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The Physiological Foundation of Yoga Chakra Expression

Authors:
  • Affiliated Psychological Consultants, PC

Abstract

Chakras are a basic concept of yoga but typically are ignored by scientific research on yoga, probably because descriptions of chakras can appear like a fanciful mythology. Chakras are commonly considered to be centers of concentrated metaphysical energy. Although clear physiological effects exist for yoga practices, no explanation of how chakras influence physiological function has been broadly accepted either in the scientific community or among yoga scholars. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that yoga is based on subjective experience, and practitioners often shun objective descriptions. This essay builds on earlier work hypothesizing that intercellular gap junction connections provide a physiological mechanism underlying subtle energy systems described in yoga as well as other disciplines such as acupuncture. Three physical aspects of chakras are distinguished that are integrated through gap junction mechanisms and are proposed to have arisen during embryological development. Furthermore, electrical conductance associated with a high concentration of gap junctions could generate phenomena that, when subjectively experienced, have the radiant qualities attributed to chakras. This theory provides a scientific rationale for previously unexplained details of chakra theory and offers a new orientation to conceptualizing and studying such subjective phenomena.
The Physiological Foundation
of
Yoga Chakra Expression
Richard W. Maxwell, Ph.D.
Zygon
Volume 44 , Issue 4
December 2009
Pages 807-824
1
The Physiological Foundation of Yoga Chakra Expression
Abstract: Chakras are a basic concept of yoga, but are typically ignored by scientific
research on yoga, probably because descriptions of chakras can appear like a fanciful
mythology. Chakras are commonly considered to be centers of concentrated
metaphysical energy. While clear physiological effects exist for yoga practices, no
explanation of how chakras influence physiological function has been broadly accepted
either in the scientific community or among yoga scholars. This problem is exacerbated
by the fact that yoga is based on subjective experience and practitioners often shun
objective descriptions. This paper builds upon an earlier work hypothesizing that
intercellular gap junction connections provide a physiological mechanism underlying
subtle energy systems described in yoga as well as other disciplines such as acupuncture.
Three physical aspects of chakras are distinguished that are integrated through gap
junction mechanisms and are proposed to have arisen during embryological development.
Furthermore, electrical conductance associated with a high concentration of gap junctions
could generate phenomena which, when subjectively experienced, have the radiant
qualities attributed to chakras. This theory provides a scientific rationale for many details
of chakra theory that had previously been unexplained and offers a new orientation to
conceptualizing and studying such subjective phenomena.
Keywords: acupuncture, cakra, chakra, electrical synapse, gap junction, glial syncytium,
kundalini, kundalinii, meditation, nervous system development, subtle energy, yoga
2
One of the challenges in the scientific study and interpretation of yoga practices is
that yoga uses concepts different from those of western science to explain its benefits.
Recent discussions about the integration of yoga into western health practices emphasize
the need for testable hypotheses and models for how yoga works (Goldin and Manber
2006; Shapiro 2006; Sherman 2006). Yoga includes a spiritual anatomy of non-physical
control centers, called chakras (also spelled cakras). By attaining mastery over each
chakra and its influence over particular glandular secretions, all aspects of mental
function are said to become controlled (Sarkar 1994). For any research to accomplish a
comprehensive explanation of yoga, it must explain the nature and role of chakras.
There is extensive research demonstrating physiological effects of various yoga
practices. Yoga practices can modify many physiological systems, including respiratory
(Bhargava, Gogate and Mascarenhas 1988; Telles, Nagarathna and Nagendra 1994;
Spicuzza et al. 2000; Brown and Gerbarg 2005), cardiovascular (Bernardi et al. 2001;
Raub 2002; Bharshankar et al. 2003; Harinath et al. 2004; Sarang and Telles 2006),
autonomic (Wenger and Bagchi 1961; Bujatti and Riederer 1976; Vempati and Telles
2002) and central nervous systems (Elson, Hauri and Cunis 1977; Corby et al. 1978;
Lazar et al. 2000; Arambula et al. 2001; Aftanas and Golosheykin 2005). Yet this
research largely excludes any reference to chakras. If chakras exist and can influence
physiological activity, some aspect must be accessible to objective analysis. The
discovery of a physical system that correlates with purported chakra functions would
greatly enhance the study of yoga practices. This paper will elaborate a theory originally
presented by Charles Shang (Shang 2001) that proposes chakras are associated with
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embryological organizing centers in the central nervous system (CNS). In an
examination of the implications of this theory, many critical areas of confusion
concerning chakras are explained. First, characteristics commonly attributed to chakras
will be elaborated.
Basic Chakra Concepts
Georg Feuerstein specifies in his yoga encyclopedia that yoga formulations
typically describe seven chakras, although additional chakras are described in some
systems. He defines chakras as “psychoenergetic vortices forming the major ‘organs’ of
the body composed of life energy (prana)” (Feuerstein 1997, 68). In a classic
commentary and translation of the Sat-Chakra-Nirupana, chakras are described variously
as “vortices of etheric matter” and “centres of consciousness” (Avalon [1919] 1974, 7,
159). C. W. Leadbeater describes chakras as “saucer-like depressions or vortices” that
are “points of connection” (Leadbeater [1927] 1994, 4) between the physical body and an
invisible part of the body he calls the “etheric double” (Leadbeater [1927] 1994, 2-3).
Energy flows through these points of connection and the magnitude of the energy flow
can vary greatly. “When quite underdeveloped they appear as small circles about two
inches in diameter, glowing dully in the ordinary man; but when awakened and vivified
they are seen as blazing, coruscating whirlpools, much increased in size, and resembling
miniature suns” (Leadbeater [1927] 1994, 4).
While chakras are not considered to be physical, they are frequently associated
with particular anatomical locations and are considered to have direct influence over
4
specific, select aspects of physical and mental functioning. In Table 1, locations
associated with chakras by various authors are specified. Shyam Sundar Goswami lists a
set of “surface points” along the ventral body surface and “physical positions” ([1980]
1999, 293) within the CNS for chakras, despite his emphasis that chakras are non-
physical. Shrii Shrii Ánandamúrti’s (also known as Prabhat Rainjain Sarkar) locations
are described as “concentration points” (1996, 76), not the true locations of the chakras
which are considered to be within the CNS. Thus, there is a distinction between locations
at which mental focus may stimulate chakras and the actual site of the chakras. While
Feuerstein questions how closely the link between physical locations and chakras can be
made, he concludes chakras are generally accepted to have positions within the CNS
(Feuerstein 1997). Confusion between the CNS location, concentration points and other
locations of chakra influence often occurs. One example of this confusion is
demonstrated by Dharma Singh Khalsa and Cameron Staut when they specify locations
that are sometimes more dorsal (i.e., “behind the heart”), but also specify “center of
forehead” (Kalsa and Stauth 2002, 168) which is a superficial and ventral location.
Dennis Chernin gives a mix of “associations” (2002, 88-89) with the CNS and autonomic
nervous system (ANS), and implies that chakras influence physical function through
those associations. A mechanism is not specified and chakras are loosely described as a
“force field” (Chernin 2002, 77). With Harish Johari, it is unclear how his use of the term
“plexus,” i.e., “cerebral plexus, ” (2000, 147) relates to the brain regions he designates.
Another confusing example is when Kalsa and Stauth state that, “Each chakra is located
in the exact same area as a major nerve plexus, and an important endocrine gland” while
they also state that chakras “are vertically aligned along the spine and head” (2002, 163).
5
In Table 1, it can be seen that three aspects of chakras (components in the CNS,
components in the ANS, and components in the endocrine system) have been variously
intermingled by these authors. When abstract concepts such as ethereal energy are also
included, the potential for a scientific analysis appears hopeless.
The challenge for anyone interested in explaining chakras is to be able to
demonstrate how something nonphysical could interact with the physical. The magnitude
of the challenge is framed by Goswami who presents a comprehensive critique of
attempts to associate chakras with physical structures ([1980] 1999, 14-20). His chief
complaint is associated with overly zealous attempts to reduce chakras to a physical
structure. However, if chakras were truly independent of physical structures, why would
there be any correspondence with physical locations? This dilemma can only be resolved
if there are physical systems at least closely related to chakras through which the physical
effects of chakras are manifest. A possible solution lies in a subtle physical system whose
importance has become increasingly recognized within the past few years.
Gap Junctions
Acupuncture is a clinical discipline with demonstrated scientific validity that
presumes to manipulate subtle energies unassociated with any known physiological
system (Kaptchuk 2002). Some efforts to resolve this dilemma have focussed on
mechanical signaling (Langevin, Churchill and Cipolla 2001). Others have demonstrated
electrical properties are involved (Chen 1996). One model has attempted to unify
structural and electrical characteristics and has also proposed that a similar mechanism
6
could explain the existence and characteristics of chakras (Shang 2001). The mechanism
Shang proposed is based on developmental control processes that include intercellular
coordination through gap junctions.
Gap junctions are hydrophilic passages between the cytoplasm of two adjacent
cells created by a hexagonal array of connexin proteins, and probably a newly discovered
family of pannexin proteins (Sohl, Maxeiner and Willecke 2005). (See Figure 1.)
Approximately 20 different connexin related genes have been identified on the human
and mouse genomes (Evans and Martin 2002). Gap junctions composed of different
connexins have different conductance and gating properties associated with exchange of
small molecules and ions capable of creating electrical conductance (Bukauskas and
Verselis 2004). Gap junctions have been demonstrated to play an important role in
synchronizing endocrine secretion (Berthoud et al. 2000; Rottingen and Iversen 2000;
Funabashi et al. 2001; Meda 2003), in the function of the heart (Verheule et al. 1997;
Dhein 1998), in the synchronized firing of neurons (Colwell 2000; Bou-Flores and
Berger 2001; Solomon, Chon and Rodriguez 2003; Hewitt et al. 2004), in interactions
between neurons and glial cells (Cotrina and Nedegaard 2000; Kirchhoff, Dringen and
Giaume 2001) and in coordinating activity in many embryological processes.
Gap junctions have an essential role in embryological processes. The density of
gap junctions is greatest during embryological development (Fulton 1995; Leung,
Unsicker and Reuss 2002) and many developmental processes are affected by gap
junctions, including left-right patterning (Levin and Mercola 1998), the development of
7
limb buds (Makarenkova et al. 1997; Law et al. 2002), the migration and survival of
neural crest cells (Huang et al. 1998; Bannerman et al. 2000; Cai et al. 2004), heart
development (Ewart et al. 1997), the development of the nervous system (Dermietzel et
al. 1989; Menichella et al. 2003; Montoro and Yuste 2004; Tang et al. 2006) and the
control of tumor growth (Naus 2002). While embryological development in the nervous
system is highly regulated by growth factors, gap junctions play an important role
through creating boundaries (Dahl, Willecke and Balling 1997), modulating cell
migration (Xu et al. 2001), modulating cell proliferation (Bittman et al. 1997) and
mediating the transmission of cell signaling molecules (Lo 1996).
The synaptic communication occurring between neurons through the release of
chemical neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine is well-
known (Cooper, Bloom and Roth 1996). Synapses using ions (called electrical synapses)
are also present between neurons and are created by gap junctions (see Figure 2), but
constitute only a minority of the synapses present (Bennett 1997; Hormuzdi et al. 2004).
In contrast, gap junctions between glial cells are extensive and have been shown to be
important in a number of mature CNS systems. Brain astrocytes, a type of glial cell,
form an extended network (syncytium) through gap junctions in which neurons are
embedded, facilitating interdependence between the functions of astrocytes and neurons
(Kirchhoff, Dringen and Giaume 2001). Demyelination and axonal atrophy in Charcot-
Marie-Tooth Disease is associated with genetic mutations of a particular gap junction
protein associated with myelin in Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes (Ionasescu 1998;
Menichella et al. 2003). A pan-glial gap junction network has been proposed that links
8
astrocytes and oligodendrocytes (Fróes and Menezes 2002). Glial gap junction
communication has effects on brain reinforcement systems through an association with
dopamine (Bennett et al. 1999). Gap junctions have been shown to influence
synchronous neuronal firing that may be associated with seizure activity (Ross et al.
2000). Gap junction activity modulates inspiratory motorneuron synchronization and
respiratory rhythm (Dean et al. 2002; Solomon, Chon and Rodriguez 2003). Gap
junctions are necessary for rhythmic coupling of cells within the suprachiasmatic nucleus
(SCN) (Colwell 2000). Blocking gap junctions disrupts the circadian rhythm of cell
firing in the SCN (Prosser et al. 1994; Long et al. 2004). Activity of the SCN generates
circadian rhythms affecting the whole animal through multiple mechanisms including the
control of pineal secretion of melatonin (Larsen, Enquist and Card 1998; Perreau-Lenz et
al. 2004).
