The seven chakras are a popular concept and are frequently mentioned in the modern-day yoga practice. You might have even practiced an entire class dedicated to a specific chakra: A core-intense flow to activate the Navel Chakra or backbends for opening the Heart. But what really are the seven chakras?
What is a Chakra?
To understand the chakras, we first have to understand the yogic concept of prana. This term translates to “life force” or “vital principle” and describes all the manifest energy in the universe – present in both living beings and inanimate objects. In humans, prana flows through energy channels called nadis. There are said to be thousands of nadis in the energy body, but the most important is called Sushumna Nadi. In English, it is called the “central channel” because it runs along the spine.
Chakras are points where different channels connect, creating an accumulation of prana. They are often referred to as energy centers. The word chakra literally translates to “wheel” or “disk,” alluding to the vortex of energy believed to reside in each chakra’s location.
Although there are countless chakras in the energy body, ancient yogis were most interested in working with the chakras along the central channel – intent on raising their energy and elevating their state of consciousness.
Although a variety of chakra systems were used in the past, the seven-chakra-system has become the most popular in the modern yoga world. It was popularized in the 20th century when Sir John Woodroffe translated two Sanskrit texts to English, thus introducing the seven-chakra-theory to the West.
The seven chakras are located along the central channel, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. The “lower” chakras are considered dense, relating to our connection with the physical world. The “higher” chakras are more subtle and associated with our connection to the Divine. Traditionally, yogis would direct the flow of energy upwards – from the lower to the higher energy centers – in order to expand their consciousness and realize oneness with the Divine.
1. Root Chakra (Muladhara)
The first energy center is called Muladhara, meaning “root of existence”. It is located in the area of the perineum, at the base of the spine. Muladhara Chakra is associated with our connection to the earth, the physical body, and our fundamental need for survival. When Muladhara Chakra is balanced, we feel grounded, stable, and safe. An imbalance leads to a sense of insecurity, fear, and attachment to material things.
Muladhara is considered the foundation of the energy body. Therefore, many yogic systems stress the importance of stabilizing this energy center. The Root Chakra is nourished by the energy of the earth, called telluric energy. Seated postures like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) and Baddha Konasana (Butterfly) bring this energy center closer to the earth and help us ground.
Sanskrit Name: Muladhara
Seed Mantra: Lam
2. Sacral Chakra (Svadhisthana)
The second chakra is located in the pelvic region and is thus referred to as the Sacral Chakra. Its Sanskrit name is Svadhisthana, meaning “where the self is established”. Therefore, it is associated with our sense of individuality, creativity, sensuality, and sexuality. Overall, it is considered the storehouse of our energy.
At the level of Svadhisthana Chakra, we are constantly engaged in the world through our five senses. When this chakra is balanced, we feel energized, creative, and full of vitality. An imbalance at this chakra might lead to overindulgence and attachment to pleasurable sensations, such as cravings for food, intoxicants, or sexual experiences.
Due to its qualities of fluidity, movement, and creativity, Svadhisthana is often linked to the element of water. To balance and activate this chakra, practice Salabhasana (Locust Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), as well as hip-opening postures.
Sanskrit Name: Svadhisthana
Meaning: Seat of the self
Seed Mantra: Vam
3. Navel Chakra (Manipura)
Located just below the navel is the third energy center, called Manipura Chakra. The name comes from the Sanskrit words mani meaning “gem” and pura meaning “city.” Therefore, this chakra is considered the “city of jewels” where we find the treasures of confidence, wellbeing, and inner strength. Manipura Chakra is also associated with our wants and desires, as well as the willpower necessary to achieve these. Due to its intensity, Manipura Chakra is linked to the element of fire.
When Manipura Chakra is balanced, we are full of courage, drive, and passion. Losing our willpower and desire for life might be a sign of imbalance that calls on us to activate this energy center. Since Manipura Chakra is located at the level of the navel, it is associated with postures that engage and strengthen the core, such as Navasana (Boat Pose) and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose).
Sanskrit Name: Manipura
Meaning: City of jewels
Seed Mantra: Ram
4. Heart Chakra (Anahata)
The fourth energy center is called Anahata Chakra which means “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”. It refers to the concept of unstruck sound which is not made and cannot be heard unless one achieves the highest level of meditation. Anahata Chakra is associated with the qualities of the heart: unconditional love, compassion, acceptance, and gratitude.
