I don’t think, for example, that our bodies contain spinning wheels of light. Nor do I believe that the colors of these spinning wheels lights are intrinsically related to specific feelings and ailments in human beings. This essay parses out some of the twists and turns the chakra story has taken over time.

In the context of various Eastern spirituality traditions, chakras are centers of consciousness. Put differently, they are the places where we are most aware of our energetic activity. Consider, in English, idioms such as: butterflies in the stomach… a sinking feeling…a lump in my throat….a broken heart or heartache….your head in the clouds or two feet on the ground. These are chakras. This is why they are chakras; because we feel things there, and because there is evidence of some mutual and widespread shared understandings of these places in the body as related to aspects of human understanding. These descriptions mean something to us. They capture experiences; they are not literally possible, yet we understand what they mean; we have felt what they are describing. Science has not been able to explain much of this, because we do not place a high value on understanding “emotional” experiences. We know, for example, the physiological cause of a lump in your throat.

But it’s not as if we feel a lump every time we’re about to cry. Sometimes there’s a lump sensation and sometimes there isn’t. At some points in our lives we’re more prone to lumps than others. Some of us may be prone to feeling a lump in our throats in the presence of certain people. Some people feel lumps in their throat often, and others never do. The science doesn’t explain any of that. In terms of human experience, in terms of wellness, happiness and living an examined life, understanding the physiology of the lump sensation does not actually get us all that far.

Different traditions have different ways of understanding chakras…energy vortexes…centers where we most acutely experience our chi, qigong, ki, or prana: all words to describe a life force or energy that courses or flows through the body and is intertwined with awareness and cognition. The mind-body dualism that persists in the West casts all talk about energy and consciousness as magical and mystical.

I don’t claim that chakras are any different, physically, than the nervous system. I suspect we’re all talking about the same thing, and if we could just find a way to speak the same language, we could understand everything much better. Chakra philosophy is not a different or even competing explanation; it is merely a different way of understanding the experience – one that recognizes our consciousness and our bodies are the same thing. Is it accurate?

No. If you cut me open and I somehow manage to survive, there will be no spinning disk of green light in my chest.

And yes. My chest hurts when I am sad. My throat feels tight when I don’t know what to say. I am decisive when my legs feel like they are attached to the ground. I can only wager that most people feel the same, for anecdotal evidence is all we have as long as we don’t take any of this seriously.

Whether chakras are real energy centers in the body that respond to sound and vibrations, or whether working with them are rituals that empower and enable us to become more cognizant and conscious of our body and our potential and therefore to make changes, I cannot assert.

Most left-brainers worth their weight in salt who have read this far just thought, “Yes, but then that’s a placebo effect.”


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