General description of meditation
Meditation is sustained and uninterrupted concentration that leads to a highly focused mind. Meditation begins with concentration, which helps make our mind steady. When prolonged concentration leads to the continuous flow of the mind towards one object, this becomes meditation. To maintain and deepen meditation, the mind must have something to focus on. These objects of concentration not only focus the mind but also have the inherent ability to lead the student to more expanded states of awareness. The objects typically used are sounds (mantras), visual images (yantras or chakras), light, breath, or specific types of prayer.
There are several specific goals of meditation. The first is to liberate the mind from disturbing and distracting emotions, thoughts, and desires. The mind is transformed from a state of unrest and disharmony to a state of calmness and equilibrium. Another important goal of meditation is to bring the unconscious mind into conscious awareness in order to gain greater control over thought processes and emotions. The ultimate goal is to attain expanded states of consciousness in which we not only have in- creased awareness of previously unconscious thoughts and feelings, but also awareness of more subtle and universal principles, and comprehension of the world in a more complex and integrated way. In this state, we can experience great joy and inner peace.
Neutral and nonjudgmental observation of the content and experiences of the mind should accompany the process of meditation. It is important to avoid being attached to the contents of the mind during meditation because the desire to attain something or to have certain types of experiences distracts the mind from its focus and will interfere with continued concentration. This can lead to losing the calmness and contentment that normally characterize the steady mind.
As the power of concentration develops through the practice of meditation, our physical and mental abilities may also increase. It is important not to use these abilities for selfish purposes because this would interfere with the development of compassion and humility, which are very important qualities that arise from deep meditative practices. Self-indulgence and the need for self-gratification limit us to the narrow confines of our own individual mind and inhibit the experience of expanded states of awareness.
The technique of meditation is actually quite simple and systematic. When practicing meditation, we sit on a chair or on the floor with a straight spine and with hands placed comfortably on the lap, thighs, or knees. The eyes are closed gently. Using our mind, we relax each body part, beginning at the head and ending at the feet. We then regulate breathing by using the abdomen and diaphragm to move air in and out of the lungs. During inhalation the upper part of the abdomen moves out, away from the body, and on exhalation the abdomen moves back towards the body. Next, we adjust our breathing rhythm to become efficient, smooth, deep, and without pauses or hesitations. We then withdraw our senses from the outside world and direct all attention inwards. We follow this by concentrating on a sound (mantra) and also on specific energy centers within the body (chakras)..
During meditation, when thoughts, emotions, or desires arise, we observe the nature and content of these mental phenomena. We do not force our thinking to stop but instead we allow our thoughts to cease on their own. We simply return our focus to the object of concentration, such as our mantra. As thoughts arise, they are allowed to gently come into the mind and then to pass effortlessly out. We calmly bring our focus back to the object of concentration. Slowly, the process of letting go and refocusing becomes easier and is accomplished more quickly and meditation deepens naturally. With persistent practice, the mind gradually becomes identified with the object of concentration. This allows the individual to experience deeper and more highly refined states of consciousness.
Meditation has three key components: the person who is meditating, the technique of meditation, and the object of concentration during meditation. As the practice deepens, aware- ness of the technique is gradually eliminated. This occurs because as focus on the object of concentration becomes steady and automatic, awareness of the process diminishes until finally we cease to be conscious of it at all. Next, we lose awareness of ourselves as the mind identifies completely with the object of concentration. Finally, the object of concentration itself disappears as the mind becomes completely permeated with the object by its constant association with it. After all three components have disappeared, there is no awareness of our separateness and we experience a state of expanded consciousness.
Note: This information is adapted from my book, How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras, and Breath.
The path of meditation / raja yoga
The raja yoga path of meditation is an exact science. It is an inward journey that uses a detailed map as a guide that has been developed over thousands of years. The techniques and benefits gained from this meditative tradition can be verified by anyone who accepts the prescribed methods as a hypothesis and then tests them by his or her own experience. The practices of raja yoga and meditation are systematic disciplines that do not impose unquestioning faith but encourage healthy personal decision-making and discrimination.