Early in brain development electrical coupling of neurons through gap junctions is
widespread, precedes chemical synaptic activity, and has been proposed to contribute to
neuronal circuit maturation (Fróes and Menezes 2002; Hormuzdi et al. 2004; Sutor and
Hagerty 2005). In the neonatal spinal cord of the rat, stable motor activity can be
produced without action potentials as a result of synchronization through gap junctions
(Tresch and Kiehn 2000). Such synchronization has been proposed to be critical for the
establishment of proper chemical synapse connectivity (Saint-Amant and Drapeau 2001).
Thus, at an early point in development, electrical circuits predominate in the CNS, but as
the cortex develops, chemical synapses gain predominance (Kandler and Thiels 2005).
9
The Dorsal Neural Tube and Neural Crest Cells
Shang proposed that acupuncture points arise from a higher density of gap
junctions between cells that are remnants of organizing centers which controlled
morphogenesis in that region (2001). This has powerful implications concerning CNS
development and a physical system potentially associated with chakras. In the
developing embryo, nervous tissue first develops as a flat sheet of cells called the neural
plate. (See Figure 3.) At an early point, the side edges of the neural plate begin to fold
toward each other, ultimately forming a tube which develops into the brain and spinal
cord (Gammill and Bronner-Fraser 2003). While chemical signals promote these
movements, gap junctions have been shown to have a role in neural tube closure (Ewart
et al. 1997). An abnormal expression of one type of gap junction is one of the causes for
failure of the neural tube to close. The presence of increased levels of gap junctions in
the neural folds is supported by the observation that a portion of the neural folds
generates an electrical current (Hotary and Robinson 1994; Shi and Borgens 1995). If
there is a high density of gap junctions at the edges of the neural folds, then the points at
which the two edges join should have an especially high density of gap junctions.
The region where the edges of the neural plate join has major developmental
importance. In the vicinity of the joined edges, a special set of cells, called neural crest
cells, are generated. Neural crest cells become many diverse types of cells, including
sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglia, adrenal chromaffin cells (adrenalin producing
cells), and all of the cells of the autonomic nervous system including the neurons and glia
10
of the enteric nervous system (Le Douarin and Kalcheim 1999). Neural crest cells also
form bones and cartilage in the face and parts of the head (Helms and Schneider 2003;
Santagati and Rijli 2003; Noden and Schneider 2006). Neural crest cells migrate from
the dorsal neural tube region in organized sheets or streams (Bronner-Fraser 1994;
Kulesa, Ellies and Trainor 2004). Gap junctions have been shown to be necessary for
neural crest cell survival during migration (Huang et al. 1998; Bannerman et al. 2000).
Spinal Centers and Concentration Points
Shang proposed that acupuncture points, and the meridians that link them, arise
from underdifferentiated cells that retain high concentrations of gap junction connections
(2001). Extending this, he described chakras as remnants of embryological organizing
centers within the CNS, possessing a similar high concentration of gap junction
connections. It is additionally proposed that direct or indirect connections are maintained
between the mature cells arising from neural crest cells and the locations from which they
originated. Thus, there would be gap junction links between autonomic cells (and other
neural crest derivatives) and centers in the CNS that had a role in controlling their
original differentiation.
Chakra locations have sometimes been associated with autonomic plexuses (see
Table 1, E), but the relationship between chakras and autonomic plexuses has never been
clearly defined. The locations specified for concentration points are often vague,
sometimes being specified only as regions (see Table 1, A, D and F). In the current
formulation, concentration points associated with chakras would represent locations
11
primarily within the ANS whose activity could be changed by willful concentration. The
change in activity produced would have the potential to modify activity in specific
centers within the CNS. Those CNS centers would represent the physical base of the
chakras, the physical structure most immediately connected to subjectively perceived
chakra activity. Concentration points for the two highest chakras are at locations
(between the eyebrows and at the crown of the head) where there are no major autonomic
plexuses. However, bones and cartilage of the face and portions of the head are formed
from neural crest cells (Santagati and Rijli 2003) which could also retain subtle links to
the CNS. While it is easier to imagine gap junction links between autonomic cells and
CNS cells than between bone cells and CNS cells, the peculiar bone-generating function
of neural crest cells does provide consistency for this theory. Other cell types could also
participate in creating the necessary links.
