Right up front may I say that I am indebted to Christopher Wallis for opening my eyes to how much I didn't know about chakras and how much I had learnt that was just not at all found in traditional sources, in spite of having made a considerable effort to find out whatever I could about them.
I took his course called Chakras Illuminated on Embodied Philosophy and it blew my mind and totally humbled me. I had learned "all about chakras" and had been teaching it to teacher trainees. Turned out I had swallowed a lot of modern stuff and knew practically nothing about the tradition. So I have since stopped teaching about chakras and started my real apprenticeship in Tantra Yoga, which is the traditional source of all things chakra.
If we transliterate the word from a script traditionally used to write Sanskrit, such as the devanāgarī script, it is cakra. here a c will always be pronunced like the ch in such. Many westerners read the word chakra with the sound shukkra. In Sanskrit it definitely has a ch sound. I just wanted to clear that up. I didn't use the cakra spelling in the title because many would not recognise it and would think I had made a spelling error. For the remainder of this article I will use the form cakra, especially when referring to the tradition.
Christopher Wallis suggests that the word has now come into English and has changed its meaning, its spelling and its pronunciation. Why its meaning? Read on.
The understanding of cakras in the traditional sources is developed within the Tantrik tradition. Cakras are focal points for meditation. They could also be described as energetic vortices, and as points of interesction of nadis. The primary cakras of interest in meditation all lie along the central channel. This is the central nadi that runs from the middle of the perineum through the crown of the head. It is along this central axis that the main human experiences occur as feelings. For example we experience love as a kind of fullness in the centre of the chest on the central axis, constriction in the throat, butterflies in the stomach, concentration in the middle of the head at the level of the eyebrow centre. (Read about nadis)
As a focal point for meditation cakras may be visualised variously as vortices of energy, spinning discs, flowers, light, depending on the practice.
OK, so I am being a bit fatecious, but it is a bit like that. There are many different systems and they are all valid. You can find texts that describe practices with four, five, six, seven up to twelve cakras. there are some correlations and some departures. Sometimes they are given different names. This would not necessarily mean that an ancient yogi was practising with all of these systems. Many of these texts belong to specific lineages, so if you were working with a teacher in a particualr lineage, that system is likely the one you would learn.
Elemental practices occur in five cakra systems - it makes sense, a cakra per element.
A twelve cakra system on the Trika lineage maps the Sanskrit vowels to the cakras in a particular practice.
I recommend the course mentioned above, Chakras Illuminated on Embodied Philosophy.
Find a good teacher of traditional Tantra Yoga. (Ask questions. If they are talking about any of the things mentioned above under "what you will not find in the tradition", or they are running sacred sex workshops, they are not a teacher of traditional tantra.)
Author: Tina Shettigara