When we prepare for and practice the form of meditation in this book, we follow the systematic steps of raja yoga along with the related paths of kundalini, mantra, and tantric yoga. The eight rungs on the ladder of the raja yoga path of meditation are described below.
Eight Steps of Raja Yoga
1. Yamas are regulations of our relationships with others. These regulations all lead to modification of behavior, replacing negative habits with ethical values. When these restraints are practiced, the student remains free of guilt and remorse and experiences a greater sense of self-confidence, fulfillment, and peace of mind. Regulation of attitudes helps to conserve and direct our energy to higher spiritual practices. The five yamas are presented below.
Non-violence in thought, action, and speech is the first regulation. In San- skrit, the word for non-violence is ahimsa. When we practice non-harming we purposefully avoid hurting another person physically or emotionally, we do not talk behind another person’s back, and we are not even too hard on ourselves. It is a similar concept to the Hippocratic Oath when a physician pledges to “first, do no harm.” Even if we cannot help another per- son or our community, we must not cause more pain or suffering in another’s life.
Truthfulness to ourselves and to others is the second yama. Being truthful allows for the development of trust, inner strength, and courage.
Non-stealing is the third regulation. Both lying and stealing inevitably lead to more deception to cover up the original lie or theft. A great amount of time and energy is wasted in these attempts to cover up misappropriations. Our conscience will often be affected leading to preoccupation with troublesome thoughts.
Control of sensual and sexual desires is the fourth yama. Preoccupation with satisfying sexual urges can be very distracting to the spiritual path. Being moderate with our desires, not mani- pulating another for sexual control, and directing our affection to a mutually agreeable loved one all represent control of the sensual desires.
Non-possessiveness is the fifth regulation. There is a great amount of time wasted in accumulating possessions that are useless or unnecessary in daily life. Attachment to material wealth leads to discontentment because we either worry about what we do not have or fear we will lose what we already do have.
2. Niyamas are observances of body and mind and in- clude the following five major principles. These observances enable us to develop self-awareness and self-control and prepare us for more adv- anced practices.
Cleanliness and purity of body and mind are the first observances. Being clean physically is an easy task to accomplish, but purity of the mind involves attempting to be discriminating and mindful at all times.
Contentment is the second niyama and involves creating a state of mind that encourages feelings of tranquility and equilibrium in all circumstances. Learning to be content in life regardless of wealth or personal status is the goal of this observance. Eliminating the desire to accumulate more possessions than is necessary for healthy and comfortable living helps cultivate contentment.
Practices that bring about health of body and mind are the third observance. This includes using preventive approaches to health care such as good nutrition and exercise.
Study of spiritual readings constitutes the fourth niyama. Reading books of philosophy and religion and studying the writings of inspirational spiritual leaders are examples of this observance.
Surrender to the higher self and ultimate reality is the fifth niyama. This involves devoting our body, mind, ego, and intellect to the pursuit of knowledge, truth, and wisdom.
3. Asanas are postures that include hatha yoga poses to ensure physical well-being, strength, and flexibility. While hatha yoga postures have many positive health benefits, such as helping back pain, lowering blood pressure, and stimulating under-active glands, the ultimate goal is to help develop a steady, strong spine for meditative practices. Hatha yoga practices also include practicing specific body washes and cleansings (kriyas), placing the hands and fingers in certain positions to direct internal energy flow (mudras), and the application of physical locks (bandhas). These physical locks involve compressing and stimulating various glands, nerves, and energy centers (chakras). There are also specific sitting postures that allow for effortless, steady, and more lengthy meditation practices.
