A deeper understanding of the core energy centers in your body can help you focus more creativity, confidence, and happiness your way.
If you’ve ever had an epic yoga session you already know how amazing it feels to leave all of your problems behind you on the mat. Unfortunately, though, when we put our shoes back on, get back to work, and otherwise resume “normal life,” those worries come on back. They bring all of the emotions, conflict, and physical ailments that plague us with them, too.
Now, the physical benefits of yoga are not in dispute, and staying active is good for anyone. But there’s more to it than that, and that’s where chakras come into the picture.
The ancient yogis, not to mention many respected modern yoga teachers, will tell you that the practice is much more than a workout. The entire practice is designed to help you move blocked prana (life force), breath, and energy through what’s called the “subtle body” and its chakras.
The subtle body is how ancient yoga tradition conceives of the energized body—that level where energy flows through us. Also called the energy body, the subtle body is connected by seven critical energy vortexes: the chakras.
Ideally energy flows through these chakras readily. But when energy gets blocked by any given chakra, this upset in the flow causes emotional, mental, or even physical imbalances. These in turn trigger symptoms such as poor digestion, anxiety, headache, or lethargy.
The remedy for these problems is maintaining a well-tuned asana practice. This opens up all of the chakras, promoting balance and freeing up energy. If you are already experiencing an imbalance, working on your practice can help, as can other techniques.
What Are Chakras?
Chakra, from the Sanskrit cakra, means “disk” or “wheel.” These rotating or spinning points of energy in the body correspond with major organs and bundles of nerves. While some traditions recognize 114 different chakras, when most people refer to them, they mean the seven basic chakras located along the spine.
Because these energy points are so closely connected to important health centers in the body, it is important that they remain aligned and open. When they become blocked, we cannot maintain our energy flow in an optimal way and we are more likely to fall ill.
We have major and minor chakras in our energetic body systems. When a chakra is not functioning properly or if it becomes blocked, we are more vulnerable to illness. Strengthening that flow of energy again ensures that no chakras are blocked and none need become overactive to compensate for their blocked counterparts.
There are many ways to strive for this kind of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health, and each of them nurture the flow of energy through the chakras. Of course the right yoga practice can help, but so can mindfulness training, meditation, purposeful decluttering, and forgiveness.
Chakras provide a kind of schematic for human self-care. In other words, they offer a detailed plan you can follow to guide your meditation, yoga, and other emotional work. To follow this blueprint, learn how the details of how each chakra works in the body and in nature.
The seven chakras are situated along the body’s midline, from the base of the spine to the very top of the head. From instinct to higher-order thinking, the chakras move from the lower part of the body up to the crown in a deliberate sequence. Each chakra has its own color, stone, element, and vibrational frequency, and controls some part of the energies that define humanity—and thus our psychological qualities.
The History of The Chakras
The term chakra is Sanskrit for “wheel.” For millennia, people have depicted chakras in art as colorful, spinning energy wheels and described them as essential to life.
Although chakras are recently a pop culture phenomenon thanks to the wild popularity of New Age philosophies and yoga, they were first mentioned around 1500 BC in the Vedas, ancient Hindu sacred texts.
The Seven Chakras
Here is a list of the seven main chakras in the human body, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Each chakra has a detailed discussion section below, but here we have the chakra name, where it sits in the body, its color, and what it does:
- Root Chakra — Base of the spine; red; basic instincts linked to survival, groundedness.
- Pelvic Chakra — Lower abdomen/pelvis; orange; intuition, sexuality, self-esteem, self-worth.
- Navel Chakra — Upper abdomen over the navel; yellow; digestion, ego, will, impulse control.
- Heart Chakra — Middle of the chest over the heart; green; caretaking, compassion, spirituality.
- Throat Chakra — Throat; blue; communication, speaking truth to power, emotion.
- Third Eye Chakra — Between and just above the eyes; purple; imagination, rationality, wisdom.
- Crown Chakra — Crown of the head; indigo; spiritual, psychic matters.
Root Chakra – Muladhara
- Element: Earth
- Color: Red
- Mantra: Lam
- Location: Near the tailbone at the base of the spine
- What it controls: Basic instincts that control survival, such as food, work, shelter, independence
- Meditation: “I need a steady foundation to grow strong and stay rooted.”
