C is for Chakras

Chakras are energy centers in the body, located along the central axis of the body (basically along the spine, except for the uppermost chakra, the crown chakra above the crown of the head).  

Nadis are energy streams flowing through the body, thousands of them (72,000 is a frequent estimate).  There are 14 (or so) major nadis.   Nadis are conceptually similar to Qi meridians in Chinese medicine, but not the same in practice.  Chakras are locations where certain major nadis intersect.  

Nadis and chakras are not understood in a uniform manner, even by the masters.  Sivananda, for example, enumerated a few dozen chakras and allowed for up to 144.  He focused on seven chakras, which is the standard number of major chakras used by the masters, except for Krishnamacharya who utilized ten chakras in his practice.

The seven major chakras are often illustrated in ways similar to the accompanying figure.  

Chakras must be kept balanced and open to energy flow, not obstructed.  Chakras have individual purposes and also a purpose as nodes in a primary channel of energy flow.  Hatha yoga maintains the chakras in healthy and operational condition.

Each chakra can be thought of as associated with organs, body functions, and possibly certain issues and capabilities in a person’s life.  Uniform agreement does not exist on the purpose and meaning of the chakras, and in fact the variation is so great that the subject is best left for personal investigation (which, thanks to the Internet, is easy).

Asanas and pranayama affect parts of the body and chakras in those body locations.  For example, asanas affecting the lower central core of the body affect the root chakra at the base of the spine.  Functional asanas affect chakras associated with those functions and body components.  Details are included in the masters’ explanation of their approaches to practicing yoga.  (See other pages on this site.)

The links between asanas and chakras are in fact quite complex and not well understood.  In addition, chakras are affected by other physical factors, such as nutrition; these relationships are also not well understood.   Even given this uncertainly, however, paying attention to chakras in a yoga practice can prove to be beneficial.

Kundalini is located at the base of the spine.  To many yogis, it represents energy that can uncoil like a serpent upwards through the body, harmonizing with the chakras, leading to uplifted consciousness.  This is called Awakening Kundalini.  To other yogis, including Krishnamacharya, kundalini is actually a blockage.  Releasing kundalini, rather than “awakening” it, means overcoming the obstacle so that prana (life force) can flow freely.  Individuals should study kundalini and make their own choices.

It is true, of course, that failure to believe in chakras, nadis, and energy theory does not diminish the other benefits of yoga.  Yoga is valuable whether or not chakras exist.  

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