Yoga goes so much deeper than our muscles and joints.
It is a healing practice that can transform your mind, body, and spirit—if you have the right tools. And the chakra system is one of the most ancient tools we have for understanding and healing ourselves—which makes them essential, not secondary, to the practice of yoga.
Think of this as a primer on the chakras: what they are (and how they relate to yoga), where to find each of them, how to recognize energy imbalances, and how to bring your chakras back into proper alignment.
The psychology of yoga
I like to refer to the chakras as the psychology of yoga. They are the channel through which we access the deep wells of our unconscious minds. True well-being can only be achieved through an alignment of our energetic systems, and understanding and interpreting the chakras is the path to recognizing and embodying that alignment.
Over time, unprocessed negative emotion can manifest as physical discomfort. Experiencing a traumatic event—losing someone you love, losing your home, or experiencing some other great upheaval—and failing to work through it leads to an energetic imbalance which becomes more aggravated the longer it is left unaddressed.
We all suffer from imbalances—emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. The work of being human is to find our way back to balance after being knocked off course. This is how we grow. And the pain we feel when we continue in a state of energetic imbalance is meant to draw our attention to that which is unresolved.
The first step in moving back toward balance is listening to the messages our bodies are sending us.
How to locate unresolved trauma through the seven chakras—and deal with it once and for all
The chakras are where our energies reside. Age-old Eastern wisdom has decoded these energy centers, providing a key to what each of them signifies, and what each of them harbors. We can think of the various chakras as fields of life expression or levels of consciousness. All the essential elements of our human experience are contained within these energy centers.
To understand the chakras is to understand the self—to get at the heart of who we are and what might be holding us back from fully embracing that. When we work through those stumbling blocks, we are able to live more authentically and feel more connected to our spiritual selves.
Here’s an overview of each of the chakras (as well as a practice to help you unlock the energy in each chakra). This is just a starting place, but it’s a powerful one. Learning to develop an inner communication is the first step in guiding ourselves toward optimum balance and well-being.
When we tap into a dialogue with ourselves, profound transformation occurs. We gain insight into the source of our imbalances and begin to understand how healing might be achieved. In short, we find a connection to our internal equilibrium that is sustainable, nurturing, and difficult to break.
The root chakra is located at the base of the spine. This chakra is the nerve center for our familial roots, our early development, our sense of safety and security, and our relationships with our parents. Regardless of how we were raised, or by whom, these early impressions make lasting marks on our psyche. The most core wound of this chakra is our ability to stand on our own two feet, to “parent” ourselves, and to accept personal responsibility for our lives and actions.
Accessing the Root Chakra
In a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Clear your mind, and feel only the sensation of breath. Tune into the root chakra by turning your attention to the base of your spine. Envision a soft, red, glowing light here.
Silently ask the root chakra to offer you a message. It may come in the form of an image, a thought, an emotion, a physical sensation, or something else entirely. The message will be given in the best format for you to understand. Invite this communique with an open heart, without expectation, and without judgement. Receive the message wholeheartedly, and offer your gratitude to the root chakra for showing it to you.
After your moment of thanks, say the following invocation out loud: I am stable.
Place your hands on your legs. Say the bija mantra (the seed sound that activates the root chakra), lam, three times—first placing your hands on your feet, then on the lower legs, then on the upper thighs.
The sacral chakra can be found in the lower abdomen, an inch or two below your belly button. It harbors the energy of our sexuality and sexual development, our creativity and our passion for life. The relationships we have with intimate partners are dominated by this chakra. No matter what our relationships have been like, we are the common denominator. If we believe we need someone else to “complete” us or make us whole, we suffer. Learning to be “the one” for ourselves and love ourselves unconditionally is the great lesson of the second chakra.
Accessing the Sacral Chakra
While in a comfortable seat, close your eyes and turn your attention to your breath. Focus on the sacrum and the lower belly. Imagine a soft, orange light there. Silently ask for a message from the sacral chakra. Accept the message in whatever form it comes. Open yourself to it completely. Once you have received the message, offer gratitude to your sacral chakra for its wisdom.
Clear your mind, and say the following invocation out loud: I am enough.
Follow the invocation by chanting the sacred sound for the sacral chakra. Say the bija mantra sound for the sacral chakra—vam—three times, first placing the hands on the lower belly, then on the lower back, then on the sacrum.
Solar Plexus Chakra
The solar plexus chakra is located in the upper part of your belly, where the diaphragm sits. It houses our inner fire, our drive, our fight, and our individuality. This is the location of our ego. In spiritual circles, we have the false impression that the ego must be “destroyed.” Not so!
Instead, we want the ego to be tempered. It should be strong, but not in control. We want the ego to be transparent, so that the light of our souls shines through all our actions. The relationship dominated by this chakra is to those we work with: our colleagues and peers. The core wound at this level is insecurity, which manifests as approval-seeking. To seek approval outside of ourselves is detrimental, misguided, and actually diminishes our self-confidence more than it could ever increase it. Instead, we must wholly and completely approve of ourselves.
Accessing the Solar Plexus Chakra
Seated in a comfortable position, close the eyes and tune into the breath. Focus on your solar plexus and imagine a soft, yellow, glowing light there. Quietly ask your solar plexus for a message, a communication that reveals to you its needs, its insights, or its wisdom. Accept the message wholeheartedly, without judgement, no matter what it is. When you have received and accepted the message, offer gratitude to your solar plexus chakra.
