Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of your inner self!
I've been updating and revamping the Tree of India Chakra Collection, and decided it was time to take you on a deeper dive into what the chakras actually are, and how we can combine this knowledge with our use of essential oils to create a more harmonious life. Let's dig in!
We know from their writings that ancient Indians saw the universe as the body of God; a physical manifestation of the Divine. To fully know the Divine, a seeker would go on a pilgrimage to explore all aspects of the world, hoping to gain a better understanding of it—and therefore a better understanding of God.
Alternatively, one could make this journey internally by exploring every aspect of the self, since every individual is said to be a microcosm of the universe. This inner exploration took place through the practices of meditation, visualization, and other practices that eventually evolved into what we now call yoga.
Analogous to medical science discovering the physiological functions of the physical body, the ancient yogis discovered the chakras. Just as modern science gives importance to the sense organs and their functions, likewise, the science of yoga gives importance to prana (life force energy) and its various functions within the chakras.
As prana travels through the subtle body in channels called nadis, there are vortices where many nadis converge and energy may accumulate or become “knotted.” At these vortices, lie the chakras, literally translated as “wheels.” Sometimes the chakras are also referred to as granthis, or "knots."
The earliest mention of chakras as energy centers in the subtle body are found in two 8th Century Buddhist Tantric texts which identify them with four geographical sites (pithas) aligned along the spinal column. This tradition is repeated in numerous sources including those of the Natha Siddhas, whose 12th Century founder Gorakshanath identified the same set of pithas within the yogic body. The practices of the Nathas evolved over time into modern Hatha Yoga.
There are many models depicting varying numbers of chakras. Just as there are many schools of yoga today, so it has been since the early times. Different teachers and traditions outlined varying numbers of chakras, but always included the original four.
The most widely accepted model in use today describes 7 chakras. An important note about chakras is that they are not actual physical structures. They are felt and experienced in particular regions of the body. However, there is a circular spreading out from the center point of each chakra such that it occupies the region around the center point. Each chakra corresponds to specific nerve bundles and internal organs as well as particular psychological and emotional aspects of our being. I have summarized these associations for each chakra below.
Muladhara (Root Chakra)
· Located at the lower end of spinal cord near the anus
· Relates to the excretory functions of modern physiology
· Relates to the basic fear of being attacked or injured. Conversely, it is also relates to attacking, being aggressive and searching out prey.
· An open and healthy root chakra gives one the quality of stability as they have conquered the tendency of seeing the world in black and white terms.
Svadhisthana (Sacral Chakra)
· Located behind the pubic bone, within the pelvic bowl
· Relates to the reproductive functions of modern physiology
· Relates to sexual impulses and lustful feelings, with an emphasis on sensory pleasure. On a gross biological level, it is responsible for procreativity.
· An open and healthy sacral chakra brings an appreciation of the meaning of both maleness and femaleness on a deeper level.
Manipura (Solar Plexus Chakra)
· Located at the navel
· Relates to the digestive functions of modern physiology
· Relates to the concept of personal power, and the qualities of being dynamic and assertive.
· Successful integration at this level gives one the quality of being forceful, dynamic, and cooperative without being cruelly aggressive or weakly passive.
Anahata (Heart Chakra)
· Located in beneath the breast bone
· Relates to the breathing mechanism of modern physiology
· Represents the center of integration for the polarities of matter and spirit.
· Integration at the heart chakra gives one the ability to be sensitive and to have compassion and selfless love.
Visuddha (Throat Chakra)
· Located at the throat
· Relates to the breathing and feeding functions of modern physiology
· Relates to our communication, self-expression and creativity.
· Successful integration at this level gives one the ability to speak well, listen to others, to be creative and to recreate oneself.
Ajna (Third Eye Chakra)
· Located at the mid-point between the eyebrows
· Relates to the cognitive functions of modern physiology
· Consciousness that is centered at this chakra involves introspection or the ability to see within.
· “Opening the third eye” means bringing together openness and intuition with judgement and discrimination, thereby separating out misperception from the pure experience.
Sahasrara (Crown Chakra)
· Located above the top of the head.
· Relates to the function of knowing or innate wisdom
· Our innate nature is Divine and as we develop greater awareness of this, our prana is increasingly drawn upwards towards unity with our Origin. Though this experience lies beyond the realm of mental functioning, it offers a vantage point from which the mind can be most clearly appreciated.
· At the level of this chakra, all the distinctions of ordinary consciousness break down. Awareness is expanded beyond the point that can be explained in verbal terms.