CNS chakra centers would have the capacity to modify broader CNS activity,
particularly affecting secretory activity in related endocrine systems. Endocrine function
is important in yoga theoretical frameworks because a critical feature of chakras is the
control of key mental propensities (vrtiis) modulated by glandular secretions
(Ánandamúrti 1988). This is too large a topic to be examined in the current paper, but is
consistent with the somatic marker theory, the idea that body states can have significant
influence over brain states affecting thought and feeling (Damasio, Everitt and Bishop
1996). This chakra hypothesis differs from other theories recently proposed to explain
profound spiritual experiences (Austin 1998; d'Aquili and Newberg 2000; Dietrich 2003;
12
Davidson et al. 2003; Newberg and Iversen 2003) by de-emphasizing the role of
networks of chemical synapses, in favor of electrical networks and endocrine effects.
The effects of focussing on chakra concentration points by yoga novices would
most likely begin through chemical synaptic systems, modifying activity within various
organs affected by shifts in autonomic control consistent with the classic relaxation
response (Benson 1976). Subjective sensations experienced when focussing on a
concentration point are presumed to arise from a shift of activity in neural pathways.
However, this need not occur solely through chemical synapses. It is proposed that the
effect of advanced meditation is accomplished by restoring greater strength to the more
primitive electrical circuits, particularly at locations capable of exerting broader control,
i.e., those which are proposed to be the physical bases of chakras. An increasing amount
of evidence shows that chemical synapses are only part of the neural control process and
under many circumstances electrical synapses (i.e., gap junctions) contribute important
functions, particularly in coordinating activity of groups of cells (Colwell 2000; Bou-
Flores and Berger 2001; Solomon, Chon and Rodriguez 2003; Hewitt et al. 2004). As a
yoga practitioner becomes more adept, subtler systems using gap junctions could be
activated, changing energetic states in groups of cells, including opening connections
between different compartments within the glial syncytium. Yogic practices could also
stimulate increases in the number of gap junction connections. Current evidence
demonstrates that connexin expression is a dynamic process that spatially and temporally
regulates gap junction coupling between neurons in different brain areas and presumably
elsewhere (Hormuzdi et al. 2004).
13
While it is difficult to imagine how subtle gap junction mechanisms could be
studied in humans, a recent Chinese study has demonstrated an increase in the expression
of a particular gap junction protein (connexin 43) at an acupuncture point in rats using
acupuncture stimulation (Huang, Zheng and Zhang 2005). Acupuncture in humans has
been demonstrated to modify limbic and subcortical brain activity in an fMRI study (Hui
et al. 2000). Glial functions in the brain have been related to many neurological and
psychiatric disorders (Hertz et al. 2004). This implies that yoga practices such as chakra
concentration exercises and mantra meditation could do more than the current concept of
modulating frontal cortex attention circuits (Cahn and Polich 2006), potentially also
promoting fundamental changes in neural structures that allow a broader neural/glial
syncytium to be established.
This difference between chemical and electrical communication within the CNS
and ANS could explain why chakras are perceived to be non-physical. Chemical synaptic
activity of the CNS and ANS may be able to be subjectively distinguished from the
activity and influence of the chakras because the effect of chemically-based nerve
function spreads in a manner that is distinct from electrical gap junction networks. The
physical base of a chakra would be a hub in typically dormant or subordinate electrical
circuitry that becomes accessible to conscious control, providing the potential for subtle
influence over the activities of the CNS, ANS and endocrine system. Yoga training and
probably other practices would provide access to these subtle electrical circuits and
functions.
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Additional Implications
One demonstration of the value of a theory is its explanatory power. Until the gap
junction theory of chakras, little could be said scientifically to justify the existence in
classic yoga constructs (Avalon [1919] 1974, Ánandamúrti 1993) of an important
dormant energy (kuńďalinii) considered to reside at the base of the spine. With this
theory, the presence of a chakra and an energy in some relation to the coccyx (and filum
terminale, the terminal filament of the spinal cord) can be understood. According to
Shang’s theory, an unusually high concentration of gap junction linked cells would be
expected at the end point of a developmental growth process like the spinal column that
ends at the coccyx and filum terminale. It is proposed that the kuńďalinii is, in part, a
subjective representation of state changes among polar molecules within a channel in the
CNS rising from the filum terminale to the brain. Avalon recognized the importance of
the filum terminale to yoga constructs and noted ([1919] 1974, 105) that while fibrous,
the filum terminale also contains nerve cell bodies. In this framework, the channel
(suśumná) would be a column of gap junction linked cells whose gap junctions open as
the kuńďalinii rises. The broader aspects of the suśumná would be present in the glial
syncytium extending through the whole volume of the spine and brain. Meditation would
function to integrate compartments within the glial network, ultimately allowing a full
electrical unification of the spine and brain. The subtlest component of the suśumná
(brahma-nadi) (Feuerstein 1997, 63) is proposed to be a column of cells remaining in the
region where the edges of the neural plate joined to form the neural tube. Gap junctions
between neurons in the CNS are particularly associated with inhibitory interneurons and
15
contribute to oscillating brain electrical activity (Hormuzdi et al 2004). A column of
activated inhibitory interneurons through the spinal cord and into the brain could have a
powerful effect in changing states in the CNS. This provides a cellular mechanism for
how meditation may shift power in the EEG.
