Chakras | A Complete Guide to the 7 Chakras and their Meanings
If you’ve ever attended a yoga or meditation class, you’re likely to have heard of the concept of the seven chakras. You might be advised to cleanse or heal certain chakras, or be taught chants or breathing techniques to balance or unblock specific energy centers.
However, despite their inclusion in a number of Western activities, the chakras are far from a modern trend. Their origin stretches back thousands of years to ancient scriptures describing the make-up of the human body and spirit. Like all metaphysical practices, scientific attempts to “prove” the existence of the chakras has been difficult, especially as research is in its early stages.
There is however growing evidence from the research of meditation that indicates that the Central Nervous System (CNS) maps directly over the chakra system, and that there exists some link to mind-body integration. More recently, scientists have discovered the significance of the vagus nerve on wellbeing. This nerve, known as “The Wanderer,” connects brain and body. And, guess what? It is stimulated by deep breathing, which then calms down the body’s CNS.
For the purpose of growth, the seven main chakras can be used as a tool and a roadmap, helping millions of people across thousands of years in their quest for self-development. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the 7 key chakras, their meaning, and some basic exercises to begin consciously working with them.
The origin of the chakras and subtle body
The word chakra comes from the Sanskrit C̣akra, meaning “wheel” or “disc,” and the early concept of the chakras originates from Indian philosophy. They’re said to be spinning discs of psychic energy belonging to the “subtle body” (sukshma sarira).
This is distinct from the physical body (sthula sarira) and consists of non-material elements, such as mind, emotions, and spirit.
The Three Bodies
The subtle body is described in the Vedas, which are ancient Indian scriptures written over 5,000 years ago. It’s connected to Taoist, Yogic, Tantric, Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In Hindu philosophy, an individual consists of three bodies:
Causal body (karana sharira):
This is the most subtle form of the body, said to transfer the essence of a person’s spirit from one life to another. The causal body is the karmic template that records memory imprints (samskaras) and the closest spiritual connection to the true Self.
Subtle body (sukshma sharira):
In Vedic texts, the mind, ego, and intellect are part of the subtle body, which we experience subjectively as thoughts, feelings, or emotions. The subtle body is said to emanate from the causal body and is responsible for the functioning of the physical body.
The gross physical body (karya sharira):
This is the body we’re all used to; it’s the body you can see and touch. Within this three-body doctrine, the gross body is the vehicle of consciousness and the causal and subtle body. It consists of the five elements: Ether, Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.
Everything is energy
It’s worth considering that we mere mortals are part of the universe, and not separate from it. Astrophysicists believe that all the matter in the universe was created at the moment of the Big Bang, a brief 13 billion years ago. That includes our bodies and all of the material world around us. In addition, discoveries of quantum physics have displayed that, at a fundamental level, everything is energy.
From this perspective, the concept of a subtle body makes a lot of sense when compared to the direction science is moving towards about the overall nature of reality. When you consider the fact that the Vedas were a source of inspiration for the discovery of quantum physics, some are hopeful that science will eventually arrive at a more complete understanding of the nature of what makes us human.
Understanding the chakras through the hierarchy of needs
If I’ve lost you with talk of quantum physics, energy, and the Big Bang, another lens to understand the chakras is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Psychologist and expert on the chakra system Anodea Judith compares the chakra system to Maslow’s pyramid in her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self:
- The root chakra links to physiological needs
- The sacral chakra links to safety needs
- The solar plexus chakra links to belonging needs
- The heart chakra links to self-esteem
- The throat chakra links to self-actualization
- The third eye chakra and crown chakra link to self-transcendence
One way of looking at the chakra system is a point of reference to understand what area of life needs to be explored. There are said to be associated physical or emotional symptoms when specific chakras aren’t in harmony, which gives insight into what the unconscious is attempting to teach.
Chakras as energetic markers
Personally, I see the chakras as energetic “markers” that link to different themes in my life. These themes are essential practices that surface in a multitude of ways. For example, a blockage of the throat chakra might mean not expressing your needs or speaking up for what you feel is right. That blockage, more than anything, can act as a symbol of an area that needs to be addressed.
You can see how this relates to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Without expressing needs or finding your voice, is it possible to self-actualize, and live the life you want?
