If you remember, quite a few entries ago we discussed some of the most commonly mentioned and at the same misrepresented concepts in Yoga, and our friends the Chakras were on the Top Five list of the most frequently misunderstood and poorly explained elements out there. To remedy this, we’ll dedicate today’s entry to speaking Chakratalk, trying to do so without too much recourse to the by now usual pseudo new-agey talk on them, and on how to allegedly ‘open them,’ and without all the online-GOOGLE-SEO-please-rank-me-high type of bullshit typical to posts of this sort. This will be a Chakras without the bullshit entry straight from ACEBE to the world. We hope you appreciate the effort!
To begin with, one has to accept the fact that we humans are more than a mere assortment of physical constituents and that there are other elements to our composition that transcend tacit matter and form. Our entries on The Three Bodies of Yoga or Speaking Yogic already spoke to that regard, so we invite you to revisit them if you want to connect the dots. That there are certain subtle factors, layers, and energies circulating our esoteric circuitry (Nadis) at any one point is, then, our point of departure, as is the fact of Yoga’s overall function: to help us develop greater awareness about these subtle energies so that we can reach higher levels of consciousness by progressively unleashing the positive potential inherent (or hidden) in our chakras.
The chakras, then, are certain concentration points where the more than 72.000 nadis composing our subtle body converge to create particularly powerful axes or energy fields. There are any number of chakras in our bodies, but traditional scriptures tend to focus primarily on those that have the highest number of pathways coalescing or coming together, which metaphorically happens to be along our spine. And we say 'metaphorically' here because they are really not ‘on’ our actual spine but in our subtle body. Capisci?
For those of you not so keen on non-literal language, however, one could say that each of these 7 main chakras –known as muladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, visuddhi, ajna, and sahasrara– is a figure of speech, a way of describing certain qualities and traits that come hand in hand with having one’s awareness permanently nested at their respective level. Tradition tells us that, in most people, most of these psychic centers are latent or dormant –or what your usual Google search will describe as ‘blocked’– and so, most of their positive energies remain locked away –aka, beyond our reach. As a consequence of this, the energy circulating through the nadis in our subtle bodies cannot traverse freely and evenly through all the subtle channels, and so, we stay stuck at the level of the first roadblock.
If the first roadblock occurs, say, somewhere near your Swadhisthana or second chakra, the scriptures explain that certain positive and negative tendencies, personality traits, psychological characteristics, and natural bents will predominate over others, as will the predisposition to suffer from particular physical and mental ailments. In the case of the second chakra, this amounts to being prone to things like attachment, emotionality, or lust, but also to the positive traits of compassion, receptivity, and the capacity to nourish, for example.The same goes for any of the other six chakras. Still, what is often not so well explained in most entries out there is the way our chakras relate to, or are imbued with, all of Yoga’s other variegated elements and factors.
For starters, the chakras relate to the Vedic discipline of Ayurveda, for instance, by virtue of their connection to the 5 prime constituent elements existing in all matter: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. This association is important because it is meant to symbolically represent each chakra’s differing rate of vibration. Vibration? Yes! As explained in a previous entry, ‘Chakra,’ from the original Sanskrit form, stands for ‘wheel’: a symbolic wheel or vortex of energy that turns and turns at a particular rate of speed depending on a chakra's location along the ‘spine.’ The higher a chakra's position in our subtle spine, the higher its frequency of vibration, and thus, the more refined or subtle its density and associated characteristics. This is the reason why muladhara chakra or the first chakra is commonly associated with the earth element, the denser of all constituent elements. As such, it is also connected to similarly dense qualities like possessiveness or ignorance, but also patience and to the sense of smell. This is also the reason why anahata or the fourth chakra is linked to the element of air –a much less dense substance, which is supposed to reflect one's tendency towards volatility, flexibility, the fleetingness of our desire, but also with wisdom and selfless love.
Overall, the association of the chakras with the 5 elements, with particular colors also representative of their frequencies of vibration, with physical traits, and other numerous features is supposed to account as well for the type of spiritual qualities that each of these energetic portals symbolizes. Because, at the end of the day, the chakras are a sort of non-literal roadmap for us to assess our level of 'spiritual evolution' on the long path to self-realization.
Complexity and Simplicity always Go Hand in Hand
Now, a key part of any discussion about the chakras must revolve around these centers’ relationship to both our nervous system and to the mind –that thing that serious Yoga considers the threshold separating mundane consciousness from higher states of consciousness, and that we will be dedicating an entry to soon enough.
Aside of being connected to those 5 elements previously discussed, then, our chakras also relate to particular senses, physical areas, motor organs, to particular nervous system plexi, and to different mental expressions too. Hence, it is not infrequent to hear speak of how Vishuddhi chakra relates to the area of the throat and to our vocal chords, how Manipura is located at the level of the navel and how its sense organ is the eyes, or how Swadisthana connects to our genital area and to the water element in us. These are all different ways of describing in beautifully allegorial fashion what each of the chakras stands for, what each of them does for us, and how each of the chakras can best be worked with, activated, and sublimated.
What most entries on the chakras often forget to make sure their readers understand, however, is that our chakras do not exist in isolation, nor are they actually material and therefore easily manipulable. The opposite is more often the case. The chakras are subtle elements in our subtle body that are intricately connected to our 3 bodies, 5 sheaths or koshas, 7 levels of existence, 5 outer senses and several inner senses, and to our 5 motor organs. As such, they are one of the easiest ways for students of all traditions to imagine, visualize, sense, and think of a number of energies and subtle forces and processes that are extremely complicated for the average practitioner to consciously manipulate, and for which the Western world clearly does not as yet have a literal way to speak about.
Still, theirs are forces that we can nevertheless tap into and impact by means of the variety of technique and practices Yoga recommends and describes; because, as the common phrase goes, where our mind goes, energy flows (and vice versa!). And it is often by developing greater control over our awareness and greater concentration that we unleash the hidden power of our chakras.
Chakras and Other Blooming Flowers
As a person engages more and more with the different facets of Yoga and self-exploration –through asana, bandha, pranayama, mantra, and meditation– the potentials of these different ‘flowers’ are slowly mobilized and developed and their negative emotional and psychological tendencies released. But bear in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean that one is spared the trouble of having to deal with previously blocked emotions, repressed memories, and whatnot. Still, releasing their potential enables us not only to improve the flow of energy in our subtle bodies so that our chakras can vibrate at the right rate, but it also allows us to move on to the next possible roadblock, and thus to the next higher frequency of vibration and to a more refined plane of existence. BAM!
This is where your common description of the chakras as flowers with varying numbers of petals enters the picture. Because, when a chakra is ‘balanced’ and it finally vibrates at the right rate of speed for its particular frequency, the chakra is said to bloom like a flower; which accounts for their common representation as lotuses of different colors and shapes with an increasing number of petals. And so, the petals characteristic of a chakra's classical representation basically speak of how a chakra's dormant potentials can also flourish or open up and bloom, much like a beautifully fragrant flower does when properly watered and exposed to the right amount of sunlight.
So, we hope to have done our job correctly, and given you enough background information for you to go ahead now and read all those other chakra posts and their often contradictory tips on how to activate them...