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Chakras Explained: The Meaning, Origin & History of the 7 Chakra Vortexes

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Explore how the chakras are presented in ancient texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras & Tantras.
Chakras Explained: History, Origin & Meaning

Although the chakras were explained in various ancient texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Tantras, they are equally relevant today. Modern day seekers and healers continue to look to the chakra system to understand how consciousness and matter are one. Chakra healing can be a means to awakening as well as physical, mental and emotional healing.

What is the meaning of a chakra?

Chakra literally translates to “wheel” in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. It is an energetic vortex, shaped as a sphere, who’s lifeforce can be balanced, underactive, or overactive. Each one can also be open or closed. The energy in each chakra is composed of our thoughts, emotions, and memories, affecting us on every level of our being. It is a dynamic and ever changing, nonphysical aspect of our subtle body. Each of the seven main chakras take in energy, process it, and release it according to frequency. For example, the root chakra absorbs, circulates, and expels energy relating to health, home, family, finances, safety, and survival. When we balance and activate these vortexes, our inner and outer reality transforms as well.

The chakra system provides us a map of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness – depicting how they are all one and the same. It teaches us how to integrate these layers of our being for wholeness. Personal reflection and meditation on the chakras can reveal where our energies may have become stagnant, blocked or overactive, as well as the root causes for that. Chakra healing can reveal how our beliefs, feelings, traumas and experiences manifested in our body, and outer reality. We can then take accountability for our healing by shifting our narrative, and processing emotional weight, until our life force transforms. 

Chakras Explained: Meaning, History & Origin

Chakra Definitions and Translations

Each of the 7 major chakras have a name in Sanskrit that defines it. 

The first chakra is the Muladhara chakra which means root, support or foundation.

The second chakra is the Svadhisthana chakra which is translated as sweetness, “one’s own abode” or “dwelling place of the self”.

The third chakra is the Manipura chakra which means lustrous gem.

The fourth chakra is the Anahata chakra which translates to  unstruck or unbeaten.

The fifth chakra is the Vishuddha chakra which is translated as purification.

The sixth chakra is the Ajna chakra which means to command or perceive.

The seventh chakra is the Sahasrara chakra and it means thousand-petaled.

Chakra System Explained

In Vedic teachings, our subtle body houses the 7 major chakras along the spine. Along with the chakras, there are 72,000 nadis or channels in the human body. The most significant ones are the Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. Ida and Pingala, while subtle in nature, wrap around the spinal cord. The Ida nadi is associated with the left side of the body and the feminine energy. The Pingala nadi is associated with the right side of the body and the masculine. The Sushumna nadi is the central channel through which Kundalini energy rises and activates the chakras. It’s also where we receive from the Divine.

Chakras Explained: Origin & History Starting from the Vedas

Where Do Chakras Come From?

The chakras were first cited in the Vedas, a series of Hindu hymns, from approximately 1500 to 1000 BCE. The Rigveda describes how the chakras correspond to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The Atharvaveda describes the human body as having 72,000 nadis (energetic channels) along with the seven chakras. The Yajurveda helps us see the chakras as lotuses. The differing number of petals in each chakra’s lotus is related to a specific aspect of consciousness. The Samaveda mentions that the spiritual power of chakras can be harnessed through yoga, mantras, pranayama and meditation practices.

“When the Kundalini (serpent energy) is awakened and rises up through the chakras, the yogi attains union with the divine.”

Rigveda
Chakra# of PetalsSeed Syllable
Muladhara Chakra (Root)4 petaled lotusLAM
Svadhisthana Chakra (Sacral)6 petaled lotusVAM
Manipura Chakra (Solar Plexus)10 petaled lotusRAM
Anahata Chakra (Heart)12 petaled lotusYAM
Vishudda Chakra (Throat)16 petaled lotusHAM
Ajna Chakra (Third Eye)2 petaled lotusAUM
Sahasrara Chakra (Crown)1,000 petaled lotusAUM

Chakras Explained in the Upanishads

While the Vedas briefly mentioned the concept of chakras, the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Tantra add to our understanding of them. The Upanishads, which are Hindu texts written between 800 and 400 BCE, also speak of the subtle body while exploring the nature of reality, the Self, and consciousness. The Upanishads explain the chakras as psychic centers of consciousness and as a way to connect with the divine. By bringing our awareness to these vortexes of energy, we can awaken to our higher potential and experience true wellness. 

“The seven sages, the gods, and the seers meditate upon the seven-chakra system, which is the vehicle of the soul.”

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Chakras Explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The concept of chakras were further explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali, an ancient Indian sage, taught that pranayama can move Kundalini energy from the base of the spine, up into the chakras. He added that with the control of the breath, chakras can be balanced and activated. He also mentioned that we can attain spiritual gifts by moving life force through the chakras. It is shown to us that chakras are a means of accessing higher states of consciousness and unlocking the full potential of the human mind and body.

Chakras Explained in Tantra

Tantrism offers philosophy on weaving wholeness between spirit and matter, mind and body, masculine and feminine, Heaven and Earth. While it is known as sexual philosophy in the West, it offers much more as it teaches the worship of the divine, Hindu goddesses, hatha and kundalini yoga and more. Tantrism teaches us that each chakra center is a point of convergence for energy channels that can be harnessed for intuition, health and joy. 

“The chakras are the centers of consciousness and energy, and by working with them, we can awaken our inner potential and realize our true nature.”

Tantras

Today, the concept of chakras has emerged into modern spirituality, yoga, Reiki, Ayurveda, and other schools of thought. The system is used as a map of where human anatomy meets the mind and soul. A plethora of chakra balancing practices have proliferated around the world including aromatherapy, crystal healing, pranic healing, color therapy, visualization, breathwork and more. They are aimed at improving the flow of life force in the seven chakras, in order to reap physical, mental and emotional benefits. It can be greatly helpful for holistic healers to study the original texts on the chakras to uncover the original meaning and purpose of working with the chakra system. 

For more information on each chakra, visit the following blog posts

Root chakra

Sacral chakra

Solar plexus chakra

Heart chakra

Throat chakra

Third eye chakra

Crown chakra

Showing 3 comments
  • Joie
    Reply

    Wow! This post is a great comprehensive read. Your article beautifully explains their meaning, origin, and historical significance. The way you broke down each chakra and its associated qualities made it easy to grasp and appreciate their interconnected nature. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and shedding light on this ancient practice.

    • paritashahhealing
      Reply

      Hi Joie, Thank you for reading this post! Nice to connect with you here. 🙂

  • Wilma van Leiden
    Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing

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