The Sanskrit word chakra literally means 'wheel' or 'circle'. 'Vortex' or 'whirlpool' is more better translation in the context of Yoga. The chakras are vortices or whirlpools of pranic energy at specific areas in the body which control the circulation of prana (life force) permeating the entire human structure.
Chakra is the pranic centre within the human framework. In each person, there are myriad of chakras. However, only a few main ones are utilized in yogic practice. These few are the ones which span the full spectrum of man's being from the gross to the subtle : Mooladhara| Swadhisthana| Manipura| Anahata| Vishuddhi| Ajna| Sahasrara
The chakras represent the powers of consciousness that lie within the range and reach of every human being. They show that the reality of the macrocosm exists within the microcosm of man.
The chakras define the path that each person must tread to realize his or her fullest potential. They are, in a sense, a blueprint or guideline for the opening up of the mind at all stratas.
The path of yoga is a series of stages. The progressive awakening of the chakras corresponds to these stages. In the Shiva Satra it says: “. . . the successive stages of yoga are full of wonders." The opening of the chakras is indeed full of wonders.
The chakras have been known in all parts of the world and throughout history by illumined and psychic people. They are not confined to one system, for they constitute the fundamental makeup of man.
In yoga and, in fact, in most Yogic systems, the chakras are symbolized by lotus flowers. Other systems use different symbols. Each of the main chakras is represented by a lotus with a specific colour and number of petals as follows:
Mooladhara - four-petalled deep red lotus
Swadhisthana - six-petalled vermilion lotus
Manipura - ten-petalled bright yellow lotus
Anahata - twelve-petalled blue lotus
Vishuddhi - sixteen-petalled violet lotus
Ajna - two-petalled silver-blue lotus
Sahasrara - thousand-petalled lotus of all colours
The use of the lotus as a symbol is very significant. Man must pass through three stages in spiritual life: Ignorance || Aspiration and endeavor (sadhana) || Illumination
The lotus also exists on three different levels: mud, water and air. It first of all starts to grow in the mud (ignorance), grows up through the water in an effort to reach the surface (endeavor and aspiration) and eventually reaches the air and the direct light of the sun (illumination). Thus the lotus symbolizes man's growth from low states of awareness and lack of knowledge through the chakras to higher states of consciousness.
Attributes of the chakras
Although the meaning of each chakra can never be explained in words, especially the higher chakras, there are general attributes associated with each one. These don't represent the experience of the chakras, only the expression and feelings of a person at any particular chakra level.The following are very basic attributes that is associate with the main chakras:
Mooladhara - This is the centre where one is almost totally concerned with obtaining personal security. That is, one's main motive in life is directed towards obtaining food, a place to live and so forth. It is the centre where the individual fights the world, which is regarded as being totally alien.
Swadhisthana - This centre is associated with the predominant motive of seeking personal pleasures and sensations through food, drink, sex, etc.
Manipura - This is the centre of self-assertion. One attempts to dominate situations and other people. One seeks to manipulate the world according to personal wishes. This is expressed in the predominant motive of gaining wealth, respect, etc.
Anahata - This is the centre where one begins to love and understand people for what they are, regardless of faults, idiosyncrasies, etc. One begins to accept other people.
Vishuddhi - This is the centre where one begins to understand and experience the world as a place of harmony and perfection. It is the centre where Shiva consumes the poison and the nectar, meaning that all experiences, good or bad are seen as part of an integrated whole, all of which help to remove one's personal problems and conditioning and thereby raise the level of consciousness. The world becomes a veritable Garden of Eden.
Ajna - This is the centre where one becomes an actor on the stage of the world, seeing everything as almost a dream.