Mental Health, Science, Pseudoscience, & Media Literacy

Are Chakras Real or Pseudoscience?

Chakras: real or pseudoscience? – diagram of body in lotus position with chakra points indicated

Have you aligned your chakras today?  Or perhaps you’ve wondered if the whole chakra craze is a bit over the top.  And maybe you can guess what my take on the matter is.

Traditional concept of chakras

The concept of chakras first emerged in India in the first century BCE, in Hindu and then later in Buddhist texts.  The physical body was seen as distinct from the “subtle body,” which was thought to consist of energy.  Chakras were described as psychic energy nodes, with energy channels running between them.

The number of major chakras differs based on the source, ranging from four (most common in Buddhist traditions) to seven (most common in Hindu traditions).  The chakras are aligned vertically from the head down the body.

According to Wikipedia, the most commonly used seven chakra system consists of the following, moving from the head down:

  • Saharara (at the crown): represents pure consciousness
  • Ajna (between the eyebrows): the third-eye chakra, a subtle energy centre
  • Vishuddha (throat): represents space
  • Anahata (heart): represents air and the union of male and female
  • Manipura (navel): associated with fire
  • Svadhishthana (root of sexual organs): associated with water
  • Muladhara (base of spine): all sounds, words, and mantras rest here

Each chakra is also associated with a particular Hindu deity and seed syllable.  The four Buddhist chakras correspond to the Four Noble Truths.

While the kundalini form yoga aims to manipulate the flow of subtle energy moving through the chakras, the concept of chakras didn’t play a central role in classical yoga.  In recent years, though, it’s come to play a larger role.

New age adaptation

The New Age interpretation of chakras adds colours, moving from violet at the crown down to red at the base of the spine.  These are visible in the image above.  In crystal healing, crystals may be matched up with chakras based on colour.

The chakras are believed to spin, drawing in life force energy to maintain balance between the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical elements.

New Age guru Deepak Chopra’s Chopra Center website has this to say:

“Since everything is moving, it’s essential that our seven main chakras stay open, aligned, and fluid. If there is a blockage, energy flows are restricted. Think of something as simple as your bathtub drain. If you allow too much hair to go into the drain, the bathtub will back up with water, stagnate and eventually bacteria and mold will grow. So is too with our bodies and the chakras.”

The article also gets fairly specific about the body structures associated with each chakra; for example, the muladhara covers the first three vertebrae, the bladder, and the colon.  If that chakra is blocked, constipation could result.

In an article for MBGmindfulness, Chopra writes that the manipura chakra, also known as the solar plexus chakra, is associated with “The Law of Intention and Desire,” which sounds like another name for the law of attraction (which I’ve previously done a debunking post about).

Real or pseudoscience?

My impression is that the chakra system was chugging along quite nicely for a few thousand years as a mostly spiritual concept.  It was a way of understanding at a time when no one was in a position to know whether there was any literal truth to the concept.  As is quite natural for a spiritual concept, there were some differences in how it was applied in different faiths.  Those differences would not be expected if it was, in fact, literal truth.

Then along came the New Age folks, who waved the woo-woo wand to rainbow-ify the chakras, add some jargon, explain your constipation, give you a crystal-matching system, and plunk a nice little bow on it all in the form of the law of attraction.

I’ve managed to live a fairly woo-woo-free existence, and I think the first time I really heard much about chakras was when I started doing yoga.  I didn’t initially realize that the New Agers have really shaped how chakras are talked about in popular culture.

In terms of science, there never was any science to support it.  That wasn’t the purpose of the spiritual concept of chakras.  It sounds like it’s really just in the New Age conceptualization that people have gotten very literal with it, suggesting that it’s based on actual science in ways that it is not, never was, and never will be.

So, spiritual perspective?  Yes.  Moldy bathtub?  Not so much.

Sources

The Science Corner: Pseudoscience, Public Health, and Media Literacy

The Science Corner has info on media & research literacy, fake news, public health, and debunking pseudoscience.

27 thoughts on “Are Chakras Real or Pseudoscience?”