4. Pranayama, which means control of prana or energy, are breathing exercises that are essential for integrating body, emotions, and mind. They are useful in treating many physical illnesses such as asthma, sinus conditions, digestive problems, and thyroid disorders. They are also helpful for controlling stressful situations and treating emotional problems including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. The ability of breathing exercises to affect the mind and emotions can be explained by the fact that there are direct nerve connections from the nose and lungs to the brain with important relays to the nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems. Pranayama techniques are also essential to enhance meditation.
5. Pratyahara is sense withdrawal and control of the five senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing). We learn to voluntarily draw the senses inward and thus do not allow ourselves to be distracted by the world. Sense withdrawal from external desires and objects is an essential preliminary to deeper concentration and meditative techniques.
6. Dharana means concentration and includes practices where the distracted thoughts of the mind are gathered together and directed inwards towards an object of concentration through continual voluntary attention. In Tantric forms of meditation, the objects of concentration are inner sounds and vibrations (mantras), visual images and geometric forms (yantras), energy centers in the body (chakras), breath, and light.
7. Dhyana is meditation, which is sustained and unbroken concentration. While concentration techniques make the mind steady and one-pointed, meditation expands the one-pointed mind to a higher state of intuition and awareness by piercing through the conscious and unconscious mind.
8. Samadhi is absorption with the object of concentration and meditation (mantras, yantras, or chakras) through intense and prolonged effort. As the focus of concentration deepens, associated sounds and visual images fade. A conscious and calm state ensues, devoid of thought. The sense of self dissolves, replaced by a sense of universal consciousness. This state is free of the limitations of time and space. As the state of samadhi deepens, all experiences of duality and separation are lost, and union with the underlying forces of the universe is experienced. At the deepest levels of meditation, there is absorption into universal consciousness. While it is impossible to adequately verbalize such an experiential state, it has been described as having ultimate wisdom and knowledge, waves of tranquility, a sense of beauty, boundless and transporting joy, and feelings of bliss. A person reaching the state of samadhi has continual access to these experiences and at the same time lives simply in the world to help others.[i]
Note: This information is adapted from my book, How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras, and Breath.
Koshas: Meditation, the Five Levels of Consciousness and Holistic Medicine
Unlike the Western conception of the human as an amalgam of body and mind, meditation theory recognizes five levels of consciousness that span a much larger spectrum of human experience. The five levels of consciousness are conceptualized as existing from gross external levels to more subtle internal ones, the outer being more dense and obscuring the finer, less material inner layers. Associated with each level is a specific type of awareness. These five levels of consciousness are called sheaths (koshas) because of their concentric arrangement, although they all inter- penetrate each other. The five major sheaths of consciousness are the body or physical sheath, the energy or breath sheath, the mind sheath, the intellectual or unconscious sheath, and the blissful or transcendental sheath. Within the last sheath lies the Center of Consciousness, the source of all the other levels.
The Center of Consciousness is often compared to light and the different sheaths as lampshades that cover it. Each concentrically placed sheath obscures and conceals the clarity and brilliance of the underlying light source. The shades reflect the light to different degrees and are made of different materials, shapes, and colors. The outermost sheaths are the densest, allowing the least amount of light to penetrate. Those who identify only with the most external sheaths, such as the body, remain oblivious to the more inner levels of consciousness and the Center of Consciousness. They experience life only on a mundane physical level and cannot feel the deeper, more spiritual aspects of their existence. On the other hand, meditation teaches the student to penetrate the sheaths so that he/she can experience the complexity and subtleness of life and more clearly see the source of the inner light.
These sheaths form a continuum, and all levels are inter- dependent, connected, and coordinated closely. Humans exist simultaneously on all these levels. The connections between the levels are maintained by the chakras, as these centers integrate the physical, electromagnetic, mental, and spiritual energies from the various sheaths of consciousness. In this way, body affects mind, breathing affects the unconscious, and the deeper spiritual levels affect all the other levels. Thus, each kosha and chakra center offers a particular frame of reference through which the individual relates to and experiences the world.
