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As you started doing the camel pose in your yoga class, you may have heard your yoga teacher saying, “This opens up your heart chakra”. And as you started doing the chair pose, you might have heard them saying, “This opens up the root chakra”. You might have heard the word, chakra, a hundred times in classes, and every time your teacher says the word, you might have wondered, what is chakra after all? What is its relevance in yoga? Why do we need to open our chakras?
At other times, you might have also heard your teacher saying, “Awaken your kundalini energy”. This is another mysterious word that seems to be very popular in the yoga community.
Well, let us understand all about chakras and kundalini today.
There are many articles on the web about chakras—as to their shape, size, color, related mantra, organs and emotions, related asanas or practices to open, unblock or balance them. But much of this is the recent or western understanding, and has to be read or used carefully. The words chakra and kundalini refer to the subtle functioning of a powerful energy system, and mustn’t be taken for granted.
This particular post is based on the wisdom talks of a revered spiritual and yoga guru Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who comes from an ancient lineage and has been teaching authentic yoga around the world for more than three decades.
What is Kundalini?
According to quantum physics and scientific research—everything is energy. The movement of energy is considered a core principle around which many faiths and traditions are based. Like yoga, many ancient practices such as Reiki, Qigong, and Tai Chi focus on the proper functioning of energy to achieve health and well-being.
Ancient yogis used a lot of symbolism to explain the deep philosophy of yoga.
Kunda means ‘pot’ in Sanskrit (ancient language). The body is like a pot, and the energy in this body is called the Kundalini Shakti. In the earlier days, this subtle energy was portrayed as a coiled serpent, and was also called ‘Snake Power’. Coiled serpent conveys the resting or dormant state.
This shakti (energy) is generally dormant. When the energy in the body rises up (through the chakras), it has many manifestations. All different emotions are just manifestations of this one beautiful energy.
When this Kundalini Shakti is awakened and rises within us, then our entire life becomes a dance of joy and bliss. Nothing in the world can trouble us. The entire world appears to be a beautiful wonder when the power of consciousness gets awakened within you.
What is a Chakra and a Nadi?
Imagine our body as having a circuit network. In the gross body, this circuit network is made up of arteries, veins, nerves, and the organs they are connected to. According to yogis of ancient times, besides the gross body, there exists a subtle—or energy—body which you can’t see or touch but where all life force energy or prana flows. The circuit network in the subtle body is made up of chakras and nadis through which life force energy, or prana or kundalini shakti flows.
The literal meaning of chakra is wheel or circular. These correspond to nerve centers or nerve plexus in the gross body and are nothing else but energy centers or energy reservoirs. It is believed that the human body actually has 109 chakras (energy centers), but among those, nine centers are important, and even among those nine, seven chakras are of primary importance. Each center is associated with a different element and emotions.
All these centers are connected with each other through nadis, or channels of metaphysical energy through which life-force (prana) flows. There are 172,000 nadis in our body, and there are various centers (chakras) for these 172,000 nadis. Out of these, there are three main nadis – Sushumna (runs through the spinal cord), Ida (runs through left nostril) and Pingala (runs through right nostril).
When energy (kundalini) or consciousness flows through these centers either in upward or downward directions, there are different emotions, feelings or sensations that one experiences.
When the energy moves through different chakras in the upward direction from the base of the spine to the top of the head it is called Urdhvagati (upward rise or progression). What is the pattern of emotions in Urdhvagati? You experience enthusiasm, then creativity blossoms, there is generosity and contentment, which in turn give rise to love. Love takes you to gratitude, which helps to bring awareness and wisdom (prajna) and ultimately leads you to bliss.
See this flow the other way around. When there is no joy in our life, then we come a step below and experience anger. From anger springs hatred and aversion. This further leads to a sense of fear. Fear as it grows gives rise to jealousy and envy, which in turn gives rise to lust, feverishness, and obsession. And lust and obsession bring us into the trap of inertia and negativity. This is the downward flow of the same consciousness or Kundalini energy. It is called Adhogati (retrogression or degeneration).
This upward or downward flow of energy keeps on happening very naturally and spontaneously in life all the time. But when we practice yoga and meditation in its authentic form, and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, we can maintain the upward rise of energy.