If you have a blocked heart chakra, and you’re unable to receive love from others or feel valued or “seen,” will you have the self-esteem to nourish a sense of belonging? And can you experience genuine transcendence without a deep spiritual connection through the third eye and crown chakra?
What are the 7 chakras?
Most chakra systems are refined to a series of key chakras that run from the base of the spine to the top of the head and the upper chakras, with each chakra having its own meaning.
Below are the key 7 chakras, from top to bottom:
1. Crown chakra (Sahasrara chakra)
Location in the body: top of the head
Colour: white or violet
Meaning: awareness and intelligence
This chakra at the crown of the head has the strongest spiritual connection, linked to life’s purpose and self-realization. Not only is it linked with the brain and the nervous system, but it’s also associated with the pituitary gland. As this is the seat of the true Self (or Higher Self or Atman), activation of the crown chakra transcends ego and previous limiting beliefs.
2. Third eye chakra (Ajna chakra)
Location in the body: between the eyebrows
Meaning: imagination, intuition, visualization
The third eye chakra is responsible for connecting to intelligences other than the intellect, hence its association with the imagination and intuition. It’s also the point of perception and consciousness (many meditation techniques focus attention on the spot between the eyebrows) and connects to cosmic intelligence.
3. Throat chakra (Vishuddha chakra)
Location in the body: the throat
The third chakra on the list, the throat chakra, is all about communication.
It’s the link between mind, body, emotions, and speech. How well are you able to express your needs or speak your truth? It also acts as a gateway between the human and the divine, located between the ethereal higher chakras, and the grounded, earthly chakras below. Because it has a role to play in expression, the throat chakra is also vital for creativity.
4. Heart chakra (Anahata chakra)
Location in the body: center of the chest, slightly above the heart
Meaning: love, compassion
As touched upon earlier, the fourth chakra in our list plays a crucial role in relationships and belonging. It’s the center of forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love, as well as a seat of wisdom for spiritual truths beyond the mind’s comprehension. When the chakra is open, it’s easier to feel connected to the world and those around you.
5. Solar plexus chakra (Manipura chakra)
Location in the body: upper abdomen
Meaning: self-esteem, confidence
Linked to the element of fire, the fifth chakra on the list, the solar plexus chakra, is the body’s energy generator. Because it’s linked to confidence, this chakra relates to purpose and personal identity, along with regulating digestion and metabolism. Issues with this chakra lead to a sense of powerlessness or stagnation, while activation leads to empowerment and autonomy.
6. Sacral chakra (Svadhishthana chakra)
Location in the body: below the belly button and above the pubic bone
Meaning: pleasure, sexuality, creativity
When the sacral chakra, the sixth chakra in our list, is in alignment, life flows, and harmony is experienced. This chakra is linked to sensuality, sexuality, and creativity. It is said that this chakra is blocked by guilt and fear, especially the fear of death. This chakra is linked to unconscious emotions (particularly self-worth) and desires (particularly sexual desires).
7. Root chakra (Muladhara chakra)
Location in the body: base of the spine/tailbone.
Meaning: grounding, stability
This chakra is most responsible for a feeling of groundedness and security. Muladhara translates directly to root, which nicely symbolizes the power of this chakra to root us into the Earth. It offers a counterbalance to the transcendent, higher chakras, and creates a strong sense of security and physical well being within the body.
Higher chakras and lower chakras
The 7 chakras are typically divided into higher and lower chakras. This isn’t a hierarchy, but a metaphor, placing the earthly as “lower” and divine as “higher.”
The higher chakras are linked to the transcendent and spiritual — they include the crown chakra and the third eye chakra. The lower chakras are the root chakra, sacral chakra, and solar plexus chakra. They relate to personal identity and your relationship to the physical world.
The heart chakra acts as a bridge between the earthly and the divine, whilst the throat chakra allows us to express the heart’s desire.
The most important of the major chakras are said to be the root chakra (Muladhara) and the crown chakra (Sahasrara). Kundalini is the term given to potent cosmic energy, which is symbolized by a coiled serpent sitting at the base of the spine.
In Yogic teachings, self-realization and self-illumination occurs when the kundalini energy moves from the root chakra and raises all the way through the spine, into the crown chakra.
The importance of the chakras
Aside from a map of psychic energy centers, what purpose do the chakras serve? The beauty of the chakra system is that it points to fundamental issues that arise when specific chakras are blocked or out of alignment. It’s believed that, for the energy body to operate at its optimum level, the system has to be open and fully functioning for energy to flow easily.
