Expanded Chakra System

I wrote previously about the seven chakra system, but there are several variations possible. I currently work with an expanded system of nine chakras which includes additional chakras above and below the original seven.

The seven-chakra system is the most common one, and as I understand it, also the most common one in the Hindu roots, but there are many, many different expansions and contractions and other variations. This is complicated by the fact that in Hindu views chakras as energy centers existed in other parts of the body, like major joints (think hips, shoulders, knees) and the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Some systems of explaining or understanding the chakras include some or all of these.

Many of the variations on the chakra system want to adjust the number of chakras in order to match some other important or sacred number besides seven, especially nine or ten. At least a couple of different ways to attribute or associate the chakras with the Kabbalistic system of sephiroth exist, for example. (Creating coherence between two fundamentally different symbol systems from two fundamentally different cultures is a common problem of syncretic or multi-source spiritual and religious work – but I’ll save that conversation for another time.)

Unlike additional chakras found within various locations in the body, the addition of a “transpersonal” chakra (described as floating above the head) is, as far as I know, wholly Western.

Over time I have found it more productive to work with a nine chakra system which I was introduced to by Ivo Dominguez Jr in his book Spirit Speak. This system includes an ancestral chakra below the feet and a transpersonal chakra above the head. (Please note that the descriptions below are my own, and not Ivo’s, though I give thanks for his teaching.)

The Ancestral Chakra

The ancestral chakra, below the root chakra, is lower than the body by about 8 to 12 inches, and thus is anchored firmly in the physical world which supports us. In my experience, this chakra is a place of connection to the immanent spirit, or spirit made manifest in the physical world. This is the location of connection to the land base, to the spirits of place, and to our sources of stability and grounding.

As the name implies, this chakra also has a connection with the past as that which anchors and grounds us in time as well as place. This is a connection to the ancestors, meaning both our direct ancestors, known and unknown, but also the deep unconscious which extends beyond ourselves.

This chakra is associated with the color black, and it is important to understand that nearly all of the work that goes on here will be highly symbolic and instinctive; this is a space that responds well to rhythm and imagery, but doesn’t really make sense of language.

The Transpersonal Chakra

The transpersonal chakra is similarly located outside the body, floating about 8 to 12 inches above the head. I would almost rather describe this chakra as the transcendent, because in counterpoint to the ancestral chakra’s connection to immanent spirit, this uppermost chakra is connected to spirit as it transcends and exists outside of space, time, and matter.

The name transpersonal reflects the fact that since all beings are connected to spirit in this transcendent sense, working with spirit in this way strengthens the connection between oneself and other beings. But as I mentioned above, the ancestral or immanent chakra is also “transpersonal,” meaning that it connects us to others. The big difference is whether we are working with our connections to others as immanent, inside the physical, material world, or outside, in the transcendent sense. I think both are equally important but different ways of working with our connections to spirit and to each other.

This transcendent connection is the realm of the Higher Self or Deep Self, if you work with the Three Selves image. (More on that at another time!) This is the area of the superego, the wisdom that takes into account the individual but also seeks to take into account many individuals, and more than one time and place, in finding what is good or right or best. This is where we usually think of gods and goddesses residing, as opposed to the land spirits or cthonic and immanent manifestations of spirit.

This chakra is associated with clear or white light and can be a source of tremendously energizing feelings.

Benefits

Personally, I like the way this nine chakra system extends outside my physical body and includes explicit connections with the immanent and the transcendent world around me. It reminds me to check how my grounding and my connection to the upper Powers are functioning when I’m assessing my internal state, and gives me additional tools in working with my metaphysical understanding of well-being and healing.

One particular benefit is that a nine chakra system divides neatly into three groups of three. This particularly makes sense with the idea of a tripartite self – the lowest three chakras represent the Younger Self, the middle three chakras are the Talking Self, and the upper three chakras are the Higher Self or Deep Self, to use Starhawk’s terminology. Even if you don’t use that image of the self, the three groups do seem to fall together and it can be helpful to examine how each group of three interacts and balances itself.

Ultimately, whether you want to characterize these connections above and below as additional specific chakras or not, they are natural extensions of the seven chakra system which can help us pay attention to our grounding and centering, to our connection with the divine, and other parts of our metaphysical makeup. Spending time trying out these ideas and deciding whether to incorporate them into your own practice can be very rewarding.

Chakra meditation class

I’ll be leading a guided meditation through the chakras at Mind Your Body Oasis in Arlington, VA on Friday, May 23rd at 6:30 pm.

We’ll go into a state of relaxation and encounter each of the chakras in turn, giving participants an opportunity to experience each chakra and work to clear out any existing issues and balance the way their personal energy is working in each of these areas.

