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The Origins of the Chakra System Part 2: Hatha Yoga and the Nadis

In Part 1 of this post, the ancient story of the Churning of Milk was paraphrased as a mythological explanation from where physical form and movement stem. The chakras exist because of, and give rise to movement, and in doing so embody the elemental forms in the physical anatomical/skeletal structure. To give context and structure to the chakra system, it is helpful to have an understanding of Hatha yoga and the subtle energy channels, or Nadis.

Hatha yoga comes from the words Ha, meaning sun, and Tha, meaning moon, and concerns two important and vital aspects of the physical body – the solar and lunar forces. In sanskrit these are known as ida and pingala; ida representing the moon, and pingala, the sun. Also referred to as Shakti and Shiva, these opposing forces interact with each other, guiding and directing our actions and knowledge base. It is in accordance with these forces that we live, move, think and know.

Ida and pingala are a part of an intricate network of energy channels in the body called Nadis which are not unlike our nervous system. One difference between these two systems is that the nervous system exists in the physical body and can be seen to the naked eye, while the Nadis exist in the subtle body, unseen to the naked eye and based on energy currents, vibration and psychic energy.

It is said there are 72,000 Nadis in the body, but for the purposes of better understanding the chakras, three are of primary importance: the ida, the pingala and the sushumna, the central channel.

Ida is associated with the left side of the body, and linked to the mind, cold, passivity, femininity and the moon. Pingala is on the right side, associated with prana, heat, activity, masculinity and the sun. The sushumna is poised in the middle between ida and pingala. The sushumna plays an important role in the final stages of purification on the path to enlightenment because by purifying the Nadis, mental and pranic forces are able to move up through sushumna aided by the chakras. This may ultimately result in enlightenment.

It is thought that there is a dormant potential energy in all humans referred to as Kundalini, the sleeping serpent coiled up at the base of the spine. Through meditation and other yogic practices, kundalini is awakened, and rises up through the sushumna to the crown chakra, where it resides in utero. In childbirth it is pushed down the sushumna to the muladhara chakra, or root chakra. Through various yoga practices including meditation, chanting, pranayama and asana, various levels of awakening are attained, until the kundalini finally reaches the top of the head, Sahasrara chakra, producing an extremely profound awakening that is referred to by terms such as enlightenment, samadhi and nirvana.

Chakra means wheel and implies movement. Like a wheel spins to bring motion to a vehicle, the chakras are responsible for moving energy through the body to maintain vitality and aid in the purification process. Chakras manifest at the intersections of two or more nadis. Because there are so many nadis, there are literally uncounted numbers of chakras in the subtle body; however, there are seven primary chakras which exist based on the number of times ida and pingala criss-cross at sushumna. Impurities in the nadis, or energy flow, cause blockages of the prana leading to disease in the physical body; a free-flowing body of energy is synonymous with wellbeing, freedom and liberation.

The Hatha yoga practice is focused on balancing the solar and lunar channels in the body to facilite this state arising, and the chakras play an integral role in maintaining the balance of forces due to their wheel-like structure and ability to move energy through the nadis.

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