By Barry Kapke, ACST, CI
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2000.
"The map is not the territory."
I always preface any discussion of body maps with this dictum above by linguistic philosopher Alfred Korzybski. We rely on maps to find things and to get us where we’re going, and we have the expectation that what a map tells us is “true.” Maps are only partial truths, but they are useful tools nonetheless. The map of chakras I am presenting here may be different from a map you have picked up elsewhere. Details and descriptions may vary from mapmaker to mapmaker, but the map can still be a reliable guide. Any map is, as the Zen Buddhists say, a finger pointing at the moon. The ultimate truth comes from experience.
A chakra is a whirling vortex of energy. “Chakra,” in Sanskrit, means “wheel,” a wheel of light, spinning, enveloping and influencing organ systems in the body, nerve plexi, glands and ultimately, behavior, emotions and life enfoldment. Dr. Richard Gerber, author of Vibrational Medicine, writes: “At one level, [chakras] seem to function as energy transformers, stepping down energy of one form and frequency to a lower level energy. This energy is, in turn, translated into hormonal, physiologic and ultimately cellular changes throughout the body.”1
In the traditional yogic view, energy circulates through the subtle body in an extensive network of energy channels called nadis. There are as many as 72,000 nadis of varying size. A central channel, the sushumna, flows through the spine itself, beginning at its base, where the “coiled serpent” energy (kundalini) lies dormant, and around which two other nadis, the ida and pingala, intertwine in an ascent toward the so-called “third eye” in the frontal region of the skull. The yin/lunar/female energy of the ida originates to the left of the coccyx and is associated with mental and psychic phenomena and with slowing or “cooling down” body organ functions. The pingala, to the right of the coccyx, is the yang/male/solar energy, whose fiery nature stimulates organs and controls prana (energy). As these two nadis intertwine around the sushumna, strong chakral energies are generated where they intersect at the spinal curves. The caduceus, emblematic of medicine and the healing profession, represents this image of the two serpents intertwined around a central staff.
Dr. Fritz Smith, osteopath and founder of Zero Balancing™, posits that the spine acts as an energetic lightning rod,2 conducting vertical energy flows into the head, down the spine and pelvis, through the legs and feet into the earth. When water in a stream or river encounters a boulder in its path, it flows around the obstructing mass and a swirling vortex is formed. Smith uses this analogy to suggest that these vertical flows of energy encountering the dense curvatures of the upright spine create energy vortexes. The location of the chakras corresponds exactly with the spinal curves.
The Seven Chakras
Seven major chakras exist along the vertical axis of the body. These hubs of energy activity are often described in a developmental ascension, from the survival and ego focus of the first three chakras to the transpersonal and transcendent aspirations of the upper chakras.
Muladhara, the root chakra, forms between the coccyx and the pubis, encompassing the entire pelvic floor and genitals. According to Rosalyn Bruyere, a respected clairvoyant and healer, the location of this chakra in men and women differs by as much as 2 inches. Testosterone pulls the chakral energies forward (toward the surface) and down, while estrogen draws these energies posterior and slightly up. “Ultimately what this means is that there is a physiological difference in terms of how energy and information are processed through the pelvic region of each sex.”3
The root chakra is the foundation of the physical body and of the chakra system. It is concerned with basic drives and instincts — to eat, acquire, hoard, procreate, stay safe, and protect the family — and with the ability to prosper. Self-worth and self-esteem issues center here. This chakra, with its energy extending from the pelvis into the legs, grounds us with deep connected roots. It has a fiery energy, hot and passionate, and is often perceived as a pilot light for the entire chakra system. Kundalini, the potential energy at the spinal base, is, according to Bruyere, “the primary energy source for our spiritual vehicle.” She goes on to say, “If kundalini energy is limited, that limitation will be reflected in every part of consciousness, until ultimately the realization of our spiritual path and our soul’s journey down that path will be inhibited.”4 If the energy of the first chakra is stuck or shut down, it follows that all other chakras will be impoverished. Without a strong foundation, there is little to build upon. This chakra allows us to feel; to be tactilely awake and to feel alive.