The theoretical construct of the sheaths of consciousness helps explain how the body, mind, and emotions interact in both health and disease. The paradigm of the koshas is a very useful medical model because it says that humans exist on several levels, including the physical, energy, conscious mind, unconscious mind, and super conscious mind. If humans exist on these levels, it follows that disease also occurs on these levels and that diagnosis and treatment can be focused at the appropriate level. Thus, the philosophy of the sheaths represents a model of preventive and holistic medicine which offers both conceptual theory and pragmatic treatment approaches into which various conventional and alternative therapeutic systems of health care can be organized and integrated.
The body sheath is the first and outermost layer and is called the annamaya kosha. Anna means “food” and maya means “illusion.” Thus, annamaya kosha refers to the physical body (which is made of food) and represents the densest level of illusion that obscures consciousness. This kosha includes the anatomical and physical structure of the human body. Traditional methods used to treat people who have problems on this level are diet, vitamins, minerals, drugs, physical therapy, and surgery. Complementary and alternative approaches include more broad-based nutrition and supplementation, herbal medicine, and body therapies such as massage, hatha yoga, martial arts, and tai chi. People involved with meditation often simplify their diets, moving towards eating less meat, fat, and refined sugar, all of which help to decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. They learn to be observant as to what foods create clarity of mind, energize the body, create mental dullness, or cause irritability, stuffiness, or gas. Yoga, martial arts, and other forms of exercise are often practiced because of their positive effects on mind-body awareness and integration.
The energy sheath is the second layer and is called the pranayama kosha. This kosha consists of the subtle forces of prana, which means “energy,” and is sustained and nourished by the breath. There are really no approaches in traditional allopathic medicine that either diagnose or treat a patient on this level, mainly because conventional perspectives do not really recognize the existence of this level. Holistic approaches that treat the energy sheath are biofeedback, acupuncture, pranayama (breathing) exercises, and homeopathy. With respect to the human organism, energy has various names and forms. Chinese call energy chi and homeopathic physicians call it the vital force. In all traditions, it is considered the life force that animates the human organism. The major transmitter of energy from the external world to the individual is through breathing and, to a lesser extent, food.
Meditation theory suggests that because energy (second sheath) links body (first and outermost sheath) and mind (third sheath), imbalances on the energy level often reflect or predate physical disorders or emotional problems. Before mental disease can produce physiologic changes, the disharmony first may pass through the intermediary energy level. Conversely, suppressed physical illnesses may show manifestations in energy patterns be- fore affecting the mind or emotions.
Acupuncture works on the energy level by needles or finger pressure being applied to pathways that transmit energy flow. These pathways are called meridians and have no real correlation with nerve pathways. They are similar to the nadis of meditation theory. By stimulating certain points, a balancing of energy flow is facilitated in distant organs. Pain reduction and anesthesia are also possible through acupuncture therapy.
When there are uneven patterns of breathing, the flow of energy through the body is also affected. Physiologically, irregular breathing influences every cell of the body by its effect on oxy- genation and blood flow, on the central nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system. By consciously controlling the breath, we learn to modulate and direct the amount and quality of energy entering the body. Through slow and deliberate practice of simple breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, we learn to discern which irregularities of the breath flow reflect particular illnesses, how certain states of mind adversely affect breathing patterns, and also how to redirect and guide the breath to create harmony between the mind and body.
Homeopathy is an interesting form of medicine that acts directly on the energy level, which is called the vital force. Through the process of dilution and vigorous shaking, which is also called attenuation or potentization, the medicines are prepared and refined in such a way that they work on an energy level. The medicine, which is called a remedy in homeopathy, is offered to the patient when it matches the energy level of the illness. This has the effect of catalyzing a healing response of the body and mind.
