Odds are, if you’ve attended a yoga class, group meditation, or indulged in an hour-long reiki session, your instructor or practitioner most likely spoke about your chakras. In my yoga class, my teacher often brings up the third-eye chakra, located between the brows, saying it’s responsible for human intuition and the inner light within us. But what are chakras, really?
Literally speaking, the word “chakra” from Sanskrit translates to “wheel” or “disk,” but references a spiritual energy center within the human body, of which there are seven along the spine, and through the neck and the crown of your head, according to the Chopra Center.
Literally speaking, the word “chakra” from Sanskrit translates to “wheel” or “disk,” but references a spiritual energy center within the human body.
“The chakra system originated in India between 1500 and 500 BC in the oldest text called the Vedas,” says Fern Olivia, a reiki healer and yoga instructor. The Vedas are the earliest Sanskrit literary records and the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism. As for the purpose of the seven chakras? “They each correspond to specific organs as well as physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual states of being and influence all areas of your life,” says Olivia. “Within these chakras is ‘prana,’ or the ultimate pure healing energy, that’s all around us and within us, to keep us healthy, happy and vibrant.”
While there isn’t much scientific evidence that supports the physical manifestations of spiritual energy, the study of the seven chakras and chakra alignment—whether it be through meditation, reiki, or yoga—is rooted in the belief that “when the chakras are open and aligned, our energy is constantly free-flowing, allowing prana to flow through them,” says Olivia. But before you can dive deep into each chakra, you need to know the basics.
Here’s your top-line guide to the beliefs surrounding the 7 chakras—and the symptoms you may feel if they’re blocked.
The root chakra
Location: The root chakra is associated with the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae.
What it is: Think about your root chakra (aka Muladhara in Sanskrit) as the foundation of a house, except for your body—when in balance it’s sturdy, stabilizing, and supportive. As such, it’s responsible for your sense of security and survival, says Olivia. It’s also connected to whatever you use to ground yourself, including basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and safety, as well as your more emotional needs such as letting go of fear and feeling safe. As you well know, when these needs are met, you tend to worry less.
When it’s blocked: A variety of ailments can occur from blockages, including anxiety disorders, fears, or nightmares, adherents say. Physically, the first chakra is associated with problems in the colon, with the bladder, with elimination, or with lower back, leg, or feet issues.
“Like any of the chakras, the root chakra can be underactive or overactive,” says Ambi Kavanagh, reiki healer, astrologer, and author of Chakras & Self-Care: Activate the Healing Powers of Chakras with Everyday Rituals. “Underactive means it’s closed or blocked in some way or not spinning properly. In this case we may feel anxious, insecure and unsafe and as a result be ungrounded. If overactive, it’s as though the energies are working overtime and too attached to the physical and material world in ways which are unhealthy.”
Over indulging in physical pleasures like food or sex, becoming too attached to money, and an obsession with feeling secure are all markers of an overactive root chakra.
Element associated with it: Earth
Crystals associated with it: Red jasper, onyx, hematite
Yoga poses that activate it: Wide-legged forward fold, malasana squats, mountain pose
The sacral chakra
Location: Above the pubic bone and below the navel
What it is: Consider the second chakra, or Svadhisthana, the most fun out of the seven. “This chakra houses our emotions, passions and pleasures–the things that emotionally satiate us and give us joy and is considered the creative and sexual energy center of the body,” says Kavanagh.
When your sacral chakra is aligned, you’ll likely feel great: You’re friendly, passionate, and successfully fulfilled while also eliciting feelings of wellness, abundance, pleasure, and joy. (Nice!) By honoring your body and expressing yourself creatively, you’re keeping the energy wheels turning and fluid.
When it’s blocked: When you’re feeling uninspired creatively or have some emotional instability, your sacral chakra may be misaligned. Likewise, this can also be associated with physical sexual disfunction, while also potentially experiencing fear of change, depression, or addiction-like behaviors.