The Seven Main Chakras
Associated Elements, and Emotions
- Muladhara Chakra (Root Center)
Location: Base of the spine
When activated: One experiences enthusiasm in life.
When it is dormant: One experiences dullness and inertia. One does not feel interested in anything.
- Swadhisthana Chakra (Sacral Center)
Location: Behind the genitals
The maximum amount of water resides around the Swadhisthana Chakra in the bladder region. The same energy moves upwards to the second chakra, which is located behind the genitals, and it manifests as procreation or creation—creative activity or as sex drive. When you are obsessed with sex, then you do not do anything creative. You forget about creativity entirely. When you are engaged in any creative activity, then lust does not trouble you. People who are obsessed with sex are not very creative. When the same energy manifests itself as creativity, then sex moves to the background. So here the energy could manifest either as a creative or procreative tendency. You need not label the energy as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That is just how it is.
- Manipur Chakra (Navel Center or Solar plexus)
Location: Navel region
The digestive fire present in the belly region here helps in digestion.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has said, “Aham Vaishvanaro bhutva praaninam dehamashritaah. Prana-Apana-samayuktah paachami annam chatur-vidham.” which means “I am manifested as the hunger in the bellies of all living beings. I am the digestive fire that helps to digest all food which is consumed.” The same energy moves upwards to the navel region and manifests in four forms—jealousy, greed, joy, and generosity. These are the four flavors of consciousness that manifest in the third chakra. Here the energy is represented as a four petaled flower symbolically representing these four emotions. When people feel jealous they feel some sensation in the stomach region. Generosity and joy is symbolized as having a big belly. You must have seen Santa Claus, the Laughing Buddha, or a wealthy businessman—they all have a big belly.
- Anahata Chakra (Heart Center)
Location: Heart or chest region
The greatest proportion or presence of air in the body is in the lungs, in the chest region. From the navel region, the energy moves upwards to the heart region and manifests in three forms—fear, love, and hatred. Here the energy is represented as a three petaled flower symbolically representing these three emotions. When people feel hatred, fear, or love, the sensation is felt in the heart region. When someone’s heart is broken, it means that the love has become sour and turned into hatred. When there is love, there is no fear. When there is fear, there is no love. At any point of time, only one of the three emotions takes the front position while the other two go to the background. It is not that they disappear entirely. People who feel fear also have love. When love is predominant, then there is no fear or hatred. When hatred takes the front seat, then love and fear move to the back. This is what happens to people. When they are so full of hatred, they have no fear at all and they have no love at all.
- Vishuddhi Chakra (Throat Center)
Location: Throat region
When the same energy moves to the Throat Chakra, it manifests in two forms—gratitude and grief. When you are grieving, your throat chokes. And when you feel very grateful, then also your throat chokes. Here the energy is represented as a two petaled flower symbolically representing these two emotions.
- Ajna Chakra (Third Eye Center)
Location: Between the two eyebrows
When the consciousness moves to the center of the forehead, it manifests as anger, awareness, or alertness. Knowledge and awareness are depicted by the sixth chakra. The same point is also the seat of anger, and is also said to be the region of the mystical Third Eye. Maybe you have read or heard the story of how Lord Shiva opened His ‘Third Eye’ and burnt Lord Kamadeva into ashes. This Third Eye is the seat of anger as well as the seat of knowledge and awakened wisdom.
- Sahasrara Chakra (Crown Center)
Location: Top of the head
Element: Cosmic Energy
When activated: One experiences bliss in life.
This is represented as a lotus flower with 1,000 (sahasrara means thousand) petals. When the consciousness moves to the top of the head, then one experiences only bliss. There is nothing else. You no longer feel any duality, any sense of conflict or separation. You feel totally connected and one with everything. You feel so blissful.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains that even scientists today accept and agree on this fact. These seven chakras or seven nerve centers are connected with different glands in the body. In scientific terms you can say thyroid gland, the adrenaline glands, pituitary gland, pineal gland, etc. Science also agrees how these glands are responsible for experiencing various emotions. This is something our ancient Rishis (sages) knew thousands of years ago. They mentioned all this in the scriptures.