- Stone: Hematite
- Developmental life stage: 1 to 7 years old
The Muladhara is the center of survival, family ties, and belonging. Feelings of guardedness start here and proceed toward openness as life progresses.
The root chakra is the spiritual photo album for all of your earliest memories and emotions. This means that if your early past was insecure or unhappy, and your basic needs went unmet, you will feel it here.
A balanced Muladhara means a confident, stronger person who can engage in self-care and stand up for themselves. A blocked or unbalanced root chakra leads to self-destructive behaviors, feelings of low self-esteem, nightmares, feelings of insecurity about finances, anxiety more generally, and less ability to get needs met.
Physically, a blocked Muladhara can cause problems such as constipation, lower back pain, arthritis, trouble with legs and feet, and general colon and bladder troubles.
To maintain a healthy root chakra, take a holistic approach (as with all chakras). Physically, engaging in exercises such as running, dancing, or jumping is helpful. See your yoga pose below.
Mentally and emotionally, focus on identifying your needs for security, and assessing whether they are being met. Look for opportunities to seize your own power to create security in your life by making it more enjoyable or safer in some way. Strive to live happily and with a sense of pride. The lesson of the root chakra is “I exist.”
Activate the Root Chakra With Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Sometimes mistakenly seen as a “beginner” pose, Tree Pose is a lifelong challenge and an essential part of an evolving practice. As you engage in this pose, imagine yourself connecting downward to the Earth, outward into the atmosphere, and with the Universe as a whole.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Align your hips and shoulders, and create a stable base.
- Inhale deeply.
- Exhale, soften your knees, and then engage your thighs and release your tailbone.
- Slowly move your right foot sole to the inside of your left calf or inner thigh. As you make this gentle, gradual movement, continue to engage the thigh in your standing leg and drop your tailbone to maintain your stability, just as you did with both feet on the ground.
- Lift the crown of your head as you breathe deeply. Press through your rooted left foot.
- Hold for 5 breaths, and then release.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Observe how the energy flows up and down your spine. Allow gravity to anchor you.
Sacral Chakra – Svadhisthana
- Element: Water
- Color: Orange
- Mantra: Yam
- Location: Lower belly, several inches beneath the navel
- What it controls: Your sense of abundance, well-being, pleasure, and sexuality
- Meditation: “I love and honor myself, just as I love and honor others, always.”
- Stone: Tiger’s Eye
- Developmental life stage: 8-14 years old
The pelvic chakra relates to the sexual and reproductive organs, and is associated with creativity, abundance, and fluidity. More literally this can relate to things like sex or fertility, but it is much broader, connected to feelings of whether you deserve things you want out of that creative, happy life we’re all striving for.
An unbalanced Svadhisthana can lead to guilt, emotional instability, and blaming yourself for any number of problems—because you feel you don’t deserve to succeed or be happy. On the other hand, an open, balanced pelvic chakra leads to open-mindedness, positivity, creativity, and the flexibility it takes to master even major changes.
Physical problems linked with the pelvic chakra are related to associated organs—so you might see infertility, lower back pain, or urinary tract infections. Emotional issues connected to Svadhisthana center upon feelings of self-worth as they relate to pleasure, creativity, and sexuality. You might also see a sort of hybrid issue such as addiction or impotency.
Realize that when you’re feeling emotionally unstable or creatively uninspired, you may be experiencing imbalance in your pelvic chakra. Realize that you deserve pleasure when you want it, and seek out enhanced function through yoga, bellydancing, and more loving partnerships.
The lesson of this chakra is, “I want.” It is natural and normal to want things, and derive pleasure from your experiences. Consider what your dreams and passions are. How can you live them out and see them through?
Activate the Sacral Chakra with Goddess Pose (Deviasana)
- Go with your own flow in the Goddess Pose. Tune in to your own desires.
- Place your feet wide apart, with your toes turned out.
- Sink your hips so that each knee is over its ankle.
- Put your hands on your thighs, lift the pubis and draw your tailbone down.
- Breathe deeply and rock your pelvis back and forth as you move side to side.
- Now, fold at the waist and move your arms side to side between your legs.
