The practice of yoga is based on the seven chakras, the energy centres which have a bigger impact on our everyday lives than we may expect. In fact, some specific health problems could be caused by an imbalance of one or more chakras and working with the appropriate techniques can positively address many disturbs.

But what are these chakras? Where are they? What are their characteristics? And what if they don’t work as they should?

What are chakras?

The concept of chakra belongs to Indian traditions such as yoga and Ayurveda. In our body there are 74 of them, but the main ones are seven, and they are distributed all along the spine.

The word chakra in Sanskrit means “wheel“, “circle” or “vortex“. They are defined as energy centres that attract the vital energy called prana to distribute it in the individual’s body, mind and spirit, and to release it outwards.

Sometimes they are also referred to as padma, which means “lotus“. In fact each energy centre is represented by a lotus flower with different petals.

These energy vortices act as a link between mind, body and spirit, significantly influencing our emotions, behaviour, learning, communication, and many other aspects. Whether these centres are opened or closed, it greatly affects our lives. If a chakra is balanced, the energy is able to flow freely through it. On the other side, if it is closed, the energy is not able to circulate, in this way creating a block that is cause of imbalance. This block can manifest itself on every level: mental, physical, and/or emotional.

The history of chakras

Chakras are linked to the history of yoga beginning from its roots. In fact, the first references to them can be found in the Veda, the oldest texts of the Indian tradition.

These manuscripts belong to an oral tradition that was brought to India by an Indo-European tribe that invaded the Indians in the second millennium BC.

After the Vedas we can find references to the chakras in the Upanishad, the knowledge of which was taught from teacher to disciple, and only later transcribed.

Other mention to the chakras appeared also in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, one of the classic texts of yoga, which was written around 200 BC, and still today is considered as the main written work about yoga.

How does the system of the chakras work?

We said that the seven chakras are distributed along the spine. Correct, but they are not physical points.

According to some Eastern traditions, the human body is composed of several energy levels, both physical and “subtle”. In Buddhist sacred texts the concept is that we are creatures with a physical body – which we use to run, eat, and be in the world – but our existence does not end here. We also have a subtle body called vajra body, which is regulated by subtle energy flows. It is at this level that the chakras belong.

The vajra body also includes the nadi, some sorts of “energy highways” along which the vital energy called prana flows. They can be compared in some way to the meridians of Chinese medicine. All the nadi end up in the spine, the main energy channel, to which the three principal nadi correspond: Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. On this line the chakras are positioned.

If we consider the physical level, chakras correspond to the nervous ganglia and to the glands of the endocrine system.

As mentioned above, chakras are also called padma, lotus. The association is that of a flower with petals that can be opened, closed, or in an intermediate state.

As chakras govern not only physical but also emotional and behavioural aspects, when one of them is not balanced it can negatively affect the individual’s life at different levels. If a chakra is closed or blocked indeed, it is unable to receive and reradiate energy. If it is too open, it works excessively. It should also be considered that chakras do not function as separate entities but are all connected. As a result, an imbalance of one chakra will most likely affect others as well.

Specific practices (asanas and pranayama), mantras, and mudras in yoga are suitable for activating chakras and dissolving blocks. Therefore they can be successfully used to treat problems in the individual chakras. They are mainly applied to the seven chakras, and only to a certain extent to the minor chakras.

The map of the seven chakras with an overview on their main features

Learn more on each of the main seven chakras: