We can all say that we are reasonably aware of our physical bodies and what they can do but very rarely do we pay attention to the elements of the subtle body. Do we even know what that is?
A complex system I will attempt to simplify, the subtle body, also referred to as the Subtle Energy System depicts the different layers of vibrating energy within and around the human body.
These energetic layers plug into the physical body through different energy points also known as chakras which then channel the energy through the physical body through the meridian system.
The word Chakra is a Sanskrit word that, when translated, means ‘wheel’ or ‘disk’ and in yogic terms refers to wheels of energy or vortexes throughout the body. There are many chakra points through the body however, there are seven main chakras located in and around the spinal column from the base of the spine towards the crown of the head.
Try to imagine each chakra as a spinning wheel of energy where the physical body and consciousness meet. In yoga, we call this energy ‘Prana’ or ‘vital life force’. These spinning wheels operate around our major organs and nerves as well as our emotions, psychological and spiritual circumstances. When all chakras are operating healthily, energy flows through each point easily.
When energy becomes blocked within a chakra, it can activate an imbalance either physically, mentally or emotionally which will reveal itself in a symptom for example, fatigue, anxiety, butterflies in your tummy, and so on. A chakra can be blocked through negative thought patterns or emotions among others. So, how do we keep our chakras free, spinning and balanced? Awareness is the key.
Being aware of where you are sensing the imbalance within, understanding the chakra it may be connected to and the nature of that chakra. Beginning at the base of the spine, the first three chakras are more related to physical matter. The fourth chakra, located at the heart serves as a bridge between the first three physically related chakras and the last three spiritually related chakras.
The Seven Main Chakras
Root Chakra (Muladhara Chakra)
Representing our basic survival needs such as health, food, family, security, money and moving forward in life, the root chakra is located at the base of the spine and when this chakra is not in balance, we feel a little ‘lost’ and ‘stuck in a rut’.
This can often happen following a major life event and can result in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and more. This can manifest in hip and lower back pain, pain in the lower limbs and issues in the lower part of the body. When in balance we feel safe, strong and confident. Releasing negative emotions and freeing us up to move forward in life. It is symbolised by the colour red.
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana Chakra)
Located in the lower abdomen, below the navel, this chakra relates to our sense of creativity and connection to other people. An imbalance in this chakra can result in emotional instability, lack of energy and motivation, low self-esteem and dependency on others.
This can physically manifest in urinary infections, lower back pain, and irregular menstrual cycles among others. A balanced sacral chakra will have you feeling full of energy, confident and inspired to enjoy each new experience life brings. The sacral chakra is represented by the colour orange.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura Chakra)
The solar plexus chakra sits near the diaphragm between the navel and the breastbone and is associated with our feelings of personal power such as inner strength and instincts.
An imbalance can cause a feeling of ‘a loss of control’ resulting in psychological symptoms such as stress, insomnia, low self-esteem, fear, poor concentration and physical symptoms such as digestive issues, allergies, and stress-related skin conditions.
Balanced, this chakra can have us feeling centered, alive, confident, productive, ‘comfortable in your skin’ where you basically are secure enough to ‘trust your gut’. Yellow is the colour associated with manipura chakra.
Heart Chakra (Anahata Chakra)
The heart chakra is the centre of the physical, mental and spiritual health. It is situated in the centre of the chest, near the physical heart and relates to emotional issues such as love, empathy, joy, inner peace and relationships.
An imbalance can cause the formation of dysfunctional relationships through possessiveness and co-dependency or, the complete opposite with isolation offering protection from possible rejection and manifesting in loss of trust, upper back pain, respiratory problems, and breast issues.
Approaching everything with a sense of love, forgiveness, and compassion can help to mend a poor performing heart chakra represented by the colour green.
As previously mentioned, the heart chakra unifies the three lower, more physical chakras to the upper, more spiritual chakras. When the first three chakras are operating fully, we can move towards focussing on the more spiritual chakras.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha Chakra)
Situated at the base of the throat, this chakra operates through verbal communication and our ability to speak our truth. If blocked, it can be difficult to communicate and express true feelings and emotions in any way.
Feelings of anxiety, isolation, and fear can surface along with sinus, dental, thyroid issues and sore throats. Balancing the throat chakra helps with open and free communication without fear of criticism or judgement by others. Represented by the colour blue, balance in this chakra can also help to become better at listening to others and accepting their views without judgement.
Third Eye Chakra (Ajna Chakra)
Resting between the eyebrows, this chakra represents the mind. Corresponding to our ideas, thoughts and dreams it is centre of our intuition and our ability to see the bigger picture. When not in balance, it becomes difficult to process our thoughts, our judgement becomes clouded and we are unable to connect with and trust our inner wisdom as we refuse to accept new ideas and stray off the path of our own true destiny.
This can help to exhibit neurological issues, headaches, migraines and the like along with eye and ear problems and hair issues. Focusing on the third eye chakra can bring about a greater sense of clarity and a stronger connection to our psychic abilities, opening our minds to different perspectives. The colour indigo represents the third eye chakra.
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)
The last of the seven main chakras, the chakra of enlightenment is located at the crown of the head and is connected to spirituality, wisdom, imagination and awareness. Lack of balance in this chakra can lead to lack of direction or sense of purpose.
When this chakra is not functioning at its highest level, the consequences are depression, a feeling of being incomplete, headaches and more serious neurological issues. Connecting to this chakra can bring about the realisation that happiness comes from within so that we feel content in any situation. It is characterised by the colour violet or white.
Soooo… what does the chakras have to do with yoga?
If this all seems a little ‘out there’, think about it in terms of the fact that we depend on the flow of energy to promote a sense of wellbeing in us. This energy needs to flow freely and equally just like the blood in our veins so as we can continue to operate on an even keel.
Though extremely important for protecting the muscular-skeletal system i.e. the physical body, correct alignment in yoga poses also plays a part in channelling energy throughout. A finely tuned yoga sequence can help to release any blocked or stagnant energy and help to bring balance to a chakra.
Not only that, but the breath work practiced in a yoga class also helps to shift blocked energy. That wonderful feeling you begin to experience after a yoga class and that sense of wellbeing from practicing yoga regularly isn’t solely connected to the feel good hormones released in exercise.
Our bodies and chakras are dynamic and changing and transition from balance to imbalance regularly. Unless an obvious symptom presents itself, it is difficult to know what’s going on in there. A good start is to keep a journal and look at key words or feelings that begin to come up regularly.
Keep an eye out for more articles as I begin to delve a little deeper into each chakra and corresponding yoga poses and sequences to help keep the chakras in balance.