“When underactive, [someone] may suffer from a low libido, a lack of joie de vivre, or have hormonal and fertility issues,” says Kavanagh. “When overactive we may suffer from addictions, whether sex or other addictions, and can also experience lots of emotional fluctuations from big highs to lows, like an emotional rollercoaster.”
Element associated with it: Water
Crystals associated with it: Carnelian, tiger’s eye, sunstone
Yoga pose that activates it: Pigeon pose, goddess pose, warrior II
The solar plexus chakra
Location: From the navel to about the ribcage, it reportedly governs all things metabolic, digestive, and stomach-related.
What it is: With its Sanskrit name, Manipura, meaning “lustrous gem,” the third chakra is said to be your source of individual power, ruling over self-esteem. Or as Olivia says, it is the “action and balance chakra that focuses on individual willpower, personal power, and commitment.” (Don’t confuse it with your “third eye,” which is the sixth chakra—more on that in a minute.)
When it’s blocked: You can suffer from low self-esteem, have difficulty making decisions, and may have anger or control issues. Olivia notes that it’s not just feeling badly about yourself, but also may lead you to outwardly express apathy, procrastination, or that you’re able to be taken advantage of easily. Likewise, you’ll also possibly have a tummy ache of somekind such as digestive issues or gas. (Ugh.)
According to Kavanagh, a blocked solar plexus chakra will make us struggle with self-doubt and being our highest, most authentic selves. But the flipside isn’t much better: “Signs of an overactive solar plexus include a rampant ego—being power hungry and egotistical, resulting in manic behavior and hyperactive energy,” she says.
Element associated with it: Fire
Crystals associated with it: Citrine, pyrite, amber
Yoga pose that activates it: Boat pose, twists, warrior III
The heart chakra
Location: The center of the chest, encapsulating the heart, the thymus gland (which plays a vital role in your endocrine and lymphatic system), the lungs, and the breasts.
What it is: As the central chakra, the fourth (or Anahata) chakra represents where the physical and the spiritual meet, according to the Chopra Center. And as its name implies, is all about the love. “It’s the awakening to spiritual awareness, forgiveness, and service,” says Olivia. It’s believed that when your heart chakra is aligned and balanced, love and compassion are flowing freely—both in terms of giving it out and getting it back. “Your good vibes are practically contagious,” says Olivia.
When it’s blocked: A closed heart chakra can give way to grief, anger, jealousy, fear of betrayal, and hatred toward yourself and others.”When underactive, we may be emotionally closed off, and find it difficult to get over past hurts and forgive,” says Kavanagh. “As a result, it could become hard to give and receive love, which will have a knock on effect on our relationships.”
If overactive we may become too loving. Off the cuff that might not sound like a problem, but Kavanagh points out that it’s usually masking co-dependency. “This will have a ripple effect on our relationships, being overly dependent, needy, jealous and possessive, with a lack of boundaries,” she says.
Color: Green and pink
Element associated with it: Air
Yoga pose that activates it: Back bends, reverse plank, upward-facing dog
The throat chakra
Location: The name says it all—anatomically, the throat chakra is associated with the thyroid, parathyroid, jaw, neck, mouth, tongue, and larynx.
What it is: Have zero problem saying how you feel? Your fifth chakra, which is all about speaking your inner truth—or specifically, ensuring that your inner truths are properly communicated—is likely well-balanced. With the Sanskrit name of Vishuddha, the throat chakra rules all communication. It’s the first of the three solely spiritual chakras (as opposed to the lower ones, which manifest themselves in a more physical way), according to Olivia. When this chakra is in check, you’re able to fully listen as well as speak and express yourself clearly.
When it’s blocked: “In the case of an underactive throat chakra a person may find it hard to truly express themselves,” says Kavanagh. “They may literally swallow their words, and in doing so, swallow their true feelings.”