- Hold for 8 to 10 slow, deep breaths, making any natural sounds that occur to you.
The focus and engagement in the pelvis flows energy to your reproductive organs. The back and forth motion reminds your brain of what your body already knows: life is a series of waves, a cycle.
Solar Plexis Chakra – Manipura
- Element: Fire
- Color: Yellow
- Mantra: Ram
- Location: Upper belly around the navel
- What it controls: Confidence, self-esteem
- Meditation: “I focus inward to accept every piece of myself, and thus I learn self-love.”
- Stone: Amber
- Developmental life stage: 15 to 21 years old
You may have heard people say that someone “has fire in the belly” or is “really firing on all eight cylinders.” This is the way of a balanced Manipura.
The navel chakra or solar plexus chakra is the source of one’s power and core strength, both literally and figuratively. Blocking this particular channel can mean feelings of inertia, malaise, and stagnation. These feelings in turn can cause you to procrastinate, feel uncertain, or be taken advantage of. Reopening the navel chakra gives you a shot of self-esteem, confidence, and courage, and the ability to productively act on your own behalf.
On the other hand, an over-active third chakra is no good, either! Too much navel chakra can mean you have obsessive control issues, trouble making decisions, or even problems with your anger—all stemming from lack of true self-esteem. Balance is the ideal here.
Physical issues arising from just blocked or imbalance in the navel chakra include abdominal pain, ulcers, eating disorders, and digestive issues such as gas and heartburn.
To develop and grasp your personal power, work on this chakra. Restoring balance and a vigorous flow of energy to Manipura allows you to accomplish your goals, control your life, and work through any residual fear of risk-taking.
The navel chakra teaches us this lesson: “I control.” Why should anyone else be in control of your destiny—and why shouldn’t you?
Activate the Solar Plexis Chakra with Boat Pose (Navasana)
A truly masterful boat pose demands not just strength, but control.
- Sit with your legs in front of you.
- Hug your knees into your chest.
- Wrap your arms behind your knees to balance on your sitting bones and lift your feet off the floor.
- Lower your shoulders and lift your chest.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and draw in your navel. Shift your weight forward to the front of your sitting bones.
- Inhale, stretch your legs up, and reach your arms forward into Navasana.
- Exhale, place your arms across your chest, and slowly drop your legs until they are just above the floor.
- Inhale and return to Navasana.
- Repeat 5 times.
- Lie down on your back.\
- Enjoy the warm feeling of energy you get from sustained engagement of your powerful core muscles. The boat ignites your ability to transform yourself—or the world around you.
Heart Chakra – (Anahata)
- Element: Air
- Color: Green
- Mantra: Yam
- Location: Surrounding the heart
- What it controls: Love, joy, and inner peace
- Meditation: “I can love others unconditionally only when I love myself.”
- Stone: Rose Quartz
- Developmental life stage: 21 to 28 years old
We all have the power to love unconditionally inside of us, thanks to Anahata, the heart chakra. Through simple acts of acceptance, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness, we learn what it means to open the heart chakra and truly connect with others.
Anahata is the centermost of the seven chakras, linking the lower chakras and their more basic instincts and needs and the upper chakras and their more abstract qualities. Likewise, the heart chakra is the core of the chakra system that teaches us how to forge bonds with others.
As you might guess, there is a range of ways Anahata affects your well-being. When blocked, the heart chakra may trigger feelings of codependence, insecurity, loneliness, or possessiveness. Fear of rejection may motivate someone with a blocked Anahata to avoid connections with others, form dysfunctional relationships, and put the needs of others ahead of their own, even when it hurts them.
A misaligned or closed Anahata can trigger feelings of anger, betrayal, grief, grudge-holding, jealousy, and even hatred. Unfortunately, the more of these kinds of negative feelings you hold on to, the fewer opportunities you experience to love.
Physically, a blocked heart chakra can express itself through asthma, weight problems, or the most obvious: heart issues. However, for this chakra especially, blocks are usually expressed behaviorally.
To learn to reopen the Anahata chakra, remember that its element is air. Be transparent about your feelings and needs, and enjoy nature and the outdoors. Stay open to forming healthy relationships and loving unconditionally, and you will learn to heal old wounds.