The opposite is true, too. When chakras are blocked, they can lead to anything from a physical issue to an emotional imbalance. Harmony of the chakras doesn’t only lead to better health and happiness — it’s responsible for self-realization, and the fulfillment of your full spiritual potential (an outlook that shares similar traits to self-actualization).
As Anodea Judith writes:
“All life is rhythmic. From the rise and fall of the sun to the rise and fall of our breath, from the beating of our heart to the infinite vibrations of atomic particles within our cells, we are a mass of vibrations that miraculously resonate together as a single system. In fact, our ability to function as a unified whole depends upon the coherent resonance of the many subtle vibrations within us.”
Creating harmony with the chakras is another way of describing wholeness, or what Joseph Campbell would say: “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” Returning briefly to the nature of reality, could it be that when harmony is found within, we harmonize with the universe itself?
Perhaps the chakra system is an ancient way of intuitively understanding the need to balance your energy center, and to beat in tune with Nature.
Exercises to open the 7 chakras
The practices of yoga and meditation are, when applied correctly, designed to work with the system of chakras. However, there are many exercises that allow you to open the specific chakras that you might be having trouble with. Because each has its own purpose and meaning, as described above, the exercises differ.
Below are sample exercises for each of the 7 chakras (or chakracises, as some people call them) to give you a flavor of what types of exercises to explore:
Opening the Crown Chakra
Because of its nature as the most spiritually connected chakra, meditation is one of the most powerful ways to open this primary chakra. By closing the eyes and tuning into the inner-self, this chakra can open naturally. However, you can also try visualizing a spinning violet vortex above the head, and imagine it expanding in size.
Opening the Third Eye Chakra
Again, meditation is a great practice to open the third eye chakra, particularly visualization due to its link to the imagination. When in meditation, move your eyes to focus on the spot between the eyebrows (you can also tap this area to bring attention to it), and imagine a purple light “charging” your pineal gland.
Opening the Throat Chakra
Because this chakra is linked to communication, the best exercises to open the throat chakra include using the voice. This can be a combination of chanting, singing, or even screaming (maybe find a secluded spot for this to avoid funny looks from passers-by).
Opening the Heart Chakra
The most powerful exercises for the heart chakra tap into compassion and the energy flows of unconditional love. Look no further than the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness (metta Bhavana) which includes both affirmations towards the self and others (may you be happy, may you be well, may you be at peace) and visualizations of a bright light spreading from the heart, out into the cosmos.
Opening the Solar Plexus Chakra
Due to its link to energy and fire, exercise is a great way of opening the solar plexus chakra. Get the body moving in a way that feels good for you — from yoga poses to cardio to weight training.
Opening the Sacral Chakra
The flowing energy of this chakra makes it primed to be activated by being around water, whether it’s going for a swim or taking a luxurious hot bath. Because of its link with pleasure, honoring the sacral chakra can involve eating luxurious food, massage, or enjoying physical intimacy with a partner.
Opening the Root Chakra
By far the best exercise for the root chakra is to connect directly and intimately with the earth. Walk in nature barefoot. Hug a tree (for real — try it).
Go into nature and breathe deeply to experience true personal power and connection with the universe around you.
Remember, the chakras are all about balance. Although I don’t overly focus on targeting the chakras directly, I do find that when I’m the most aligned and balanced, it’s because I’m integrating the higher transcendent chakras with grounding and integration. I’m naturally a “head in the clouds” person; I love meditation and floating into the transcendent. But, that means I have to make sure I focus on grounding and stability, along with feeling secure in my physical body.
I recommend you allow for the information in this guide to sink in. You may find that certain aspects feel intuitively true or right for you. Consider your overall balance. Anyone can experience open or closed energy centers, but you might have a tendency to close your heart more frequently or be disconnected from the spiritual aspects of life.
However you delve into this ancient knowledge and spiritual energy, know that it’s just a map that can highlight certain truths about the nature of the self. My hope is, in having read this guide, you will have gained a greater understanding of the qualities of the subjective experience that are overlooked in the conventional Western view.
At the very least, the next time you hear someone mention the chakras, you’ll be able to smile and nod along with what they’re saying.