Introducing . . . (drum roll)….THE CHAKRAS
First off, let’s get the pronunciation right. The word is CHakra – that is, a strong CH sound as in ‘child’ and ‘chart’. The first ‘a’ is long, like ‘ar’, so the word sounds like CHARKRA, with the emphasis on the CHAR. The word is sometimes written in English as CAKRA because of the lettering in the original Sanskrit.
In Sanskrit, the word “chakra” means “wheel”; the chakras are energy that are seen clairvoyantly as whirling around in a circular motion – hence the name ‘chakra’. It’s important to realize that the chakras are IN the body but not OF the body. That is, they are not physical, visible, touchable entities.
Chakras are ENERGY CENTRES.
Everything in the universe is made up of energy – including us. We have thousands of energy channels in our bodies, distributing energy to every part of us. Wherever energy channels intersect, there is a chakra, so of course there are hundred or thousands of them throughout our bodies.
Each of us has three major energy channels that run up the spine.
One of them goes straight up. The other two criss-cross their way up the spine. Where these two cross over, there is a chakra – a swirling vortex, or whirlpool, of energy. These are the chakras that are mostly referred to. Depending on how they’re counted, there are four, five, seven or eight of these major chakras in the spine. Because these chakras are energy – which is not generally visible – there is some disagreement about the exact position of some of them, and the top two (or three) are actually in the head, not in the spine. For simplicity, I will assume there are seven chakras, five of which are located in the spine.
If we can’t see or touch them, how do we know these chakras actually exist?
Many people over the millennia have “seen” these chakras while in deep meditation, which explains why there is disagreement as to their exact locations and why their purported colours differ slightly from one tradition to another.
These differences, however, do not diminish the significance of the chakras themselves. The chakras are related in the physical body to the nervous and endocrine systems and to the muscles surrounding each of the chakras, so they influence our physical well-being. They also affect us in more subtle ways: they influence our physical and mental vitality, the way we perceive ourselves, each other and the world; they influence our emotions and memories, our instincts and our intellect.
The chakras are also an important link in the formation of psychosomatic illness.
The chakras are so important to the physical and mental body that yogis over the ages have devised symbols for each of the main chakras. Each symbol has a particular number of lotus petals (see here about the importance of the lotus); within each symbol there is a Sanskrit letter or word giving the sound of that particular chakra. Of course, the chakra itself does not make a sound, but as it is a spinning wheel of energy it has a vibration: the sound represented within the symbol vibrates at the same rate as the chakra. [An early blog of mine was about the vibration of the word and symbol AUM (or OM).] Each chakra’s symbol is the colour that has the same vibrational frequency as the chakra itself. Within each chakra symbol is also an animal, which represent the qualities of that particular chakra.
When speaking or writing of the chakras as a set, it is customary to start with the chakra that is lowest in the body – MOOLADHARA.
Mooladhara is often called the ‘base chakra or the root chakra, and is located at the base of the body. Some have “seen” it at the very lowest tip of the tailbone, the coccyx, while others “see” it in the perineum. The distance between those two points in the body is minimal; the important thing to remember is that this first chakra is situated way down in the trunk of the body. It is said to be red – though what shade of red, I believe, changes for each person.
The sound that relates to Mooladhara is LĀM (pronounced LAR-m).
Personally, I don’t feel that the chakras are related to the C Major scale (that’s a whole other Western versus Indian musicology discussion for another day), but I do believe that if you chant/sing this sound in your lowest voice, you will begin to interact with, and thus activate, Mooladhara.
The animal connected to Mooladhara is an elephant.
Many artworks showing the different correspondences of Mooladhara often show the seven-trunked elephant in the imagery. In classical yoga, the elephant is said to represent wisdom. For me, I feel that strength is also a quality that both the elephant and the base chakra share. For when Mooladhara is strong, the entire chakra structure enjoys better health.
In the physical body, Mooladhara relates to the coccygeal plexus of nerves, the adrenal glands (involved in the “flight or fight” response) and the gonads (the reproductive aspect). It influences the feet, legs, hips, the lower intestine (the waste removal system) and the reproductive organs.
The basic qualities of Mooladhara relate to survival, security and safety of the physical body.
So there is a concern with basic needs: food, shelter, health. To people strongly influenced by this base chakra, there is likely to be a strong emphasis on material possessions and the accumulation of wealth (expressions of security). This, then, often leads to a great concern about the person’s position in society (also as an expression of security). Mooladhara is also concerned with the preservation of the species, so it relates to the reproductive role of sexuality and a concern with one’s own family.
Mooladhara is often portrayed in ‘negative’ terms, but it is good to remember that most of the chakras have positive qualities too, and that people manifest these qualities differently, because no two people are the same. Mooladhara does indeed have negative qualities, such as laziness, inertia, self-centredness and being dominated by physical desires (eating, sleeping, sex).
The good qualities related to Mooladhara: vitality, vigour, growth.
As Mooladhara becomes activated it leads to generosity and a concern for total security for all. The most important thing to remember about Mooladhara is that it relates to security and the “fight or flight” response. Most people have at least heard the expression that someone was so scared that he soiled himself. That’s Mooladhara working.
Your chakras can be stimulated by your mind (when you focus on that particular chakra), by chanting, and also by physical activity, like yogic asanas (poses). Some asanas that interact with the Mooladhara chakra are:
- Cat pose (marjariasana)
- Cobra pose (bhujangasana)
- One legged prayer pose (eka pada pranamasana)
- Palm tree (tadasana)
- Swaying palm tree (tiryaka tadasana)
As you go about your life this week, I invite you to explore Mooladhara: try out those poses I’ve mentioned above; sit quietly and meditate on the base chakra; or even chant LĀM as part of your daily practice for this week.
By doing even these small things, you may begin to feel Mooladhara more strongly, and give your physical and energetic body a stronger foundation.
I would like to acknowledge the writings of Dr Rishi Vivekananda, who deeply inspired my own learning for this blog – Practical Yoga Psychology (2005) Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India.