What are Chakras Really?

Root Chakra (Muladhara)

The Root Chakra refers to your pelvic girdle, specifically all the muscles (and nerves, arteries, veins, ligaments, lymph channels, bones, etc.) in your body around your genitalia, asshole and perineum. This chakra is said to have four petals and is usually represented by a four-sided square, a four-legged elephant or a four-armed deity.

If you have ever looked carefully you will have noticed that most mandalas also contain a square because that four-sided shape represents the root chakra. This is where the vital energy arises within your body. The rest of the mandala’s geometric figures usually represent other chakras in the body.
A stupa is usually square at its base because stupas also represent the physical body with the base being the root chakra. The next higher section of a stupa is usually circular in shape, representing our round belly. The next higher section of a stupa is typically triangular in shape, representing the chest and heart region that points upwards. The next higher section is usually a half circle, half moon or series of concentric rings (like the vertebrae of the neck or bones of the jaw) representing the throat upwards to the bottom of the head. Finally there appears a crown on the top of a stupa, which represents our head and specifically our brain. The construction of a stupa therefore represents the human body in physical form, and at its base lies the four-petalled root chakra within the pelvis.
Why the emphasis on four petals or the four sides of a square? What does the figure four actually represent?

When you look at the perineal muscles of both men and women viewed from below, the major muscles around the perineum clearly form a square. For instance, men and women have two ischiocavernosus muscles that form a corner of the square whose center is the perineum and whose diagonal is the superficial transverse perineal muscle. The ileococcygeous muscle is also bent in such a way as to complete the square.

These muscles are not the root chakra, but represent the idea of the root chakra since there is no such actual thing as an esoteric “root chakra.” There are only regions of the physical body whose Qi channels we need to stretch open and we use the nomenclature of “chakras” to identify these regions since this inspires people to cultivate practice.

All the muscles of the body have Qi/prana energy within them and it must flow through them just as does blood. As stated, when Qi starts to move through the muscles in the pelvic girdle there is normally friction or irritation that gives rise to uncomfortable feelings that we associate with sexual longings, and therefore we satisfy those impulses through sexual intercourse or masturbation. If that energy isn’t lost (because we don’t lose our Jing and Qi through the outlet of sex) then it will accumulate. When conserved it can then work to penetrate through the closed Qi channels within those fibers and thus that energy can finally be used for spiritual cultivation.

One way to reduce sexual desires and assist our cultivation efforts is therefore by stretching these muscles, as is done in Yoga, Pilates, the martial arts, dancing and athletics. If children can stretch these muscles before or when passing through puberty, such as by learning leg splits, forward toe-touching bends, the pigeon pose and so on then the channels in these muscles will be stretched free of jumbled knots. The children will then have less problems with sexual desires when the Qi starts flowing through those regions. Therefore they will have an easier time cultivating any spiritual path. This is important for parents to know, and great information for any parents who want spiritual and healthy children.

Sacral Chakra (Svadhisththana)

The sacral chakra refers to the sacrum, which is naturally shaped like a triangle. The sacral chakra is said to have six petals so it is often represented by a six-petalled lotus flower or six-pointed Star of David formed by two intersecting triangles. Sometimes it is also represented by a hooded cobra’s head, which also has the shape of a triangle like the sacrum, while the snake’s long body refers to the spine. A snake generally connotes sexual energies that must be transformed into spiritualized Yang Qi that runs up the spine during spiritual cultivation. The crocodile is also used to represent the chakra because the sacrum has bumps on it and a crocodile has scales on its back whose ridge-like nature bears a resemblance to these bumps.

Why does the sacral chakra have six petals? Because the sacrum has six sets of nerves coming out of it - S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, and C0. These six sets of nerves are the six petals of the chakra. Thus the chakra refers to the sacrum, these nerves, and all the muscles and tissues in the body in front of this region.

In Indian chakra diagrams, a four-armed man is often shown riding a crocodile to jointly symbolize the sacral chakra and root chakra regions together. The picture basically represents all the muscles, bones, nerves, etc. in the entire pelvic girdle that have to be opened during the course of spiritual cultivation. Remember that any chakra picture does not just represent the nerves and energies localized in that region of the spine, but all the areas controlled by those spinal nerves as well as all the flesh, bones, etc. surrounding that chakra location.

Ganges Devi, who represents the chief goddess deity of Ganges River in India, is also often represented as having four arms and riding a crocodile on the flowing Ganges River. The symbol of this female Buddha riding a crocodile on the river represents the Yang Qi energy traveling through the pelvis (root and sacral chakra areas) up the spine into the brain. Most every cultivation school will tell you that you must awaken the energies in this region, and has your Qi ascend the spine (rather than get lost through sexual release) in order to succeed at spiritual cultivation. In actuality you don’t need to refrain from sex to succeed at cultivation, but must simply open up the Qi channels in this region without detrimentally losing your energies.

