Chakra Psychology: fulfilling the dream of becoming whole
By Delcia McNeil
‘Your Chakras are integral to every part of your Being’ (Ambika Wauters, ‘The Book of Chakras’)
Combining the age-old chakra system, with its roots in the Tantric and Yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, with contemporary psychological knowledge is proving a powerful way to access unconscious material, as well as becoming more familiar with our energetic patterns and our strengths. Mindfully focussing on the chakra centres can bring us insights, sometimes memories, often images that are symbolic, archetypal and full of meaning. They can be like a dream-world, they are full of information that we can access and reflect upon. In modern terminology, the chakra system offers us evolutionary software and data through which we can reprogram our lives.
For many today psychology, the study of the human mind and soul, is about developing ourselves to be rounded human beings. A psychological approach can refer to our behaviour, our beliefs and attitudes, how we think and how we give meaning to our lives. It can refer to what we may be experiencing unconsciously – our behaviours and thoughts and feelings, which arise without our conscious awareness of why or how we are thinking or doing something.
The chakra system, the ‘wheels of light’, has a long and complex history, dating back several centuries BC. From a contemporary viewpoint this remarkable system offers us a specific psychological model that we can use to access this unconscious material as well as familiarise ourselves with our personal energetic patterns and sensations. By mindfully focussing on the chakra centres, we can experience where we feel strong and at ease as well as where we may feel stuck, anxious or uncomfortable.
The seven major chakras can also be viewed as seven stages relating to our growth – conception and babyhood, pre-school age, school age, pre-adolescent, adolescence, young adulthood, and mature adulthood. We are deeply influenced by what was happening in our lives at the differe
nt developmental stages of our childhood and young adulthood.
Family relational patterns, traumas, culture and many more influences, both positive and negative, are deeply buried in our bodies and minds. Because they reflect our developmental experiences, each of the seven major chakras is therefore associated with specific psychological states. These can indicate our strengths such as being a good communicator, or being in touch with our creativity. But we also can uncover issues that need healing. For example we may be fearful of not belonging, or being intimate, or never finding love or our purpose in life. Once we have become conscious of what is troubling us and can reflect upon it, we can find ways to heal ourselves.
Developing a theory of Chakra Psychology
Since being introduced to the chakras in 1981 I have found that many writers have developed their own models relating to psychology and the chakras. Each model is different yet has cross-over similarities. In 2006 I decided to create a course in which we included looking at these different approaches. In my experience different chakra models are not necessarily in opposition to each other but need to be seen as complementary or amplificatory. By taking in different perspectives we can aim to arrive at our own personal truth that resonates with our real experience.
Anodea Judith (‘Eastern Body Western Mind’) views the chakras as a map, a set of ‘energy portals’ between the inner and outer worlds’. ‘A chakra is a centre of organisation that receives, assimilates, and expresses life force energy.’ Judith has clearly documented that the chakra system is a model for the integration of body, mind and spirit. The seven chakra centres correlate with basic states of consciousness and their patterns are programmed deep in the core of the mind-body interface.
Most contemporary writers refer to ‘blocks’ in the chakras, places where energy has become stuck or stagnant. ‘If we block an experience we block our chakras’, states Barbara Ann Brennan (‘Hands of Light’). She views the chakras as metabolizers of energy and devices that sense energy. They serve to tell us about the world around us.
Blocks are also a theme in Brenda Davies’ book, ‘The Rainbow Journey – Seven Steps to Self Healing’. She identifies different types of block – and we often have a combination – that relate to psychological defence mechanisms, eg. freezing, denial, suppression. She takes the developmental stages further by introducing the idea that each chakra is a primary focus not only during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, but also in later adulthood.
In her original book on the chakras, ‘Anatomy of the Spirit’, Caroline Myss synthesizes three spiritual traditions – the traditional chakras (Hindu), the Christian sacraments, and the Jewish Kabbalah’s Tree of Life (the ten sefirot or qualities of Divine nature already mentioned). For her the chakras symbolise seven levels of evolution through perceptions of power. The chakras, as part of the energy system, contain data and a history of how we invest our life energy.
Transpersonal psychotherapist, Ruth White, in ‘Using your Chakras’, views the chakras as a map of consciousness that charts a spiritual and evolutionary journey, not only for the individual but also for the whole of humanity. Connecting with the chakras enables us to become more conscious and aware of ourselves and others.
How does Chakra Psychology work in practice?
Case Study: Sally was in her late 40s. She had been working as an aromatherapist, reflexologist and energy healer for ten years. She had received counselling in her late 20s and early 30s because at that time she was in an abusive relationship and was struggling with an eating disorder. These days her life was stable – she was in a loving relationship and was enjoying her work. However, she still felt something wasn’t quite right for her, something was missing and it felt out of reach. She couldn’t really articulate it any better than this.
