The word Chakra means ‘Wheel’ or ‘Circle’. In the yogic context, a better translation is ‘Whirlpool’. The seven chakras are vortices of pranic energy at specific areas in the body which control the circulation of prana permeating the entire human structure. Each chakra is a switch that turns on or opens up patterns of behaviour, thought or emotional reaction which may have been unconscious in our everyday life. They relate to specific areas of the brain, and in most people, these psychic centres lie dormant and inactive.
Concentration on the chakras while performing yogic practices stimulates the flow of energy through the chakras and helps to activate the corresponding faculties in the psychic and mental bodies.
The major chakras are seven in number and located along the pathway of Sushumna Nadi, an energy channel that flows through the centre of the spinal cord. Sushumna originates at the perineum and terminates at the top of the head. The chakras are connected to a network of psychic channels called Nadis, which correspond to the nerves but are most subtle.
The chakras are depicted symbolically as lotus flowers, each having a particular number of petals and a characteristic colour. The lotus symbolizes the three stages the aspirant must pass through in spiritual life: ignorance, aspiration and illumination. It represents spiritual growth from the lowest state of awareness to the highest state of consciousness.
The petals of the lotus, inscribed with the bija mantras or seed sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet, represent the different manifestations of psychic energy, connected with the chakras, and nadis or psychic channels leading into and out of them. Within each chakra is a yantra, composed of the geometrical symbol of its associated element and its bija mantra. Within the yantra, there is also a presiding deity, which represents particular aspects of consciousness, along with the corresponding vahana or vehicle which is an animal form, representing the centre’s other psychic aspects.
Description of the Seven Chakras
1. Mooladhar chakra:
The lowest of the chakras is situated at the perineum in the male body and the cervix in the female body. The word mool ‘root’ and adhar means ‘place’. Therefore, it is known as the root centre. Mooldhar chakra is associated with the sense of smell and the anus. It is symbolized by a deep red lotus with four petals. In the centre is a yellow square, the yantra of Prithvi tattva, the earth element, and the bija mantra lam. In the centre of the square is a red triangle, the symbol of shakti or creative energy, with its apex pointing downward. Within the triangle is the smoky coloured swayambhu linga, symbolizing the astral body. A red serpent, representing the dormant kundalini, is coiled three and a half times around the linga. The red triangle is supported by an elephant with seven trunks, which symbolises the stability and solidarity of the earth.
For concentration on mooladhara chakra, visualize the red inverted triangle or the yellow square, symbols of energy and solidity, to enhance inner stability and balance.
2. Swadisthan chakra:
Approximately two fingers’ width above mooladhara chakra, in the spine, is the concentration point for swadhisthana chakra. The literal meaning of the word swadhisthana is ‘one’s own abode’. The Sanskrit word swa means ‘self’ and sthan means ‘dwelling place’. This chakra is symbolized by a crimson lotus with six petals. In the centre is a white crescent moon, the yantra of apas tattva, the water element, and the bija mantra vam. The crescent moon yantra and the bija mantra vam are riding on a crocodile, symbolizing the underlying movement of the Karmas.
Swadhisthana chakra is associated with seeking pleasure and security. It is associated with the tongue and genital organs. In swadhisthana, the emphasis is on overcoming fear, and on enjoyment, on pleasurable sensations and sexual interaction. When Swadhisthana becomes active, it may manifest as overwhelming desires or cravings.
3. Manipura chakra:
Situated in the spine behind the navel is Manipura chakra. The word mani means ‘gem’ and Pura means ‘city of jewels’. It is so-called because, being the fire centre, it is lustrous like a jewel and radiant with vitality and energy. This chakra is depicted as a bright yellow lotus with ten petals. Within the lotus is a fiery red triangle, the yantra of Agni tattva, the fire element, and the bija mantra ram.
The Manipura chakra is the centre chiefly concerned with the vital process of digestion and food metabolism. It governs the functioning of the gastric glands, the pancreas, gall bladder and so on, which produce and secrete enzymes, acids and juices necessary for the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Manipura chakra is the psychic centre that controls these activities and the instinctive drive to find food and nurture oneself.
4. Anahata chakra:
Anahata or heart chakra is the fourth primary chakra. In Sanskrit, Anahata means “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”. Anahata chakra is symbolized by a blue lotus with twelve petals. In the centre of the lotus is a hexagon, formed by two interlacing triangles. This is the yantra of Vayu tattva, the air element. The bija mantra is yam and the vehicle is swift back antelope, the symbol of alertness.
Anahata chakra is a centre associated with the sense of touch, the hands and emotions, ranging from the narrow attachments of jealousy to unconditional love. On the physical level, Anahata is associated with the heart and lungs, and the circulatory and respiratory system.
5. Vishuddhi chakra:
Situated at the back of the neck, behind the throat pit, is vishuddhi chakra, the centre of purification. The word shuddhi means ‘purification’ and the prefix vi enhances this quality. It is symbolized by a violet lotus with sixteen petals. In the centre of the lotus is a white circle, the yantra of Akash tattva, the ether element, and the bija mantra is ham. The animal-related to vishuddhi chakra is a white elephant. Right understanding and discrimination develop at vishuddhi chakra.
Vishuddhi chakra governs the ears and the vocal cords, the region of the larynx, and the thyroid and parathyroid glands. It is the centre related to communication.
6. Ajna chakra:
Situated in the midbrain, behind the eyebrow centre, at the top of the spine, is Ajna chakra. This centre is also known by various names such as the third eye; jnana chakshu, the eye of wisdom; Triveni, the confluence of three rivers; guru chakra and the eye of Shiva. The word Ajna means ‘command’. In deeper states of meditation, the disciple receives commands and guidance from the guru, and the divine or higher self, through this chakra. Ajna chakra is depicted as a silver lotus with two petals, which represent the sun and the moon. In the centre of the lotus is the sacred bija mantra Aum. The element of this chakra is the mind. This is the centre where wisdom and intuition develop. When Ajna is awakened, the mind becomes steady and strong. And full control over prana is gained.
Ajna corresponds to the pineal gland, which has almost atrophied in the adult human being. On the psychic plane, this point is the bridge between the mental and psychic dimensions. Therefore Ajna chakra is responsible for supramental faculties such as clairvoyance, clairaudience and telepathy.
For concentration on Ajna chakra, the point of bhrumadhya at the eyebrow centre is used. Visualize a tiny point of light or an Aum symbol at this centre and let the thoughts dwell on the inner guru.
7. Sahastrara chakra:
It is the abode of the highest consciousness. The word Sahasrara means ‘one thousand’ petals, containing the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet twenty times over. In the centre of the lotus is a shining jyotirlinga. In sahastrara, the mystical union of Shiva and Shakti takes place, the fusion of consciousness with matter and energy, the individual soul with the supreme soul. When Kundalini awakens, it ascends through the chakras to sahastrara and merges into the source from whence it originated. Matter and energy merge into pure consciousness in a state of intoxicating bliss. Having attained this, the yogis gain supreme knowledge and passes beyond birth and death.