Chakra Definitions: Wheels of Fire

Chakras and the Lotus Posture

Illustrations by Rose Karlsen

Chakra definitions come from ancient Eastern traditions and address the flow of energy in the human body as well as associated emotional and psychology patterns. Understanding the chakras helps the unseen world of energy flow to become more tangible. Although most sources describe seven chakras, there may be many more energy centers in the body. 

Some systems include eight chakras (adding a sub-chakra for the heart called the secret chamber of the heart). Other systems include twelve chakras (adding chakras in the hands and feet and one in the side). 

Finally, detailed systems that relate the chakras to acupuncture meridians may include one hundred forty-four chakras or more. For the purpose of this article, we’ll start with chakra definitions for the seven main energy centers.

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An Unexpected Chakra Experience

I had an unexpected experience of the power of the chakras several years ago. I was taking a swing dance class with my husband. He was enthusiastic about having me there as he was an avid ballroom dancer at the time. I was less keen on attending. However, I had agreed to go in the spirit of a shared activity.

There were twenty or thirty people in the class and the men were lined up in a circle around the edge of the room. The women would dance with one man for a moment or two, practicing a variety of spinning moves, and then move on to the next man and repeat the same steps and spins.

We were nearing the end of the hour. Since we were repeating the same spins over and over, we were actually whirling around much more than one normally would in an actual dance. Suddenly I felt a rushing sense like a campfire ignited at the base of my spine, instantaneously filling my pelvis and beginning to move upwards.

I had never experienced that kind of thing before but had read and studied enough to recognize what was happening. I knew it had something to do with the kundalini energy at the base of the spine beginning to rise. However, I had no clue what would happen next.

I was panicked about being in a public place during this unusual experience. Was I going to have a seizure? Would I fall to the floor twitching and writhing and humiliate myself? Would I lose consciousness? Would they have to call an ambulance for me?

“No!” I commanded instantly, “Not here! Not now!” The experience ended as quickly as it had begun. I walked to the foyer, changed my shoes and headed for the car. To my husband’s great disappointment, I refused to take any more dance classes. Going forward, I preferred to work with the chakras in a more conscious and controlled manner.

Afterward, I did some research into the whirling dervish dances of the Sufis, which seemed to be the closest thing to what I had experienced. The whirling dervishes and even Tibetan prayer wheels are based on the principle that rotational force can result in energy rising upward. Interestingly, children often play a game of spinning around until they are too dizzy to stand up. As adults, we are generally moving only forwards or backwards!

Kundalini Energy and the Chakras

What I experienced seems to have been a form of spontaneous kundalini movement. The Sanskrit word “kundalini” means “coiled like a snake.” The snake is a common symbol of the kundalini, an energy curled at the base of the spine. As the kundalini moves upward, the energy flows through the seven major energy centers called chakras.

Many mystics and yogis have written and taught about the rising of the kundalini. In some meditation practices, bringing the energy to the crown of the head is considered to be the physical counterpart to achieving enlightenment.

Of course, there are mystics who have achieved elevated states without any knowledge of such things. You do not necessarily have to know chakra definitions or the details of the kundalini to meditate, practice yoga or sing mantras.

All the same, if you want to cultivate this process consciously or you are seeking to understand spontaneous experiences, familiarity with these things could be helpful. There are many approaches to awakening and raising the kundalini. A wide variety of yogic techniques can guide you in that direction.

In fact, even rather mechanical practices can be effective. For example, Dr. Francis Lefebure, a French physician and scientist (1916-1988), designed  a device called a Gyrascope that would awaken the kundalini when used for about an hour a day. 

Kundalini and the Seven Chakras

Understanding the Seven Chakras

Let’s take a closer look at chakra definitions for the seven major chakras. Chakra definitions do vary to some degree from source to source. This is a vast field of study. If you are seeking to work with the chakras, research and your own experience will help you to determine which tools are most helpful for you.

A note of warning: some practitioners believe that all of our experiences and memories are encoded in the energy of the chakras. This is powerful stuff. In the process of healing, clearing and balancing the chakras, memories and emotions can be released.

For example, if you practice this regularly, you may suddenly feel grief or anger while focusing on a particular chakra or at any point afterwards. If this occurs, please take care of yourself and find the assistance you need from family, friends and professionals.

It may be helpful to recognize that this is all energy: in my experience the key is to transform the energy rather than to deny or suppress your feelings. Mantras can transform energy. I have included examples of mantras for the chakras in subsequent articles dedicated to each chakra. See links below.

Thee are also seed syllables associated with each chakra. These are concentrated sounds in Sanskrit that strengthen the energy of each chakra. In order from the base to the crown, these are LAM, VAM, RAM, YAM, HAM, OM and AUM (also ANG or AH).

Other practices that may be helpful in working with the energy of the chakras include exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling and so forth. You may want to find more than one approach that works for your temperament and personality.

Seven Chakra Definitions with Seed Syllables

Sanskrit Chakra Name Pronunciations

This video is a quick pronunciation guide to the Sanskrit chakra names. The names give clues to the roles of the chakras in the body and on psychological and emotional levels.

Muladhara:  “Mula” means “root” and “adhara” means “base or support.”
Svadhishthana: Svadhishthana means “one’s own abode.”
Manipura: Manipura translates as the “city of jewels.” 
Anahata: Anahata means “unhurt, unstruck, unbeaten, pure or clean.”
Vishuddha: Vishuddha means “especially pure.”
Sahasrara: Sahasrara means “thousand-petaled.”

Thanks to Jake Fleming for the pronunciations and to Rose Karlsen for the chakra illustration. 

