mystery and training yourself to become comfortable with the unknown. Meditation is great for this.
If, on the other hand, the energy here is overactive or too open without enough support from the chakras below, we can end up having unsettling energetic or psychic experiences. In that case, spend some time getting grounded in tangible reality.
CHAKRA SIX : THE SEER
ajna = the command center // 3rd eye/pineal gland // indigo // ether
Ajna lives at the center of the brain and is responsible for vision—for literal seeing with the eyes, but also for “seeing” a bigger patterns when presented with an instance, for “seeing” the wholeness from experiencing one small part, for “seeing” the more subtle connections between things. People with a strongly developed ajna chakra are called intuitive, clairvoyant or clairaudient. The thing is, these powers are innate to everyone, only they must be cultivated.
So it is not a command center in the way you may think. It is not a little general in our brains, telling everyone what to do. It is more like a lens through which we see things. Just as the settings of a camera lens dictate how we receive visual input, the programming of your ajna chakra dictates how you see the world.
Once we have a worldview, a theoretical understanding of how the world works, it is easy to fall into a habit of trying to make everything we meet fit neatly into that worldview. That is a huge trap here. If you are frustrated by experiences that aren't going the way they "should" be, it is likely that you need to do some work in chakra six.
Over-thinking can clog this chakra. If you're caught up in your thoughts, practice giving energy back to the rest of the body and the rest of the world. If, on the other hand, you don't feel like you have systems to rely on for picking the world apart and putting it back together in your mind, you might want to build more time into your schedule for reflection, study and theorizing.
This energy can be cleaned out and revitalized by engaging with visual beauty, focussed study, doing visual arts, studying systems and cultivating imagination.
CHAKRA FIVE : THE BARD
vishuddha = purification // throat // sky blue // air
Vishuddha lives in the throat and is responsible for labeling, self-expression, communication, articulation, song and storytelling. Just as the ajna chakra is a kind of filter for seeing and presenting visual information, vishuddha is a filter for hearing and making auditory information.
Its name means “purification,” because when it is functioning in a healthy way, we filter out lies. Without it, we can absorb a lot of untruth and send it right back out into the world. It also purifies energy within the chakra system itself, articulating the raw experiences of the lower chakras into something that can get processed by the upper chakras and integrated into our philosophies and worldviews. Without the logic and clarity that comes from language, there would be no way to make sense of sensations, feelings and actions. Going the other direction, the fifth chakra is responsible for sharing the theories of chakras 6 and 7 with the physical body. Without the unique personality and warmth of voice that vishuddha provides, the abstract energy of those upper chakras would not be able to influence material reality.
This center is associated with creativity because this act of purification/articulation is, in fact, a creative act. Chakra 5 requires us to keep a freshness, playfulness and earnestness to our communication, otherwise we end up deaf to truth. If we aren’t creative in our language we end up deflated, feeling exhausted from shouting into a squall or simply losing our ability to speak.
This center is damaged by participating in slander or perpetuating old stories that are no longer alive with truth. It is cleansed by silence. It is empowered by engaging in truthful talk and sincere song.
CHAKRA 4 : THE HEALER
anahata = unstruck // heart // green // love
If Chakra 7 is a doorway upward to the heavens, and Chakra 1 a doorway down to the earth, Chakra 4 is a doorway that opens in all directions, connecting you to other beings. To anything and everything that has an energetic vibration.
The heart has a special place at the center of the chakra system, and in my experience it is the home of its own special "element:" love. (Good reminder that I am not totally aligned with any classical system, here. I don't think anyone else has made love a freakin' element...) Love (which could also be called soul) is actually the substance of all the chakras. The heart is responsible for healing all the chakras inside, and all the beings out in the world, because only it can regenerate that most precious substance.
Anahata means unstruck. The name gives us a clue as to how to protect the heart: remember that nothing from without can harm it—in its true nature it is unstruck, unwounded, undivided, unconquerable, unharmable.
When we forget this it is easy to shut down the tender space of the heart anytime that we feel hurt. Being gentle with the heart is helpful when first working with this chakra. Once we have learned how to honor it sweetly, we can begin to release the blockages created by old wounds and to tap into the delicious, healing, regenerative power of the heart.
You could think of this chakra like a drum that needs no drummer. It is the original vibrational energy of you and the center point of your relationship with all beings. When connected to the heart, we sense the importance of relationship; we realize that the space between two hearts creates a vibration greater than the two individuals and we learn how to create, protect and utilize the beauty of that space. There is that subtle giving and receiving happening all the time and we are a part of it.
Heal it through connecting with what you most honor and want to care for. Heal it by being honored and cared for. Heal it by picking up whatever instruments Grace gave you and joining the band. Heal it by respecting your contribution and by respecting the contribution of others. And when it's healed, it will heal everything else. That's just what it does.
CHAKRA THREE : THE WARRIOR
manipura = jewel in the city // solar plexus // yellow // fire
Manipura is where we build a sense of unique and separate self. Some people say this is the ego which is a bit overly simplistic. I would define "ego" more as an experience: that of clinging to something as ME/MINE or rejecting something as OTHER/NOT MINE. The clinging and rejecting are two sides of the same coin: a desire to control, and this can happen at any chakra.
