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Have You Heard of Chakras?

This week's health and wellness column looks at Chakras.
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“Buy this crystal and open your heart chakra!”

“Pay for this personalized treatment and align your chakras!”

“Your blocked chakra energy is causing your illness.”

These are all statements that I have heard along with many other similar claims. Chakra healing is big business these days and is mostly being offered in the best of intentions. But a little knowledge can sometimes be a dangerous thing. In this case, the biggest danger is being parted from your hard-earned money and seeing little return.

So what are chakras (pronounced chuk-rah, not shah-kra)? This ancient Sanskrit word loosely translates to mean wheel. The chakras are sensed to be swirling balls of energy contained within one’s subtle anatomy. There are many throughout the body, but most discussions focus on the seven major ones along the spine.

Typically, common discussions link each chakra to a nerve plexus, organs and glands. This leads one to develop an overly physical association to them. That’s where the discussion about causing disease can arise. For example, the heart chakra (or anahata in Sanskrit), pictured above in green, is linked to the heart, lungs and thymus gland. It is very common to consider blocked energy here as causing cardiac problems. And it does. Sort of.

Chakras are part of your subtle anatomy, which means they operate at a level beyond the physical. For example, one morning you wake up and feel fabulous. This is the same middle-aged body you had last week, but for some reason the stars align and everything flows this day. You’re just on. On a day like this, your subtle energy is flowing more actively and freely. It’s like throwing a light switch. The juice is always available but if the circuit is blocked, no lights go on. Yogis have spent millennia analyzing why the juice flows better sometimes and figuring out a system for getting it jumped. So to feel good, the electricity needs to flow but that flow doesn’t guarantee that every piece of hardware is ready for it. In other words, the subtle electricity (called prana in Sanskrit – the Chinese system calls it chi) has to feed the heart and lungs and thymus gland generously but in doing so, flows everywhere else, too. As the electricity flows generously and in an organized way, all systems are nourished, not just the physical. You had the same physical body as last week, but this day it felt different.

So what do the yogis say about working with chakras and this subtle energy?  

•    You already have it – in abundance. You don’t need to seek anything outside yourself to tap into chakra energy.

 •    Movement is necessary to encourage its flow. This can be physical movement but even more influential is subtle movement such as breathing exercises or thought observation/direction.

•    Acknowledge that there are factors influencing your feelings about your life that are beyond just the physical. Our memories, experiences, emotions and how we file all these away are actually way more powerful than the bones and muscles themselves.

•    Spend time in nature. Observe carefully how intricate, beautiful and interconnected the systems are here. You are made of the same elements as everything you observe. Prana flows abundantly in all living things, including rock and sky. 
You really don’t have to know the names of each chakra, or their colours, or where they are supposed to be in your body. The energy is already active in you.

 But if you are interested in learning more about the classical view of the chakras, I recommend two authors:

•    David Frawley, Opening your Chakras or read his book, “Yoga of the Subtle Body”

•    Thomas Ashley Ferrand, “Chakra Mantras”