In Hinduism and Buddhism, chakras are focal points of energy, or prana, in the body. The exact number and location of the chakras varies depending on the tradition a person follows.
In Buddhism, there are four primary chakras. In many forms of Hinduism, there are seven. These seven chakras are believed to be connected via nadi, or energy channels.
The concept of chakras has influenced many holistic medical practices worldwide, including yoga, Ayurveda, and some modern therapies, such as sound baths.
This article reviews more about what chakras are, where they come from, the seven-chakra system, and how they relate to health.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, chakras are thought of as energy centers in the body. They mark places where spiritual energies intersect.
The Sanskrit word “chakra” translates to the English word “wheel.” This refers to the way that chakras resemble spinning wheels or discs, according to a 2019 review of the history of chakras.
In between these wheels are energy channels, which allow the energy to flow from one place to another.
The concept of chakras ties into the early Hindu concepts of a physical body and a subtle body. While the physical body consists of mass and is visible, the subtle body — which includes the mind and emotions — consists of energy and is invisible.
In this system, spiritual or psychic energy from the subtle body influences the physical body and vice versa. This means that the status of a person’s chakras can shape their overall health and well-being.
Where are the chakras?
Typically, people believe that the chakras exist along the spinal column, from the head to the base of the spine. The number of chakras varies depending on the tradition a person follows.
In Buddhism, there are four primary chakras. There are usually seven in Hinduism. Other traditions hold that there are thousands of energy centers but a few are the most important.
In the West, the most well-known model is the seven-chakra system.
The earliest written record of chakras comes from the Vedas, which are ancient Indian texts that describe the philosophy of yoga. The precise age of the Vedas is unknown, but they are thousands of years old.
Over time, the concept of chakras evolved, influencing various Hindu and Buddhist traditions and healing therapies. They belong to a set of beliefs known collectively as Tantra.
In the early 20th century, European spiritualists and occultists began publishing books about aspects of Tantra, including chakras. Today, these books are the basis of the Western understanding of chakras.
The association between chakras and the colors of the rainbow appears to have come from Western thinkers of the 20th century. Since then, chakras have also become associated with different:
- astrological signs
- foods or herbs
- crystals or minerals
- tarot cards
Some refer to this relatively new way of thinking about chakras as the Western chakra system. It has gone on to influence various New Age alternative health practices, such as crystal healing and homeopathy.
Hindu philosophy identifies seven primary chakras and many more minor chakras. The major ones include:
- Muladhara (root chakra): This chakra is at the bottom of the spine, between the anus and genitals. It purportedly influences the basic urges of sex, food, sleep, and self-preservation.
- Svadhisthana (sacral chakra): Located at the pelvis, this chakra influences the regulation of emotions and desires.
- Manipura (navel chakra): This chakra is just below the navel. Strength in this chakra aids digestion and the ability to process life’s experiences.
- Anahata (heart chakra): This chakra is located at the heart, and its purpose is to help a person connect with unconditional love.
- Vishuddha (throat chakra): Positioned at the pit of the throat, this chakra’s function is authenticity and personal expression.
- Ajna (third eye chakra): Located between the eyebrows, this chakra is a seat of inner knowledge and consciousness.
- Sahasrara (crown chakra): Located just above the top of the head, this chakra’s role is to promote a more enlightened approach to the world.
People who believe in chakras argue that imbalances in an individual’s chakras may undermine their health. For example, an imbalance in the navel chakra may affect digestion or a person’s ability to manage emotions.
Depending on the philosophical and spiritual orientation of the practitioner, a person may promote healthier chakra energy with a range of chakra-based therapies, such as:
No scientific evidence supports the existence of chakras in the spiritual sense. However, some scientists have argued that they correspond to physical body parts, particularly in the nervous system.
The nervous system consists of a person’s brain and spinal column, which contain nerves. These nerves branch off from the spine in bundles (plexuses) and connect to other areas of the body.
The primary chakras, which are located down the spine, may correspond to the central nervous system. Their connection to specific aspects of health may relate to different nerve plexuses.
For example, a
This may explain how the chakra system developed in the way it did, mirroring what scientists now know about the human body.
However, not everyone agrees with this interpretation and experts need to conduct more scientific research.
There is no conclusive evidence that chakra-based therapies work because they target chakras. However, many people do feel a benefit from practicing them.
It is difficult to know why this is, as there is a lack of experimental research on the subject. Several papers emphasize the value of chakra-based therapies, but few actually prove that they work.
For example, a 2021 study assessed the chakras of people undergoing treatment at an acupuncture clinic. According to the authors, 89% had no energy on their chakra meridians. The researchers argued that this puts people at risk for severe COVID-19.
But the study did not test whether chakra-based therapies help prevent or treat COVID-19, and the participants in the study were not people with COVID-19. Instead, they had a range of common but unrelated symptoms, such as anxiety, back pain, and knee pain.
From the perspective of Western medicine, chakra-based therapies may be popular for several reasons. For example, they may support relaxation and promote a sense of well-being.
Meditation is often a part of chakra unblocking. Many studies have shown it has mental and physical health benefits.
- reducing stress
- easing anxiety and depression
- lowering blood pressure
Many types of meditation seem to have this effect, including chakra-based meditation.
In a 2020 study, 223 participants enrolled in various chakra-based meditation programs. Participants reported generalized reductions in anxiety and improvements in their perception of their health.
However, the study did not compare these results to a control group and does not prove that chakras are the reason for the improvements.
Many therapies that target chakras can be relaxing. For example, yoga involves a combination of movement and mindful breathing, which may help calm the nervous system. Meditation, Reiki, and other practices may have similar effects.
Activating the relaxation response generally benefits health, particularly for people who are often stressed.
Sense of well-being
A sense of spiritual well-being may also impact mental or physical health. For example, a 2019 study found that older Taiwanese adults who reported spiritual well-being had lower scores for depression and higher scores for perceived good health.
The participants reported practicing exercise and relaxation techniques to improve their spiritual well-being. Both of these also have benefits for health.
It is also possible that chakra-based therapies improve well-being via the placebo effect. This is when a person believes that a treatment will help, resulting in a positive outcome.
This does not mean the benefits are fake — placebos can create genuine reductions in symptoms. Researchers are still learning about how this works, but if a person finds something helpful and it causes no ill effects, it may be a valuable part of their self-care.
Chakras are a spiritual concept that feature in several major religions and some alternative health practices. According to proponents, they are wheels of energy that mark places where life force intersects. Working with or mastering these chakras is part of a quest for spiritual enlightenment in Hinduism.
While there is not compelling scientific evidence supporting the role of chakras in health and well-being, a number of practices that people use to balance or unblock chakras do have confirmed health benefits.
Yoga and meditation, for example, may help relax the nervous system, which could have effects on various health conditions.
Safe chakra-based therapies can complement medical care, offering people a sense of well-being and peace. However, they are not a substitute for medical treatment.