Exploring the Beliefs of Healing Through the Seven Chakras
Yoga: Theory, Culture, and Practice
May 3, 2010
In the United States, many people think of healing as nothing other than the traditional, scientific visit to the doctor’s office. People in this country often overlook that there have been alternative healing techniques used in other countries for centuries, which are said to be just as effective in healing physical pain and mental or emotional distress. One method of healing that relates directly to the practice of yoga is healing through the seven chakras. Chakras are often ignored as legitimate factors affecting the body, especially in the West not only because they are passed off as mythology, but also because there are very few scientific resources acknowledging their existence. However, a recent study has shown that there may be more to chakras and healing through yoga than just a fanciful legend (Maxwell, 2009). This paper aims to explore the basic characteristics of the seven chakras and, then, how physical and mental healing is believed to be achieved through the balancing of these chakras. Furthermore, it aims to address the difference of opinions and approaches between the East and the West about alternative forms of healing. It is clear that the East and West approach healing in entirely different ways, but are both approaches valid? Is belief in the chakra system just new age thought without any validity? What differences in culture lead to this division? By exploring the Eastern approach of healing through yoga and the chakras and analyzing the West’s general reaction to Eastern way of healing, I will attempt to answer these questions.
What are the Seven Chakras?
It is important to address what the chakras are and how they are believed to be tied to the physical body. While in Eastern literature chakras are not actually physical parts of the body, they are said to have an effect on the body depending on how they are balanced. For over three thousand years (Nelson, 1994), chakras have been a recognized and important part then Indian system of medicine (Gulmen, 2004). Chakras are said to be “centers of concentrated metaphysical energy” (Maxwell, 2009) called prana. The chakras are understood to be in the form of wheels that are situated along the Central Nervous System (CNS) (Maxwell, 2009). As a matter of fact, the word chakra is Sanskrit and signifies a wheel. In his book, The Chakras: A Monograph, first published in 1927, C.W. Leadbeather makes an interesting statement that, “All these wheels are perpetually rotating, and into the hub or open mouth of each a force from the higher world is always flowing—a manifestation of the life-stream issuing from the Second Aspect of the Solar Logos—which we call the primary force,” (Leadbeather, 1979, pg.5). They are not physically based centers, but energy, that supposedly exits in the “Ethric body”, which is the layer of energy closest to the physical body (Wauters, 2002, 18).
However, chakras function in such a way that they integrate the body, mind, and the spirit (Nelson, 1994). As previously stated, there are seven major chakras situated along the CNS. Along with the seven major chakras that will be the main focus of this analysis, there are also 21 smaller chakra points located in the shoulders, knees, ears, hands and feet, as well as thousands of tiny points of energy all over the surface of the skin that are commonly used as acupuncture points (Bek and Pullar, 1995). All of these chakras connect to the body, mind, in spirit, in a unique way, and they all are points in which energy filters through our system allowing us to reach our maximum potential as human beings (Wauters, 1997).
It is said that every one of the seven major chakras has a “trigger point” (Saraswati, 1979), or the point where it connects to the physical body and an emotional or spiritual correlation. Table 1 below outlines each of the seven major chakras, it’s ancient Sanskrit name, the chakra’s emotional correlation, and it’s physical location on the body, or trigger point. The image below that, Figure 1, is a visual representation of the locations of the trigger points on an outline of a physical body.
Table 1, A New Age Interpretation of Chakras
Physical Location/ Trigger Point
Emotions connected to the very matter of existing; Aggression, anger, violence, jealousy
Base of the spine
Issues of wellbeing and pleasure, joy; sexual chakra
Just below the navel
Power, self worth, confidence, selfhood
Center of the body
Love, compassion, relationships with others
Close to the heart
Self expression, effective communication
Over the throat
Intuition, awakening of the spirit, giving yourself permission to feel
Middle of the forehead
Bliss, surrender, highest possible spiritual awareness
Crown of the head
(Nelson, 1994; Wauters, 1997; Sarawatsi, 1979)
Figure 1, The Physical Placement or Trigger Points of the Chakras
As you can see from the table and image above, chakras are believed to be somehow linked to the physical body through trigger points, without actually being a part of the body. More important than the link to the physical, is the importance of the emotional connects to the chakras.
