"In the ancient science of Tantra, the human body is viewed as the most perfect instrument for the expression of consciousness, a perfection realized through the development of psychic centers known as chakras"- Harish Johari
The chakras are defined as psychic energy centers of transformation that are activated through the cerebrospinal system to awaken Kundalini, the dormant energy at the base of the spine. The system of working with the chakras and Kundalini energy originates from the ancient Vedic science of Tantra Yoga. Tantra is the science of working with energy: first, harmonizing it and then transforming that energy into spiritual energy to reach higher states of consciousness. Each chakra relates to a specific element, a basic desire, certain behavioral characteristics, and a stage of spiritual development. The chakras each have their own respective storehouse of psychophysical energies that move with the help of prana (life-force energy). Understanding the chakra system helps to cultivate a deeper awareness of our own mental and spiritual energy as it relates to our behavior patterns, motivating desires, attachments and blockages, and evolution of individual consciousness.
There are seven main chakras: Muladhara- Root/First Chakra, Svadhisthana- Sacral/Second Chakra, Manipura- Solar Plexus/Third Chakra, Anahata- Heart/Fourth Chakra, Vishuddha- Throat/Fifth Chakra, Ajna- Third Eye/Sixth Chakra, Sahasrara- Crown/Seventh Chakra. The chakras are located within the cerebrospinal system. These energy centers are in the subtle nadis (energy channels) of the mental body and the body of subconscious mind (vijnanamaya kosha). Our body exists at the gross level (nerves, tissues, meridians, the five elements- earth, water, fire, air, space) and at the subtle level, which is comprised of prana (life-force energy), mind, intellect, ego, and the feeling self. Prana is what connects the gross and subtle bodies. Pranic energy is carried through both subtle and gross nadis (energy channels), which are linked to the chakras and influence our nervous systems. In this way, the chakras are on the interface between the subtle bodies (mind and subconscious) and physical body. All the chakras are connected through these three nadis: Ida (left channel/lunar energy), Pingala (right channel/solar energy), and Sushumna (central channel/neutral energy). The Sushumna runs up along the spine and pierces through all 7 chakras. The Ida and Pingala spiral up and around the Sushumna and join in the sixth chakra (Ajna/Third Eye Chakra) where all duality ceases. Kundlini rises through the Brahma nadi, which is a subtle channel located within the Sushumna. These energy centers are created because of the relationship and interaction between the life-force energy and the five elements out of which our body is made, which creates our prime desires.
The chakras explain how desires emerge out of the interaction between our ego and the five elements. Through understanding the chakras, we can truly understand our desires and gradually go beyond the attachment level of each chakra. Rising the Kundalini energy to more subtle elements brings us towards the objective of yoga- union with the Self. Many people who misunderstand the goal of yoga often become frustrated because they’ve never understood the chakras. Once you understand how the chakra system works, and as long as you are on the path of yoga, you will be at peace with your own spiritual development.
The chakras are a popular subject today because they speak to the imagination-energy centers in the body and the different spiritual experiences that can happen when working with Kundalini energy. For this reason, you may pick up two different chakra books with completely different interpretations and experiences. This can be confusing, which is why this post focuses on the traditional view from the Vedas. First, let’s look at the long-term evolution of the chakras, beginning with the first chakra.
First Chakra-Muladhara (Root) Chakra:
The Root Chakra is the seat of the coiled Kundalini energy located at the base of the spine and is the root of all spiritual growth. People predominantly in the first chakra sleep an average of 10-12 hours every day on their belly, like a baby, because it provides them with the most protection. The first chakra corresponds with the earth element and relates to our physical body, which creates a desire for security in the form of a job or shelter. The essential fear of our ego is that our physical body will die. People dominated by the first chakra spend their time worrying about the earth element (physical body). First-chakra people are compared to ants- always working, busy, obedient, and rely on their muscles, endurance, and grit. If they feel secure, they will do as they are told. People in the first chakra energy are generally fearful of the unknown. They will easily depend on others, despite being extremely hardworking themselves. First chakra people work for a boss; needing lots of guidance and support as a means to feel safe and secure. In fact, they love faithfully working for their boss. They find pleasure in rewards and are fearful of punishment. Greed is their main problem because they lack the understanding that security is not something that can be obtained. Everything material can still vanish. First chakra people get a sense of security by counting their money and watching it grow. They can become violent when they feel this sense of security is threatened. First chakra people are also afraid of death and disease, which they often worry about. According to the ancient Vedas, the first chakra is associated with children ages 1-7 years old; however, many adults spend their entire lifetime (or many lifetimes) in the first three chakras.