In addition to having trouble speaking your truth, you find it hard to pay attention and stay focused, or fear judgment from others—which can further hinder your ability to keep it real. Physically, this blockage can manifest itself as a sore throat, thyroid issues, neck and shoulder stiffness, or tension headaches.
“Signs of an overactive throat chakra include talking too much, being overly domineering in conversations, and being overly critical or judgmental of others,” Kavanagh says.
Element associated with it: Ether
Crystals associated with it: Lapis lazuli, aquamarine, kyanite
Yoga poses that activate it: Fish pose, plow pose, shoulder stand
The third-eye chakra
Location: Physically located between the eyebrows, the third eye is said to rule organs including the pituitary gland, eyes, head, and lower part of the brain.
What it is: Don’t let its name confuse you. The third-eye, or Ajna chakra is actually your sixth chakra, and it reportedly governs your intuition—plus the ability to recognize and tap into it. What’s more, the third eye is also said to be responsible for all things between you and the outside world, serving as a bridge between the two. It allows you to cut through any illusions and drama to see the clear picture.
When it’s blocked: You may have trouble accessing your intuition, trusting your inner voice, recalling important facts, or learning new skills. And if your lower chakras—AKA the root, sacral, solar plexus, and heart chakras—and are unbalanced, your third eye will likely be as well, which may cause you to act more judgmental, dismissive, and introverted.
“With an underactive brow chakra we may overly intellectualize things and try to ‘work things out’ which can result in feeling both overwhelmed and exhausted, and disconnects us from the power of our own intuition,” says Kavanagh. “As a result we may be quite fearful and distrustful of the process of life and have anxiety over the future.”
A third-eye blockage is associated with a broad range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and a more judgmental attitude—while physically, it’s said to cause headaches, dizziness, and a slew of other brain-health issues. Meanwhile, having a wide-open third eye can lead to an overactive imagination and a mind that runs away with us. “Sometimes with an overactive brow chakra we may even find our clairvoyant skills are so active that they can overwhelm and frighten us,” Kavanagh says.
Element associated with it: Light
Crystals associated with it: Amethyst, purple fluorite, labradorite
Yoga poses that activate it: Child’s pose, dolphin pose, eagle pose
The crown chakra
Location: The crown of the head
What it is: Known in Sanskrit as Sahasrara, or the “thousand petal lotus” chakra, the crown is the center of enlightenment and our spiritual connection to our higher selves, others, and ultimately, the divine, according to the Chopra Center. When aligned, the realizations that occur within you are said to be along the lines of pure awareness consciousness—undivided and all expansive. Basically, bigger than yourself and yet part of one giant universe.
When it’s blocked: “With an underactive crown chakra we may feel apathetic and listless, almost energetically numb and feel a sense of disconnection which results in a lack of direction and purpose in life,” says Kavanagh. Or, you might feel like your regular self—just not in an exalted state of spiritual connection and enlightenment, which is totally okay and seriously normal.
Unlike the other chakras, the crown chakra is often only opened up fully through specific yogic or meditative exercises, or at certain times—which is not a skill set you can call upon at any given moment. You may be able to get a taste of it, though, through daily practices—anything from meditation, prayer, to moments of silence and gratitude—to have those moments of spiritual connection.
“An overactive crown chakra often manifests as a desire for material belongings which never seems capable of being satisfied,” says Kavanagh.” Greed, superficiality and arrogance often result in a disconnection from others as well as the universe.
Crystals associated with it: Selenite, clear quartz, lepidolite
Balancing the 7 chakras is a group effort
While each chakra has its own distinct properties, they’re all thought to work as a system. That means if one’s out of balance, it affects all the rest. So if you have signs of multiple blocked chakras, just know that it’s totally normal—and any good yoga class or healer will work to align all of them at once, creating a clear channel for prana to flow from head to toe.
Here’s how reiki can work to unblock your chakras:
Originally published on December 25, 2017; updated on November 6, 2020 with additional reporting by Mary Grace Garis
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