The physical location of the chakras can also be viewed from a developmental
perspective. The lower five chakras are associated with sites of developmental control
over the five classically defined regions of the spine: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral
and coccygeal. The upper two chakras are located within the brain at points where brain
regions have differentiated. During development, the brain first differentiates into three
regions, forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain (Rubenstein et al. 1998). One yoga authority
has associated ájiná chakra with the midbrain (Saraswati [1969] 2008, 532). This makes
sense since that chakra is associated with the most subtle I-feeling (Ánandamúrti 1968)
and portions of the midbrain have been described by neuroscientists as the location of the
most primitive forms of self-awareness (Panksepp 1998; Damasio 1999). From an
embryological point of view, the most likely site of ájiná chakra is the highly studied
isthmus organizer that controls the differentiation of midbrain from hindbrain structures
(Alexandre and Wassef 2003). Following this progression, sahasrára chakra would arise
from mechanisms not yet identified that control the differentiation of midbrain from
forebrain structures. This location would be in the dorsal thalamus, particularly the
epithalamus, supporting association of the pineal gland (which is part of the epithalamus)
with the sahasrára chakra.
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Conclusion
Subjective experiences commonly described by yoga practitioners are
reproducible experiences that can be achieved by anyone performing certain introspective
practices. Past attempts at identifying a physical corollary to the subjectively
experienced chakras have been unsatisfactory because knowledge had not yet existed
about a physiological system that was sufficiently subtle. By expanding the gap junction
theory of chakras and including additional information about developmental processes
within the dorsal neural tube, mechanisms have been proposed to explain disparate
elements of chakra theory. Physical systems related to a chakra have three main aspects:
a physical base that exists in the dorsal CNS, a concentration point that is activating to
that physical base, and influence of that physical base over the activity of particular
glandular secretions that have the potential to bias mental function. With appropriate
forms of concentration, gap junction linkages in autonomic plexuses and elsewhere,
typically subordinated to chemical synaptic activity, may become activated (or
regenerated) and result in stimulation of important sites in the dorsal CNS. Additionally,
control over glandular functions may be susceptible to modulation by gap junction
mechanisms, presumably through autonomic nerves associated with these dorsal CNS
sites. Identification of gap junctions within the nervous system has had difficulties and it
is not likely to be easy to find the proposed chakra centers within the CNS in animals or
humans. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), or perhaps new technologies
such as functional near-infra-red spectrometry (fNIRS), together with more refined
electrophysiology could potentially yield signs of this underlying physiology. If gap
17
junctions are associated with chakra function, some type of electrical signature should be
present that could be identified. At least one researcher has claimed to have identified
electrophysiological signs of chakra activity (Motoyama 1981). However, this work is
not known to have been subjected to any peer review process.
The potential presence of a physical substrate underlying chakras brings back
Goswami’s ([1980] 1999, 14-20) caution. Could the phenomena associated with chakras
be reduced to a solely physical process? The intent of this paper has been to provide a
necessary mechanism to explain effects on physical systems that are claimed by yoga
practitioners. Other more complex issues associated with subtle states of consciousness
potentially independent of physical function have not been addressed. It has been
assumed that there is valid truth in the experience of yogis that can provide important
information concerning complex aspects of our human condition. While gap junctions
are a physical structure, their functions and mechanisms of control are just beginning to
be understood. It is conceivable that subtle properties involved in controlling a medium
filled with flowing polar molecules could generate phenomena which, when subjectively
experienced, have the radiant qualities attributed to chakras. This offers a potentially
dramatic new approach to conceptualizing and examining a special group of subjective
phenomena. In order to produce the effects generally claimed, chakras must have
physical linkage in addition to purported metaphysical characteristics. To ignore the
physical aspects would be just as foolish as ignoring the metaphysical aspects.