The mental sheath is the third layer and is called the manomaya kosha. Mano means “mind” and this level corresponds to the conscious mind. This sheath helps make up our personalities and is sustained through active thought. Treatment modalities that act on this level include various Western psychotherapies, especially those approaches that are behavioral in orientation. Through careful observation and analysis, the patient learns to identify his problems and then forms strategies to solve them. Various medications to control depression, anxiety, or bipolar disease also directly affect mental functioning. Relaxation and concentration techniques associated with the meditative traditions also directly affect conscious mental activity. By emphasizing non- attached observation of the flow of thoughts, we learn to clear the conscious mind by letting go of distracting and habitual thoughts and emotions. By mentally sending messages to our body and by observing the breath and energy flow, we can learn to relax muscular tension and help better regulate tension-related diseases such as high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
The intuitive sheath is the fourth layer and is called the vijnanamaya kosha. Vijnana refers to the intuitive knowledge of consciousness and this level corresponds to some degree with the Western idea of the unconscious mind. Areas of mental health care associated with this sheath are the techniques of free association in Freudian psychoanalysis, dream analysis of Jungian psychology, and certain meditative practices. All therapies directed to this level help us become aware of unconscious motivations and emotions as well as refine our intuitive, nonverbal faculties. This allows for integration of deeper, unexplored levels of the human psyche within us.
Meditation helps problems that arise from the intuitive sheath by teaching us to witness troublesome thought and emotional patterns. Through meditation we begin to realize the fleeting, ever-changing character of the mind. Acknowledging the impermanence of thought brings awareness that there is an element of unreality associated with patterns of the mind. We come to know a quiet, calm, and centered part of ourselves that lies beyond the mind. We can then observe the mind and use it as a tool, yet not become identified with it. When practicing meditation we learn to let go of transient desires and vacillating emotions. We become less attached to meaningless mental events, freeing mental energy for more creative purposes and expanded awareness.
The blissful sheath is the fifth layer and is called the anandamaya kosha. Ananda means “bliss” and this sheath corresponds with higher states of consciousness. The only approaches that can apply to this level are more advanced meditation techniques that help create a state of inner peace, harmony, deep understanding, compassion, love, and feelings of bliss. With sustained concentration on a single object, especially a sound (mantra), the practitioner can become absorbed with the sound, and is led inwards towards the Source/Center of Consciousness.
The Center of Consciousness lies within the fifth and innermost sheath and is considered to be the source of all the other sheaths of consciousness. It is that part of the individual (self) that is most intimately connected with the universal (Self). When meditation leads a person to the Center of Consciousness, the narrow confining ego (sense of self) is cast off, and one merges with the source of all consciousness, which is within all humans and is nonchanging and eternal. It is described as a place of complete knowledge, absolute peace, indescribable joy, and ultimate bliss. The meditative process finally culminates with the elimination of mundane distractions and absorption with the source of consciousness. We become fully awake and live beyond the bondage of time, space, and causation. This state has many names, including Samadhi, nirvana, the Tao, God consciousness, Christ consciousness, enlightenment, or self-realization.[ii]
Note: This information is adapted from my book, How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras, and Breath.
Meditation and Chakras
Meditation involves focusing the mind on a thought or object. There are some objects of concentration that not only center and calm the mind but also are intrinsically connected to higher states of consciousness and therefore have inherent power to lead the practitioner of meditation to experience these states. These objects of concentration include the chakras, mantras, and yantras.
Chakras are subtle centers within the body where physical, psychological, and spiritual forces interact and intersect. A chakra, which means wheel or circle, is seen in a deep meditative state and is experienced as an energy field. As the movement of spokes emanating from a central motionless hub characterizes the wheel, the chakras represent an area of energy surrounding a central point from which motion and energy originate. Each subtle energy wheel represents a force field that transforms energy from its source (consciousness) into various physical, mental, and spiritual qualities.