Manipura does enable the process of ego, of course, because from its perspective there is a distinct “I.” And that is absolutely its greatest weakness.
The name gives us a clue as to the danger of manipura. If we admire it as the only jewel in the city (ignoring the many other jewels, be they the gifts of the other 6 chakras, or the value of another being in the world), we can become so obsessed with the power of a separate self, that we lose total track of the point of living. We can end up spending all of our time and energy feeding Chakra 3, bolstering it, protecting it and showing it off and this always leads to suffering. We see how personalities and cultures that do this harm those around them. But any person or society that acts this way is surely damaged INSIDE as well. If the energy of six chakras is being hijacked on behalf of a single one, we will never feel safe, satisfied, complete or at peace.
However, without Chakra 3, I cannot take responsibility for my actions, past, present or future. Without it there is no one home to take the journey of evolution, no one to take responsibility for the suffering of the past, no one to wake up to reality, no one to manifest the vision of a new order.
When this energy is unhealthy we may feel on the one hand like a victim, always projecting the power outside of ourselves and blaming others. We can’t take transformational action, life feels cold, dark and uninspired.
On the other hand, we may become so infatuated by our own actions that we are blind to the power of others. We micromanage, believing that if no one else but me can do this. We are overly busy, constantly trying to prove ourselves, obsessed by the game of making new “gains” for this separate sense of “I.”
This energy is healthy when it is connected to a sense of purpose and power; then we feel like a warrior fighting for love and wisdom. To wake this up, think about what you love most (bring in the heart!) and figure out how you are uniquely equipped to serve it. THEN SERVE IT. Chakra 3 responds to the feeling of doing. And when our actions align with the wisdom of the other chakras, chakra three comes into balance and brings fire power to all the good things we want to accomplish in this lifetime.
CHAKRA 2 : THE LOVER
svadhisthana = her favorite resting place // reproductive organs // orange // water
Svadhistana is responsible for the animal process of reproduction. I call it the Lover, but I don't mean it in the same sense as Chakra 4. In Chakra 4 it is more a kind of tenderness and care, a respect and honoring. Here it is more like deep longing, the impulse to move and connect and merge with something else. We are talking about sexual energy here, people! It is usually felt as a strong physical desire, accompanied by rich emotions and pleasant sensation. That being said, each energy also contains its opposite. So we can experience the stirring of this energy create a strong repulsion, uncomfortable emotions and unpleasant sensation.
Add its shadowy side to the fact that this energy comes from the dark depths of our animal unconscious and it is no wonder that this energy is often problematic. The greatest risk to this chakra in our culture is the other chakras abusing, usurping or shutting down its energy out of misunderstanding, fear of suffering, fear of being subsumed by a power beyond comprehension.
When this chakra is aligned we feel graceful, powerful and sexy. We take pleasure engaging with the world, moving through it and just being in our own skin.
When we have abused it or imprisoned svadisthana in any way, we invite in great danger because then it has to work in the shadows. We will find our pleasure-seeking urges popping up in weird places. Until we work with this stuff in the light of love and reason, it will feel like a game of wack-a-mole where each time we try to control an urge it just shows up somewhere else--usually from deeper in the shadows.
If you feel stuck with this one, spend some time thinking about how the fears and deficiencies at other chakras have effected svadisthana. Spend time just being with that energy and getting to know how it functions when it is not being so constricted. You can do this by moving the body (especially the hips!), lubricating the joints, getting fluid and rhythmic. Put yourself in situations where you can surrender to pleasure in a safe way. Try to pause and feel pleasure in moments that you normally don't associate with pleasure. Where does that liquid lover live in you and how can her presence refresh your life?
CHAKRA 1 : THE MOTHER
muladhara = root support // pelvic floor // red // earth
This chakra can be experienced either as a doorway opening downward into the earth, or as an orb that is partly inside of the pelvic area, and partly protruding past your physical body.
Muladhara is responsible for the number one animal instinct—surviving. If we don’t feel like we are welcome and at home, if we don’t feel like we will receive the basic shelter and nourishment which every earthly inhabitant needs, we will have a difficult time truly enjoying any other aspect of being alive. For anyone who doesn't know where to begin on their journey of healing, I recommend starting here + Chakra 4.
We see a great deal of muladhara deficiency in our culture. It's great that technology has made it possible for our bodies to travel across the world in a day and our thoughts to travel across the solar system in an instant. But, as with everything, there has been a price to pay. Most of us have much less contact with the physical world and we can see the damage it is doing inside and out.
Being constantly on the go, being flighty, being "up in the clouds" can all be indicators that we ultimately don't feel the realness, solidity, interconnectedness and innate worthiness that comes with a healthy muladhara.
Some people cope with their Chakra 1 wounds here by clinging to stability, by not allowing themselves to ever confront a change of routine or a change of scenery. Sometimes taking ourselves out of the comfort zone heals this area, because then we realize that we really carry the stability of home with us all the time.
Anything that grants us real stability, safety, groundedness and regular routine restores this chakra. Honoring the real needs and desires of your very real body hugely helpful and spending time in nature is great cure. When we're in the natural world, seeing how everything there works together, it is hard to cling to our deluded stories.