Spinning the Seven Sacred Centers: Ayurveda And the Chakra
The popular seven chakra system is well known in the West. Chakra, meaning vortex or wheel, are the sacred centers of spiritual transformation. Everything from clothing, home décor, and oracle cards sport the seven subtle centers with their associated rainbow of colors. Popular western literature corresponds each of the chakras with a fundamental human need. The root chakra, or Muladhara, is associated with the need for survival.
The second chakra, Swadisthana, is associated with the need for emotional flow, desire, and sexuality. The third chakra, Manipuri, is associated with self-worth. The fourth chakra, Anahata, is associated with love. The fifth chakra, Vishudhi, is associated with the need for expression. The sixth chakra, Ajna, is associated with insight and intuition. And the 7th or crown chakra, Sahasrara, is associated with connection to the divine.
However, ancient scriptures on the chakras such as the 16th-century text, Sat Chakra Nirupama, do not associate the seven chakras with fundamental human needs. This association was, to my knowledge, first made by Carl Jung in a series of lectures that have been republished as “(1932).
Likewise, the association of rainbow colors (red for the 1st chakra, orange for the 2nd and so on up to purple at the crown) was made first in the 1970s in a book titled “,” by Christopher Hills. Ancient Sanskrit and Tibetan texts on chakras and the subtle energetic body (also known as the Pranamayakosha) have various numbers of chakras and a variety of color schemes that do not follow the “ROYGBIV” rainbow-schema.
For better or worse, the seven chakra system has become reified in yogic culture; the seven chakras system is the “standard” system with which most students and teachers of yoga are familiar with. Many students and teachers of yoga may also have some familiarity with Ayurveda, the “Science of Life.” Ayurveda is a system of earth-based holistic medicine that was originally developed in ancient India but has evolved for contemporary application. Ayurveda uses three archetypal categories, called doshas, to understand balance in the body.
These categories are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is like air and ether. It is light, dry, and cold, and responsible for everything in the body that moves, communicates, and transports. Pitta is like fire. It is hot and slightly damp. Pitta is responsible for digestion, metabolism, and transformation in the body. Finally, Kapha is similar to earth and water. It is slow and stable. Wet and cold. Kapha is responsible for our stability, immunity, and strength.
How do the Doshas Relate to the Chakras?
How do the doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, relate to the seven sacred charka centers? This is where we begin to blend the wisdom of Ayurveda, Vedic Astrology, and Yoga to understand the deep interconnections of our subtle, energetic, and physical bodies. Each of the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) has five sub-doshas. These sub-dosha are specific areas of the mind-body that are governed by Vata, Pitta, or Kapha.
It is at the level of these fifteen sub-doshas that we can see correspondences with the chakra system. Because the physical, emotional, energetic, and mental bodies all layered one on top of another like an onion, this means that the physical body affects the energetic body; the layer of the Self where the chakras reside. The energetic body affects the mental/emotional bodies and so on.
Yoga students and practitioners and subtle body healers have long attributed the glandular system as having correspondences with the chakra system. In this model, each chakra corresponds to one of the body’s major glands, which aligns in similar locations to the seven chakra system.
In this way, the gonads correspond to the root chakra, the pancreas to the second chakra, the adrenals to the third chakra, the thymus gland to the heart chakra, the thyroid and parathyroid glands to the throat chakra, the pituitary gland to the third eye, and the pineal gland to the crown chakra. This model is a wonderful way to understand the possible connections between the physical body and the energetic body that contains the chakra. It does not, however, clarify the relationship between the chakra and the three primary doshas of Ayurveda.
Understanding the Sub-Doshas
In other to understand how the doshas correspond to the chakra, we must know something about the fifteen sub-doshas. It is not, however, necessary to understand each of the fifteen sub-dosha to understand their relationships to the chakras. Instead, we just need to understand the most essential sub-doshas and their relationships to the physical and energetic bodies.
Vata rules everything in the body that moves, communicates, and transports and governs the hollow spaces of the body. In this way, the colon and its energy are ruled by Vata dosha. The colon is, essentially an empty space whose job is to move waste out of the body. The specific sub-dosha that governs the energy of the colon is called Apana Vata. Apana Vata corresponds to the energy of the first chakra.
When there are problems with elimination then often times there is an emotional and energetic correspondence to the first chakra. Healing strategies for Apana Vata and the First Chakra include herbal therapies that encourage elimination such as Triphala, Ayurvedic Massage therapy (abhyanga), and essential oils such as sweet fennel and sweet orange.
