Many spiritual practices describe a kind of subtle energy, sometimes called qi or prana, that is considered to be the very essence of our life force. In yoga, this life energy runs through countless pathways called nadis (some texts estimate there are 72,000 nadis throughout the body channeling prana to each and every cell).
Along the nadis there are energy centers called chakras. Think of the nadis like lots of little rivers and streams, and the chakras like pools and reservoirs, or perhaps more accurately, whirlpools. Chakra is a sanskrit word translated as "wheel", so the chakras are essentially wheels of energy.
Muladhara "Root Support"
The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou
Kundalini shakti (spiritual energy) is said to be rooted in muladhara. In a way, this chakra represents our most basic and mundane human need - survival. Things like food, clothing, shelter and safety are represented by this energy center. At the same time it contains the key of our existence as it is said to hold our karmas from past lifetimes, and the energy (kundalini shakti) we need to free in order to become enlightened.
Learn Tadasana the "mountain pose" here. This is a great technique for getting grounded in Muladhara.
Svadhisthana "Seat of the Self"
Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” -Anais Nin
Connecting at this level means settling in and getting comfortable with the flow of our emotions, sexuality and creative expression. Often we are disconnected from these things because of judgement against them. Wherever we may have learned to suppress our emotions, sexuality or creativity, truly balancing the energy of this chakra comes from allowing things to flow freely. It is also common for imbalance to manifest in an excess of emotions and lack of boundaries.
Learn more about the technique of Vinyasa Flow here. Flowing freely as we do in Vinyasa is a great way to connect with the flowing energy of this chakra.
Manipura "City of Jewels"
You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand." -Irene C. Kassorla
When we stoke and safely contain the energy of manipura it has the power to purify the lower two chakras and the heart chakra just above it. This is the seat of our intuition (in partnership with the brow chakra). When it is distorted by emotions and fear, the energy of "knowing" can manifest as blind rage and irrationality. We need the heat of this chakra, in some ways it is our birthright. When the energy is deficient here we will have trouble really putting ourselves out there.
The heart is the place where we live our passions. It is frail and easily broken, but wonderfully resilient. There is no point in trying to deceive the heart. It depends upon our honesty for its survival." - Leo Buscaglia
Anahata chakra is the energy center of love - our ability to give and receive love. Both giving and receiving love can be challenging and require attuning to life as it is. We may fall on either side of pure love being drawn by the allurement or idea of a person, or being unable or unwilling to accept fault in ourselves and others. It is very possible to be out of balance in this chakra by giving of ourselves too much, and without discernment, or by closing ourselves off from all and any potential disappointment.
We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Vishuddha is commonly linked to our ability to communicate. It is interesting that the name literally means "purify". Perhaps it is through being clear, speaking truth and truly hearing one another that we cultivate wisdom and purify our minds. When we are dishonest with ourselves and/or others it is like poison for our minds, and it blocks the truth as well as prana. The throat chakra is also considered to be the link between the physical level and the astral level. It is a gateway from consciousness to super-consciousness.
You surrender to a lot of things which are not worthy of you. I wish you would surrender to your radiance... your integrity... your beautiful human grace." -Yogi Bhajan
Ajna chakra is the command center, the projector through which we see the world. It is often referred to as the third eye chakra, symbolizing the expanded inner vision accessible by clarifying our sight. When the lens of our "projector" is smudged, the whole view will be tainted. This chakra is like an inner guiding light. It illuminates the first chakra rooted deep in our unconscious mind, and helps bring to the surface what we need to learn in this lifetime.
Learn Meditation for Intention here. This is a great technique for clearing the Ajna chakra.
The crown chakra also points us back to the first chakra, as it is the home of Shiva Prana, the counterpart of Kundalini Shakti. These two energies are the polarities of our human existence - nature and consciousness, matter and energy. Sahasrara is infinite awareness, consciousness and knowing. As we ascend we transcend the issues of the lower chakras. It is our primordial royalty, simply waiting for us to take the throne.
[B]e patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer..." -Rainer Maria Rilke
This introduction to the seven chakras for beginners is meant to make you curious to learn and experience more. Happy studying and practicing! Thank you for reading.