A Buddhist symbol that represents the two chakras while also encapsulating the idea of sexual energy is the image of the Buddha Samantabhadra riding on a white six-tusked elephant. An elephant has a head with two large ears, and this shape represents a man’s penis and scrotum (sexual energies). In addition to the fact that an elephant’s head and strength can represent the genitalia and strong vitality, one can also take his four legs as representing the root chakra as well. However, because your sexual energies must be purified on the road of spiritual cultivation, Samantabhadra’s elephant is always shown as white in color to represent purity.

Another way of saying it is that the six-tusked white elephant represents the strong sexual energies of the pelvic region that are used for spiritual cultivation rather than sex, and thus those energies are purified (white in color) because of a higher usage. Samantabhadra rides upon them illustration how to devote them to spiritual cultivation.

In the commonly used mandala symbol of a six-pointed star, made of two triangles, the sacrum itself is represented by the downwards pointing triangle due to shape similarity whereas the ascending Qi going up the spine is represented by the upwards pointing triangle. Together the two triangles then produce the six-pointed Star of David. Since the pubic regions of men and women are shaped like triangles, both Yin and Yang or sexual activity can also be represented by a six-pointed star. Ascending Qi (Yang Qi) is represented by the color red in almost every cultivation school, and thus the two triangles together are another way to represent the sacral, or sex chakra.

Yoga practices like Mula bandha, Ashwini mudra, and other stretches are very useful for opening up this region of the body. They are good for learning sexual control as well. Had I known this information when younger I would have practiced these exercises as well as leg exercises everyday, which I highly encourage.

Navel/Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)

The navel chakra simply represents the area of the belly (abdomen) containing the appendix, large intestine, small intestines, liver, stomach, pancreas, spleen kidneys and so on. This is the “hara” of Japanese martial arts or lower dantian of Chinese medicine and martial arts.

 This chakra is often represented as having ten petals, which is because it corresponds to the section of the body served by left and right nerves L1, L2, L3, L4, L5 coming out of the lumbar spinal vertebrae. Five times two (left and right) equals ten, and thus we have ten petals.

Sometimes the navel chakra is represented as having many more petals, so the actual number used is not important. What is important is knowing that it points to the need to cultivate the Qi channels of the belly on the spiritual path. However, it is very difficult to cultivate the belly region since it contains the curving intestines; you cannot accurately visualize Qi moving along this curvy pathway so it is hard to guide it in the abdomen using nei-gong or other practices. Usually people just try to spin their Qi in various ways within their belly to help open up the channels inside.

Another way to open these pathways is to soak the entire lower abdominal area in energy just as you would soak a piece of meat in sauce overnight before cooking it the next day. As a spiritual practice you therefore always imagine that the belly is always warm due to being soaked in Qi energy. This is why many cultivation and martial arts schools tell you to always keep your energy in the belly region. This was one of the cultivation methods used by Japanese mountain master Hakuyu who taught this technique to Zen master Hakuin.

Heart Chakra (Anahata)

The heart chakra is said to have twelve petals, corresponding to the T1 through T12 thoracic vertebrae and nerves you must open through Qi cultivation. Naturally it also refers to all the tissues in the chest cavity in front of these nerves, including the lungs, heart, ribs and associated muscles/tissues, but we usually just simplify matters by referring to the heart even though the heart chakra represents this greater region. Some people will see a vision of little flames in the heart when they start to successfully cultivate this region through nei-gong Qi work. By concentrating on this region through visualization exercises, mantra or by spinning your Qi in the vicinity, the various efforts will start to open up the local channels. This may temporarily produce pain in the area, and thus frighten a practitioner, nevertheless the region must be opened.

In some cultivation traditions, such as Japanese Shingon, nine petals are used to represent the heart chakra. For instance, in the mandalas used for Shingon visualization practice – such as the Womb Realm mandala - you will find a square of eight Buddhas and Bodhisattvas surrounding the central Buddha Vairocana. This mandala is supposed to be visualized in your heart. Vairocana at the center of the mandala represents the center of your heart while the other Buddhas represent the eight petals of the heart chakra. Some people take Vairocana to represent the sushumuna, or central channel, but there is no central channel in the center of your body because it is located in the spine.

In general, the heart chakra symbolizes the entire chest cavity containing your heart, lungs, ribs, spine and all the surrounding tissues. The entire chest cavity surrounds the twelve thoracic vertebrae, which is where we get twelve as the number of heart chakra petals. As stated, the “heart chakra” therefore doesn’t represent just the heart but the entire chest cavity including the lungs, ribs, esophagus, thymus and spine. Every Qi channel within this area must be opened through cultivation work such as kumbhaka pranayama, visualization of the rib bones, spinal vertebra and soft tissues (heart, lungs, etc.), mantra, qi-gong, nei-gong and so on.
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)

The throat chakra, which corresponds to the cervical vertebrae and surrounding tissues of the neck and portions of the face and upper chest, is said to have sixteen petals due to the dual sets of C1, C2, C3, C4, … C8 nerves extending out of the cervical vertebrae.

This chakra is often symbolized by a many-storied stupa since the levels correspond to the bands of the trachea, which is segmented like a stupa. This region of the body (the neck) is particularly difficult to open due to the complicated construction of muscles, ligaments, glands, bones, arteries and other tissues in the region.

Excerpted from NYASA YOGA




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