What is a chakra?
Each of the many energy centers in the body is called a chakra. In Sanskrit, chakra means “wheel” or “circle.” You have seven major chakras in your body, all located along your spine. These chakras function like hubs of information and expression, affecting everything from your physical movements to subtle emotions and energy vibrations.
According to yogic texts, energy flows through the human body in three major channels, or nāḍīs. These major nāḍīs are: suṣumṇā, pingalā and iḍā. At each intersection of these major nāḍīs is one of the seven major chakras (there are numerous minor chakras located throughout the body).
These major nāḍīs turn the chakra “wheels” by their circulation of prāṇa. Often translated as “breath,” prāṇa is the life force energy that flows through us all. When prāṇa flow is uneven, the chakra energy is disturbed, out of balance, either overacting or underacting.
Located along the spine, the seven major chakras correspond to nerve plexuses in the body, to the endocrine system, to the cardiovascular system, and more.
Here are the seven major chakras and their physical locations:
1 Root chakra
Coccygeal plexus, pelvic floor, colon, connected to the legs.
2 Sacral plexus chakra
Sacrum, low back/belly muscles, reproductive organs.
3 Solar plexus chakra
Abdominal muscles, stomach, kidneys, adrenal glands.
4 Heart chakra
Heart, upper chest/back muscles, thymus gland.
5 Throat chakra
Throat, vocal cords, neck muscles, thyroid gland.
6 Third eye chakra
Forehead, facial/scalp muscles, pituitary gland, brain.
7 Crown chakra
Top of head, above spine, non-physical location.
Where are the three major nāḍīs?
1. Suṣumṇā nāḍī — the central channel, situated inside the spinal column; also called brahma nāḍī
2. Pingalā nāḍī — starts in the right nostril, moves up to the crown of the head and criss-crosses down the spine to the tailbone; also called sūrya nāḍī
3. Iḍā nāḍī — starts in the left nostril, also moves up to the crown of the head and criss-crosses down the spine to the tailbone, exactly opposite pingalā nāḍī; also called chandra nāḍī, or candra nāḍī
Why are chakras important to yogāsana practice?
In yogāsana practice (the practice of physical postures), we stimulate and express all chakras. However, I’ve chosen to focus mainly on three chakras to provide a clear jumping-off point for further exploration. These chakras are: svādhiṣṭhāna (the reproductive center), maṇipūra (the solar plexus), and anāhata (the heart center).
These three chakras are often regarded common sites of imbalance in many people. Focusing on healing and strengthening these three chakras while practicing yogāsana is a wonderful way to support your connection to the subtle energies of your body.
This chakra is located in the low belly, low back region, above and including the reproductive organs. This includes the lumbar spine and connected muscles.
Physically, this energy center guides the deep abdominal muscles, the sex organs and the hips. Energetically, this chakra guides creativity, deep-seated emotions and close relationships.
When svādhiṣṭhāna chakra is functioning in balance, creative and sexual energy abound, the emotional body is open and responsive, and relationships are clear and nourishing. When this area is challenged, the energy lags, libido drops, the emotional body becomes guarded, and the hips tense up.
Possible causes of svādhiṣṭhāna dysfunction include: tension in the hips or low back due to movement patterns or injury, sexual or reproductive trauma, emotional hardship, or challenges in relationships with close friends or family.
Keep svādhiṣṭhāna balanced by stimulating the muscles in the area with swirling, freeing movements and strength-building exercises. To calm this energy center, use standing balance poses to help cultivate stability and containment. Encourage students to release judgments and inhibitions when working with this area, being mindful that this release may be difficult, sudden, and/or painful.
Maṇipūra chakra is located in the belly, mid-spine area, digestive organs, and detoxifying organs. This includes the kidneys, adrenal glands, stomach and intestines.
Physically, this energy center guides the strong abdominal muscles, gut function and the back muscles. Energetically, this chakra guides the power of will, determination and inner strength. Maṇipūra chakra has a sharp intelligence all its own, evidenced by common sayings such as “gut feeling,” “s/he’s got guts,” and “sick to my stomach.”
When this chakra is activated, willpower and feelings of personal empowerment are strong. However, when maṇipūra gets burned out, fatigue and low confidence ensue.
Possible causes of maṇipūra dysfunction include persistent stress, hot or humid weather, over-exercising, overwork, dehydration, and lack of sleep.
Keep maṇipūra balanced with harmonious practices that honor the environment and practice circumstances – not too fiery; not too easy. Take time to cool your body down after a vigorous class with appropriate supine poses and calming breathing techniques. Also, remember that chakras are not just facing front; chakra energy is basically spherical, which means that “core work” should include front abdominals, obliques and back muscles.
This chakra is located at the heart center and includes the chest, heart, lungs, upper back, shoulders, and arms.
Anāhata chakra functions as a bridge between the upper three chakras, which are more ethereal, and the lower three chakras, which are more earthly. When balanced, this energy center guides feelings of unconditional acceptance, compassion, and love. When unbalanced, injured, or depleted, this chakra engenders feelings of fear, judgment, and hatred.
The dual nature of anāhata chakra is evidenced in common sayings, such as “heavy-hearted” and “light-hearted; ”hard-hearted” and “soft-hearted.”
Possible causes of anāhata dysfunction include stress in relationships (suffering from a “broken heart”), lack of quiet time, insufficient self-care, high or low blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
Keep anāhata balanced with physical practices that bridge the divide between fear and compassion. Arm balances, while not typically thought of as heart-centered poses, can be a wonderfully effective way to learn to integrate the dual nature of this chakra. Ask yourself: can I practice being gentle with myself even when I fall? Can I be firm and also loving with myself as I try and try again? Many people actually have an overactive anāhata chakra, which means that restorative yoga is another effective way to balance this energy center.
Most students will benefit from any form of chakra work, because the energy body goes largely unrecognized in modern cultures. Most people don’t know how to take care of their chakras, probably because they don’t know that chakras exist.
Introducing chakra work into your practice can be very simple. Try the following four-minute practice to start. Put your hands over your belly and notice the heat there. You might tell yourself, “Feel the fire in your belly.” For four minutes, keep your awareness on the area under your hands. Note any emotions or sensations that arise, and notice if they change. There’s no need for fancy Sanskrit terminology, no anatomical details; just the pure truth of feeling. You can repeat this exercise for all of the chakras in this article.
As your awareness of your own chakra system grows, you will learn the intricacies of caring for your own energy body. You will find your own favorite strategies for balancing, activating and soothing each chakra as you move through your practices and your life. As yogīs, we acknowledge our responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. This responsibility includes being aware of our own subtle energies and attending to them consistently. Don’t let lack of familiarity stop you — explore your chakras with curiosity and you’ll awaken more than you ever thought possible.
Stephanie Keiko Kong, E-RYT 200, teaches yoga in India, Japan, Australia and the US. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Hawaii, she
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