While these centers are described as being inside the spinal cord and correspond to major nerve plexuses and are associated with anatomical organs and endocrine glands, the chakras cannot be found by dissecting the human body. They can only be experienced and seen by adjusting our internal perception to a higher and subtler frequency. Meditation theory teaches that the symbols associated with the chakras are not simply abstract representations. Just as iron filings form certain patterns reflecting the electromagnetic field of a nearby magnet, the energy that flows from the transforming stations (chakras) of the body also forms particular patterns, reflecting the energy field of that chakra. Thus, the symbolism of the heart chakra as two intersecting triangles (similar to the Star of David) surrounded by twelve lotus petals actually mirrors the energy formation particular to that area. (See the illustration on the front cover of this book for a pictorial representation of the chakras.) As the energy of the chakra continues to send pulsations and vibrations outwards, not only are geometric shapes formed, but specific sounds (mantras), colors, senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing), elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space), and personality characteristics are also manifested.
The chakras are interconnected by the energy channels (nadis) located within and parallel to the spinal column. In the ordinary person, the chakras are functioning at a minimum level and are not harmonized with each other. Meditation theory com- pares this to a drooping, closed lotus flower. Through intense concentration and inner meditative practices on these energy centers, the chakras become more active, like lotus flowers opening to the sun in full bloom. In meditation, the chakras are increasingly harmonized with each other until they vibrate in unison. When this occurs, the body, emotions, and mind are balanced and higher states of awareness are experienced. The goals of meditating on the seven major chakras are to activate the centers through intense concentration and to stimulate the physical and psycho-spiritual qualities associated with each chakra as well as to raise the latent energies from the lower, more physical, chakras to the higher, more spiritually-evolved ones.
Kundalini-shakti is the primal force of the seen and unseen universe and is manifested and expressed within the human through the chakras. As a result of this phenomenon, the individual experiences the world through the particular frame of reference of the individual chakras. Not only do the chakras govern and vitalize the physical functioning of certain areas of the body, but they also correspond to and influence the emotional, psychological, and spiritual qualities associated with the specific region. For example, when the mind and kundalini are expressed through the fifth chakra, we become creative and communicate effectively. If our mind and energy are primarily expressed through the third chakra, then we might experience the world and other people in terms of power and control.
Meditation on the chakras is of fundamental importance in the Tantric systems of meditation. The seven major chakras and three of the most important minor chakras are described below.
Muladhara, which means “foundation,” is the first chakra and is located at the base of the spine. It is associated with the sacral and pelvic nerve plexuses of the physical body. Associated with the first chakra are the physical concerns of bowel functioning as well as the psychological issues of emotional security.
Physical problems that are associated with this area are chronic diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Psycho- logical issues associated with the first chakra relate to the issues of survival and self-preservation. When we are overly focused on this center, we overly identify with physical existence. We might experience life as an intense need to survive at all costs. We may be subject to fear of others and feel separate and alone. A lack of energy in the first chakra is associated with feelings of insecurity. Integration at the first chakra leads to feelings of security and stability and forms a strong foundation for managing the complexities of life.
This chakra also is the resting-place of great amounts of latent energy (kundalini-shakti). When this energy is activated by yoga practices, breathing exercises, and meditation, the kundalini force is directed upward to the higher, more spiritually-evolved centers. See chapter 22, Kundalini, for more information on this subject.
Muladhara is visually described as being surrounded by four red lotus petals on a circle. Inside the circle is a yellow square and inside this is an inverted red triangle. Within the triangle is the coiled kundalini energy. This resembles a serpent wrapped around itself three and one half times with its head facing upwards into the central canal (sushumna). The sound (bija mantra) associated with this chakra is LAM (rhymes with rum and numb as do all the other chakra associated bija mantras). The significance of mantras will be presented in the next chapter, Mantras. The element of the first chakra is earth and the associated sense is smell.