Second Chakra- Sacral (Svadhisthana) Chakra:
A second chakra person sleeps 8-10 hours in a fetal position and are compared to a butterfly. Like a butterfly, they float here and there to enjoy themselves. The second chakra is associated with the genital region and is dominated by the water element. The primary desire in this chakra is for enjoyment (i.e., chocolate ice cream, sex, drugs, & rock and roll- enjoyment of the senses). The water in our body gives rise to emotions and feelings of pleasure and pain. People who are mostly dominated by the Sacral Chakra are involved in enjoyment of the senses and of the mind through fantasy, stories, theater, and sitting around daydreaming about their own heroism. In this chakra, people like to think of themselves as heroes, knights, princesses, celebrities, and have lots of stories in their minds surrounding that. They care about what other people think, especially when they are attracted to those people. A person in this chakra aims to establish their identity and attract people of the opposite sex. This is where a person expands his or her friend circle and begins making sacrifices for others. The second chakra concerns marriage and family life. Developing good taste and finding enjoyment in something new is important in the second chakra. One issue with all the sensory overload associated with the Sacral Chakra is that it drains energy, which means second chakra people may have manic depressive behavior (i.e., period of nullity, feeling useless, bored; lots of energy one moment, then drained the next). The ancient texts associate people between the ages of 8-14 with the second chakra.
Third Chakra- Solar Plexus (Manipura) Chakra:
Those dominated by the third chakra energy sleep for 6-8 hours on their backs. The Manipura chakra is understood as the gravitational center of the body and is located on the part of the spine that corresponds to the navel region. The third chakra is associated with the cobra (i.e., “look at me”). The third chakra is dominated by the fire element, which creates light around us and a desire for social status, recognition, and personal power. A third-chakra person wants to be somebody, to be seen, and care about how other people perceive them. They are proud and ambitious on their pursuit for name and fame. First chakra people generally work for third chakra people. Third chakra people are prideful of their beauty and intellect, have strong organization skills, and want to be respected. A person with energy in the third chakra enjoys donating for charity because it gives them a sense of power and pride. According to the ancient texts, people between the ages of 14-21 years old are typically ruled by this chakra. To reiterate, many people don’t evolve past the first three chakras.
Fourth Chakra- Anahata (Heart) Chakra:
A fourth chakra person sleeps 5-6 hours on their left side and are compared to deer. In India, deer are seen as gentle, tender-hearted animals with immense love, which is the very nature of a person ruled by the fourth chakra. Located at the heart, the heart chakra is the center of all the chakras. People who are ruled by the fourth chakra have overcome the desires of the lower chakras: security (first chakra), enjoyment and sensuality (second chakra), social status and power (third chakra). They have mastered the first five steps on Patanjali’s eight-fold path to enlightenment (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and pratyahara) and are now able to move into dharana (concentration), and soon dhyana (meditation). A person reaches this chakra when they are no longer interested in being somebody. A fourth chakra person learns that people can respect you, be in awe of you, look up to you- but that doesn’t mean they love you. This creates the desire for love, which is the desire of the fourth chakra. This is where the ego tries to solve its basic problem outside of itself with love and belonging. A fourth chakra person finds that enjoying the pleasure of togetherness is much more rewarding than being important, or the enjoyment of chocolate ice cream, or a hefty bank account. A person dominated by the heart chakra understands their own suffering and the suffering of others. There is a strong desire for unconditional love and togetherness. Because the air element is expansive, it opens the heart. Fourth chakra people will be devoted to something- a group, a cause, a particular faith, etc. Their taste will develop where they can bring good things to everyone. That is a clear sign of an open heart chakra. According to the ancient Vedas, the Heart chakra is dominant in people between the ages of 21-28.
