The Chakras Explained
Not only are they centers of energy, they each represent a step forward in evolving consciousness
The chakras are fascinating and largely misunderstood. I had personally explained them incorrectly for several years. (Sorry to anyone I talked to about them from 2011–2015, I got it now.)
Chakra, meaning “wheel” in Sanskrit, represents a series of centers of energy (prana) in the body. While they are in the body, they’re not physical centers. They could be considered “astral”, or in what is often referred to as our “subtle body”. They are on another (non-gross-matter) plane of existence. I could see why “dimension” would be a term that bothers the more scientifically-minded, but I’m comfortable saying they exist on another dimension. It just means they exist but an x-ray isn’t going to pick them up. Our technology isn’t quite there yet… but someday it could be… scientists from the early Enlightenment era would have their minds explode looking into an electron microscope would they not? Two hundred years ago we did not have adequate equipment to detect radio waves, let alone the quantum fields at the subatomic level. Our capacity to understand phenomena is not fixed, it is constantly progressing towards a fuller truth.
The concept behind them is ancient — the first mention appears in the Rig Veda, dating back to approximately 1500 B.C.E. — some of the oldest writing in our civilization. Similar versions of the chakras are incorporated in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and several New Age belief systems. The Hindus hold that there are seven, and the Buddhists four, others eight, and some nine, but there is a consensus that they do exist. Although sources vary on the exact number of chakras found in the spiritual body, the following descriptions account for those about which most writers & teachers agree.
The chakras go up and down the spine, from the bottom up to just above the crown of the head.
What’s most fascinating to me, is that they each represent a step forward in evolving consciousness. They are both landmarks for new discovery and placeholders where we can become “stuck”. Continued spiritual practice (like yoga & meditation), study, service, contemplation, and ultimately Love (seeing the One in All) are what help us move up to the next center.
The First Chakra (Muladhara / Root) is at the base of the spine. It represents the most primordial aspect of a human being: our separateness; our survivalist nature. The first chakra is an ancient jungle where we kill or be killed. The first chakra is all about number one.
The Second Chakra (Svadhisthana / Sacral) is right above the genitals. It’s the sex chakra, plain and simple. When you succeed in the first chakra, you move to the second one. The best way to explain this is that the first chakra is survival. You’ve already accumulated food and shelter. Now that you have excelled at survival you can enjoy the sensuality of procreation. If the first chakra is a jungle, the second chakra is Las Vegas. (I have to give Ram Dass credit for that one.)
The Third Chakra (Manipura / Solar Plexus) is in the abdomen. It represents health of the body (located near food and digestive system), but it also represents power and status. It is your place in society. It’s related to the bottom two, because some people use the prestige from the third to go back down and be successful in the second with sex or the first with survival, but it’s even beyond those two. It’s big business with a board of executives. It’s a power grab. It worships at the altar of the ego.
It is important to understand that these three chakras contain 90% of the human population. These three are ruled by the ego. There is a massive (and difficult) leap from the third to the fourth. The leap ultimately comes out of seeing through the futility of the bottom three. A willingness to get to the Real. In the old Hindu depictions there is typically a white light coming down on the top four, and a gray line laterally across three and four, the bright light not reaching the lower chakras. They are all that is carnal, and the fourth is the jump into the divine.
The Fourth Chakra (Anahata / Heart) is the chakra of compassion. Located in the heart, it’s the first instance of experiencing the brotherhood of all of humanity. It’s really truly coming into your heart and seeing and feeling the joys and the pains of all beings. The formerly distinct boundaries of separateness from the first chakra have now become blurry lines, nebulous energy pervading through people more loosely. The fourth chakra is the true Christian woman at the soup kitchen cooking meals for the homeless for years because to her they’re not strangers, they’re her extended family. If she’s a mystic they are other faces of Christ himself. It is beginning to change the understanding of self in a traditional sense, moving from “us and them” to just “us”.
