A chakra can broadly be described as a wheel of energy that exists within your subtle energy body. There is some debate as to the number of chakras that a human being has in their energy field, depending on your school of thought. However, the general consensus is that there are seven major chakras. Why is there a debate about the number of chakras and where did the concept of the chakra originate? It was these questions that led me to study the ancient texts in search of an answer.
The earliest written record of the chakras is made in the Vedas, or more specifically in the Artharva Veda. After the Vedas, the chakras are mentioned again in the Upanishads where they are described as psychic centres of consciousness.
In the yoga sutras, some of the chakras are mentioned in Vibhuti Pada as areas in which we should focus our attention through our samyama practices. B.K.S. Iyengar describes samyama as the “art of integration through concentration, meditation and profound absorption”.
Sun, Moon and Pole Star
Sutra III.27 guides us to begin our journey to the esoteric body with samyama on the sun. I thought this was fascinating as we also begin our asana practice with sun salutations. B.K.S. Iyengar draws a lovely interpretation of this sutra. He says that “The light that shines from the seat of the soul is the sun of life. It passes through surya nadi at the gates of surya chakra and illumines the seven states of awareness in the yogi’s consciousness”.
In III.28 we are advised to perform samyama on the moon to gain knowledge of the star system. Knowledge of the sun, the moon and the star systems are rarely mentioned in the context of modern chakra studies which often begin with the root chakra. Before we start working our way up from the root chakra or down from the crown chakra, depending on your point of view, we first need to understand the galaxy of which we are a part. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, “Man’s body epitomizes the entire structure of the great universe”.
The following sutra, III.29, describes samyama on the Pole Star to gain knowledge of your destiny. The word dhruva used to describe the Pole Star can also be interpreted as the tip of the nose. When we bring our awareness to the tip of our nose in our meditation practice we are connecting with the Pole Star and thus deepening our ability to understand our destiny.
III.30 is where we see the word ‘cakre’ specifically mentioned. It came as no surprise to me that it is included in the sutra regarding samyama on the navel. Most, if not all, studies of the human energy field show that our energetic powerhouse is in the navel. In Chinese Qigong it is called the ‘Dantian’ and the Japanese call it the ‘Hara’. It is here that all our energy channels, called ‘nadis’, converge. This sutra advises us that we can gain knowledge of our whole body from samyama on the navel. This explains why yoga practitioners are often described as navel gazers!
III.31 and III.32 provide some interesting insight on how we can use the throat as a focal point in our yogic practice. We are introduced to one of the main nadis or energetic channels of the body: the kurmanadi. Located at the pit of the throat, kurmanadi derives from the word kurma meaning tortoise. We can achieve the steadfastness of a tortoise by practising samyama on the throat. B.K.S. Iyengar’s commentary explains, “The tortoise draws its head and limbs into the shell and does not come out, come what may. He remains in his shell, his emotional centre undisturbed, under all circumstances. He has developed emotional stability, the prerequisite of spiritual realization.”
The head, the light and the heart
III.33 and III.34 describe how we are able to have visions of the ‘siddhis’ or enlightened beings through samyama on the light of the head. In this way, we can receive knowledge and guidance from spirit. To finish our exploration of the chakras, III.35 describes how the heart is the place that will lead us into awareness of our consciousness.
Whilst the yoga sutras give very little detail as to the precise location of the chakras and mention only four: the navel, the throat, the heart and the crown of the head, I found it fascinating to consider the possible interpretations. I also marvelled at the insight to include the star systems in the quest to discover the subtle energetic body. These verses have certainly added to the mystery of the chakras and the more I read them, the more questions I have!
This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of Namaskar magazine.