Anahata teaches us, “I love.” Too often we dismiss love as frivolous or less important than other things, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Restoring a free bidirectional heart energy flow allows you to remain open to receiving all of the love that is in your path.
Activate the Heart Chakra with Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
As you open yourself to unconditional love in camel pose, dedicate your practice to someone you care about, if you choose.
- Kneel and sit back on your heels.
- Place your palms in prayer position in front of your heart.
- With your toes and knees hip-width apart, tuck your toes under and rise up until your hips are over your knees.
- With your fingers pointing up, place your palms on your lower back and gently lift your front hip bones as you lower your sacrum.
- Lean back, hug the shoulder blades together, and if you can, grasp your heels with your hands.
- Breathe here.
- After a few breaths, release gradually with the head returning to neutral last.
- Sit back on your heels, bring your hands back to your sacrum, bow your head, and return your hands to prayer position.
Camel pose allows you to reopen your heart center to unconditional love. As you add this pose into your practice, consider releasing unhelpful feelings of resentment, anger, and disappointment.
Throat Chakra – Vishuddha
- Element: Music/sound/ether
- Color: Turquoise, light blue
- Mantra: Ham
- Location: Throat
- What it controls: Truth, self-expression, and communication
- Meditation: “I speak truth to power.”
- Stone: Aquamarine
- Developmental life stage: 29 to 35 years old
This chakra, as its name suggests, is linked with our ability to communicate—but it’s far more than that. The loss of one’s ability to speak truth to power is a loss of humanity, and so the flow of energy through Vishuddha is essential to happiness.
A blocked throat chakra can you may feel like it’s impossible to speak your mind. Although you understand your own feelings, you can’t find your truth or voice to speak it. You may also find it hard to stay focused or pay enough attention to people around you, hurting intimacy in relationships or causing you to fear judgment.
On the other hand, an overactive, compensating Vishuddha can mean you fail to listen to others and dominate the conversation. Poor communication generally, including speaking thoughtlessly and gossiping, is equally a sign of an overactive throat chakra.
Physically, a blocked throat chakra can cause a sore throat, stiffness in the shoulders or neck, thyroid illness, or tension headaches. Troubles with the voice, mouth, teeth, or gums, can also signal a Vishuddha blockage.
An aligned Vishuddha allows you to listen compassionately and speak with confidence and clarity—because you will be following your true north. A stimulated, open throat chakra results in a more powerful expression of your voice, and more ability to process without judgment what you hear through the voices of others.
Learn to breathe through fear and speak your own truth. Mindfulness exercises, chanting, and singing can enhance your throat chakra’s health.
Learn “I express” from Vishuddha. You should be the last person to silence yourself, so allow your lovely voice to ring out clear. You will find that you can ask for everything you need when your throat chakra is optimally flowing.
Activate the Throat Chakra with a Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Nothing beats a new perspective when it comes to speaking truth to power. Shoulder stand allows you just that, as you reboot your view of the universe.
- Fold a blanket or thick mat for support.
- Lie down and support your shoulders on the blanket or mat, with your head on the floor.
- Bend your knees, and swing your hips up.
- Lift your legs over your head, move your legs past the crown of your head, and point your toes toward the floor past your head.
- Supporting the middle of your back with your hands, lift one leg at a time straight up.
- Focus on your breath as you hold for up to two minutes.
- Join the soles of your feet or lower your legs toward the floor one at a time, if you like, as you hold.
- Uncurl vertebra by vertebra as you drop your feet and hands to the floor and lower yourself.
- Follow up with the counter Fish Pose if you desire. Enjoy hearing the sound of your own voice in the silence.
Third-Eye Chakra – Anja
- Element: Light
- Color: Indigo/purple/dark blue
- Mantra: Om
- Location: Between and just above the eyes
- What it controls: Imagination, intuition, and wisdom
- Meditation: “There is more to the universe than what I can see with two eyes.”
- Stone: Amethyst
- Developmental life stage: 36 to 42 years old
This chakra is associated with the sixth sense, or intuition, for those who prefer it. The sixth chakra also controls how well the other chakras function, because guidance, along with awareness, intuition, and insight, are all linked with Anja.
