Have you ever heard of someone's Chakra being stuck, blocked or out of balance? Do you wonder how could this be? What does that even mean? We're here to demystify the concept and shed some light on how Chakras work.
Chakras and their energy systems are central to traditional concepts of health, wellness and vitality in China, India and Tibet. Each vary in their representation of the Chakras, their numbers, locations and importance, but these traditions have much more in common than they differ.
In our last blog, we provided you with a beginner's guide to the seven main Chakras of Indian Yoga. In this blog, we delve further into Chakra theory and the art of working with them.
Why Chakra Balancing Is Important
Chakras are part of the your subtle, or energetic, body and many traditional Yogis would say that they are the key to unlocking not only your health, but your ultimate potential as a human being.
Chakra Balancing is a form of energy healing that focuses on channeling energy into the seven chakras. When we talk about working with chakras we are referring to your energetic body. The body is not only made up of the physical body, as we have an energy that extends beyond our physical being.
If you remember from our last blog, Chakras are seen as nonphysical, spinning wheels of energy within your subtle body and are often artistically represented as lotus flowers. The lotus flower is an auspicious symbol in all Dharmic paths, and just like the lotus flower, Chakras can be open or closed. It is believed that when your Chakras are clear and open, Prana energy can flow freely through your Chakras. If this energy reaches your crown Chakra, you may achieve Samadhi, the blissful, transcendental state that is the goal of all Yogas. It is also believed that when a Chakra is blocked, it leads to many dysfunctions- physical, mental and spiritual.
Everything in the universe is made of energy and that energy is always moving and flowing. The same is true for our own prana energy, it is moving and flowing when we are open and balanced. In life, through our thoughts, actions and experiences, we can sometimes get to a point where our flow is impeded or even completely clogged. This disruption of flow creates stagnant energy, when left unchecked, it can lead to physical, mental and spiritual sickness.
Where Does Chakra Energy Come From?
In the Yogic traditions, you have not one body, but five bodies that all overlap and intermingle to make you, these are known as the subtle body. The first is your "Food Body' (Anna-maya-kosha), which is the physical body that you are familiar with and use to navigate the material world. Second, is the body of life force (Prana-maya-kosha) and is said to be an energy field that supports and sustains the physical body by connecting the physical body and the mind. Next, is the body of the lower mind (Mano-maya-kosha) and it has to do with interacting with the outside world and interpreting sensory experiences. After that is the body of the higher mind (Vijndna-maya-kosha) and it has to do with intelligence and understanding. The last body is the body of bliss (Ananda-maya-kosha) and it is said to be that of the transcendental, divine self.
The subtle body is said to be made of Prana, which is life force energy or cosmic energy. Sometimes Prana is also referred to as Kundalini. Kundalini is seen as a coiled snake, which is said to be latent energy that lays dormant at the base of the spine in your Root Chakra. Once activated, it rises through unblocked Chakras via Nadis. There are three main Nadis that are coiled around the spine and are seen as transport lines of Prana, similar to how arteries and veins transport blood throughout your physical body. Sushuma is the central nadi or channel and is seen as the most important. It connects your root chakra to to your crown chakra. Ida is the left channel. It is associated with wisdom, lunar or feminine energy, the color blue and is said to have a cooling quality. Pingala is the right channel. It is associated with compassion, solar or masculine energy, the color red and is said to have a heating quality.
Now that you know a little more about why having balanced Chakras is important, where the energy comes from and how it is related to your subtle body, you're probably wondering how to go about unblocking these Chakras and getting your Prana or Kundalini to rise. So, how do we do this?
How Does Chakra Energy Flow?
Depending on lineage and teacher, there are many ways to work with your energy and Chakras including everything from using crystals to help balance yourself to Reiki and Ayurvedic practices. However, since this system is originally a Yogic system, we think it is best to look to the Yogis for insight. There are many Yogic practices that are said to help balance your energy, clear your Chakras and get your energy to flow. Two of which are Nadi Shodhana and Shaktipat.