I’ve only gotten a few fleeting glimpses of the fourth, and they have been extremely profound, and really they are a major reason why I bother writing and making conscious media: when you find real Love all you want to do is share it. The fifth, sixth, and seventh are much higher than my own experience but I can paraphrase from how I understand them to be conceptually.
The Fifth Chakra (Vishuddhi / Throat) is the chakra of communication, as it’s located in your throat region. You make even more significant leaps in losing your own sense of self. Yogananda writes “I myself the Cosmic Sea, watch the little ego floating in me.” Because of this erosion, you become a clearer vessel for communicating higher information. This also applies to creativity and expressing truths that you learned in the fourth chakra, from feeling the essence of compassion flowing through you. You transcend technique, you become pure creative communication. Michelangelo saying he was just removing the stone around David is the fifth chakra.
The Sixth Chakra (Ajna / Third Eye) is the chakra of divine sight, located on the forehead in between the eyebrows. Words start to become inadequate at explaining this one: the closer you get to going beyond form, the less form (in this case words) can frame the concept. There is apparently a sense of understanding so full about the universe, that you can perfectly see the explanation behind any action. You see the cause behind each effect (the law of karma), along with a heightened sense of peace. This is the stereotypical master at the top of the Himalayas, All-Seeing, All-Knowing but still has an outburst every few years because he’s not quite at the seventh. He’s still in a body but there’s an extremely thin line between his physical form and “The All That Is”.
The Seventh Chakra (Sahasrara / Crown or “Thousand-Petaled Lotus”) is the chakra hovering just slightly above your head. When your consciousness makes it up to the seventh, you merge into the One. It’s Pure Awareness (mahasamadhi) — no subject, no object. It’s pointless to try to conceptualize it, really. You’re not in a body much longer. Vivekananda, for example, was perfectly healthy and died in his sleep at 39. Your chains are broken, you have liberated the cycle of birth and death and (re-)enter into Ever-New Cosmic Joy.
It’s also worth mentioning that the chakras are connected by the Sushumna, or “central channel”, or also the “Divine Road”, that goes up and down the spine. This is the pathway that the energy (prana) travels, and with prolonged periods of meditation and yoga practice, the movement of energy on this channel is supposedly physically tangible.
The practice of Kundalini yoga is solely focused on using deep meditative breathing (pranayama) and a series of postures (asanas) to move energy from the first chakra at the base up to the seventh at the crown. This process is considered a ‘Kundalini awakening’ or a ‘Kundalini experience’ which is apparently transformatively powerful and leads to heightened states of awareness and bliss. Prominent writers about the Kundalini experience are Gopi Krishna, Charles Leadbeater of the Theosophists, and Swami Sivananda, although there are many more who claim to have had this experience in recent decades.
In The Evolutionary Energy in Man (1970), Gopi Krishna writes:
Entirely unprepared for such a development, I was completely taken by surprise; but regaining my self-control, keeping my mind on the point of concentration. The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring louder, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light. It is impossible to describe the experience accurately. I felt the point of consciousness that was myself growing wider surrounded by waves of light. It grew wider and wider, spreading outward while the body, normally the immediate object of its perception, appeared to have receded into the distance until I became entirely unconscious of it. I was now all consciousness without any outline, without any idea of corporeal appendage, without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in a sea of light simultaneously conscious and aware at every point, spread out, as it were, in all directions without any barrier or material obstruction. I was no longer myself, or to be more accurate, no longer as I knew myself to be, a small point of awareness confined to a body, but instead was a vast circle of consciousness in which the body was but a point, bathed in light and in a state of exultation and happiness impossible to describe.
The chakras are not just pretty tattoo designs. They are steps forward in our consciousness — a ladder to a higher, fuller understanding of reality.
Paramahansa Yogananda, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” (1946)
Sivananda Saraswati, “Kundalini Yoga.” (1971)
Gopi Krishna, “Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man.” (1971)
Ram Dass, “The Only Dance There Is.” (1974)
Dr. David Frawley, “Hinduism: The Eternal Tradition.” (2008)