A blocked third-eye chakra leaves you feeling cynical, close-minded, untrusting, and too rigidly moored to logic. Know-it-all types who can’t seem to listen to anyone else (not to mention reality) often have an Anja block. A lack of third-eye chakra flow can also give you problems learning new skills, following your intuition, recalling important facts, or trusting your inner voice.
Another issue here is the guidance factor. Unbalanced lower chakras such as the heart chakra, pelvic chakra, navel chakra, or root chakra, are a good sign that third-eye energy will also be misaligned. This can lead to thinking and feelings that are more dismissive, judgmental, and introverted.
This chakra and its placement on the head mean that blockages often cause headaches, dizziness, hearing problems, problems with the pituitary gland, and issues with concentration or sight. Other neurological and mental health issues may be involved, such as anxiety and depression.
An optimally functioning Ajna chakra affords you insight and the courage to deploy your inner wisdom as you take on any number of challenges. If your third-eye chakra is open, your intuition will not fail you, and you will always see both the forest and the trees. This more detailed, richer picture of your life comes and because working on the sixth chakra enables you to perceive wisdom that you would otherwise miss, opening your heart to different perspectives.
The third-eye chakra teaches us all: “I witness.” How much you are able to witness can expand over time. Meditation can help you hear your own thoughts. Visualize the spirited flow of energy through this chakra. Be ready for your own inner guidance, which will set and keep you on the right road.
Activate the Third Eye Chakra with Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Do not be fooled by the physical ease of this pose. The challenge is in the meditative state you aim to achieve.
- Sit cross-legged.
- Place one heel in next to your groin, followed by the other heel.
- Sit on a folded blanket or mat if your knees aren’t lower than your hips.
- Place your hands with palms cupped in Hakini Mudra.
- Close your eyes.
- Take ten slow breaths, focusing on the sound of your breath.
- Release the backs of your hands to your knees.
- Remain in the pose for up to five minutes.
This is a restoration pose that allows you to reset your mind and access your deep stores of calm and focus. Increase your ability to concentrate with Hakini Mudra, and stay open to your own insights.
Crown Chakra – Sahasrara
- Element: Consciousness/energy
- Color: Violet or White
- Mantra: OM
- Location: The crown of the head
- What it controls: Spiritual life and connection, and beauty inside and out
- Meditation: “I am filled with divine light and love, yet I have endless capacity for more of both.”
- Color: Violet/White
- Stone: Clear quartz
- Developmental life stage: 43 to 49 years old
Sahasrara connects this world and the spiritual world with inner and outer beauty itself. The crown chakra links us to the next world, giving us a sense of existence beyond the body. The apex of the energy system, this chakra is actually said to hover just above the top of the head and is not located inside the physical body.
Nevertheless, the crown chakra is closely connected to every other chakra, and the many organs they control. This means that although Sahasrara manages the nervous system, pineal gland, and brain, it also affects every organ in the body and the spirit or life force. The crown chakra is said to connect us in a physical, mental, and emotional way to the spirit, enlightenment, and the universe.
A closed crown chakra can produce the skeptical, narrow-minded, or stubborn feelings of someone who believe that happiness is always external. A Sahasrara blockage can generate feelings of disconnection, emotional distress, and isolation.
Of course, for some of us, it’s just our normal! This is because for many of us becoming more spiritually enlightened is part of a journey, a totally normal one. However, we can all work toward the joy that opening this chakra brings, not to mention the flow it brings to other chakras.
Find that center at the very crown of your head. It is the place that binds you and the cosmos in a spiritual connection. Freeing yourself to be open to that connection teaches you this last lesson of the seventh chakra: “I am.”
Activate the Crown Chakra with Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Even the novice yogi looks forward to Savasana, but it takes time to appreciate all that you can get from the pose. Take time to journey outside yourself as you explore the possibilities of where your mind takes you in corpse pose.
- Lie down on your back in a place where you are comfortable, safe, and warm.
- You can use a blanket, an eye pillow, or a rolled-up blanket under your head or knees if you like.
- Your legs should be relaxed, hip-width apart.
- Your arms should be relaxed at your sides, palms up.
- Inhale deeply, and constrict every muscle in your body tightly until your arms, legs, and head are off the floor.
- After a moment, exhale and release.
- Repeat several times.
