“Chakra” is a world that probably most of us have heard, with its popularity increasing in a similar pace than its misconceptions.
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Chakras: A New Age Concept or Part of a Yogic Tradition?
If we make a Google search of it, concepts like “opening your chakras”, “crystal healing”, “chakra meditation” and “test your chakras online” will probably make it hard for you to get a real idea of what it’s all about. Given this confusing scenario, just mentioning the word can trigger comments from other people about how that might be “too New Age” for them or “too esoteric”.
The Pranic Body
Contrary to what many might believe we can trace the origins of this concept to ancient India. The Tantric Yoga tradition, in a similar way as other oriental approaches to life, considers the physical body as just one of the many layers of which our being is composed. Each one of them has its particular features, and is considered to have a subtler level of existence than the previous one.
After the first of the layers, our physical body, we come across the next one composed of several pathways where energy runs filling our whole body with life force. Although the form of energy that makes up this body is unknown to modern science, this has been known for thousands of years in various Eastern traditions. In Yoga, same as in its sister tradition Ayurveda, it is called “prana” which means “life” and refers to the force or vital energy. Thus, we call this layer our “energetic” or “pranic” body. It occupies the same space as our body and it even exceeds it a little surpassing its borders: we can imagine it us a halo.
The first yogis described this body as being composed of flows of energy following certain patterns, which can be understood as “channels”, called nadis. The tradition describes 72,000 of these nadis.
The Seven Chakras
The most important of the energy circuits of our pranic body runs along our spine, and it’s a major crossroad for many other channels. There are seven places in which great intersections occur, giving rise to powerful energetic centers in charge of different functions of our being. These are known as chakras.
These centers can be represented as wheels, surrounded by different numbers of spokes depending on the particularities of each of them. This is where the word “chakra” actually comes from; in Sanskrit “chakra” means “wheel”.
Chakras represent subtle frequency levels and progressively higher levels of consciousness. Each one of them is related to universal types of energy belonging to different vibrational planes. These energy types can be interpreted from a human standpoint as psycho-spiritual features. These control various aspects of our being, from the less subtle, in the base chakra, to the most transcendent, reaching spiritual enlightenment in the seventh chakra.
The first chakra, muladhara, sits at the base of the spine and relates to survival instincts, sense of security and grounding. Some centimeters above we encounter svadhisthana chakra, linked to the unconscious, pleasure and emotions. The third chakra, manipura, is located on the height of our navel, controlling one’s will power and self confidence. The fourth one, anahata chakra, also called “the heart chakra”, is said to be the seat of Spirit in our body, and it’s linked to unconditional love and compassion. The fifth energy center, vishuddha, rests on the throat, and is connected to purity and creativity. We can find the sixth chakra, ajna, in the middle of our forehead and it controls our mind and its capabilities. The last of the chakras, sahasrara, is on the top of our head; it’s the center of pure consciousness or Spiritual Reality.
Enlightenment: Union of Matter and Spirit
Often the chakras are represented as lotuses. This is a symbol of the ascension of human consciousness from ignorance to enlightenment. The lotus grows under water, in the mud, which represents ignorance, and flourishes out of the water into the sunlight, which represents enlightenment.
Muladhara, our first chakra, is the one more intimately bonded to the material world. The more our state of consciousness is anchored in the lower chakras, the more we can symbolically say we are dwelling on the mud. But this center, although being the most basic and related to the lowest energy vibration, contains within it the seed of transcendence. It is said that a dormant energy, called kundalini, rests within it. Its awakening, mainly induced by means of Yoga practice, can produce a dramatic shift on the Being, travelling up towards the spine, transmuting the chakras on its way and reaching sahasrara (symbolically, the sunlight).
Thus, while it symbolically unifies Matter (muladhara chakra), with Spirit (sahasrara chakra), it actually and practically produces a shift of consciousness, realizing Reality as it is. This is called samadhi, a state of consciousness in which the ego is transcended, perceiving oneself as part of the Whole.
A state of consciousness permanently anchored in this realization is what yogis call enlightenment. It’s said to be a state beyond duality which results in pure bliss.
Depending on someone’s personal history, chakras can be more or less developed depending on innate tendencies as well as on how one’s life is and has been led. Today, however, most individuals and cultures as a whole has not evolved beyond the first chakras, showing relatively low levels of awareness and predominant materialistic lifestyles.
The goal towards a greater spirituality is to have them all open and in balance, from the one that takes charge of our most basic needs, to the one that relates to pure spirit.