The second chakra is located in the pelvis where some of the largest bones of the body are located. In this way, the energy of the second chakra, Swadisthana, relates to Kapha Dosha which is responsible for our immunity, strength, and stability. The specific sub-dosha which relates to the second chakra is called Avalambaka Kapha; the sub-dosha that governs the energy of the lower back and pelvis.
Often if there is difficulty with the lower back it means we’re lacking support, emotionally, financially, or physically. This lack of emotional flow and support relates to the functioning of the second chakra. Healing strategies for the second chakra include movement therapy such as Tai Chi, dancing, and belly dancing. Emotional release techniques, oil massage, and Ayurvedic spa treatments.
The third chakra, Manipuri, located at the navel relates to Pitta Dosha, which is responsible for our digestion, transformation, and metabolism. The energy sub-dosha Ranjaka Pitta corresponds to the energy of our liver. The third chakra can emotionally contain issues of self-worth and repressed anger.
In this same way the energy of the liver, Ayurvedically, can become “heated” when someone represses emotions or anger. Healing strategies for the third chakra and Ranjaka Pitta include deep relaxation, continuous oil pouring on the forehead (called Shirodhara), vigorous exercises such as martial arts, and ayurvedic spiritual mentoring around issues of shame and self-worth.
The fourth chakra, Anahata, located at the heart also relates to the energy of Pitta Dosha, specifically the energy of Sadhaka Pitta, the sub-dosha that is responsible for the “flame” of our passion. This sub-dosha becomes imbalanced when we experience mild depression or an inability to find our true calling. Healing strategies for the fourth chakra include heart-based meditation, oil massage, especially around the heart center, and aromatherapy using rose oil and sandalwood oil.
The fifth chakra, Vishudhi, the throat center corresponds to the energy of Udana Vata, the “wind” that governs speech, the throat, and breath. When this energy is out of balance we may experience stuttering, mumbling shyness, or disorders of the throat. Healing strategies for the fifth chakra include chanting mantras, singing kirtan, journaling, and the application of Nasya oil (nasal oil).
The sixth chakra, Ajna, located at the center of the forehead relates to the energy of Alochaka Pitta, which rules sight, vision, and the eyes. When this center is out of balance we may experience vision problems or lack of insight. This chakra corresponds to our intuitive ability; our ability to see into the future clearly; our vision and our ability to manifest. When out of balance we may have difficulty focusing, have poor memory or nightmares. Healing strategies for the energy of the sixth chakra and Alochaka Pitta include the use of mandalas and yantras, coloring, creative visualization, and Shirodhara (pouring oil on the forehead).
And, finally, the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, relates to the energy of Prana Vata, which rules the nervous system. When this energy is out of balance we may experience rigidity of belief, difficulty learning from experience, and integrating our experience. Healing strategies for the crown chakra include meditation, aromatherapy using orange, Bulgarian lavender, and bergamot. Shirodhara is also an effective remedy for the seventh chakra.
In order to experience true, radiant health and well-being, we need to have more than just the physical body in good working order. Our physical heart may be working fine, but if we are experiencing depression, we can not say that we actually are in “perfect health,” from an Ayurvedic perspective.
There are some ways we can remedy the energies of the chakra and the sub-doshas. Ayurvedically, we use specific herbal remedies, essential oils, marma points (similar to acupressure points), ayurvedic yoga, Healing Light Yoga, and traditional therapies like oil massage and oil pouring to create balance in the sub-dosha and the corresponding chakra. We also use a mantra (sound current), gemstones, and yagyas (Vedic astrological remedies) and spiritual mentoring to create balance throughout the physical, emotional, and subtle body centers.
Because health is holistic, involving mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being, the chakras are a vital window into our physiological balance. They are also a conduit towards understanding our life’s path on earth; what we have come here to experience, know, and understand. The chakras are the guideposts to our largest life lessons and creating sustained balance throughout the chakra allows for spiritual awakening. This awakening of the spirit is the true aim of yoga and Ayurveda.
What's your Ayurvedic dosha? Take this quiz and find out
The balance of your Ayurvedic doshas, also known as prakruti, is a key part of understanding your holistic health.
Doshas are the three energies found in nature, and also in the human body. They are broken down into three types: vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are responsible over our bodies, minds, emotions, and thoughts. From birth, we are each individually made with a very specific blend of the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. That unique blend is your prakruti, or what uniquely constitutes your individual body, and can be broken down by a combination of the three doshas: vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water), and kapha (water + earth).
