What is a chakra?
The Sanskrit word chakra (hard “ch”) translates roughly to energy “vortex” or “wheel” in English. Sanskrit words are onomatopoetic, meant to sound like the objects they describe. Chakra is a good example of this linguistic quality, the hard “ch” meant to set the energy wheels spinning.
In yogic tradition, chakras refer to energy centers in the subtle body. Distinct from your physical body, your subtle body is a less tangible but still major part of you: it relates to the energy you give off when you enter a room or the way that people feel in your presence. There are many chakras, or energy centers, throughout your whole body, but I mostly teach about the seven major chakras stacked along your spinal column.
A straight line of energy called the sushumna runs up and down the place where your spine would be in the map of your subtle body. Around it snakes two spiraling lines of energy, ida and pingala. Ida represents your cool, dark, earthy, rooted energy while pingala represents a more energetic, bright, warm, solar energy. Every time the ida, pingala, and sushumna intersect, a chakra occurs, often at locations corresponding to major nerve plexuses in the physical body. This happens seven times, first at your tailbone, last just over the crown of your head, and five more times in between.
The lower energy centers relate to our more basic, internal, personal needs, while the higher ones have more to do with what we give out in the world. The ultimate goal of balancing the energy in each chakra is to allow energy to flow freely through the linear pathways of the ida, pingala, and sushumna. When energy flows through you freely, you experience yourself as a higher, transcendental being. You recognize yourself as a part of the world that you live in, the world as it exists in other dimensions of time and space, and even the world outside of these earthly constraints. You are conscious of your infinite, divine nature and able to see even the smallest of your actions as having a lasting effect on the world. This empowers you to act from a space of kindness and radiate empathy and love. Of course none of us are like this all of the time, and that’s why we come to class: to practice these ideas, meditate on them, and if we’re lucky, experience a shooting-star, bright flash of a moment of total consciousness and oneness with our surroundings. A mindfulness practice can help you experience these rare moments of clarity with more frequency if you approach your practice with discipline and an open mind and heart.
What are you smoking?
Valid question, but, seriously, nothing. At least not since college. As I often say to my students after the introductory blurb you just read, which I give some speaking version of at the top of every chakra flow class I teach, “If you’re suspicious of me right now, think of all of this more abstractly, each chakra a metaphor for an area of your life.”
Suspicious? Enthralled? Whatever it is, cool. Stay tuned for some more installments of this series. Next up, we’ll talk shop about the root chakra, muladhara, in gruesome detail.
*Graphic by Strange Fortune Design Company