Physical and Mental Healing Through the Chakras
The chakras are the channels through which our nadis, or energy flows. This flow of energy affects all aspects of one’s life including the emotional, mental, and the physical (Gulmen, 2004). Since the chakras are said to have such powerful effects on the human body, there are a number of factors that play into the well being of the chakras. New age healers, who focus on balancing chakras to effect health, say that the chakras must be clear to allow this energy to flow through, but it is possible for one or multiple chakras to become blocked of energy flow. According to Funda Gulmen’s article in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine called, “Energy Medicine”, “Stress of various kinds, such as insufficient exercise, emotional support, social contact, nutrition and sleep all contribute to diminished energy ultimately leading to disease” (Gulmen, 2004), essentially these factors are energy blocks that must be eradicated to live a healthy life. Some sources even cite that a pessimistic attitude is associated with increased mortality (Shang, 2001). Healing through the chakras is said to heighten this energy so that it flows more easily though the chakra system. If the chakras are more open and the energy is flowing freely, it is believed that the detrimental health effects from the factors listed above can be diminished.
Even though chakras have their base in historical Sanskrit text (Leadbeather, 1979), the practice of healing through the chakras is more of a “New Age” adaptation. New age healers believe that in order to heal a person in relation to the chakras, it is important to completely open the chakras to allow the energy to flow. The more energy that flows through the body, the happier and healthier a person will be. When the chakras are blocked, they must be opened.
There are a number of ways to open the chakras ranging from a simple change in attitude, change in lifestyle, or even the physical practice of yoga. Some sources also suggest, that there are certain western drugs and therapy can address each particular chakra (Nelson, 1994). British healers Lillia Bek and Philippa Pullar make an important distinction when they note in their book Healing with Chakra Energy, that healing through the chakras “does not just make the patient physically better, it works to bring him back to his own source, his own inner peace, his own creativity… spiritual healing brings the body back to its roots, takes it home so that it can heal and restore itself” (Bek and Pullar, 1995, pg. 12). From this statement, one can gather that not all new age healers necessarily claim to heal specific physical ailments, but work to encourage the patient’s body to heal itself.
Through the analysis of various sources on the topic, it can be noted that there are different approaches and opinions to the claim of healing through the chakras. Some choose to dismiss it completely, some, such as Bek an Pullar take an overtly new age approach and believe that healing through the chakras is a physical practices, and some try to link the two former approaches together. In his essay “The Physiological Foundation of Yoga Chakra Expression” R.W. Maxwell attempts to prove that meditation, chakra concentration and yoga have a physiological affect on the body. He states,
The effects of focusing on chakra concentration points by yoga novices most likely begin through chemical synaptic systems, modifying activity within various organs affected by the shifts in autonomic control consistent with the classic relaxation response. (Maxwell, 2009).
Instead of his essay proving that chakras exist and have an effect on the physical body, Maxwell’s research strives to simply link scientific research with chakras. He has gathered information to link the physiological effects of yoga to the energies of the chakra system. So, from Maxwell’s research it can be gathered that there are physical benefit to relaxation and yoga as taught by chakra healers, but not necessarily that the chakras are the reason for the healing.
Claimed Methods of Healing Involving the Chakras
Although, new age healers cite that chakra healing has a proven physical effect, little research can be found to support that claim. This section of the paper aims to explore what new age chakra healers believe to be successful techniques of healing using the chakra system as a basis. Through the variety of sources consulted, it can be gathered that the practice of healing through the use of chakras is a rather new age concept, however, the balance of the chakras does have an important place in the ancient Indian texts. The goal of hatha yoga is the goal reaching the ultimate higher consciousness with physical practice being the first step in that direction (Muktibodhananda, 1998). This is the same as achieving the feat of completely opening the seventh chakra. Kundalini yoga practitioners believe that the ultimate goal of yoga is to awaken the Kundalini, or the goddess, that is said to reside in the base chakra. Through the practice of breathing, mantras, and postures, the Kundalini can rise through the chakra system to the crown of the head, opening the seventh chakra (Leadbeather, 1979). Clearly, practicing hatha yoga can be considered one way of opening the chakras, and thus attaining healing power.