The chakras exist in subtle form in everyone, although they are not obvious to everyone! Awareness of the chakras comes with the knowledge (through textual study) and experience (through the practices) of yoga.
To get a true idea of how the chakras function, we must also look at the five vital airs or Vayus. The Vayus animate the elements and give the lower chakras their individual characteristics. I have summarized each of the vital airs and how they affect an individual from an energetic perspective below.
The Vayus (Vital Airs)
· Resides in the chest/lungs (rides on the breath)
· Gives the heart chakra its characteristics
· Regulates the air element in the body
· Operates the breathing mechanism
· Responsible for the absorption of life force on inhalation
· Upon death of the individual: air leaves the body, breath stops, movement ceases.
· Resides in the region of the genitals, anus, and lower extremities
· Gives the root and sacral chakras their characteristics
· Operates the excretory and reproductive systems
· Regulates the amount of earth element in the body (urination, defecation, menstruation, ejaculation)
· Responsible for evacuation of waste at the cellular level on exhalation
· Upon death of the individual, all elements leave the body and return to their source.
· Resides in the navel
· Gives the solar plexus chakra its characteristics
· Operates the digestive system
· Relates to the fire element
· Responsible for digestion and metabolism
· Upon death of the individual, the internal fire goes out, and the body becomes cold.
· Resides in the throat
· Gives the throat chakra its characteristics
· Assists the digestive system by attending to the work of swallowing
· Relates to the space element
· Draws energy upward to be used for speech and communication
· Upon death of the individual, the person ceases to communicate.
· Pervades the whole body, but is centered in the svadhisthana chakra
· Operates the system of blood circulation
· Relates to the water element which circulates the nutrients of earth through the body
· Upon death of the individual, the body dries up, and water and earth elements separate in the process of decomposition.
Now that we have an understanding of the systems, elements and energies at play, let’s return to the topic of the chakras and how we can work with them!
One function of the yogic path is to purify and energize the nadis so that the vayus can flow freely. When the energy is stagnant or stuck in one of these energy centers, we experience illness and suffering in the body and the mind.
Imagine a river blocked by a beaver's dam. Now imagine a storm that causes the water level in the river to rise and flow swiftly and powerfully. That increased flow has the potential to wash away the blockage. Such is the flow of prana during focused and intense yoga practice.
We could also say that chakras are like hard drives in a computer. Each hard drive has many files. At least one of the files is always open in each of the chakras, no matter how "closed" that particular chakra may be. What is displayed by the file shapes the experience of the individual.
Some practices that work to open the chakras evoke positive qualities associated with a particular chakra. In the computer analogy above, the screen is cleared and a file is called up that contains positive, supportive qualities. This is the case with inhalation of specific essential oils which bring forth the desired characteristics of each chakra.
It is said that “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Many practitioners use the chakras as focal points for meditation. Meditation directs the prana to that particular energy center.
Combining aromatherapy with meditation and yoga practices for opening the chakras can be a powerful, life-enhancing practice.
But what causes the “blockage” of energy flow in the first place??
Any time a pattern of thought, emotion, or action is repeated without our having made a conscious choice to repeat it, we have a granthi (knot, chakra.)
Likewise, any time we cling to a certain configuration of the elements or a certain flow of energy OR anytime we push away a particular configuration, we have a granthi.
Basically, when we need things to be a certain way in order to be happy or satisfied, we have a “blockage” or binding of prana. Bound prana causes suffering.
In creating the Chakra Blends for Tree of India, I worked with the aspects of each chakra that are generally thought of as “positive” attributes and paired them up with essential oils that have historical significance and anecdotal evidence to support the manifestation of those attributes.
You will find LOADS MORE INFO on the pages for each chakra, including symptoms of over-developed, under-developed and healthy chakras. Just click the links below to visit and learn!
I hope you have a better understanding of the Chakra System, and that your practices and meditations bring you increased aliveness, a peaceful mind, and physical vitality!
If you would like to learn more about working with the chakras in your yoga and meditation practice, check out our upcoming workshop: Energy Flow & the Chakras: Add a New Dimension to Your Practice. This is an all-levels class.
Samya Baghel and Madhurima Pradhan. (2015) Psychological Significance of the Chakras. Department of Psychology, Lucknow University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Misra, G. & Mohanty, A.K. (Eds.) (2002). Perspectives on Indigenous Psychology. Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi.
Swami Kripalvanada. The Science of Meditation. Reprint 2018.
David Gordon White, Kiss of the Yogini. First published 2003.