There are numerous systems from around the world that describe the chakras and the various levels of their manifestations. The yogic system defines seven “lotus” centres located along the spine, beginning at the base and culminating at the crown of the skull. Physically they are associated with various body parts, nerve plexi, and glands, making them a potent point of pursuit when working to purify and bring balance to the body. The chakras relate to the different elements, senses, and a range of other attributes that extend outside of the physical and relate to the spiritual, emotional, and mental parts of ourselves. On an energetic level they are said to be like vortexes or funnels that both emit and receive energy from the environment, and can be more or less open, or even closed completely. Dysfunction in the chakras relates to imbalances on every level.
The energy that flows through the chakras and energetic system is called prana – vital life force. It moves through energetic channels called nadir, of which there are said to be 72,000. In yoga there are 3 channels that are worked with quite frequently: ida, pingala, and sushumna. The sushumna-nadi runs through the centre of the 7 chakras while ida and pingala snake around the first 5 chakras and terminate at the sixth. The energy in the lower three chakras is more dense and gross, whereas the upper three are increasingly more subtle. The heart centre acts as the transition and median between the two where energy from the lower chakras is transmuted across and upward to the higher centres. The rising of this energy through the chakras is referred to as a kundalini rising, and unifies energy with consciousness and stimulating the evolution of body, mind, and spirit.
Bringing the energy centres into alignment is integral to opening the doors of perception and expanding awareness of all aspects of our being. The chakras can be used as indicators of overall wellness and used to obtain information about the strengths and weaknesses of the body.
Muladhara – Foundations, security, and habit
The first, or root, chakra relates to the element of Earth and is therefor often equated with grounding and foundation, as well as security and survival. Located at the base of the spine near the perineum, the first energy centre relates on a physical level to the organs of elimination, the coccygeal nerve plexus, the adrenal glands, and immune system, as well as the bones, feet, and legs. It is symbolized by the colour red, the square, and the four-petaled lotus. Disturbances including trauma or deprivation of love at the ages of birth until age 6 are stored at this centre. The supportive nature of the first chakra demands balance and strength to serve as the foundation for the entire being. This centre is not only relates to safety and security in the world, but also to familial relationships and the sense of belonging to a group or tribal consciousness. This sense of loyalty and safety in the group setting is an integral source of balance in the first chakra.
Muladhara is also the starting point for three nadi that are vital to the practice of yoga and access of deeper states of consciousness. It’s here that the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadi begin. It’s also where the sleeping kundalini energy rests coiled three and a half times. This imagery is symbolic of the three gunas: rajas, tamas, and sattvic, which relate to passion and activity, inertia and darkness, and to purity and lightness. The first chakra is subject to the eliminative force of apana, the downward moving energy that is responsible for excretory processes.
Mulbandha is one of the techniques for the root chakra that is used to enliven and stimulate the kundalini energy that rests here. The bandhas are physical and energetic locks that guide prank from the base of the spine upward to the crown. The first of these locks that is associated with kundalini energy is achieved by engaging the perineum and guiding the energy up into the central channel. Engaging these locks properly is essential in working with the kundalini energy to send this potential into the correct channel to be distributed in the right places.
When we work with the energy of the first chakra, we invite the solidity and stability of earth to enter into our lives, thus coming back to our roots. To many new practitioners embarking on the spiritual path, working with earth energy can be a starting point, however is often a very familiar energy. It is through reestablishing the connection of the earth and oneself that the gateway to the other energy centres is opened. The foundation one builds here will help to endow them with the balance required to make their temple strong and stable. The shape of the square represents the first chakra and is one of the five platonic shapes; its even sides and solid structure implies solidity and foundation.
Svadhisthana – Feeling, desire, and creation
The second chakra is located at the sacral nervous plexus and associates with the reproductive organs on a physical level, as well as the bladder and appendix. It is associated with the element of water and sense of taste. Svadhistana is known as the partnership chakra so it relates not only to how we interact with the outer world based on our own needs and desires, but also how we apply those individual dynamics within relationships. Here we address the idea of duality and polarities, passion and desire, and about movement and change. The change we see from the first chakra to the second involves moving from the perspective of “me” to “you and me”. The nature of this energy is fluid and much like water, demands heeding to the natural ebb and flow of its endless meander.
This chakra really starts to come alive around the age of seven, where the first independent interactions with other children and adults begin to open a child up to the idea of who they are in relation to the world around them. A sense of personal identity begins to develop in this centre and time for a young child. Beyond the familial/tribal relationships, the second chakra activates the energy of personal choice and develops personal boundaries and interests. Creative energy stored in this chakra comes into play here as an individual starts to figure out what ignites their passions and creative compulsions.
The downward facing tetradhedron is the shape for this chakra, symbolizing the feminine aspect of ourselves.
The individual is opened up to the concept of polar opposites in the second chakra within oneself and all around. This deepened sense of awareness allows a person to expand their attention outward while simultaneously experiencing the inner world in relation to one another. This dynamic exploration cultivates balance and informs the individual of principles that may need to either be expanded or contracted in our lives.
Manipura – Will of the spiritual warrior
The third chakra is located at the navel centre, the solar plexus. On a physical level it relates to the digestive system, muscles, and the spleen and pancreas, and also associates with the element of fire and sense of sight. It is here where self-esteem, self-confidence, and willpower develop and grow. The third chakra endows the energy of assimilation and digestion, and when balanced offers practicality, will power, a sense of leadership and confidence, and control over ones life. Manipura is envisioned with ten lotus petals signalling completion, while the element of fire relates to action. An individual balanced in this energy centre will be motivated and self-assured in their trajectory and will work to put into action their plans and dreams.
The navel centre is the mixing point of two very important types of prank – apana, the downward force of elimination, and prana, the upward moving force in the body. When these two energy currents are mixed at the navel point there is a stimulation of energy that reaches down to the base chakra to stimulate the movement of kundalini energy upward through the central channel.
Although the active energy of fire and the sense of vision are both related to the sympathetic nervous system, there is a very important nerve that reaches from the brain to the stomach called the vagus nerve.
The final chakra of the lower triangle is the doorway to the fourth chakra. As we move onward we prepare to leave the realms of the unconscious into the beginning stages of consciousness. On a physical level the diaphragm acts as the barrier between the heart and the lower triangle. It is here where the use of the second major bandha is important to engage the energy of the first three chakras in efforts to pierce through the line of division into the higher centres. Uddiyana bandha is the diaphragm lock and involves the pulling in and up of the upper abdomen including the disaphagm, creating a sort of upward vacuum.