The Chakra system gives us a framework for understanding human beings in a way that integrates mind, body and spirit. ‘Chakra’ is the Sanskrit word for wheel. The Chakra denotes the “wheel of becoming” (bhavachakra), or “round of existence” (samsara), which is the phenomenal cosmos. It is used to describe the energy vortices in the human energy field that were first mentioned over 3,000 years ago in Indian scriptures.
The Chakras were first mentioned in the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad (part of the Krishna Yajur Veda) that was written sometime between 1,400 BC and 1,000 BC. Later Upanishads were written between 200 BC and 200 AD. The ones that refer to the chakras and the subtle bodies are the Shri Jabala Darshana Upanishad, Cudamani Upanishad, Yoga Tattva Upanishad, Yog Shikka Upanishad and Shandila Upanishad.
Yoga Cudamani Upanishad says, Lord Brahma endows man with a body composed of the five elements and divided into three parts:
- Sthula Sharira: 1. The portion composed of physical elements is called the ‘gross body’ (sthula sharira);
- Sukshma Sharira: 2. The portion made up of subtle elements is called the astral body (sukshma sharira); and
- Karana Sharira: 3. The part which contains the causes of all that each human being is as an individual, is known as the causal body (karana sharira).
Within the causal body, the three gunas (qualities) – sattva (purity, wisdom, peace), rajas (activity, passion), and tamas (inertia, lethargy) – exist in a harmonious state of perfect equilibrium. However, in the astral and physical bodies, this balance among the gunas is lost, resulting in a dynamic interaction between them.
The chakras are the centers of the body’s energy systems, which exist in each of the three different parts of the body: gross, astral and causal. Each chakra has three levels, and each level of the chakra functions in the corresponding part of the body. These functions are closely related to each other. A chakra works as a centre of interchange between the physical and the astral, and between the astral and the causal dimensions. The chakras are also intermediaries between the physical body and consciousness, between the astral body and manas (mind), and between the causal body and the karana (causal mind), that is, between the body and the mind of each part. Further, the chakras act to integrate the interrelationship between the three bodies and minds in a holistic manner.
Chakras are the energy centres for the reception, assimilation, and transmission of vital energy. Current scientific technology has not detected because they lie beyond the physical level.
Most Indian texts say that there are seven major chakras, each with a specific location in the body. They are associated with specific physical, psychological and spiritual properties. Other spiritual traditions have five, eight, nine, twelve, or more chakras.
The chakras are located along the spine and are often pictured as lotuses, which open as we progress spiritually. Chakras can be active or dormant, depending upon our state of consciousness. Each chakra has its own sound (nada and mantra) and geometric figure (yantra), which can be perceived extrasensorily. In the Shat-Chakra-Nirupa compiled in 1577 each chakra is said to a have number of petals, a colour and a bija mantra or seed syllable.
In each person, one chakra is naturally more active than the others, but which one it is differs from person to person according to the individual’s karma and nature. The aura of an awakened chakra shines more brightly and is larger than that of a dormant chakra. Even in the same person, an awakened chakra shines more brightly than others. It is very difficult to achieve enlightenment without awakening the chakras.
The Nadis are mentioned in several of the ancient texts. An early version of the Nadi system is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad, which is believed to be 3,000 years old. In this text the Nadis are compared to the rays of the Sun. In the Yoga Shikka Upanishad it is stated that the navel is the root of 72,000 Nadis.
The word ‘Nad’ means ‘movement’ or ‘stream’. Nadis are channels of energy in the gross and astral bodies. The Shiva Samhita states that there are 350,000 Nadis in the body. The Shiva Samhita is considered the most comprehensive treatise on Hatha Yoga and is believed to have been written before 1,500 BC.
There are two types of Nadis – subtle and gross.
- Gross Nadis – blood vessels, nerves, lymph canals, veins.
- Subtle Nadis – conduits of subtle energy, divided into two types – Pranavaha Nadis and Manovaha Nadis.
- Pranavaha Nadis carry ‘Prana Shakti’ (vital energy). The acupuncture meridians are the same as the Pranavaha Nadis.
- Manovaha Nadis carry ‘Manas Shakti’ (mental energy). The Manovaha Nadis are channels of mind energy and channels of chitta (impressions) arising from the feeling self.