Chakra Definitions from the Root to the Crown

Chakras can be defined by their position, their role in the physical body, and their impact on the psychological and emotional levels. All life experiences are stored in one or more chakra. Clearing the chakras of negativity is a process that can be accomplished in many ways. Tools include meditation, affirmations, mantras, yoga, dietary practices and self-examination. Brief definitions are included below as well as links to more extensive articles for each chakra.

Root Chakra Definitions

  • The name for the root or base chakra in Sanskrit is the Muladhara. This is the chakra of safety and security. “Mula” means “root” and “adhara” means “base or support.”

  • The root chakra is at the base of the spine and can be viewed as establishing your connection to your physical body, the earth, and the environment.

  • The base chakra is associated with survival instincts for food, shelter, safety, comfort and belonging.

Read full article on Root Chakra Meaning

Sacral Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Sacral Chakra Definitions

  • The second or sacral chakra is known as Svadhishthana. This chakra is the seat of the self and the relationship of the self with others.

  • The organs associated with the sacral chakra are the reproductive organs, the kidneys and the bladder.

  • The sacral chakra is said to house the unconscious. This is sometimes symbolized as the ocean. The sacral chakra is also the seat of creation, called the seat of the soul.

Read full article on Sacral Chakra Meaning.

Solar Plexus Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Solar Plexus Chakra Definitions

  • The third chakra or solar plexus chakra is known as Manipura. The name translates as the “city of jewels.” “Mani” means “gem” while “pura” means “city.”

  • When purified, this is the chakra of inner peace. The solar plexus chakra is located at the naval, center of intuition (a gut feeling).

  • This chakra is connected to both service and desires. This is the chakra where we get a gut feeling about people, places and events.
Heart Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Heart Chakra Definitions

  • The fourth chakra is the heart chakra or the Anahata chakra. In Sanskrit, “Anahata” means “unhurt, unstruck, unbeaten.” At the same time, Anahata means “pure” or “clean.”

  • The physical organs associated with the heart chakra are the heart itself, the circulatory system and the lungs. As the seat of love and devotion, the heart expresses charity, compassion, and kindness.

  • The heart is also a focus for beauty and culture. The heart chakra is symbolized by a twelve-petaled lotus with interlocking triangles in the center.
Throat Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Throat Chakra Definitions

  • The fifth chakra is the throat chakra or the Vishuddha chakra. In Sanskrit, Vishuddha means “especially pure.”

  • The throat chakra is depicted as having sixteen petals. In the center is a triangle pointing downward and a white circle representing akashi or ether.

  • The throat chakra is connected with creativity and self-expression as well as the actions of speaking and chanting. This chakra is associated with the neck, the esophagus, the teeth, the mouth and the ears.
Third Eye Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Third Eye Chakra Definitions

  • The sixth chakra is the third eye, the seat of spiritual vision. The Sanskrit term for this chakra is Ajna, which means “command” or “perceive.”

  • The pineal gland or third eye is associated with this chakra. The third eye, usually associated with clairvoyant abilities, can be developed with yoga, meditation and the practice of chanting.

  • The vibrations of chanting and singing are felt in the skull and can be consciously directed to the third eye. Other physical organs associated with the third eye are the eyes, the ears and the pituitary gland.
Crown Chakra Definitions and Symbol

Crown Chakra Definitions

  • The seventh chakra is the crown chakra, the seat of enlightenment, known in Sanskrit as the Sahasrara chakra. Sahasrara means “thousand-petaled.”

  • According to Eastern traditions, the crown chakra is related to god-consciousness (samadhi) and the transforming powers of the divine.

  • On the physical level, the crown is related to the nervous system and the brain. There is also a connection to the pineal and pituitary glands (similar to the third eye) and to the hypothalamus.

The Colors of the Chakras

The colors associated with the chakras also differ in various traditions. Many systems use the colors of the rainbow, beginning with red at the base and moving through violet for the crown.

Some esoteric groups use a sequence of white (root chakra), violet (sacral chakra), purple/gold (solar plexus chakra), pink (heart chakra), blue (throat chakra), green (third eye chakra), and yellow (crown chakra).

This second set of colors are purported to be the purified colors of the chakras or the chakras in their etheric state. In addition, there are essential oils, healing stones and other tools associated with each chakra. See the articles linked above.

Chakra Definitions and Color

Working with the Chakras

Illustrations of the chakras include extensive symbolism, Sanskrit letters, and hieroglyphs. They are a study in ancient wisdom and spirituality, recording various aspects of consciousness associated with each chakra. There are a number of ways to understand and work with the chakras. Among these are:

  • toning the seed syllables or primordial sounds for each of the seven chakras
  • chanting mantras dedicated to the deities associated with each chakra
  • visualizing light and healing for the physical organs associated with each chakra
  • working with the psychological and emotional aspects of each chakra
  • using visualizations, yantras (sacred art) and color therapy for the chakras
  • using essential oils and healing stones for the chakra
Essential Oils and Chakras

Vocal Medicine Book

Learn more about using mantras and singing to invigorate your life! Explore concepts from East and West related to the power of singing. Explore the chakras and the impact of sound in every area of your life.

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Author Kathleen Karlsen

Vocal Medicine reveals Kathleen Karlsen’s personal journey with mantras, chanting and kirtan. Benefit from Kathleen’s years of research into the power of sacred music. Topics include:

  • Achieve improved emotional health through mantras
  • Create a happy brain through singing
  • Extensive discussion of sound and the chakras
  • Connections between sound, color and healing

186 pages, $15.95
30 Illustrations

Chakra Art & Gifts

Chakra symbol artwork, coffee mugs and more featuring meditative symbols based on the ancient Hindu tradition. Unique inspirational artwork. Produced in the United States. Flat rate shipping $4.95 per order (US only), unlimited items. Wholesale pricing available on request.