New age healers note that in order to regain physical health, the body must restore and rebalance the flow of energy through the body (Wauters, 2002). These healers use a number of different healing techniques that are based on the chakra system to attain this goal. These healing techniques range from the use of certain colors in daily life, change of food consumed, and physical contact. For instance, there is “color healing” in which it is believed that each chakra aligns with a specific color. In order to increase the energy flow through that chakra, one could wear a gemstone in the corresponding color or immerse themselves in the color in a different fashion. Furthermore, some healers take a hands on approach or encourage their patients to eat certain foods that are said to carry the vibration of a correlating chakra (Wauters, 2002). These methods are quite obviously not the most popular treatments among modern western doctors, but are fully trusted by new age healers who base their beliefs in ancient Easter thoughts. Why is it that two cultures have two different methods of healing that are so different from each other?
The East v. The West: The Controversy of Healing Through Chakras
As was noted in the beginning of this paper, the healing power of addressing chakras is commonly dismissed by the Western culture. Part of the problem is that scientists are trying to use a very Western outlook to explain an Eastern practice and belief (Maxwell, 2009). The Western worldview often dismisses the spiritual aspects of the human psyche, even though the World Health Organization says, "Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” (Shang, 2001) which leaves room for the effects of spiritual and emotional energies. This dependence on cold hard facts and only trusting what can be seen raises problems when the chakras are basically energies that are directly tied to human emotion. There is nothing tangible for Western scientists when it comes to proving, or disproving, the effects of chakras on the physical body.
In addition to the full out dismissal of alternative healing techniques, there is also the matter of the rampant Westernization of East Indian philosophical concepts. As mentioned many times throughout this paper, he concept of healing through the chakras is a new age way of thinking. Yes, chakras have a historical basis in Indian texts, but these texts do not have the emphasis on healing that is present today. This new age outlook is evidence of taking Eastern ideas and Westernizing them to fit into our modern culture. I believe that the Western culture constantly needs to assign a reason for everything. Instead of just accepting the Eastern idea that opening the chakras leads to higher consciousness, westerners needed attach a physical reason for doing so. In this case, I believe, that it can be seen that in the western point of view, reaching this higher state of consciousness must be good for the physical body as well, thus healing the physical body. This gives Westerners the comfort of a physical outcome of the opening of the chakras.
In summation, healing through the chakras is a controversial issue that is not likely to be resolved any time in the near future. Although new age healers attach the physical to the spiritual nature of the chakras, they still base their fundamental beliefs in Eastern concepts that are spiritual in nature. Conversely, more traditionally scientific, modern Westerns dismiss the possibility of healing through the chakras because there is no tangible evidence to prove its effects. Despite the controversy, new age healing techniques using chakras as a basis are likely to continue throughout the world. These healers base their techniques on an understanding of what the chakras are and how they are supposedly linked to the physical body. It seems that the topic of chakras with its ancient roots, will never be completely free of controversy.
Bek, L., & Pullar, P. (1995). Healing with chakra energy: Restoring the natural harmony of the body. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
Gulmen, F. (2004). Energy Medicine. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 32(5), 651-658. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Leadbeather, C.W. (1979). The Chakras: a monograph. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.
Maxwell, R. W. (2009). The Physiological foundation of yoga chakra expression. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 44(4), 807-824.
Muktibodhananda, S. (1998). Hatha yoga pradapika. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.
Nelson, J. (1994). Madness or transcendence? Looking to the ancient East for a modern transpersonal diagnostic system. ReVision, 17(1), 14. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Saraswati, S.S. (1979, October). The Chakras. Yoga Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1979/joct79/chakras.shtm
Shang, C. (2001). Emerging Paradigms in Mind–Body Medicine. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 7(1), 83-91. doi:10.1089/107555301300004565
Wauters, A. (2002). The Book of chakras: discover the hidden forces within you. London, England: Quarto Publishing.
Wauters, A. (1997). Chakras and their archetypes. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.