What Are Chakras? Understanding The Mystical World of Internal Energy

Chakra expert Susan Shumsky, who was on the personal staff of The Beatles’ famous guru, sheds light on how to keep your healthy energy flowing.

June 22, 2018
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Chances are pretty good you’ve encountered imagery or descriptions of chakras before—perhaps without even knowing it. At a spa, you may have seen that classic outline of a person resting in lotus pose with the seven rainbow orbs stacked along the center of their body. Or in a yoga class, your instructor might have mentioned a pose intended to reconnect you to your root chakra or open up your heart chakra. Sounds cool, but what are chakras, and how do they influence our lives?

First things first: If you’re looking for hard, physical evidence of chakras, well…it doesn’t exist.

“Dissect a corpse, and you won’t find chakras or nadis—the conduits through which prana energy flows,” explains Susan Shumsky, author of The Power of Chakras: Unlock Your 7 Energy Centers for Healing, Happiness, and Transformation, and Maharishi & Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru. “But that’s because Western science only focuses on your gross physical body, whereas chakras are located in your subtle body. It’s important to realize that this physical world we live in isn’t the only game in town.”

The principal ideas of chakras have helped people stay well, boost their happiness, and get to know themselves for thousands of years (yes, really!). Chakras are part of the foundation of dozens of healing practices including yoga, acupuncture, and reiki. And studying these energy vortexes aims to help you find balance in all areas of your life—creativity, sexuality, emotions, health, discipline, and spirituality. Who can argue with that?

What are chakras?

Those colored balls of energy you see in chakra diagrams look pretty, but they represent ancient ideas that go far beyond aesthetic imagery. Chakras relate to universal issues of humanity that people have strived to understand and address for thousands of years.

The word chakra is rooted in Sanskrit and translates to “wheel” or “disk.” Even though you might find chakra books and accessories in New Age shops, this concept is far from new. It dates back to early Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist traditions. While each philosophy has a slightly different take on chakras, they generally agree that the chakras are vortexes of powerful energies swirling inside of us.

“Chakras are not only physical; they are related to our states of mind, our beliefs, our habits, our conditioning,” explains Shumsky.

In an ideal world, our chakras would be perfectly healthy and we’d be living our best lives all the time. The reality? Our energy centers get blocked by forces like stress, illness, conflict, and loss. That prevents the flow of prana, or vital life-force energy through the body. The chakra system then gets out of whack, causing all sorts of bad juju, health issues, emotional blocks, lack of inspiration—you get the picture. And it can be frustrating!

So how do you unblock your chakras? Whatever you do, don’t bother booking a chakra “balancing” treatment at your local wellness center, warns Shumsky.

“There’s nothing in the ancient scriptures of India that talks about balancing your chakras—there’s really no such thing,” she notes. “Your chakras are either open and prana is flowing well or they’re blocked and closed.”

A blocked chakra is a temporary state that can be resolved with a little TLC. That’s where chakra healers come in. These practitioners understand the finer points of unblocking chakras and can help you restore the healthy flow of prana throughout your body. Techniques will vary depending on exactly who you work with, but you can expect a little meditation, stretching, breathing exercises, and visualizations.

Don’t have access to a chakra healer? Don’t worry—you can work on unblocking your chakras right at home, no experience necessary.

“I don’t think you need to pay someone $100 to $200 an hour to unblock you. I’m a DIY gal, and I have several exercises in my book The Power of Chakras that can help,” says Shumsky. “For example, there’s pranayama breathing exercises, an ancient technique from India, that can help clear your nadis. Even the yoga exercises, called asanas, can help. I have a few healing affirmations in the book, which can be helpful, as well.”

Some people also rely on chakra stones or crystals to help keep their prana flowing.

“They’re extremely powerful and carry the energy of the planets, and those particular planets are associated with the seven major chakras. Each one is associated with a gemstone, so that’s important to know about, and a Vedic astrologer can prescribe the right gemstone for you,” says Shumsky. “You can wear the gemstone around your neck or put it under your pillow at night to experience a profound effect.”