It is said that the Ida and Pingala channels meet at the Ajna Chakra and terminate at each nostril. Throughout the day, our breathing naturally switches from one nostril to the other (This is called the Nasal Cycle). If we get stuck breathing through only one side for too long, this leads to imbalance. Nadi Shodhana is a Pranayama or breathwork practice. It is also known as alternate nostril breathing and is often done to balance out your energies, masculine/feminine, cold/hot, lunar/solar etc. It is thought that by overcoming these dualities, the two outer nadis of Ida and Pingala come into balance and energy can then flow through the central channel known as Sushuma and up through your Chakras.
Shaktipat is the practice of transmitting or bestowing spiritual energy from one person to another. Usually this is done by a spiritually mature teacher touching or hovering their hands over the students Ajna, or third eye Chakra. The idea is that the spiritual energy from a more mature practitioner helps jumpstarts one's own energy.
There are many other practices within Yoga that include bhandas (locks), pranayama (breathwork), kriyas (purification practices), asana (poses) and meditation to help achieve these states. For more information on these practices, check out our blog on Hatha Yoga.
History of the Chakra System
Chakras were first mentioned in the ancient Hindu Vedic texts, but they continued to evolve and be developed over time in the Yoga Upanishads and Patanjali's Raja Yoga and Eightfold Path of Yoga. However, it was not until the later Yogic development of Tantra and Kundalini Yoga that Chakras become an integral part of Yoga (For more on the history and development of Yoga, check out our blog here).
Much later, in the early 1900s, Chakras were brought to the west by Arthur Avalon (John Woodroffe) in his book The Serpent Power. His work, along with that of the Theosophy Movement and Depth Psychology founder Carl Jung, paved the way for many of the New Age spiritualities that now include Chakras within their ideology and framework. For a New Age interpretation of the Chakra system, check out Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith and for a more traditional, Yogic take on the Chakra System, check out Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by George Feuerstein.
Final Thoughts, Personal Experiences With Prana and Chakras
Like many people, I first came to Yoga through exercise. I had been practicing Yoga as I knew it (mainly asana) for almost three years before I tried any breathwork practices beyond a few long breathes to calm down or the ujjayi breath practice of linking movement to breath. Then, one day at a gym in Bali, a friend of mine said that I had to try this breathwork meditation class and it was wild to say the least.
The class started with an explanation of the Chakras and breathing method, then we began. It was pretty simple, on 1 breathe in and on 2 breathe out. We did this for 7 cycles, one cycle for each Chakra. Each cycle was a succession of rapid breathwork, with breath retention and guided Chakra imagery between each cycle. This was followed by meditation and an optional Shaktipat.
After a few cycles of pranayama, the people around me started to have experiences... Some giggled, some sounded like they were engaged in bloody battle with their demons and others sounded like they were having the best orgasm of their life. None of these things happened to me.... but what did was no less profound. First of all, I generated an immense amount of heat, well beyond anything during my regular Yoga asana practice or gym workout. Then, I noticed my lips got stuck in a pucker, my hands became "lobster claws" (the technical term is Tetany) and my arms became light and lifted off of my legs, seemingly of their own volition. Still, this wasn't the weirdest part. A little later, it felt like I had energy running up and down my spine and my body started to rock back and forth, I even saw a purple ball of light in my mind's eye.
After the session was over, we all felt extremely open, receptive and like we went through something impactful together. Was this a spiritual awakening, was it just a controlled hyperventilation or something else entirely? The answers to these questions I still don't know, but I did go back to the class several times while in Bali, bringing friends each time to share this experience.
It is important to note that there are cases of people becoming extremely scared or having psychological problems from Kundalini rising experiences. Within Yoga, these practices are generally considered advanced practices and would only be done with the guidance of a teacher and sometimes only after initiation. There are also some people who medically should not try active forms of breathwork, but if you are not one of those people and are curious about these experiences, don't take my word for it. Go find a good teacher and see what experiences come up for you!
*This blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.