The three doshas are the building blocks to understanding our prakruti, and once you understand which is your dominant dosha, you can know what your balanced state looks like. This is vital, as through this lens you can spot exactly when your body goes out of balance, and how to bring it back into balance. Humans are being of nature, constructed from the same five elements, and thus can use the opposing elements as needed to bring us back into balance.
It all hinges on knowing your doshas, however. You can get a general sense of where your dosha balance lies, and go from there to correct the problems. You can even seek out the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, who can take a look at your insights and prescribe anything from food and herbs to a new lifestyle. Thanks, Ayurveda!
Tally up the number of v’s, p’s, and k’s you receive (standing for vata, pitta, and kapha), whichever you have the most of is your dominant dosha:
- v) I am a slender person and I hardly gain weight
- p) I am medium build
- k) I am well built and I gain weight no matter what I do
- v) My skin is dry, thin, and itches often
- p) My skin looks flushed; I have lots of moles and freckles on my body
- k) My skin is smooth and soft, it looks pale sometimes
- v) My hair is dry, thin and brittle
- p) My hair is neither dry nor oily (for men: I have a receding hairline)
- k) My hair is thick, full, lustrous, and slightly oily
- v) My face is oval
- p) My face is triangular (pointed chin, prominent jaw line)
- k) My face is round
- v) My eyes are small; they feel dry often and have a bit of dullness (usually brown)
- p) My eyes are medium in shape; sharp & penetrating (usually blue)
- k) My eyes are big and round in shape, full eyelashes
- v) My hands are generally dry, rough; slender fingers; dry nails
- p) My hands are generally moist, pink; medium fingers; soft nails
- k) My hands are generally firm, thick; thick fingers; strong & smooth nails
- v) My joints are small, prominent bones, and often crack
- p) My joints are medium and loose
- k) My joints are large, sturdy, with lots of muscle surrounding
- v) I am a very active person (always on the go, mind constantly thinking)
- p) I like to think before I do anything
- k) I am steady and graceful (I don’t like to rush)
- v) I walk fast and talk fast
- p) My actions are very thoughtful and precise
- k) I like a slower pace and I take my time to accomplish things
- v) I do not sleep soundly at night. I tend to toss and turn. I wake up early in the morning
- p) I am a light sleeper but if something wakes me up, I can go back to sleep easily
- k) I am a heavy sleeper
- v) Varies, sometimes I feel hungry, sometimes not, I feel anxious if I don’t eat
- p) I always feel hungry. If I don’t eat I get irritable and angry
- k) I don’t feel very hungry. I can go without food easily for a day
12. Bowel Movement
- v) I tend to have constipation and can go a day or two without a bowel movement
- p) I am regular and sometimes stools are loose (tend to get diarrhea)
- k) I have no problem. I wake up to go to the bathroom.
- v) My voice tends to be weak or hoarse
- p) I have a strong voice, I may get loud sometimes
- k) My voice is deep, has good tone
- v) I am a born worrier, I often feel anxious and nervous
- p) If things don’t happen my way, I feel irritable and angry
- k) I am a happy person, very caring and loving
15. Weather Preference
- v) I love warm and humid weather
- p) I enjoy cool weather, I dislike a warm climate
- k) I like warm but dry weather
- v) I sweat little but not much
- p) I sweat profusely and it might have an unpleasant odor
- k) I never sweat, unless working very hard
- v) I remember quickly and forget quickly
- p) I remember what I want to remember and never forget
- k) It takes me a while to remember, but once I do I never forget
- v) I tend to be spontaneous
- p) I am a list maker. Unless I plan, I don’t do anything
- k) I don’t like to plan, I prefer to follow others
- v) I like to do things in spurts and I get tired very easily
- p) I have medium stamina
- k) I can work long hours and maintain good stamina
- v) My mind gets restless and racing easily
- p) I get impatient easily
- k) It takes a lot to make me mad. I usually feel very calm
21. Decision Making
- v) I change my mind more often and will take time to make a decision
- p) I can make a decision easily and stick with it
- k) I want others to make the decisions
- v) “Is it too late to change my mind”?
- p) “It’s my way or the highway”
- k) “Don’t worry, be happy!”
- v) I like action
- p) I like to win
- k) I like to have fun
24. Health Problems
- v) My symptoms are mainly pain, constipation, anxiety and depression
- p) I often get skin infections, fevers, heart burn, and hypertension
- k) I tend to get allergies, congestion, weight gain and digestive problems
- v) I like art (drawing, painting, dance) and travel
- p) I like sports, politics, and things that get my adrenaline pumping
- k) I like nature, gardening, reading, and knitting