Mental health, Science & research

Are Chakras Real or Pseudoscience?

Are chakras real or just pseudoscience? Graphic of person sitting in lotus position with chakras coloured in

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 was not agreed upon by all sources, and ranged 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, although the violet and blue don’t show up all that clearly.  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, 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 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: Debunking Pseudoscience - Mental Health @ Home

There’s more on pseudoscience and public health on The Science Corner.The Science Corner: Debunking Pseudoscience

20 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.

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