Fifth Chakra- Vishuddha (Throat) Chakra:
The Throat Chakra is located at the level of the throat. A fifth chakra person is a spiritual teacher and is associated with the peacock. Peacocks make a lot of noise, and spiritual teachers are known to spend quite a bit of time explaining their knowledge. A person in the fifth chakra energy sleeps 4-5 hours alternating on each side. First chakra people are busy building big muscles at the gym and second chakra people are occupied with late night parties and concerts, so they require more sleep than a fifth chakra person. People in the lower chakras expend much more energy at the gross level and need more rest. The Throat Chakra is the energy center of spiritual rebirth and is associated with the element akash (space). If it wasn’t for space, none of the elements could exist. Sound is the fundamental creative source of the universe. Hearing relates to the element of space (akash), which is the origin of all the elements and ever present within each of the elements (space, air, fire, water, earth). All of the elements are dissolved in akash. The behavioral characteristics of those in the fifth chakra are not well defined. This is because the fifth chakra is only reached by spiritual teachers. A fifth chakra person desires a deeper understanding, spiritual growth, and knowledge that is true. They have a desire to understand reality behind the appearance of the universe. Once we understand about reality, then we want to truly realize it and liberate ourselves from our own limited view. This creates the desire of the sixth chakra, (Ajna) Third Eye Chakra, which is the desire for meditation. According to the ancient texts, people between the ages of 28-31 are dominated by the Throat chakra.
Sixth Chakra- Ajna (Third Eye) Chakra:
A sixth chakra person goes beyond the elements and realizes that what you are was never born and thus, never dies. The realization of the Self happens in the sixth chakra where the aspirant desires meditation, bliss, the Self, and to go beyond the play of life. A person who resonates in the sixth chakra embodies all of the elements in seed form (mahatattva) and is a divine manifestation of consciousness. Union of all the opposites are brought together in the sixth chakra: lunar and solar, masculine and feminine, action and inaction. All dualities cease, and the experience of the Self happens. The Third Eye Chakra is associated with the pineal gland, located at the space between the two eyebrows. Through this seeing of the third eye, Satchitananda (truth-being-bliss) is reached. The ancient texts have found that people between the ages of 36-42 are dominated by the sixth chakra.
Between the Sixth and Seventh Chakra- Soma Chakra:
On the journey from the sixth to the seventh chakra, there are other energy centers, like the Soma Chakra. The pineal gland helps in moving this energy in liquid form from the Soma Chakra, which is located between the sixth and seventh chakra. The goal is to stop the liquid energy from trickling down, which usually gets absorbed during digestion. Inside the Soma Chakra is where you find the Kamadhenu (wish-fulfilling cow). This is where anything you desire comes true and can be seen as a trap before the end of the game. The Kameshvara Chakra is located above the Kamadhenu. The Kameshvara Chakra is where Shiva and Shakti become one (Kameshvari and Kameshvara), just before reaching the seventh chakra.
Seventh Chakra- Sahasrara (Crown) Chakra:
The seventh chakra (Sahasrara/Crown Chakra) is beyond the elements and beyond desire. The illusion of the individual self is gone, and the aspirant merges with nondual consciousness, enjoying life without becoming troubled by it. We have learned that when we try to find happiness in anything outside of ourselves that it doesn’t last. We come to yoga because we want eternal happiness independent of external happenings. In yoga, we find that happiness is our innermost self- it is us. This is what yoga is about.
