A Chakra is the Indian Sanskrit name for wheel, circle or cycle, and is thought to be a location in the subtle or Pranic body, a “distribution center” of Prana (vital life energy), which, depending on the type of Chakra, has certain qualities, functions or properties, being able to transform and dispense Pranic energy. It’s generally thought that the concept of Chakras is of Indian Tantric origin.
Note that their various — seemingly endless — functions and properties, have, depending on the specific Indian spiritual tradition, lineage and context, a vast variety of characteristics. Actually, it would be impossible in the line of this article to embark on such a topic, which would easily need a complete booklet to expound.
Chakras are also thought to connect the Pranic energy channels in the body, the so-called Nadis, the latter amounting to 108, 72000, 350000, or more channels, depending again on the spiritual lineage or tradition.
The number of primary or main Chakras (there are also smaller or minor Chakras, on which we’ll talk later in this article) — and sorry to again needing to say this — the number varies depending on the spiritual tradition, and the goal and context of teachings. In any case, there can be five, six or seven Chakras, most commonly though it’s said there are seven, and we’ll name them in a down-to-up order (from the base of the spine to the top of the head, running along the spinal column):
- Muladhara Chakra,
- Svadhishthana Chakra,
- Manipura Chakra,
- Anahata Chakra,
- Vishuddha Chakra,
- Ajna Chakra,
- Sahasrara Chakra.
As said, there are also a number of “minor” Chakras, let’s say, smaller energy distribution centers (“affiliates” of the main Chakras), which are located throughout the body. In fact, some important acupressure points or Marma points, as they are called in Ayurveda Medicine and Yoga, are associated with these minor Chakras.
The seven main Chakras are thought to be located along the Sushumna Nadi, which is one of the three principal energy channels in Ayurvedic and Yogic theory. The Sushumna Nadi energy channel runs along the spinal cord through the seven principal Chakras. It’s considered the central, primordial channel for the flow of Prana Life Energy in the body.
In Indian Yogic philosophy it’s said that by opening (or unblocking) Sushumna Nadi one gives Kundalini Energy the chance to ascent from the perineum (from out the lowest located Chakra called Muladhara) to the top of the head (to the highest located Chakra named Sahasrara ) traveling through the various Chakras and activating their proper functioning. It’s furthermore thought that rising Kundalini Energy leads to spiritual growth and finally to spiritual liberation, Moksha or Enlightenment, and Bliss.
Chakra manipulation and Chakra opening plays an important role in many Indian Ayurvedic, Tantric and Yogic practices, such as in various types of Yoga, and very particular in Kundalini Yoga, in Tantra Yoga, Marma Point Therapy, and in a range of other Ayurvedic massages and treatments, including modern Tantra Massage, to name a few examples. A variety of tools is used, like massage, acupressure, breath exercises, visualizations, Mudras, Yantras, Bandhas, Kriyas, and Mantras, and such, to manipulate the flow of subtle Pranic energy through the Chakras and the Nadis.
The idea of Chakras extends also to other traditional medicine and healing systems in Asia, notably to Buddhist oriented bodywork all over Asia, like in Tibet, Japan, China, and Thailand, with Thai Traditional Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine as notable examples.
For instance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), specifically in Qigong, Tai Chi and in the Chinese Martial Arts, there’s the concept of the Microcosmic Orbit (the principle circuit of Qi), where energy rises up a main meridian along the spine, and comes back down the front of the body. While circulating, Qi enters various Dantian (elixir fields), which act as “burners,” where the types of energy in the body are refined. These Dantian can be very much compared with the idea and role of the Chakras.