- Visualize a glowing ball of light near the crown of your head. It is warm and bright but pleasant and soothing.
- Each time you inhale, the light glows and grows brighter, as if it too is inhaling. As you exhale, you release anything that is holding you back through the light.
- Remain for at least five and up to 20 minutes.
- Slowly, bring your awareness back to your breathing.
- Now, bring yourself back into your body, moving your extremities first, until you are ready to rise.
You remain joined with your infinite self and the spiritual world.
Why Are Chakras Important?
Each chakra may be more or less active, but ideally, all seven should function normally and be “open.” This just means energy will flow through in a normal way, and all seven chakras are contributing equally to the well-being of the whole person. When this happens, higher-level thinking, emotions, and base-level instincts all work together harmoniously.
Unfortunately for most of us, this is not typically the case. Some chakras are under-active, or not open enough, so other chakras may become overactive to compensate. Ideally, of course, all chakras are open and balanced.
This is among the reasons it is so important to understand how chakras work. It is far easier to put emotional and physical imbalances right once you know how to assess what has caused the imbalance in the first place. By learning how chakras and the body elements are connected, you can access new reserves of energy and function optimally.
For example, we associate the root chakra with the earth. Like an uprooted plant, when the root chakra is out of balance, we feel insecure. Restoring balance here allows us to feel stronger and healthier.
Another example is the connection between water and the pelvic chakra. A plant that is starved for water dries up and can’t produce flowers or fruit—and a human with a blocked pelvic chakra just can’t get their creative juices flowing. Restoring that flow through the pelvic chakra allows you to feel more flexible, solve problems more easily, and feel emotionally resilient.
It is, of course, essential to understanding your own emotions first to restore balance in your chakras. However, it is also critical to learn about the chakras themselves. This helps you make those connections between your symptoms and your chakras.
For example, feelings of anxiety and insecurity and often related to the root chakra. Feelings of fatigue or lack of energy can be connected to the navel chakra. Feelings of timidity and the need for courage are associated with the throat chakra.
While there are many techniques for balancing the chakras, and especially for opening the chakras, the first step has to be understanding them at a deeper level.
Balancing the Chakras
As you learn about the seven chakras, it is likely that one or more will jump out at you. It may not always be the same ones—in fact, it won’t be.
These centers of energy in the body will feel different to you at different times. They all correspond with feelings and experiences you have grappled with. If one resonates with you often, you have probably identified an area where you need to work on chakra balancing or dealing with blocks.
Blocked, overactive, and underactive chakras can all wreak havoc in your life, because they can throw you off-kilter emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It may seem intuitive to “slow down” an overactive chakra, but actually all of these problems have the same cure: balance.
Overactive chakras are merely compensating for other chakras that are blocked or underactive. The real solution, then, is ensuring all of the chakras are flowing well and in balance with one another.
The great news is that your body knows what’s wrong and does a good job expressing it. For example, if you have ongoing issues expressing yourself, communicating, and find yourself with sore throats, your body is letting you know that you’re having a throat chakra problem.
Many people engage in cleansing chakras to restore balance to their energy flow.
Some of these chakra cleansing techniques include:
- Chakra healing stones
- Chakra meditation
- Conscious breathing
- Tai Chi
The Benefits of a Chakra-based Practice
A chakra-based yoga practice can create a powerful ripple effect. Each of the poses here addresses its own chakra, and you can also include counterposes if you like. As you focus on a pose that needs work in your practice, you also bring your mindful attention to linked life issues.
Engage in chakra-based meditation as part of this kind of practice for a more restorative approach. Close your practice sitting quietly and breathing, and bring your focus to your root chakra at your tailbone near the base of the spine. Remember that it is like a slowing, spinning, red wheel of light. As you breathe, imagine that light wheel pulsing with your breath.
Do this for each chakra, seeing it where it lives in your body. Visualize it in glowing color and motion. As you close out your meditation at your crown chakra, you will envision a swirling wheel of violet light just above your head. It is a sign that you are not alone in the universe, and that everything is connected.
As you work to ensure free-flowing energy is moving through your chakras, don’t get discouraged. Just learning more about how they work does a lot for your inner experience and practice. Mindfully tuning in to your chakras can allow you to achieve greater bliss and better health.