Kundalini is the primary energy source for our spiritual vehicle. People who do not have the “spiritual nervous system” (the chakra system) awakened are half alive. They are alive on the output; they are not alive on the intake. They live life in a numbed state.5
The second chakra, encompassing the broad area of the pelvic bowl from the pubic bone to the navel, overlaps with the energies of the first chakra. It is the seat of the emotional body, our gut reactions, our deep visceral feelings. Svadhisthana (“special abode”) is variously referred to as the sacral chakra, the navel chakra, the spleen chakra and the womb chakra. It is also known as the hara or the dantian, and is where Original Qi is stored as an energy reservoir. It is the site of the uterus, and it is a center of creativity. “Within the second chakra, babies grow, imaginative projects germinate and the boundless creativity of the universe pours into us.”6 Smith says that its great potential is to activate the higher chakras.
The solar plexus chakra, Manipura (jeweled lotus), in the upper lumbar region, is a center of personal power and individuation. It is the abode of the mental body, where thoughts, opinions and judgements both originate and are controlled. It is a center of assertion, will and manifesting in the physical world. Psychologist Ken Dychtwald associates armoring in this region with a personal defense against unwanted feelings and a fear of losing control.7 Donna Eden8 adds that parental messages and social expectations are encoded here. In maintaining the sense of identity, the solar plexus is the field of contention between who I am, who others want me to be, and who I think I should be.
At the level of the diaphragm, there is an energetic shift from “me” and self-concerns to a reaching out toward others. The heart chakra is a center of transformation. The long thoracic curve and the containing arches of the ribcage promote the expansive nature of this station (similar to the pelvic bowl and cranium with regards to the second and sixth chakras). The nature of the heart center is of abundance and overflowing, of compassion, joy and laughter. Anahata means “not stuck.” Shifting from the dualistic reactivity of the lower chakras, the heart chakra opens to the possibility of choice, of conscious action. There is a sense of integration, of being a part of nature. The heart is connected with the faculty of touch, and hands are a direct extension of the heart energy.
The throat or cervical chakra, like the third (lumbar) chakra, resides in a part of the spine not reinforced by bony structures. Whereas the second and fourth chakras are fixed by pelvis and ribcage, respectively, the lumbar and cervical segments are open, capable of greater mobility and consequently subject to greater vulnerability. Smith suggests the free-standing aspect of the third and fifth chakras contributes to their expressive potentials. Vishuddha (“purified”) delivers, via the voice, truths derived from the lived experience of body and mind/heart (citta).9 Related to nurturance, as well as the ability to receive, it is a center of personal creativity, articulation, teaching, and the mature expression of life experience and wisdom.
The sixth chakra, Ajna (“command”), is the last “physical” chakra. There is a direct connection between the first and sixth chakras via the ascending path of the ida and pingala, which culminates within the frontal part of the skull between the eyebrows. Associated with the pineal gland and circadian rhythms, the “third eye” is concerned with light and with seeing clearly. It is the seat of intuitive knowing. The left and right sides of the brain are integrated here.
The sixth and seventh chakras are concerned with transcendence. The sixth chakra is the physical center opening to the transcendent, upward-spiraling energy of the seventh, or crown, chakra. Sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus) is located at the Hundred Meeting Point (Governing Vessel 20) in the depression on the coronal suture in line with the apex of the ear. It is the intersection point of the six yang meridians and the governing vessel. The energy of the crown chakra, associated with the pituitary gland, draws toward non-duality and unitary consciousness.
The chakras provide us with a life map, a personal evolution from animal instinct and the drive to survive to the construction of an individual ego, from competition to cooperation and compassion, and from communicative expression to wisdom and insight. We can see this as a life path we are working our way inevitably along, but we can also see the moment-to-moment places where we are stuck or where our energies predominate. In this way, chakras give us a barometer of energetic flow in our spiritual vehicle. Understanding this map, we can use it to better reach our destination — and to better enjoy the journey.
An energy center is very much like a flower bud. If it is properly cared for and receives the necessary sunshine, the bud opens and turns into a flower.10