Prana is distributed to the body through thousands of channels. The system of Nadis is linked to the spinal nerves and the peripheral nervous system. Just as the nerves distribute signals from the nervous system to the glands, organs and tissues, the Nadis distribute “prana” to the body, converting it into different forms of vital energy appropriate for various organs, glands and tissues.
There are 14 principal Nadis in human body. The three major Nadis are called Sushumna, Idā, and Pingala.
- Sushumna Nadi: It is the central integrating channel connecting the chakras and their various levels of consciousness.
- Idā Nadi: It lies on left side of the spine and is associated with lunar energy. The word Idā means, “comfort” in Sanskrit. The Idā Nadi has a moonlike nature and feminine energy with a cooling effect. It travels from the left testicle in men to the left nostril. In women the Idā Nadi begins at the left side of the base chakra.
- Pingala Nadi: It lies on the right side of the spine and is associated with solar energy. The word Pingala has many meanings in Sanskrit. It can mean ‘fire’, a ‘serpent’ or ‘reddish-brown, tawny, yellow, or gold-coloured’. The Pingala Nadi has a sunlike nature and masculine energy. Its temperature is heating and it travels from the right testicle in men to the right nostril. In women the Pingala Nadi begins at the right side of the base chakra.
These 14 principal nadis correspond very closely to the acupuncture meridians of Chinese Medicine. Sushumna Nadi corresponds to the (Du Mai) Governor Vessel Meridian in Chinese Medicine. However it may also be linked to the (Chong Mai) Penetrating Vessel. Idā Nadi and Pingala Nadi are linked to the Outer Bladder Meridian that flows up either side of the spine.
Disturbances, imbalances and restrictions in the flow of energy within the chakras are created by unresolved emotions, trauma, past actions, restricting beliefs and negative thought patterns. Balance can be restored in the chakras through yoga, meditation, tai chi, breathing exercises, massage, energy medicine and healing.
Kundalini is an energy (‘Shakti’), said to be coiled up at the base of the spine. The Kundalini is seen as a goddess or sleeping serpent waiting to be awakened. Kundalini awakening is said to lead to states of deep meditation, enlightenment and bliss. This awakening involves the Kundalini Shakti moving up the Sushumna Nadi through each chakra to reach the crown chakra. Many systems of yoga focus on awakening the Kundalini through meditation, pranayama (breathing), asana (postures) and the chanting of mantras. Many people describe the movement of the Kundalini as similar to an electric current running up the spine.
As the Kundalini energy pierces each chakra, it brings spiritual awakening to a person. When the Kundalini’s journey is complete, the person is said to be fully enlightened. In addition to the Kundalini that flows upwards from the root chakra to crown chakra, there is an energy that flows downward from the crown chakra to the base chakra. This energy flows from the spiritual realm and allows us to manifest our unique life purpose. Together the two flows of energy create an energetic balance between body (matter) and spirit (consciousness). If we have a free flow of these energies we can live a life of both presence and transcendence.
The chakras are points of connection at which energy flows from one body of a man to another. A clairvoyant may see the chakras in the etheric double, where they show themselves as saucer-like depressions or vortices in its surface. When undeveloped they appear as small circles about two inches in diameter, glowing dully in the ordinary man; but when awakened they are seen as blazing whirlpools, much increased in size, resembling miniature suns.
We sometimes speak of them as roughly corresponding to certain physical organs; in reality they show themselves at the surface of the etheric double, which projects slightly beyond the outline of the dense body. If we imagine ourselves to be looking straight down into the bell of a flower of the convolvulus type, we shall get some idea of the general appearance of a chakra. The stalk of the flower in each springs from a point in the spine, so another view might show the spine as a central stem, from which flowers shoot forth at intervals, showing the opening of their bells at the surface of the etheric body.
All these wheels are perpetually rotating, and into the hub or open mouth of each a force from the higher world is always flowing- a manifestation of the life-stream issuing from the primary force. That force is sevenfold in its nature, and all its forms operate in each of these centres, although one of them in each case usually predominates over the others.
Without this inrush of energy the physical body could not exist. Therefore the centres are in operation in every one, although in the undeveloped person they are usually in comparatively sluggish motion, just forming the necessary vortex for the force, and no more. In a more evolved man they may be glowing and pulsating with living light, so that an enormously greater amount of energy passes through them, with the result that there are additional faculties and possibilities open to the man.