She decided to join a Chakra Psychology course as a way of developing her knowledge of the chakras and relate this to her client work, but also, and probably primarily, for her own self healing journey that she had begun in her late 20s. Either way she was ready for something different that would take her deeper into herself.
At the beginning of the course Sally was asked to keep a journal for the duration and she feared she wouldn’t keep it up. She knew she was good at starting things but not good at maintaining them. She found that after the session when they had worked with the first chakra, the Root, she felt disorientated. She had discovered that she was rather cut off emotionally and energetically from her Root chakra and her whole pelvic area. When invited to focus on that area she had felt emotionally numb, and couldn’t experience any energetic tinglings or sensations at the base of her spine. More significantly she wanted the focussing exercise to be over so she could get back to talking and thinking, rather than being in and with her own physical body.
Although at the time she found this discovery distressing, she realised that this must be some of the reason that, even with the work she had already done on herself, she still had difficulties keeping herself grounded and on track in her life. She began to explore more deeply the circumstances of her conception, gestation and birth. Her mother had been a teenager, only 17 years old when Sally was born. Clearly the pregnancy was unplanned. Sally decided to talk more with her mother about how that time was for her. She was able to tell Sally now just how frightened she had been. She didn’t know if she would have to give Sally up for adoption, but in fact was really pleased that, with support, she had been able to keep her. Sally also got more detailed information about having been born 6 weeks prematurely – she hadn’t realised she had been in an incubator for 3 weeks.
These discoveries helped Sally to connect with her deep fears of danger, isolation and abandonment; she came to realise that she was ambivalent about being incarnate. “I have one foot on the planet and the other foot off it,” she said. It must have been very frightening to be separated from her anxious and overwhelmed young mother at birth. Gradually through the course and drawing on strengths that she found in her other chakra centres eg. she had a beautifully open heart chakra, was empathic and able to connect well with other people, she was able to face her fears, work through her ambivalence and begin to build a stronger sense of her place in the world and within her family of origin.
Chakra Psychology includes both energy work and cognitive understanding. In order to heal herself Sally needed to work on several levels of her being. Using meditation to focus the mind on the parts of the body where a chakra is located, we can get a felt sense of how that chakra is functioning, eg. how comfortable or not does it feel to hold our attention here? How is its energy: do we experience it as flowing or feeling blocked? Simply by focussing and becoming aware we often find the energetic vibration of the chakra changes, eases, or shifts, affecting the whole system.
We may start to feel release or relief, or we may begin to have thoughts – memories, ideas, recall a dream, and so on. If we feel uncomfortable, chances are there are issues associated with that chakra that need our attention. Any thoughts that come to us can be important information that the intelligence of that chakra is giving us. It’s a bit like going to a website to research something. What we are doing is touching in on another level of our being, a deeper level of consciousness. It’s subtle, yet potentially powerful.
What do we actually do in Chakra Psychology courses?
In my courses, I use not only relaxation and meditation, but also a number of activities as we focus on each chakra centre. These include:
- Various chakra visualisation processes to help to heal past situations
- Grounding exercises to centre and connect with the earth
- The use of body awareness and focus - sensing or visualising through the physical body
- Movement – using the body to express itself non-verbally
- Different ways of working with affirmative statements
- Techniques to help improve self esteem
- Healing touch – on & off the body
- Therapeutic art to help describe the energy state of a chakra
- Sound healing – working with the ‘seed sounds’ of the chakras
- Colour therapy – using colour as a means to alter our vibrational state and mood
- Open channelling - an intuitive activity of the mind through which a wider wisdom than normal can be accessed
- Exploring general and spiritual beliefs and becoming aware of which ones no longer work for us and which ones we need to strengthen
- Sharing through talking and listening with others and having one’s personal experience acknowledged in a safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment.
We focus from a psychological perspective on the functioning of each chakra in respect of its associated issues and its stage of development. For instance if you feel very disconnected from your Root chakra you could explore, as in Sally’s case, the nature of your own birth and early bonding with your mother.
Although primarily course participants focus on their own personal development, the material is transferable to individual practice. The aim is for this to be appropriately relevant and effective for the therapist to integrate with their existing skills. I also offer the course on a one to one basis, which means to some extent it can be tailor made to the individual.
As an approach Chakra Psychology is both pragmatic and visionary. It offers us a wide range or resources to work with. Through experiencing first hand the subtle energies of the different chakra centres, we can become more aware of our own inner energetic and emotional processes. The unconscious becomes much more conscious. We begin to think differently, to have greater self understanding and to accept ourselves more. When we start to feel better on the inside we can begin to experience ourselves as having more choices, helping us feel more energised and experiencing a more fulfilling and joyful life.
© Delcia McNeil