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Chakras … There is something mysterious and captivating in them … That’s why the interest in this topic has been growing recently. When we study the information from different sources, we can come to the conclusion that chakras are some kind of “a magic pill” that can change life for the better in an instant. However, the information is often contradictory about using this “pill”. Distortions arise in interpretations, which later turn into myths. In this article we will cover the following questions: What are the keys to understanding chakras, provided by yoga and where should we start getting to know chakras.
The word “chakra” is translated from Sanskrit as “a circle”, “a wheel” or “a disk”. The word “vortex” is used by the context of yogic practices, it’s reflecting the vortices of vital energy — prana. The word “padma” (lotus) can also be used in the same meaning.
A little bit of history
The earliest mention of chakras can be found in ancient Indian treatises such as: Upanishads, Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Shat Chakra Nirupana. At the same time, the sources of classic yoga, which are based on the Vedas, did not focus on the description of chakras. All knowledge about chakras infiltrated into yoga purely from the tantras. It was the tantric traditions of Hinduism that played a major role in the formation of the concept of chakras.
The teachings of chakras began to penetrate to the West relatively recently, at the beginning of the XX century before the First World War. One of the main popularizers of this knowledge was Sir John George Woodroffe, who was known in narrow circles under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon.
John George Woodruff was a British orientalist, a lawyer by education, a teacher of law, an adviser to the Government of India, and a member of the Supreme Court of Calcutta and Chief Justice of Bengal. All his life he studied the tantric trend in Hinduism, which was described in his numerous works.
He describes the numerous energy channels (nadis) and centers (chakras) in one of his most famous books “Kundalini Yoga. The Serpent Power”. A series of images of the seven chakras, commissioned by the author, was created as illustrations for the book and drawn by the artist based on their descriptions from the treatise “Shat Chakra Nirupana”. These illustrations were also included in Woodroffe’s book. After World War II, when there was a sudden increase in interest in yogic Tantric knowledge, these pictures began to spread around at an incredible speed. Therefore, these days, we most often come across those images of the chakras that Woodruff used in his book, thereby making them public. Although there are other interpretations and descriptions of the chakras, Woodroffe’s contribution to the study of this topic was so great, that it overshadowed other versions of chakras representation.
Every approach has the right to exist
There are different traditions describing four, seven, nine and more energy centers. The description of their location in the body also varies depending on the traditions preserved in this teaching. The description of the chakras themselves varies. For example, Tibetan yoga describes only four centers. If the yogis of this tradition were able to get the result using only four chakras in their practices, the question is: why burden yourself with additional knowledge?
When the practices involve the activation of one or another center, the individual has subtle experience, which is difficult to describe. This is an idiosyncratic experience that everyone interprets in their own way. For some, more vivid sensations may appear in one area of the body, for others in other parts. Thus, representatives of different teachings emphasised different things in the practices and in the description of the chakra system. This explains such a number of different approaches and interpretations of a seemingly unified teaching. However, the abundance of the options can confuse those who are just getting to be interested in this subject. Therefore, we should not average or combine different views to avoid confusion. We should separate the sources and understand that there are different approaches, all of them describe the same thing using different ways.
There is no point in comparing or mixing chakra knowledge from different traditions. When we familiarize ourselves with one system, it is not advisable to introduce anything extraneous into it.
Chakras and creation of the Universe
The entire Universe consists of combinations of Consciousness — the principle of Eternal Permanence, and Energy — the principle of Eternal Modification, according to the theory of Yoga. The single primordial prana was divided in these at the moment of creation.
Our bodies are formed according to the same principle. When we entered this Universe, our Energy created the principles (chakras) one by one, gradually moving away from the Consciousness, thus creating all the structures of our bodies. These principles are: Mind, Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. This Energy, also called Kundalini, having created the last principle, “fell asleep” at the base of our body.
The path of divergence of the Energy and the Consciousness is called the Central Channel — Sushumna in yoga, which passes approximately along the spine. In the tradition of the Open Yoga School, it is described as a sky-blue tube, bright and shiny inside, perfectly straight — unobstructed, empty — without space and time. On both sides of it, there are the left and right channels — Ida and Pingala. It is believed that our chakras are located in the places where they intersect with the Central Channel. Thanks to the ancient treatises, we have a rough idea of their location. In these zones, you can track more vivid, including physical, sensations. Also, there are many additional small channels (nadis) in the body that diverge throughout the body, ensuring the circulation of life force in it.
The central channel is the basis, and the energy centers are attached to it. Therefore, it is very important to learn to be aware of it. As a rule, certain meditation practices that use visualizations are associated with Sushumna. It is believed that when we feel our Central Channel in any yoga practice, we are approaching the state of Ananda — ineffable joy and bliss, our original natural state. Visualization and awareness of the Central Channel is the place to begin if we want to know about our chakras.
Each chakra corresponds to a certain principle of creation of the Universe. In a human body, these principles relate to smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, and the mind, which is also one of the senses according to yoga.
From the point of view of yoga, any practice involving chakras, offers the possibility of a huge leap on the path of self-knowledge, expanding our freedom to absolute. From the application viewpoint, when we are harmonizing any chakra, we can learn to control our emotions, develop certain qualities and find our inner source of happiness and energy.
From simple to complex
It makes sense to talk about each chakra in more detail when there is an understanding of the principle of Consciousness and Energy, the Central Channel and other fundamental concepts of yoga. If we take the practices out of context, then even if we get a certain result, we are probably not ready for it. There are practices that activate the work of certain energy centers. To understand these practices, we need to study the theory of the chosen system and practice its approach, as they say, “inside and out”.
In other words, what is the point of having a Mercedes gearbox or a steering wheel, if we need to drive 30 kilometers? We need the whole vehicle. Perhaps we need a car simpler than a Mercedes, but a complete one, because you can’t go far on one wheel! The same principle applies here. It makes sense to consider a more detailed description of each chakra only when there is awareness of the structure of the teaching as a whole.
The chakra system is like a map, following which, we can find a treasure sooner or later. We rediscover the structure of our bodies, from gross to subtle and causal. The knowledge is like a guide, it helps us not to go astray. This is the most precious gift of the Teachers. We can spend many years rediscovering and realizing our subtle structures. Or we can instead use the guidelines given by the Teachers, and gradually move from simple to more complex.
Studying our internal structures is a very complex process, but it is very interesting. There are many approaches and traditions of a unified teaching. If we want to get results from the practices, it is important to choose a system that is close to our heart and learn it step by step. This is the key to success. This knowledge can significantly reduce our time in self-knowledge with regular practice, and bring us closer to the ultimate goal of Yoga — absolute Freedom.
Good luck on the way to self-knowledge!
Article author: Anna Vita
Editors: Maria Gayatri, Alla Ravi, Eva May, Olga Belous, Evgenia Agni, Anastasia Andreichenko
Chief Editor: Mirra
Project curator: Kerigona
Translator: Way, Tatiana Sugrue, Nat Satcitananda
To read the second part: Chakras: a Way to Find out Who You Are