“The body is the vehicle, consciousness the driver. Yoga is the path and chakras are the maps,” the American author Anodea Judith once said.
Before going ahead with the chakras, let us first have a quick recap on prana and nadis. Just as the physical body has organs, the subtle body (pranayama kosha) has prana, nadis and chakras. As they are subtle and do not have any physical form, hence, upon dissection we will not be able to see them.
Prana is energy, the universal life force that keeps us healthy, vibrant and alive. We can breathe in Prana, regenerate Prana or lose Prana. We can equate Prana to negative ions present in nature that are abundant, especially around mountains, oceans, forests, parks, springs, beaches, and waterfalls. They neutralise free radical, purify the blood, boosts immunity, balances the autonomic nervous system, and rejuvenate our cells. These negative ions have a positive impact on our health, so do not go by their name. On the other hand, positive ions (pollution, toxic chemicals, pollen moulds etc.) are harmful to our health. Pranayama/ breath work is one of the tools to increase the flow of Prana into our system, which will help vitalise all functions of our body.
Nadis are subtle energy channels through which Prana flows. Prana reaches every part of our physical body through the intrinsic network of Nadis. There are 72,000 nadis, out of which three principal nadis are very powerful. When Prana flows freely through the channels, our minds and body stay healthy. However, if they are blocked, then we might get susceptible to ailments, both mental and physical. Pranayama, mudras, yog asanas, and meditation can help us open/ clear up energy blockages.
Overview of the chakra system
Chakras, which have been the foundation of yoga practice and tradition for hundreds of years, continue to influence people to this very day.
Chakra means “wheels” in Sanskrit, which are concentrated energy centres that governs our mental, emotional and physical well-being. These spinning vortices of energy provide passage for energy to enter and exit our body and help to regulate all types of energy flow i.e. physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. They constantly absorb universal life energy (Prana) which is stored, assimilated and transmitted, according to the body’s needs. In our subtle body, there are seven main chakras located along the spine starting from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
Any obstruction in the flow of Prana indicates that there is a blockage in a chakra. When energy flow is deficient, the chakra is said to be underactive, when it is excess, the chakra is said to be overactive and when energy wheels are completely blocked, then the chakra is in a closed state.
If the chakra is completely blocked, then energy will start accumulating at a particular point and there will be no energy exchange, which is not good. To make it simple, let us compare chakras with the exhaust of any machine; if the exhaust works properly, the machine will function well however if it gets choked, the machine will stall. Similarly, completely blocked chakra indicates that prana cannot flow inside and so there will be no exchange of energy, which will lead to distress, illness and lack of mind-body coordination. An unobstructed flow indicates good psychosomatic health, abundance, confidence, self-esteem and overall well-being in all aspects of life.
Things like stress, ego, our belief system, anger, unhealthy lifestyle and holding on to negative emotions can lead to blockage and imbalance of chakra. If chakras can be blocked, they can definitely be unblocked which will reverse the damage. Simple ways to unblock are pranayama, yog asanas, meditation, practising mindfulness and visualisation, observing and reflecting on your behaviour, and chakra affirmation.
It is very important that all the chakras stay in balance to enjoy holistic well-being.
Why Lotus flower is used to represent chakras?
The energy flowing in each chakra is different and has a strong influence on our thoughts, actions, behaviour and emotions. Hence, it is important to know about each chakra in detail, so that we can work on it. Each chakra has a specific location, name, and sound (seed mantra) and has the form of a lotus of a particular colour with a particular number of petals. The reason why only the lotus flower is used for depiction is: the lotus is a symbol of purity, grace, fertility, regeneration, serenity and everything divine. Although its roots are padlocked in mud, the flower gets submerged in the water at night and re-blossoms the next morning, sparkling clean. Despite living in mud, it is not soiled by the mud and rises above it; this teaches us that where we reach is important not where we come from. It opens when touched by the morning sun and closes just as the sun sets, reminding us that we must close ourselves to external influences to prevent us from any disturbances. Lastly, it represents spiritual growth from the lowest state of awareness to the highest state of consciousness.
Chakras and neuro-endocrine system
Even though chakras do not have any physical form but they interact and connect with the physical body through two major vehicles – the nervous system and the endocrine system. These two important systems control all our physical, mental, behavioural and emotional functions. If any system fails, then it will badly affect our health and well-being.
Our nervous system is the body’s command centre. It has two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) which comprises of brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) consists of many nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and extend to all parts of the body.
The main function of PNS is to connect the brain and spinal cord with the rest of the body. It acts as a highway by relaying information from different parts of the body to the brain and spinal cord and another way around. The peripheral nervous system has relevance to the areas where the main chakras are located. There are different categories of nerve bundles within the PNS but the most relevant to chakras is the autonomic nervous system, which is part of the PNS. It controls various involuntary (not in our control) functions of the body like breathing, swallowing, digestion, sweating, excretion, heartbeat, pH or the acid-base balance and so on.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic nervous system which gets triggered in case of emergencies, which is our “fight-or-flight” response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest response, which helps in calming our system after the stressed “fight-or-flight” response.
The balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is vital for our overall health and well-being.
The parasympathetic system has greater relevance to the areas where chakras are located. Both sympathetic and parasympathetic systems create an intrinsic bundle of a network of nerves called plexus, which physiologically links with the endocrine system (ductless glands responsible for producing hormones, which are the chemical regulators that are secreted directly into the bloodstream)
The location of each chakra along the spine, in the subtle body, corresponds to the neuroendocrine system of our physical body. Chakras act as connecting points between the physical (annamaya kosha) and non-physical (subtle/ pranayama kosha) aspects of the human body, where energy exchange takes place. Energy is power and power is essential for healing and for maintaining good physical and mental health.
Each chakra governs a particular area and its functions, which will be discussed in my next article.
I invite you to watch my videos to learn more about this topic:
Neelu Kalra is the host of the YouTube channel ‘Yoga – The Journey Within‘.