Then, say the following invocation out loud: I am empowered.
While still seated, say the bija mantra, ram, three times, first placing the hands on the solar plexus, then on the middle back, then on the upper belly.
The heart is located at the exact center of the chest. This chakra carries our compassion, kindness, and the ability to unconditionally love others and be loved ourselves. Perhaps the most important capability of the heart chakra is forgiveness. This is one of the hallmarks of humanness. When we do not forgive another, we carry that hurt, anger, and sadness inside our hearts and it becomes trapped there. That is detrimental to our personal growth, our current and future relationships, and to our general sense of well-being.
To overcome and free ourselves from the issues caused by not being able to forgive, we must access compassion and forgiveness that is not contingent on the other person’s character, actions, or our perceptions of what they “deserve.”
Accessing the Heart Chakra
In a comfortable, seated position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Attune yourself to your heart and imagine a soft, blue, glowing light here. Silently ask the heart for any message it has to offer, and receive that message wholeheartedly. Without judgement, resistance, or second-guessing, simply accept it. When you have received it, offer your gratitude to the heart chakra for its wisdom and insight.
Then, say the following invocation out loud: I am loved.
While remaining in your seated position, place the right hand over your heart. Say the bija mantra, yam, three times, connecting with the resonance of the sound in the chest.
The throat chakra is located—you guessed it—in the throat. It is associated with our communication system—our ability to listen to and understand ourselves and others. This energetic center thrives on purity, clarity, and integrity in all forms of communication. This area is affected primarily by our relationship to those we may have harmed.
Vocal injury is often thought of as the most powerful kind of injury we can inflict on another, and we may do that inadvertently. However, we also have a duty to speak our truth and stand up for ourselves. The core wound of this area is self-doubt. The key to overcoming this is to listen to our inner guidance system and speak the truth about what is important to us.
Accessing the Throat Chakra
In a comfortable, seated position, close your eyes and connect with your breath. Turn all your attention to your throat, and imagine a soft, blue light glowing there. Clear your mind and open your heart, then ask for a message from the throat chakra. Whatever form this message comes in (thought, image, sensation, emotion), accept it fully. When you have embraced the message, silently offer gratitude to your throat chakra for its wisdom and guidance.
Then, say the following invocation out loud: I am worthy.
While still seated, place your hands gently on your throat. Say the bija mantra, ham, three times, connecting with the resonance of the sound in the throat.
Third Eye Chakra
The third eye chakra is found between and slightly above your eyebrows. This chakra harbors our intuitive ability to connect with those around us, and to make wise decisions—decisions that lead us toward spiritual truth.
Every day we are faced with countless decisions. When we make them with clarity and the intention to move toward our highest good, we continue on our spiritual path. Our spirituality is centered in the third eye. To connect to your highest good requires self-awareness and empowerment.
Accessing the Third Eye Chakra
In your seated position, turn your internal gaze to the third eye as you focus on the sensation of the breath. Visualize a soft, purple, glowing light at the third eye as you ask for a message from your intuitive center. Accept whatever message comes to you (and whatever form it comes in) wholeheartedly. When you have embraced the message, offer gratitude to your third eye for this gift of wisdom.
To further connect with the third eye, say the following invocation out loud: I am guided by intuition.
While seated, place your hands softly in your lap as you say the bija mantra, om, three times, connecting with the resonance of the sound in your body. You may also turn your internal gaze (eyes closed) to the third eye, as you imagine it opening.
The crown chakra sits just at the top of your head. This chakra represents our psycho-spiritual connection to oneness, bliss, or yoga. This is the level of consciousness that transcends all separation. The more consistently we connect to it, the more we exist in a state of bliss. Operating at this level of consciousness means we are unburdened by the trials and tribulations of life. It means nothing “sticks” to us—that our energetic body, while remaining open to experience and intuition, is strong enough to remain steady in the face of challenges and doubts.
We are aware of these tribulations and we deal with them, but we no longer attempt to avoid them or let them control us. We accept whatever may arise, we honor it, and then we release it. If you don’t believe that this is possible, you will limit your potential and deny yourself the connection to wisdom and bliss that is our birthright.
Accessing the Crown Chakra
In a comfortable, seated position, visualize a bright, white light pouring into the crown of your head. Feel it moving through your body, saturating every cell with light. Witness this flow of energy within you. As it continues, ask the source of this light for a message. What might you benefit from knowing at this time? Receive your message in the way that is most powerful for you, and sit with it for a moment. Then, offer gratitude for this message, and for your continued connection.
Feeling the flow of energy, say the following invocation out loud: I am connected.
Place your hands softly in your lap as you prepare for meditation. Say the bija mantra, om, three times, connecting with the resonance of the sound in the body. Stay in this meditative state as long as you like.
These practices can be used together, to create and sustain connection to all of your chakras. But you can also use one or two of them alone, if you feel one or two particular chakras are out of balance.
How to tell when a specific chakra is out of alignment
If you feel pain, tension, or negative sensation in a certain area of your body, it’s time to focus on the corresponding chakra. For example, if you feel butterflies in your stomach, do the practice for the solar plexus chakra. If you feel lower back pain, do the practice for the sacral chakra.
While these practices may not heal the physical ailment (always see a doctor for persistent discomfort, too), they reveal the psychological and energetic imbalances that can exacerbate these ailments and provide insight into how we can rebalance our energies to support overall health, well-being, and happiness.
Take a free 3-day course on the chakras and move deeper into your healing practice here.