Come by to relax and enjoy!

Introduction to chakras

The chakra system is a useful tool which one can build upon with several other methodologies; this is a basic introduction that I’ll elaborate upon in future posts.

The system of chakras that I’ve studied is what I would describe as Pagan/New Age standard. It is loosely based on the Hindu understanding as taught in basic (Westernized) yoga classes. Basically, the chakras are metaphysical locations that are where certain types of “energy” or “power” are centered in the body.

They are usually described from bottom to top:

  • The root or base chakra is located near the perineum or at the base of the spine. Its color is red, and it symbolizes connection to the earth, the fundamental and physical nature, our most basic needs like security and stability, and also the ability to eliminate (return to earth) that which is no longer helpful.
  • The second chakra is located in the low belly, within the bowl of the pelvis, near the reproductive organs. Its color is orange, and it symbolizes creativity and fertility, and is involved in sexual matters.
  • The third or solar plexus chakra is located at the solar plexus. Its color is yellow, and it is associated with the sun and with personal power, will, drive, and effort.
  • The fourth or heart chakra is located at the heart or behind the breastbone at the level of the heart. Its color is green, and it represents emotions, relationships, generosity, and love.
  • The fifth or throat chakra is located in the throat at the Adam’s apple or voicebox. Its color is blue, and it symbolizes thought, speech, and communication, especially speaking or writing.
  • The sixth or third eye chakra is located in the center of the forehead or between the eyebrows. Here the color schemes can vary; some people say this one is indigo and the next one violet, while some say this one is purple and the next one is white or clear. Either way, this chakra represents inner vision and connection to things metaphysical, especially one’s intuition and wisdom.
  • The crown chakra is located at the top of the head. (Remember how a baby has a “soft spot” called a fontanelle at the top of the head? That’s where the crown chakra is.) Its color is violet or clear, and it symbolizes connection to the divine and transcendence.

 

In general, a “healthy” chakra is translucent, round, and has a vibrant, pure color. Chakras are places where the relevant energy is centered, but they are not just a static well of energy; chakras are interconnected, especially with each other, but also with the body and spirit as a whole. At their best, chakras are able to absorb and send out energy as part of a complex interplay in the metaphysical body.

Nearly all of us have some difficulties in our chakras which reflect or represent other concerns we are dealing with. A chakra with difficulties can appear as a muddy color, mixed with brown or some other inappropriate hue; it can be an unusual size or shape, or simply not be able to let energy flow clearly.

The chakras are such a useful basis for work because they cover a wide range of mind and body issues. Concentrating on each one in turn gives me automatic cues to address different areas of my life:

  • Am I grounded?
  • Am I creative?
  • Am I empowered?
  • Am I loving?
  • Am I speaking my truth?
  • Am I honoring my insight?
  • Am I connecting to the divine?

 

We can build on these to develop meditations, healing techniques, and to engage our mind and body fully with magic.

Deep down, the chakras are really another system of classifications and correspondences, where each chakra represents a whole category of symbolically interrelated things. We’ll see how this has applications for working with stones, minerals, and crystals in a future entry.

A note about the origins of the chakra system:

There are Sanskrit names and a whole host of Hindu associations for each chakra, including descriptions of each one as a lotus flower with a specific number of petals and so forth. I don’t typically work with those as part of my healing practice. Part of the compromise I have with myself about not veering into cultural appropriation is that I don’t pretend to know about the specifically culturally rooted parts of systems like this without much more significant study.

I see the Westernized chakra system as something that might have originally been cultural appropriation, but in its stripped-down form I think it is now a primarily Western approach which is somewhat separate from its Hindu roots.

Being honest about the difference between those is part of not veering over the line into cultural appropriation for me. It’s a lot like knowing the difference between Westernized yoga-as-primarily-exercise and yoga-as-complete-spiritual-system. Some people who are interested in the offshoot go and study the roots more, and they recontextualize the modern development within the deep philosophical understandings of the past. That’s respectful; so is working with the modern offshoot on its own merits, in most ways; what’s not respectful is claiming that because I do downward-facing dog pose on weekends, I have a deep understanding of Vedic philosophy. The origins and the modern offshoot interact, but being honest about what I don’t know is part of being respectful of the difference.

I also think that when we try to borrow the Hindu roots too much, there’s a certain sense that our work today will gain authenticity or validity or dignity by being associated with the antiquity or the foreignness or whatever of the Hindu usage of chakras. That is appropriation and it also implicitly devalues the work that we are doing today to develop and extend our own practices. My work stands on its own.