Opening The Chakras

In this lockdown situation, it seems that people tend to compensate their lack of social contacts (outside the family unit) by a notable increase in bodily satisfaction and impulsive actions with heightened emotional content. We definitely cook/eat more (as the shortage of flour and clotted cream in shops demonstrates), we drink more. We are very much concerned by our safety and a lot of people are somehow dreading the return to “normal” reluctant to send their children to school and demanding that social distancing will be maintained as long as necessary, at work and in public places especially, However, the need for social contacts also translates into Zoom and other virtual platforms’ success. Never before was so high the need of talking to someone “face to face” to put some sort of reality into our virtual life. I now know by names most of my neighbours, thanks to local whats-up groups. How does it link to Chakras? In the course of my small Research, it dawned on me that the chakras system had interesting similarities with this American post-WW2 psychological model:

This pyramid represents the “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”. It is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. He created a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society as its base and then proceeding to more acquired emotions. Maslow’s hierarchy is most often displayed as a pyramid. The lowest levels of the pyramid are made up of the most basic needs, while the most complex needs are at the top of the pyramid.

Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep, and warmth. Once these lower-level needs have been met, people can move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security.

As people progress up the pyramid, needs become increasingly psychological and social. Soon, the need for love, friendship, and intimacy becomes important. Further up the pyramid, the need for personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment take priority. However later studies contradicted this assumption that there was indeed a hierarchy of needs, which would imply that if basic needs are not fulfilled, there is no access for higher aspirations.

Maslow emphasized the importance of self-actualisation, which is a process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential. He took Albert Einstein as an example of a fully self- actualised person. His basic idea is that all the individuals he studied had similar personality traits. All were “reality centred,” able to differentiate and discriminate between what is true from what is false. They were also “problem centred,” meaning that they treated life’s difficulties as problems that demanded solutions rather than react emotionally to situations.They tended to focus on problems outside themselves; were spontaneous and creative and not bound too strictly by social conventions. Maslow noticed that self- actualised individuals had a better insight of reality, deeply accepted themselves, others and the world, and also had faced many problems and were known to be impulsive people.

I find it quite fascinating that this pyramid and Maslow’s theory seems to present similarities with the chakras system; and this even includes the colour scheme! What is left out though in Maslow’s theory are the higher chakras linked to spiritual development. However, it is also a system based on growth and development. Could self-actualisation be a path to enlightenment?

Chakras are part of the pranamaya kosha/energy sheath. Chakras are “wheels” a metaphor for a swirling vortex of pranic energy. There are thought to be as few as 5 chakras or an infinite number throughout the subtle body. However, the tantric model of chakras, developed around the 11th Century, is the most accepted model. It gives 7 chakras, described as emanations of supra-consciousness.

Although Chakras are not material, they correlate with the major nerve plexus of the physical body; although more commonly they are associated to psychological, emotional and mental qualities. Carl Young, the famous psychoanalyst, describes them as ‘symbolising highly complex psychic facts …. That we could not possibly express except in images’ (Shamdasani 1996, page 61).

Chakras are also called Padma (lotus). The lower chakra (less petals) resonates at a slower rate than the higher and faster ones (more petals). The yoga practices are said to cause the chakras to open fully, sending increased energy along the spine. For the householders like most of us, combining asana and pranayama with chakras concentration can improve our health, vitality and well-being. Each Chakra has a colour, an element, a quality, an endocrine gland/issues and corresponds to an area of the body:

The lower chakras are associated with materiality. As for the Maslow hierarchy of needs, the lower chakras represent our basic material needs:

1. Muladhara or root chakra is symbolized by a lotus with four petals and the color red. Its center is located at the base of the spine in the perineum area or pelvic floor and corresponds to the sacral plexus. It is linked to a “down to earth” type of attitude, our common sense, our grounding in this world, here and now. It is also said to relate to the gonads and the adrenal medulla, responsible for the fight-or-flight response when survival is under threat. If we are constantly feeling under threat from the world, out of control, insecure, irresponsible or caught up in situations; it is suggested that the Muladhara chakra is out of balance.

2. Swadisthana is symbolised by a white lotus within which is a crescent moon, with six vermilion, or orange petals. It is situated in the genital area and associated with the prostatic plexus. It symbolises the core feelings we have around our likes and dislikes, reflecting what we embrace or resist in our lives. The water element in Swadisthana reflects the shifting tides of attraction and repulsion.If we find ourselves easily addicted (even to yoga), compulsive, lacking desire or having difficulty sustaining relationships, this suggests that this Chakra is unbalanced. Jealousy, fear for one’s own sexuality and intimacy, lack of creativity are also signs of lack of balance.

3. Manipura is symbolised by a downward pointing triangle with ten petals, along with the colour yellow. It is situated at the navel and corresponds to the solar plexus. It is associated with fire and the power of transformation. It is said to govern digestion and metabolism as the home of Agni and the vital “wind” or energy current: Samana Vayu. The energies of Prana Vayu and Apana Vayu (inward and outward flowing energy) meet at this point in a balanced structure. So Manipura plays a valuable role in digestion, the conversion of food matter into energy for the body. Key issues governed by Manipura are issues of personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion-formation, introversion, and transition from simple or base emotions to complex. Physically, Manipura governs digestion, mentally it governs personal power, emotionally it governs expansiveness, and spiritually, all matters of growth.

These 3 lower chakra would fit quite well with the 3 basic needs as described by Maslow: physiology, safety and relationship to other at an emotional level. Here the need for love in Maslow’s pyramid refers more to emotions linked to inputs belonging to the physical world (which includes the mind). All three would be related to the sympathetic nervous system.

In our session this week I will be concentrating on the activation of these lower chakras. We will be using the breath of fire and sun salutation to increase our intake of energy and pranā. Virabhadrasana I (warrior one), Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle) and Ustranasana (camel), which involve core work and expansion, will contribute to open the chakras. We will end with a short version of a Yoga Nidra, which will include a “rooting and growth” visualisation: “the oak is in the acorn” … and vice-versa.

Next week I will look  at the higher chakras; the Anahata chakra being the link between the material and the spiritual. It is, and rightly so, the Heart chakra with all its symbolics. Both material and intellectual dimensions are equally precious. Yogis believe that how we look after ourselves (body and mind) in this life will have consequences; in this life and possibly in another life, until we reach enlightenment and break the cycle of re-birth and death. Postures, pranayama and even meditation are not enough, however. Yamas and Niyamas, the personal and social qualities, are the first two limbs of yoga for a reason. A simple and responsible way of life coupled with some form of selfless service to others is essential for any spiritual progress.


Maslow: Hierarchy of needs

Vishnudevananda: Meditation and mantras


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