Image below by Pieter Weltevrede
In terms of reincarnation, you will move relatively quickly in this life up to the chakra where you stopped in last life. To move forward, you must exhaust the desire of that chakra until you become bored with it. These personal desires of the chakras are a great tool to understand yourself and the people around you. Take a closer look at the chakras and you will see the order is quite logical in the evolution of consciousness. You take birth and need to survive (first chakra- security). If surviving is difficult, that will be your only desire. Once you’ve done all the hard work to survive and pay your bills, you want to have some fun (second chakra-enjoyment). After a while, all that bhoga (enjoyment) becomes boring. You desire something more tangible because you see that pleasure is not always evenly distributed around you. Then comes the desire for personal power and social status (third chakra). You want to be respected, to be somebody, to be remembered even after you die. After being on top, perhaps as the boss or manager of some company, you find that it’s not so satisfying to be somebody. You learn that people can respect you, but that doesn’t equate to love. This creates desire for unconditional love (fourth chakra). In the fourth chakra, the pleasure of belonging is more rewarding than the desire to be someone. Once you start loving people, you begin to feel bad when they suffer and wonder why there has to be such suffering in the world. This gives rise to the desire for deeper understanding and knowledge (fifth chakra). Here, you are searching for answers, reading books, listening to lectures, and accumulating all the information to piece together anything that will explain the nature of reality. Soon enough, you come to understand that there is nothing to understand. The truth is beyond words. You learn that it’s about being rather than knowing and doing. The sixth chakra is where the desire for meditation comes, to experience the Self and go beyond the illusion (maya).
Most people get stuck in the desires of the first three chakras: security, pleasure, and social status. Our culture reinforces these desires in every corner you look. For the first chakra, there are all types of insurances that our society pressures you with, always keeping you in a state of fear and “what if”. It is quite easy for our society to keep us suppressed in the second chakra where the primary desire is pleasure. Look around and it’s not hard to see all the entertainment and constant sensory bombardment in the form of music, TV, videogames, amusement parks, food, night life, and so on. You can’t even pump gas without a TV blaring on the side of a gas pump. There are no moments of silence, just thought after thought with no spaces in between. Then comes personal power and social status. Our society glorifies celebrities, politicians, and affluent people who have earned and climbed their way up the corporate ladder. It feels good to be somebody and to donate to a charitable cause only to be publicly recognized and applauded. It’s easy to manipulate people when our culture suppresses consciousness at the level of the first three chakras. If everyone woke up, none of these failing systems designed to keep us all seeking security, pleasure, and social status would last for long. But that’s a blog post for a different day.
There is also a short-term evolution of the chakras. The energy naturally moves through the 7 chakras in the span of one hour to 1.5 hours and can influence you without your conscious awareness. You could be in a fourth chakra energy with people you love, then suddenly one of those people does something that bothers you, which brings you back to your third chakra, dominated by anger and personal power. Once that energy is exhausted, you start to feel sad, so you go to the second chakra to enjoy some chocolate cake or your favorite TV show to feel better. After you finish your cake and soap opera, you start thinking more and worrying about the consequence of your actions- making your way back to first chakra energy (fear of the body). Or maybe you bring that energy up to the fourth chakra, to the heart, and find forgiveness, acceptance, etc. That is the short-term evolution of the chakras.
Maybe you’ve read about the chakras as they correspond to colors of the rainbow (i.e., First Chakra-red, Second Chakra-orange, Third Chakra- yellow, etc.). This is not exactly accurate. There is no ancient literature that references the chakra system with the colors of the rainbow. However, in deep meditation there are certain colors you will see when your energy is in a particular chakra: Root Chakra- yellow, Sacral Chakra- bluish white, Solar Plexus Chakra- bright red, Heart Chakra- smoky green, Throat Chakra- smoky purple, Third Eye Chakra- bright white. These colors make more sense when you consider the elements that are associated with each chakra: Root Chakra- earth element- yellow, Sacral Chakra- water element-blueish white, Solar Plexus Chakra- fire element- bright red, Heart Chakra- air element- smoky green, Throat Chakra- space element-smoky purple, Third Eye Chakra- Mahatattva (all elements in seed form)- bright white.
Understanding the chakras from the traditional Vedic perspective is a valuable key to introspection. When we can understand these psychic energy centers, we can better understand ourselves and the people around us. In the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says, “To control these mental fluctuations is Yoga”. When we control prana, we can control these mental fluctuations and move the Kundalini energy to more subtle elements in the higher chakras. In our next post, we will dive into ways to rise Kundalini and discuss the major knots, or blockages in the chakras, and how to meditate on the chakras.
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