Sooner or later, if you're wandering the holistic universe, you're going to bump up against the chakras. Someone, somewhere is going to want to heal the energy around one of them. It's best to grasp the fundamentals so you can decide whether this ancient system can work for you.
According to those who claim to see them, chakras look like spinning wheels that move universal energy or light in and out of our systems, much like fans move air. Their standard locations, as it turns out, correspond to major concentrations of nerve endings as well as our endocrine or hormone-producing organs (for instance the ovaries, testicles, thyroid and pituitary glands).
In the ancient Hindu world view, a chakra gone out of whack can impede the proper flow of energy up and down the body and cause symptoms or illness.
Breathing exercises, yoga, colour and sound meditation, emotional and hands-on healing, and creative self-expression are all considered keys to balancing the chakras.
Proponents say these wheels of light are part of our electromagnetic anatomy, and while you won't find much scientific evidence for their existence, we do know the body emits measurable electromagnetism.
In most cases, the actions recommended to balance the chakras won't do you any harm and may do you some good.
One thing to watch out for are healers or systems that come with dognmatic ideas of what colour and direction of spin a healthy chakra has. Those who can perceive them say chakra anatomy varies, and what works for one person may not for another.
"Chakra means wheel or circle. The word doesn't have any mystical meaning. It's like talking about your shoulder - it's anatomy. There are approximately 360 chakras in the human body, around every joint, organ and at many cross-sections or twinings of nerves. These chakras turn and have colour; for different people they might have different colours. Everybody has a slightly different anatomy. According to the science of yoga, there are 72,000 nerves in the body, some beyond our skin. The chakras mirror the condition of the nerves. The most effective way to strengthen the nerves is through appropriate breathing."
YOGI AKAL, director, International Centre for Yogic Arts and Sciences, Toronto
"The chakras move energy in and out of our system. They change with every thought. If there's a stagnation of this energy movement, it may lead to physical problems. Given our circumstances, we may not want to move energies through certain parts of our bodies because we don't want to re-experience whatever's held there. It doesn't really matter whether you believe there are chakras or not. (If you have a health problem) go out and try (chakra exercises) before you let your intellect say, No, that can't be real.' See what happens."
CYNTHIA McCORMACK, body-centred psychotherapist, graduate of Barbara Brennan School of Healing, Toronto
"Clients sometimes come in saying one chakra or another is unbalanced. To them it makes a lot of sense; to me it doesn't. I'm not able to see a correlation between their self-perception and their condition as I diagnose it. I think (working with chakras) is probably a good thing if people get something out of it emotionally or spiritually, but my practice is based on physical, biochemical and immunological imbalances."
ZOLTAN RONA, MD, preventative and nutritional medicine
"In the 50s, during the revolution, a lot of energetic and spiritual knowledge was lost to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). (Yet) there are all-important acupuncture points on the chakra centres as recognized by the yoga tradition. In Chinese medicine the points that are used often are on the crown, third eye, heart and belly. For example, if you had problems giving or receiving love, I would use the heart point. In TCM, we often use the points, but we might not consider their emotional and spiritual aspects. In Chinese culture, saving face is important, so you really don't talk about that stuff so much."
KALEB MONTGOMERY doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto
"Whether or not to include the chakras in a naturopathic practice is a personal choice, because it's not something that is taught as part of our education. In my practice I don't work with chakras. I do not feel equipped to the degree required. In my opinion, there's validity in the chakra system. As certain individuals from various backgrounds explore health and healing in depth, they're observing relationships (that would validate the claims made by chakra experts)."
YENDRE SHEN, naturopath, Toronto