Svadisthana, which means “her abode,” is the second chakra and is located within the spinal column across from and slightly above the genital area. It has a correspondence with the plexus of nerves and glands associated with the sexual organs (ovaries and testes). Issues of urinary function, sexuality, and sensuality are associated with this center. When we are not integrated or are overly focused at this center, we may suffer from genital-urinary problems, lower back pain, or be overly involved with seeking sensual pleasures, especially sexual gratification. While desiring pleasure, we will often find the experiences fleeting and insufficient. Other people, especially the opposite sex, are experienced as being simultaneously alluring and to be feared. When there is a lack of energy at this center, we may experience inhibition of sexual expression or have an absence of desire. Integration at the second chakra is associated with having the capacity to express both masculine and feminine traits and to have and enjoy healthy, honest, and appropriately directed adult sexual relationships.
Svadisthana is visually described as being surrounded by six dark red (vermilion) lotus petals resting upon a circle. Inside the circle is the color white with a silver crescent moon resting near the bottom. The sound (bija mantra) associated with this chakra is VAM. The element of the second chakra is water and the associated sense is taste.
Manipura, which means “filled with jewels,” is the third chakra and is located across from the navel within the spinal cord. It is associated with the celiac plexus of nerves, the adrenal glands, and the pancreas. This area is also often referred to as the solar plexus. This is the center where energy from the two lower chakras is transformed and stored. Asian martial arts describe this center as being the storehouse of power. Anyone who has ever been punched in the center of the abdomen can testify how it knocks the energy and breath out of them. On a physical level, a lack of energy here can lead to stomach and digestive illnesses. Psychologically, this is the center of ego and competitiveness. There are issues of power over other people, of dominance and submissiveness, and of a need to expand our sphere of influence. The need to prove oneself and gain financial wealth and power are predominant. Anorexia and bulimia are two emotional disorders associated with problems of the third chakra. Healthy integration associated with this chakra allows for striking a balance between being active and assertive when necessary and being receptive or passive if indicated. There is a desire for success as well as an acceptance of failure.
Those of us who experience life through the third chakra tend to be motivated by the desire for external recognition, fame, power, and material wealth. We experience pride and ambition and physical strength and beauty are important to us. We may be demanding of other people’s attention and may try to control their actions and beliefs. We often have fiery and powerful personalities.
Manipura is visually described as being surrounded by ten dark blue lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle is a red triangle that is pointed down but which inverts to point up- wards during meditation. The sound associated with this chakra is RAM. The element of the third chakra is fire and the associated sense is sight.
Anahata, which means “unheard sound,” is the fourth chakra and is located across from the heart within the spine and is associated with the cardiac plexus of nerves. Just as the blood from the heart and the oxygen from the lungs sustain the body and a mother’s breast milk nurtures her infant, the heart chakra, also located in the center of the chest, is associated with the capacity for us to emotionally and spiritually nurture others. On a physical level, imbalances here are associated with lung and heart diseases. A lack of integration at the heart center is psychologically associated with apathy or an inability to offer love to others. Feelings of love and compassion are experienced at this center and giving to others, compassion, selfless love, and empathy are characteristics of a healthy concentration of energy at this center.
Those of us who are able to experience life through the fourth chakra practice loving kindness and develop a deeper capacity for expressing love, generosity, forgiveness, and com- passion. We become a greater source of inspiration to others and people feel at peace in our presence. We learn to have a greater faith in life and become more optimistic, friendly, patient, and secure. We live life with grace and dignity and are generally respected by our community.
Anahata is visually described as being surrounded by twelve deep red lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle are two blue-green triangles that intersect, one pointed down and the other pointed up. Some people refer to this shape as the Star of David. Inside the six-pointed star is a dark area, often described as a black cave. Inside the cave is a lit candle with a flame that does not flicker. This flame is often described as a reflection of the soul. The soul can be thought of as the eternal and nonchanging Center of Consciousness which channels the energy and creative forces of the universe through the individual. (More information on the Center of Consciousness can be found in chapter 18, Koshas: The Five Levels of Consciousness and Holistic Medicine.) The sound (bija mantra) associated with this chakra is YAM. The element of the fourth chakra is air and the associated sense is touch.
