"In the Tantric traditions, chakras (Skt. cakra) are focal points for meditation within the human body, visualized as structures of energy resembling discs or flowers at those points where a number of nāḍīs or meridians converge. They are conceptual structures yet are phenomenologically based, since they tend to be located where human beings experience emotional and/or spiritual energy, and since the form in which they are visualized reflects visionary experiences had by meditators.”
I've been fascinated by chakras since I started practicing yoga in the early 90's and was introduced to the concept of chakras by my Satyananda inspired teachers. One of the earliest “yoga” books was Anodea Judiths, ‘Wheels of life’, and I was fascinated.
I continued to practice yoga and throughout my life, including through three pregnancies. In my final pregnancy I decided to focus on tantric practice, using a self published book called ‘Mother as first Guru”,by an Australian swami in the Satyananda tradition, Swami Gurupremanada Saraswati. This book included information on the chakras, as well as guided yoga nidras and meditations. I made my own chakra wall hanging during this pregnancy to hang in my birthing room. I spent the birth chanting OM, and in blissful awareness birthed twins at home into my own arms. The meditative practices during pregnancy got me through the next several years of intensitity with four children born in 5 years.
Fast forward to 2014 and I again started to study the chakras with a Sanskrit scholar called Chris Tompkin. This course included practices from a recently discovered lost text, which predates our understanding of the chakra system we understand in the west. This led me to explore more, and I discovered Christopher Hareesh Wallis and his book, tantra Illuminated changed my life. I studied on -line with him, with various courses including “Light on tantra” , “Deity Yoga” and most recently “Chakra Illuminated”.
It was from these two scholars that I learned that the system of 7 chakras I had originaly is not the only system of chakras. The 7 chakra system has its origins in an ancient text, and was translated just over 100 years ago in 1918 by Sir Authur Avalon. The chakras were then taken up by Jung who provided his own interpretation and understanding onto this 7 chakra system. What modern scholars are gifting us are more accessible english translations of additional classical tantric yoga texts with a range of chakra systems, and a range of practices.
So what exactly are chakras, why are they important in yoga practice, and what are the other systems of chakras?? According to Wallis, Chakras (Skt. cakra) are focal points for meditation within the human body. They are commonly visualized as structures of energy resembling discs or flowers . They are visualised along the central chanel at points where a number of nāḍīs or meridians converge, which can be in a multitude of places in the body. They are conceptual structures yet are based on an experience of emotional and/or spiritual energy.
Chakras then are both real, in that the can be felt energetically but also not real in that they wont show up in an xray. However, as Hareesh says any time you have experienced the pain of heart break- there you are experiencing the energetic space of the heart.
Chakras can be thought of as maps, which help us explore own own inner workings of our body-mind. They have been used by tantric yoga from 500CE. Metaphorical language is often used to describe chakras. Often described as lotus flowers with differing numbers of petals. Ancient texts describe granthis or knots that sit under these energy centers, and many practices are designed to pierce these knots so the energy can flow freely through the central channel.
I have been exploring the 5 elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space) in my practice and have been using a 5 chakra system to assist me with this. I hope to write more about my explorations with this in a future blog post. If you are curious, please join me in Thursday evening classes or the Winter Solstice half day retreat as I will be sharing some chakra based practices this term.