Two concepts are common to all forms of traditional medicine. One is that each person is a union of mind, body and spirit, and that a disturbance in one plane can ripple through the others. The other is that what connects these planes is a life energy that profoundly affects well-being.
In India’s Ayurveda, this energy flows through seven chakras, a Sanskrit word translated as “wheel” or “vortex,” along the spine. The chakra system “gives us a formula for wholeness, a way to take your physical symptoms and map them onto your psychological and spiritual states,” says Anodea Judith, PhD, director of Sacred Centers in Novato, California.
Wheels of Connection
Judith says each chakra “is energy vibrating at a certain frequency,” linked to a color, emotional and spiritual state, and set of physical organs and functions. The seven chakras are:
Root (Base): Located at the base of the spine and associated with red. This is where the most primal needs for security and trust are based. Linked to the skeleton, gonads, elimination system, blood and adrenal glands.
Sacral (Abdominal): Located at the sacrum, the central pelvic bone, and associated with orange, the sacral chakra is concerned with pleasure and relationships. It too is associated with the reproductive system, adrenals and blood, along with the urinary system.
Solar Plexus: Located behind a nerve network called the solar plexus, above the navel, and associated with yellow. Concerned with issues of power and control, it is linked to organs in this area, such as the stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen and pancreas.
Heart: Associated with the color green, this chakra is involved in relationships of the heart—those with parents, siblings, partners and children. It’s also linked to the lungs and the thymus, a gland in the chest.
Throat: Associated with blue, it’s no surprise that this chakra is linked to expression—both artistic and in terms of communication—and reception. In addition to the throat, it also controls the upper limbs and thyroid.
Brow (Third Eye): Located between the eyebrows and associated with indigo. Linked to matters of intuition, Judith says it is “the home of the Spirit.” Associated organs include the ears, eyes, face, nose and sinuses, as well as certain brain functions.
Crown: Located at the top of the head and associated with violet or white. Issues of unity and separation, and relationships with authority, fall under the crown chakra, which is linked to the brain and nervous system as a whole.
Energy disruptions can start early in life. “The lower chakras first come into play when you’re born,” explains Judith. “There’s lots of things that can happen to you when you’re young and innocent.” Others may develop as the result of a disorienting lifestyle. As Judith puts it, “We live in ways that disconnect us from the earth.”
Jessica Albernaz, MS, CAC, owner of Aermid Ayurveda in Seekonk, Massachusetts, explains that Ayurveda generally deals with physical ailments through its three basic constitutional types known as doshas using diet, lifestyle changes and herbal remedies.
“Chakra work is more subtle, and therefore most beneficial when working with mental, emotional and spiritual issues,” Albernaz says. “However, issues in the physical realm affect the others, so chakra balancing can be useful when an imbalance has progressed to the point that all three are affected.”
Most of Albernaz’s clients have chronic conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression and arthritis. Chakra work can also help with such issues as relationship difficulties—“Much illness comes from withheld communication and the problems in relationships that come with that,” Judith says—or a sense of not being grounded. (You can find a practitioner through the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.)
This explains why physical complaints may have deeper implications. For instance, if someone with digestive problems saw Judith, she “would start by looking at their third chakra, which rules over power issues. There’s something blocking the transmutation of energy into action; it might be blocked anger or a habit of submission.” Chakra rebalancing involves specific yoga poses and “bioenergetic exercises—breath, sound and movement—to bring someone in touch with their vital core energy and move it through the body,” Judith says.
Like all forms of traditional medicine, chakra work requires the client’s active participation. Much of the advice given is of a practical nature: Albernaz recommends “eating nourishing food prepared with care, taking time for rest or meditation each day, living in accordance with the seasons and getting enough sleep every night.”
But total healing requires a deeper commitment. “Nothing replaces rolling up your sleeves and dealing with your personal issues,” says Judith. “ In order to do the necessary work we have to go into difficult feelings. A lot of people don’t want to do it.”
Albernaz talks to clients about “the basic foundations of Ayurveda so they can learn to apply this knowledge on their own, and fully participate in their own healing,” which includes learning to be aware of the body’s inner intelligence.
Because energy flows through everything, maintaining chakra balance can help societies as well as individuals. Judith says, “I think it’s an incredibly profound system, not only for personal healing but also for our collective cultural healing.”