Are Chakras Real or Pseudoscience?

Are chakras real? - graphic of seated person with rainbow-coloured chakras

Have you aligned your chakras today? Or perhaps you’ve wondered if the whole chakra craze is a bit over the top, or whether chakras or real or just conceptual. If you’ve read any of my other articles on pseudoscience, 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 were aligned vertically from the head down the body.

The most commonly used seven chakra system, moving from the head down, consists of:

  • 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. In Buddhism, the four chakras correspond to the Four Noble Truths.

Aside from the kundalini form of yoga, which 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, chakras have come to play a much 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 any sort of 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.


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18 thoughts on “Are Chakras Real or Pseudoscience?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. Just because there is no science to back up a claim, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Do you believe in God, well, show your scientific proof. The same goes for ghosts, aliens, astrology, palm reading, magic, witchcraft, life after death, or anything else that falls into the realm of being questionably true. How about love? Is there science to prove that love exists or why or where? There is also experiential proof that can neither be proven nor disproven with science, it’s someone’s experience.

    You see, really know your information if you are going to say something is wrong, when in fact, that’s just an opinion. Opinions are all they are. Doesn’t mean they are wrong, or right, good or bad, it’s ones view of something, which is influenced by many factors, such as being biased, being insecure, society and culture, religion, intelligence, brain development, ones knowledge or lack of, and experience or lack of, ect.

    So, while your opinion is your opinion, realize, your opinion is shaped and based off only what you know and have experienced. How much do you know about the eyes which you are seeing out of to read this?

    None of this is to undermine nor correct, but to help to see that ones truth is ones truth, regardless of anothers interpretation. If I told you that I personally met God, what would that mean, would you believe me? Or how about aliens or ghosts? What if I told you that I know how to unlock the subconscious in order to reveal to ourselves the truth of who we really are? How about chakras, what if I told you they are very real, let me share with you my experiences, would you then be convinced?

    So, one’s opinion is just one’s opinion. By not considering a more open mind by realizing the limitations of ones knowledge and experience, is to pretty much think and not really know what you don’t know nor have experienced. Which is ok, and I think quite normal, but to deny such a way is pretty much being supported by the experiences and knowledge that reinforce those ideas to exist.

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