Anahata Chakra is at the center of the seven-chakra-system, connecting the lower three chakras (Root, Sacral, and Navel Cakra) with the higher three chakras (Throat, Third Eye, and Crown Chakra). At the level of Anahata Chakra, we are moving away from the identification with the physical world and start to connect to more subtle aspects of existence. Thus, it is usually associated with the element of air.
A balanced Heart Chakra promotes love, compassion, and forgiveness. Unconditioned by the lower self, we are able to accept everything without resistance, including the people or things we don’t like. If this energy center is unbalanced, we might experience emotional instability, feelings of guilt, and judgment towards ourselves and others. Since Anahata Chakra is located at the center of the chest, backbends like Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) open and activate the energy flow of this center.
Sanskrit Name: Anahata
Seed Mantra: Yam
5. Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)
Visuddha or Vishuddhi is the Sanskrit name for the energy center located in the throat region, close to the cervical spine. The name comes from the Sanskrit shuddhi, which means “pure” and the root, vi, which intensifies the word. Therefore, vishuddhi means “especially pure”. The Throat Chakra is associated with purity, refinement, and our ability to speak up and express ourselves.
Vishuddha chakra is also known as the purification center because this is where the nectar of immortality is divided into both pure and impure forms. Thus, it is also associated with higher consciousness and discrimination. Because of its subtle nature, the Throat Chakra is usually connected to the element of ether.
When Vishuddha Chakra is balanced, we can connect with and share our own truth with purity and honesty. We are able to balance our needs and desires – the freedom to express and do what we want – with the duties and responsibilities we hold in life. When we lack space for creativity and expression, we might experience blockages at the level of Vishuddha Chakra. Postures that nourish this energy center are Masyasana (Fish Pose) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand).
Sanskrit Name: Vishuddha
Meaning: Especially pure
Seed Mantra: Ham
Asanas: Matsyasana, Sarvangasana
6. Third Eye Chakra (Ajna)
The sixth chakra is located in the center of the forehead between the eyebrows. It is called Ajna, meaning “perceive”, “command” or “beyond wisdom”. It is the chakra of intuition, insight, concentration, and self-realization. Beyond the five elements, Ajna Chakra is linked to the higher mind (Buddhi) where all knowledge is stored.
When the Third Eye is activated, we are able to transcend dualistic thinking and see things how they are. We elevate the level of consciousness and realize that the self and universe are one. Postures associated with Ajna Chakra are Balasana (Child’s Pose) and Vrksasana (Tree Pose).
Sanskrit Name: Ajna
Location: Third eye
Seed Mantra: Om
7. Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)
The final energy center in the seven-chakra-system is called Sahasrara Chakra. In some yogic teachings, Sahasrara is described as being located precisely four finger widths above the crown of the head. Believed to be the terminal point for Sushumna Nadi, it is also said to be located within the crown of the head.
Often referred to as a “thousand-petaled lotus”, Sahasrara is the most subtle chakra in the system, relating to pure consciousness. When a yogi is able to raise their energy up to this point, the state of Samadhi (enlightenment) is experienced. That’s why Sahasrara Chakra is associated with oneness, transcendence, and is thought of as the “Gateway to the Divine”.
If we are stuck worrying about material things, this energy center is not active. We feel lost, confused, and don’t trust life. We can restore this trust and open up our connection to the Divine through the ancient practices of contemplation and meditation. By raising above matter, we understand that everything is one – thus realizing the goal of yoga. Postures such as Sirsasana (Headstand) and Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold) can be utilized in the asana practice to bring awareness to this energy center.
Sanskrit Name: Sahasrara
Meaning: Thousand petaled
Seed Mantra: Om
How to Work with the Chakras
While certain postures can help us connect to the energy of a specific chakra, the traditional approach to the chakras is through meditation. Ancient yogis would visualize a deity in the area of the energy center, chant the corresponding Bija Mantra (seed syllable), or use Yantra (geometric shapes) to ignite the energy at a specific chakra.
Today, there are a variety of chakra practices that use different crystals, colors, and affirmations. They are a modern invention of the 20th century. While they might be inspiring and helpful, they cannot be considered traditional.
We hope this article gave you a deeper understanding of the seven chakras. Last but not least: Whether you want to use the chakras in your asana or meditation practice, the most important thing is cultivating your awareness at the level of each energy center.
If you want to learn more, read our Complete Guide to Understanding the Chakras. To put your knowledge into practice, join our Online Studio and access high-quality yoga classes inspired by the chakras.