What are chakras all about? What are chakras for anyway?
Here’s why I use them as a useful, practical framework for my YogaNurture system…
Chakra is pronounced with a “ch” as in “chicken” (or “chook”, if you’re an Australian). They’re often visualised or described by Yogis as wheels or spirals, linked with the neuro- endocrine system and related to mental and emotional states. In meditation, they’re associated with the elements (earth, water, fire, air, & ether) to enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being.
However, please forget for a moment everything you may have seen or read in popular New Age media about chakras, and read on to find out why despite the over-simplification of the chakra system in our culture, it’s the system I love to use as a framework for YogaNurture.
While our modern world view can tend to lead us to break things down in a compartmentalised and materialistic way, the chakras are not really meant to be categorised and contained, belonging to specific body parts, or always linked with the same elements and specific single colours. Chakras don’t exist in isolation within the body, either. Working with a chakra is a practice for how we can harmonise with the elements and with all energy, connecting to a greater whole beyond our selves … a way of bringing our individual experience into harmony with the the universe.
“Chakras are the microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm. They correspond to physical structures in the body where consciousness ‘plugs in.’ “ – Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA.
In the Yoga tradition there is not just one chakra system but many. The 7-chakra system we’ve become familiar with today, often associated with a single colour for each chakra, is only one interpretation of the energetic body and may have been first developed around 1200 c.e. by the Nathas who were Hatha and Tantra Yoga practitioners.
The most widely known popular modern 7-chakra system includes:
- Mūlādhāra, (the root chakra, visualised near the root of the spine)
- Svādhiṣṭhāna (the sacral chakra, behind the pubic bone)
- Maṇipūra (the navel chakra, visualised behind the navel although some practitioners visualise as high as the solar plexus)
- Anāhata (the heart chakra, visualised at the centre of the chest)
- Viśuddha (throat chakra, visualised at the pit of the throat)
- Ājñā (brow chakra, visualised between the eyebrows)
- Sahasrāra (crown chakra, visualised at the Top of the head)
However, other Tantric traditions developed different chakra systems, with 4 chakras, or many, many chakras.
The Yogis saw the body as a microcosm of the universe, and understood the energetic body as fluid and expansive. The Yogis could pick a vantage point in the body, study it, experience it fully, and with practice and sensitivity, gain a sense of how that vantage point is plugged in to a whole universe of wisdom and infinite potential. However, their practice led them to have common experiences and there are definite similarities between the chakra systems that still resonate strongly with practitioners today.
The Yoga tradition’s wisdom and knowledge of chakras has been added to in more recent times by western psychology. Carl Jung, with his “Mandala Psychology”, Joseph Campbell with the “Hero’s Journey”, Ken Wilbur’s stages of personal development and countless self-help books have added to the tradition, enriching it further with more insight into the archetypes, stories, imagery and patterns that make up our common human experiences of the chakras. And for the most part, although many New Age articles and books about chakras can be over-simplistic and a little contrived, I do see all this as an enrichment; a natural evolution of the teachings.
Many of our modern Yoga poses are not “traditional” either, but have been borrowed and adapted from diverse sources over the years. This is logical, and practical. The intention of Yoga is to find peace of mind and an easeful body helps with that. We need different physical tools in our modern western lives with desk work, chair-sitting, and commitment-juggling, than people did a thousand years ago. The tools of Yoga have always been refined to suit the time and place and culture they’re used in and I hope they always will be. The only problem is when we think it’s all about achieving a pose, or when we think we need to “fix” a chakra like it’s broken mechanical cog. That’s when we lose sight of the whole point of Yoga – to calm the mind using the best tools available to us and return to our whole, serene selves.
The modern images, narratives and mythology that have developed around the chakras in the west give us an accessible entry point, a “way in”.
Ultimately, as we practice, meditate, and reflect, we been to sense the vast, rich energy that we’re a part of, beyond the narrative. Then the words and constructions start to drop away and we know ourselves more deeply. There are as many practices possible as there are personalities. For me, the imagery of a landscape of earth, water, field, forest, mountain and sky resonate deeply and when I use them in chakra meditation I return feeling whole, balanced and aware. You’ll find that some things resonate better for you than others too, which is why I offer many different meditations to choose from in the YogaNurture program.
Using the 7 chakra system as framework for practice can provide a logical, practical, and well-organised framework for working through our bodies, emotions, and minds.
In the YogaNurture program we work through the body from the root to the crown and we keep referring back to the chakras. Along the way we include practices for posture and for the lower body joints, pelvic floor, digestion, lower back, “core”, upper back and respiratory system, heart, shoulders, neck, throat, sensory organs, and brain (just to name a few!).
I’ve had a some very personal inspiration for using the chakras in my work too…
One of the things that led me to Yoga teaching was my experience as a GIM client. GIM is Guided Imagery and Music, “a form of therapy in which music and imagery experiences activate inner reflection, memories and feelings, to promote mental and spiritual wellbeing and health”. (Music and Imagery Association of Australia). In GIM, the narrative and imagery is created by the client with the well-qualified and sensitive Guide there to support, not lead. Over the course of my sessions, I experienced the Chakras as imagery, narrative, and rediscovered body awareness. I didn’t know anything about the chakras at all at the time and my Guide suggested I do some reading about them.
I’ve sat with that experience and my research for 16 years, meditating and reflecting further on that first discovery before feeling strongly inspired to use the 7-chakra system as a framework for the YogaNurture journey.
So what about crystals, rainbow colours, and all those New Age books?
Did the Yogis traditionally use these things? No. But personally, I think that if you have a favourite crystal you love to focus on in meditation, and it helps you to connect with the experience of a chakra, then it’s a useful and valuable entry point into the practices for you. So go for it. Why not? After all, the Yoga Sutras tell us that single pointed focus on a chosen object is one of the most valuable techniques there is to cultivate the art of meditation. Just don’t anyone tell you that your chakra is blocked and that you need them to heal it for you, because nothing is wrong with you.
Maybe one of your recurring adventures is to investigate the narrative and stories of the heart chakra, exploring compassion and devotion, while your friend will keep cycling back to reacquaint herself with the intricacies of the throat chakra, investigating ways to communicate, express and create.
You came into this world with your own unique blueprint of strengths and discoveries to make.
Bring your own stories, history, and ideas and then allow them to start to fall away as you keep journeying through the miracles of body, breath, energy, and the greater whole of which they are a part.
If you’d like to know more about some of the different viewpoints in the Yoga world about Chakras (and get an overview of the very civilised and polite debate currently going on – I love observing these wise & learned Yogis gently and compassionately argue their points!), here are some articles:
For more of Kristine Kaoverii Weber’s writing, see:
(1). Yoga Science of the Subtle Body, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, eRYT500: online seminar presented by YogaU
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