What Are Chakras?

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It's a popular trend for yoga teachers to present a class themed around the idea of one or more of the chakras. Some teachers do a great job explaining what this means, but others just assume you already know. The idea of the chakras can be a little confusing, so here's the basics.

First, it's important to point out that the chakras cannot be identified anatomically. This makes them part of what is called "the subtle body" in yoga.

Basically, it means that there are forces at work inside the body that govern how energy moves around. No one thinks that if you dissect a human body you will find the chakras, but many people believe in their power nonetheless.

Traditionally, the chakras are described as seven energy centers the run from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The Sanskrit term chakra comes from the word for wheel, so they are often depicted as spinning wheels.  It is believed that when all the chakras are good health, they align so that your life force (kundalini) can travel up the spine to the crown of the head. When the chakras get blocked, it prevents you from reaching an enlightened state. Yoga asana and pranayama, as well as meditation, are believed to be ways to clear the blockage.

The seven chakras are described as follows:

1. Root - Muladhara is located around the perenium and base of the spine.

Its color is red. It is associated with feeling grounded and stable. Its seed syllable is Lam.

2. Sacral - Svadisthana is located in the lower abdomen below the navel. Its color is orange. It has many associations, including intimacy, pleasure, sexuality, fertility, and creativity. Its seed syllable (for chanting) is Vam.

3. Solar Plexus - Manipura is located at the mid abdomen. Its color is yellow and it is associated with power and confidence. Its seed syllable is Ram.

4. Heart - Anahata is located in the middle of the chest. Its color is green and it has to do with love and trust. Its seed syllable is Yam.

5. Throat - Vishuddha is located at the throat. Its color is blue. It is concerned with truth, communication, and self expression. Its seed syllable is Ham.

6. Third Eye - Ajna is located in the middle of the forehead. It's color is indigo. It is associated with clear vision. Its seed syllable is Om.

7. Crown - Sahasrara is located on the top of the head. Its color is purple. It is concerned with knowledge and wisdom. Its associated sound is silence.

Designing a yoga class around the idea of one or more chakras allows you to focus in on a particular area of the body and its related traits. Teachers may also include visualizations of the associated colors and chanting of the syllables to help remove blockages so energy can flow.

Pronunciation: Shock-ra is the most prevalent Western pronunciation, though in Sanskrit the pronunciation is more like chuck-ra.

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