Deep in the caves of the Himalayan mountains, ancient yogis systematically gazed into the inner realms of being. Using advanced techniques of meditation they penetrated the layers of mind, finding internal subtle currents that coalesced and joined in an ascending spectrum of expressions. These explorers noticed how the movement of prana, or life force, was determined by the attractor nodes of various centers along the axis of the spine. As time progressed many others took the internal plunge, ultimately mapping the inner terrains of consciousness now known as the chakras.
The yogic chakra system is one of our oldest and most sophisticated maps of consciousness that we have to date. It is a cartography of being that gives the evolving soul a roadmap for where it is going on its evolutionary unfolding. Imported from the East, but now well assimilated into our mainstream culture, the chakras outline the dimensions of who we are as frequencies localized within our bodies.
Nodes of Subtle Energy
Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel or vortex, and traditionally depicts a locus or node of subtle energy found along the axis of our spine. Seven centers have been discovered (although many claim that more may exist) to be the main nexus points of energy that define what yogis see as planes or levels of consciousness. Each spinning wheel of subtle energy was therefore used in precise meditation practices; ultimately to bring up the dormant power of the kundalini life force so that all centers may be brought into synchrony and harmonic balance.
Even though there is extensive variation amongst the various Hindu and Buddhist schools of mysticism, general patterns were ascribed to each of the centers in order to deepen meditation. By bringing awareness and focus to each center, portals to internal experiences in consciousness were opened. In the beginning, these practices were extremely esoteric and were taught orally only to advanced students of yoga.
Yogic teachings reveal that there is a subtle body vibrating right alongside the physical body. This subtle body is composed of prana, and undulates along various channels called nadis; analogues to the meridians of Chinese medicine. The channels criss-cross the entire body-mind system and connect in particular nodes of energy called acupuncture points. The central nadis, which is lined by the chakras and runs along the spinal cord, is called the shusumna. Being the axis of the entire system, the shusmna is crossed by two polar currents that spin the chakra wheels into being as they intersect along the seven loci.
Shakti and Shiva
The left current (right brain) runs through the ida nadis and is known as the lunar current of Shakti. The right current (left brain) runs through the pingala nadis and is called the solar current of Shiva. This yogic understanding parallels Carl Jung’s assertion that all humans, regardless of sex or gender, have a masculine aspect, animus (pingala or yang), and a feminine aspect, anima (ida or yin). A truly whole and integrated individual has a balance of energies both in body and in psyche.
The force and energy of Shakti, called kundalini in her primal state, lies dormant at the base of the spine in the first root chakra. The light of Shiva in the seventh crown chakra, pure consciousness, awaits its full realization on top of the full evolutionary sequence.Through various yogic and Tantric practices the adept raises the coiled power of the lunar Shakti, and brings down the light of the solar Shiva principle.
This yoga allows the two forces to interact and intermingle at the seven centers, spinning the yin/ yang vortices where the two forces meet. All chakras contain both yin and yang elements, as both are needed to spin the wheels. Like the double helix of DNA, the two subtle currents spiral up and down the spinal shusumna, igniting the spinning orbs into vibrant life.
The Flow of Prana
For the practicing yogis and yoginis of origin, the chakra system had even deeper applications. Each was visualized as a mandala, or sacred circular pattern, endowed with lotus petals and its own geometrical shape. These were meditational aides resonating with specific mantras, or sacred syllables, a connection to the elements, and even guarded by respective resident deities. Through the process of visualization and concentration, chakra centers were activated and the vital flow of prana maximized.
When the wheels stop turning or slow down due to blockages or unbalance, the entire system falters towards malfunction. Some modern Integrative and Complementary Medicine practitioners have synthesized this ancient understanding of subtle energies with our modern knowledge of the physical body. They have noticed that various physiological processes and anatomical structures actually correlate with the anatomy of the soul.
The nerve plexus or nodal points of the nervous system focalized along the spinal cord, and the glands and organs of the endocrine system align beautifully with the spinning chakra wheels; each vibrating its unique signature frequency into being as it transduces subtle energies into material forms.
Chakras Enter the West
With the explosion of Eastern and metaphysical imports during the late 60s and 70s, the chakra scale witnessed the accumulation of a variety of associations and correspondences. Each level representing an archetypal domain, patterns were attributed to each of the centers creating the modern, if syncretic map of consciousness that the chakras currently represent.
In its fullness, the yogic chakra system is an interdimensional roadmap that outlines spirit’s journey through the various existential landscapes of creation. Each level or stage houses particular frequencies of experience designed for the developing soul to learn and grow from. They represent an archetypal rendition of the spectrum of consciousness, starting with the most dense at the bottom, and culminating in full union (purpose of yoga) on top.
The chakras represent the contours that an evolving consciousness goes through on its way toward awakening. Each level with its own preoccupations, motivations, perceptions, and identity, the evolving awareness ultimately moves towards the full realization of its essential nature. In that realization, it returns to wholeness.
Eugene A. Alliende has been practicing meditation and yoga for twenty years and facilitates weekly meditation groups and classes at his healing center. His passion is the exploration of consciousness, and how a deeper understanding of our true nature can help heal the individual and the world. Read his book Dimensions of Being here