  1. Well, I totally believe in chakras, and you know I love all things rainbowy!! But, ugh, I HATE Deepak Chopra. I can’t remember why I hate him…? Hold on, searching my memory banks… Ahah! he’s associated with her royal highness, Queen Oprah, and also, his new age teachings are hooey, like you said. He just spouts off stuff that could be easily guessed at and has no real depth.

  2. I never ‘felt’ my chakra nor have I seen them. That you need to be in some sort of alignment I can understand, as throwing things out of balance will make people search for solutions. I find it interesting that people a long long time ago we puzzled by the question where our energy comes from, maybe even so puzzled as I am today. So in my own way I agree: breathing is necessary to stay alive and balance is also needed. Maybe the chakras correspond with the (vital) organs we need to keep balanced and it was this message that was conveyed back then (heart, gut, lungs, head). I don’t know but I like to reflect on how wisdom evolved and the fact that I can enjoy what we know now.

  3. I have a few guided meditations that I will do on the Chakras and I really enjoy them.The way they are set up helps me to relax much deeper as they go through the organs associated with each one.

    My take on all things, is find what works for you but don’t try to push it on to others because life is not a one sized fits all….kinda like clothing and shoes 😉

    Great post!

  4. Nice, well-balanced post! I didn’t know about the history of chakras – I had only the concept being used in the woo-woo, new-age-y way. The historical context makes much more sense.

  5. I learned about chakras the most in yoga. I never believed in but it can be helpful spiritually with relaxation. During yoga, it gave me something to focus on to help with relaxation.

  6. When you experience Kundalini Rising, full or partial, you’ll have a different take. However, whats happening as far the woo-woo is false. There is energy – we are all made of the. Energy can be dense in some areas of our life. I’ll leave at that!

  7. Your chakras are very much real, and the sooner you discover how to nourish them, the better your energy vibration will flow through your life.
    We have all been taught not believe in energy healing , Reiki, yoga and meditation, but as a global nation we are much easier to control, without enlightenment.
    Energy healing has changed my life in ways that would take me all day to explain. If anyone would like to learn keke you can refer to my blog, and see the section titles energy healing. Come with an open mind and you will seek the wisdom and knowledge you are looking for 🙏🏾✨💫

  8. Direct experiences are sometimes the only thing that can change people’s beliefs. Love cannot be measured yet the word describes something that we feel. It exists, and there is an energetic component in that. Chakras and chi energy are in the same category. Just because you cannot measure it does not mean it does not exist. When you feel it, you have a sense of what it is, even if you cannot quantify it. I have not felt all my chakras but am very aware of my third eye which I have felt, and have had very weird experiences that most would consider paranormal.

    You can’t tell someone who has never been in love what that is. They have to find out for themselves, and if they have never experienced, they might deny that there is such a thing. To deny something, even God, because it has not been a part of your experience… what folly in that!

    1. People have all kinds of emotions, thoughts, and other inner experiences, but just because someone interprets those experiences as energies doesn’t make that true in a literal sense. People misattribute their mental and physical inner experiences all the time. Take phantom limb pain, for example; it’s not that they’re not having their experience, but if the person is attributing that to the limb still being attached, that attribution is not literally true. I could say the sun revolves around the earth because my experience is seeing it move across the sky, but that doesn’t mean that explanation would be correct.

      1. I feel like you contradicted yourself.

        “I could say the sun revolves around the earth because my experience is seeing it move across the sky, but that doesn’t mean that explanation would be correct.”

        That’s exactly it you see. Just because you choose to label the ‘chakra’ system as something that “never was, and never will be” “science” because you haven’t registered it that way… doesn’t mean that literally isn’t or can’t be that… science.

        I’d say take it however it sits with you, but be careful about putting such strong labels on it, at least until you’ve really done deep research, or shared the experience. Not doing so only distracts from your the credibility of your own views too! Maybe research Kundalini awakening, Buddhist practices etc., more. Idk.

        Nonetheless, I liked reading your perspective. Thank you for the share!

        Peace and love x

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