Introduction to chakras

If you find the concept of chakras a little 'out there', this simple guide explains how these wheels of energy can give us a huge insight into our feelings, cravings, emotional connections and intuition.

When your yoga teacher starts talking about chakras and ‘wheels of energy’, do your eyes glaze over? You’d be forgiven for zoning out for a moment or two, as sometimes these teachings can sound a little ‘out there’. However, understanding the chakras is like understanding ourselves on a whole new level. The chakra system can give us a huge insight into why we might sometimes feel ungrounded, why we crave certain things, how to access a sense of power, how to connect emotionally to others, why we may at times find it difficult to express our truth, and how to harness our natural intuition.

What are chakras?

The word chakra translates as ‘wheel’, and in this sense, we are indeed referring to wheels of energy. Our bodies, minds, emotions, thoughts, actions and everything around us is made of energy, as even the ‘multi-disciplinary genius’ and inventor Nikola Tesler told us; “If you want to understand the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration”. Tesler’s words are paramount when it comes to understanding the energetics of the body and the chakras, as they all work on a varying scale of frequencies and vibrations.

The chakras are essentially points of energy located throughout the subtle body (‘subtle’ refers to something we can’t see but can definitely feel energetically) and it’s thought there are roughly 114 of them in total. The seven main chakra points are located along the spine, from the tailbone right up to the top of the head, and they link to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. There is a lot of discussion around where exactly the chakras are located and how many there are, but this overview is all about understanding the basics of this incredibly intricate system.  

The chakra system is as old as yoga itself, and has been something yogis turned to for thousands of years before the formal invention of physical medicine. The chakras link very closely to the endocrine and nervous systems, and this important relationship between them emphasises the essential nature of integrated and holistic health; we are way more than a physical body, we are a whole being and benefit hugely by observing wellbeing from a whole-istic perspective.

The seven main chakra points

The seven main chakra points in the body (although some traditions include eight), are linked to the elements, and expand further, relating to all areas of the mind, body, soul and environment. Moving from the tailbone upward, these are the seven main chakras:

Muladhara Chakra

  • English Name: Root Chakra
  • Element: Earth
  • Location: Tailbone
  • Colour: Red
  • Sense: Smell
  • Emotions: Safety, security, primal urges, feeling grounded, stable, steady, having enough energy, confidence
  • Relation to body parts: Legs, feet, lower back, bladder, nose
  • Practices to balance this chakra: walking in nature, going barefoot, mountain pose and warrior poses, pranayama, chanting the bija mantra LAM.

Svadisthana Chakra

  • English Name: Sacral Chakra / Abode of the ‘self’ (‘sva’ translates as ‘self’)
  • Element: Water
  • Location: Pelvis / sacrum
  • Colour: Orange
  • Sense: Taste
  • Emotions: Sensuality, joy, ability to ‘go with the flow’, self worth, creativity
  • Relation to body parts: Hips and pelvis, reproductive organs, adrenal glands, gall bladder, tongue
  • Practices to balance this chakra: Spending time near water, swimming, yoga postures that focus on the hips, ‘going with the flow’, experiencing joy, doing something creative, cooking and eating, chanting the bija mantra VAM.

Manipura Chakra

  • English Name: Solar Plexus / ‘City of Jewels’
  • Element: Fire
  • Location: Just above the navel
  • Colour: Yellow
  • Sense: Sight
  • Emotions: Willpower, determination, ego, inner strength, dominance, focus
  • Relation to body parts: Stomach, digestion, mid back, liver, spleen, intestines, eyes
  • Practices to balance this chakra: Tratak / candle gazing, doing something challenging that requires courage, twists and core-strengthening postures, pranayama practices like kappalabhati or bhastrika breath, chanting the bija mantra RAM.

Anahata Chakra

  • English Name: Heart Chakra / ‘Unstruck’
  • Element: Air
  • Location: Chest / Heart
  • Colour: Green
  • Sense: Touch
  • Emotions: Love, compassion, energy, connection, authenticity, generosity
  • Relation to body parts: Heart, hands, lungs, blood, nerves
  • Practices to balance this chakra: Being kind to yourself and others, giving or receiving a massage, honesty, charity work, backbends and chest & shoulder openers, spending time in nature, gardening, metta bhavna medtiation, chanting the bija mantra YAM.

Vishuddhi Chakra

  • English Name: Throat Chakra / ‘Place of Purification’
  • Element: Ether
  • Location: Throat
  • Colour: Blue
  • Sense: Hearing & Speech
  • Emotions: Authenticity, self expression, confidence, communication
  • Relation to body parts: Throat, vocal cords, ears, mouth, upper lungs
  • Practices to balance this chakra: Speaking your mind, expressing yourself, listening to others, singing, listening to music, humming, talking to others, being yourself, spending time in silence, postures that bring awareness to the throat and neck, chanting the bija mantra HAM (pronounced ‘hum’).

Ajna Chakra

  • English Name: Third Eye, / ‘Perception’
  • Element: Ether
  • Location: Between the eyebrows
  • Colour: Indigo
  • Sense: Intuition
  • Emotions: Trust, intuition, intelligence
  • Relation to body parts: Pineal gland, lower brain, sensory organs of the head
  • Practices to balance this chakra: Using your intuition, meditation, visualisation, trusting your gut instincts, postures that bring awareness to the head, chanting the bija mantra AUM.

Sahasrara Chakra

  • English Name: Crown Chakra / Lotus of a thousand petals
  • Element: Beyond elements
  • Location: Said to be either at the top of the head or slightly above
  • Colour: Clear / White
  • Sense: Beyond senses
  • Emotions: Equanimity, balance, serenity, spiritual connectivity, wisdom, enlightenment
  • Relation to body parts: Upper brain and beyond
  • Practices to balance this chakra: headstand, meditation, observing the silence after chanting.

Identifying each of these chakras and their relationship to our own lives can give a deep insight into areas of ourselves we may have neglected, or those that would benefit from being balanced. For example, issues with the throat or with self-expression could link to Vishuddhi chakra, so working on this area may help bring about balance, and an ability to express oneself freely and confidently. Try experimenting with the various practices linked to each chakra, and observe any changes that occur along the way. As with all aspects of yoga, working with the chakras is about self-discovery, and this system offers a lifetime of exploration.

Yoga for your chakras

Follow Marlene Smits' Connect to your chakras playlist with yoga classes that explore and balance each chakra.

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