The chakra system can take years to understand—after all, there are actually some 114 energy centers along with 72,000 energy channels throughout our bodies. But learning the seven main chakras, which run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, may help you get in tune with important areas of your life and build your personal power.

“Each chakra performs a specific function and is related to certain body parts and aspects of mind. Some chakras embody the five elements, days of the week, planets, gemstones, and colors,” says Shumsky.

Here’s a quick overview of these important energy centers and tips on how to unblock your chakras.

What are the seven chakras?

  • 1

    Root Chakra

    Color: Red

    Located at the base of your spine in the coccygeal plexus, the root chakra relates to your organs of elimination and adrenal glands, explains Shumsky. The first chakra is also connected with the basic needs of survival, such as food, shelter, and money. You can tell your root chakra is blocked if you show signs of aggression, experience deep anxiety about basic survival, or feel a restrictive need to avoid spending money, she adds.
  • 2

    Pelvic Chakra

    Color: Orange

    Sometimes referred to as the sacral chakra, the pelvic chakra is located where the name suggests: in the genitals and the prostatic plexus, says Shumsky. It’s associated with your reproductive organs, sexuality, and pleasure in general. Feeling like you’ve got an unhealthy relationship with sex, trouble building trust, or attachment issues? A blocked pelvic chakra might be to blame.
  • 3

    Navel Chakra

    Color: Yellow

    The third chakra of your body, referred to as the navel chakra or solar plexus chakra, can be found between your navel and solar plexus. It’s considered responsible for the health of your pancreas, abdominal organs, willpower, and confidence. “If there’s a blocked navel chakra, you might be overly controlling and dominating, or very weak-willed and allowing of people who take advantage of you,” explains Shumsky.
  • 4

    Heart Chakra

    Color: Green

    As you might have guessed, the chakra that’s associated with your lungs, thymus, love, passion, and joy is situated in your heart. A broken heart is the fastest way to cause a blocked heart chakra, and it’s why you feel so down in the dumps after a breakup. “Other signs include feeling emotionally damaged, holding onto a lot of resentment, feeling despondent, loneliness, and depression,” says Shumsky.
  • 5

    Throat Chakra

    Color: Blue

    Going up the body, your fifth chakra is located at your throat and laryngeal plexus. It’s strongly associated with your thyroid gland and abilities to communicate, share your truth, and express creativity. “If you feel you are overly shy or repressed, can’t quite express yourself, have some great gifts that you can’t put out into the world, have a speech impediment, or difficulty communicating, your throat chakra might be blocked,” says Shumsky.
  • 6

    Third Eye Chakra

    Color: Indigo

    Found at the center of the cranium at the pineal gland, your third eye chakra relates to higher consciousness. It’s associated with your wisdom, intuition, spiritual discernment, and ability to focus. “If the third eye chakra is blocked, you might feel really unintuitive, make bad decisions on a regular basis, be unable to read people well, or even have a spiritual superiority complex,” notes Shumsky.
  • 7

    Crown Chakra

    Color: Violet or White

    Your highest chakra, located at the crown of the head, is associated with your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, as well as your spiritual enlightenment, Shumsky explains. It has to do with connecting you to God. “If you’re feeling isolated from spirit, if you feel God is out there somewhere and you’re separate from that power, if you feel God is great and you are nothing, those are all seventh chakra problems,” she says.

The ideal state is to have all seven chakras open, allowing for the healthy flow of energy through the body. Focus inward to see which of your chakras needs attention at any given time. A journal can be a useful tool in noticing changes throughout your mind and body and can give you clues on how to keep your energy flowing.

“When you increase prana flowing through your energy field and radiating from your chakras, you become more magnetic, charismatic, healthy, strong, influential, and successful,” says Shumsky.

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