Hrit is a lesser-known chakra closely associated with, connected to, and located slightly below the anahata chakra. Great depths of emotion and feelings of devotion are associated with this center. It is described as being surrounded by eight gold lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle is another circle red in color and inside this is an orange circle.
Vishuddha, which means “purified,” is the fifth chakra and is located across from the throat within the cervical portion of the spinal cord. It is associated with the cervical nerve plexus as well as the nerves of the voice box and with the thyroid gland. Creativity, receptivity to others, and the ability to be nurtured and guided by an inner higher consciousness are qualities associated with the fifth chakra. Poor metabolism and thyroid diseases stem from problems with integration at this center and respiratory and throat problems can also occur. Psychologically, we may have difficulty communicating verbally with others, and creative people such as artists may be unable to produce quality work. An integrated focus of energy at this center is associated with being able to trust others, devotion, creativity, and with the capacity to evolve. The ideas of being receptive to and surrendering to our own higher creative instincts are spiritual qualities of this center. The element of the fifth chakra is space and the associated sense is hearing.
Those of us who experience life through the fifth chakra develop a melodious voice, a good command of speech, the ability to write well, the capacity to understand spiritual writings, and the ability to interpret the deeper significance of dreams.
Vishuddha is described as being surrounded by sixteen dark purple lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle is dark blue in color and in the center is a white circle resting within a white triangle. This is described as the full moon seen against a blue sky. The sound (bija mantra) associated with this center is HAM. The element of the fifth chakra is space and the associated sense is hearing.
Ajna, which means “command,” is the sixth chakra and is located across from the area between the two eyebrows. It is located near the pineal and pituitary glands deep within the brain. There are also interconnections with the nasociliary plexus of the physical nervous system. The center is associated with the psychological and spiritual qualities of intuition, wisdom, and clarity of vision. It is also called the third eye and the eye of insight because it sees inwards into the conscious and unconscious mind. Disorders of integration at this center lead to confusion and potentially serious mental illness. When the kundalini energy rises to this level and resides there permanently, a person experiences the highest states of consciousness.
Ajna is described as being surrounded by two light blue lotus petals resting upon a white circle. This has an appearance of an eye. Inside the circle is a small white triangle pointed down. The sound associated with this center is the universal mantra OM (rhymes with home). The element of the sixth chakra is pure mind and it is beyond any sense association.
Indu (also called soma) is a minor chakra located above the ajna chakra. It is said to be the source of a sweet nectar (soma) that drips down with the cerebral spinal fluid from the third ventricle of the brain into the spinal cord. When we experience higher states of consciousness, the nectar is tasted in the throat. This chakra is visually described as being surrounded by sixteen light blue lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle is a silver-white crescent moon.
Guru is another lesser-known but very important chakra located above the ajna and indu chakras and below the sahasrara chakra (see the description below). It is located at the back of the cerebral cortex part of the brain. It is associated with finely heard mantras and sublime images of great luminosity. Meditating on this chakra and establishing consciousness here is associated with attainment of great spiritual knowledge and feelings of bliss. This chakra is visually described as being surrounded by twelve red lotus petals resting on a circle. Inside the circle is a red inverted triangle.
Sahasrara, which means “thousand petals,” is the seventh and highest chakra and is associated with the cerebral cortex of the brain. When kundalini reaches this level, the individual self merges and is absorbed into universal consciousness. Here there is no distinction between the knower and the known, and there is only perfect knowing.
Sahasrara is described as appearing like one thousand lotus petals of pure light emanating like an umbrella or crown from the top of the head. At times during meditation the crown chakra can be visualized as though it is arranged in the variegated colors of the rainbow. All sounds, elements, and senses are absorbed and integrated into the seventh chakra.[iii]
The Seven Major and Three Minor Chakras
Note: This information is adapted from my book, How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras, and Breath