18
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Table 1
___________________________________________________
Associations Between Chakras and Anatomical Sites
32
___________________________________________________
Chakras A B C D E F
1.
Múládhára
Above the
perineum
At the anus Perineal point
(Coccyx,
segment II)
Perineum,
base of spine
Sacral and
pelvic nerves,
coccygeal
plexus
Base of
spine
2.
Svádhiśťhána
Region of
the genital
organ
At the
genitals
Genital point
at root of
penis
(Sacral 4)
Genital
region
Hypogastric
plexus,
lumbar-sacral
plexus
Behind
lower
abdomen
3.
Mańipura
Region of
the navel
At the navel Navel point
(Lumbar 4)
Part of
vertebral
column
associated
with the navel
Celiac plexus Behind the
navel
4.
Anáhata
Region of
the heart
At the heart Thoracic
point
(Thoracic 9
or 10)
Heart region
of the
vertebral
column
Cardiac plexus Behind the
heart
5.
Vishuddha
Region of
the vocal
chords
At the throat Cervical
point
(Cervical 4)
Cervical part
of the spinal
column
Pharyngeal
plexus
Throat
6.
Ájiná
Between the
eyebrows
At the center
of the head,
between and
behind the
eyebrows
Eyebrow
point
(Caudal 3rd
ventricle)
Medulla
plexus, pineal
plexus
Midbrain Center of
forehead,
or third-
eye point
7.
Sahasrára
Crown of
the head
At or above
the crown of
the head
Head point
(Extra-
cranial)
Top of the
cranium,
cerebral
Cerebral
cortex
Top of
head
33
plexus
In Table 1 physical locations associated with particular chakras by various authors
are delineated: A. Ánandamúrti (1996), B. Feuerstein (1997), C. Goswami (1999), D.
Johari (2000), E. Chernin (2002), F. Khalsa and Stout (2002). There is a general
consistency in the anatomical region of the chakra. However, the locations demonstrate a
confusing mix of CNS and peripheral sites, some precise, but others quite vague and
sometimes inconsistent with normal physiological terminology.
___________________________________________________
Figure 1
Gap Junctions Channels Across Two Cell Membranes
34
Figure 1. This image depicts an X-ray diffraction analysis of a section of two
juxtaposed cell membranes with gap junctions penetrating through the two lipid layers.
Gap junctions are formed by two hexagonal arrays of connexin proteins (large white
clusters) that link across the membranes of adjacent cells forming hydrophilic passages.
The passages are no greater than about 20 Å wide. Reprinted with permission from
Makowski et al. (1977).
Figure 2
Structure of Chemical and Electrical Synapses
35
Figure 2. Synapses can be either chemical or electrical. A. In chemical synapses,
neurotransmitters are released into the synaptic cleft between two neurons, resulting in
gating of ion channels, generating in this example an ionic influx across the post-synaptic
membrane. In a chemical synapse the effect is unidirectional. B. Electrical synapses are
formed by gap junctions that create pores between two neurons allowing an exchange of
larger molecules, including ions (small circles), metabolites (squares) and small second
messenger molecules (ovals). Electrical synapses allow a bidirectional exchange
between neurons. Drawing reprinted with permission from Hormuzdi et al. (2004).
Figure 3
Formation of the Neural Tube and Neural Crest Cells
36
Figure 3. The progression from neural plate to neural tube is depicted across four
stages. Cells destined to become the CNS are segregated from other ectodermal cells into
a plate. Folds emerge at the edges of this plate and extend toward each other. When the
folds join, the neural tube is formed. Neural crest cells (mottled ovals) are generated and
migrate from the region of the dorsal neural tube where the folds join (black). Drawing
37
reprinted from Gammill and Bronner-Fraser (2003), with permission. Modifications
were made to the coloring to adapt to a black and white format.
Author's Note:
Richard W. Maxwell is a private practice clinical neuropsychologist and partner in
Affiliated Psychological Consultants, PC. His address is: 34 Turkey Hill Road, Ithaca,
NY 14850; email: rwmaxw@gmail.com.
Keywords:
acupuncture, cakra, chakra, electrical synapse, gap junction, glial syncytium, kundalini,
kundalinii, meditation, nervous system development, subtle energy, yoga
38
... It corresponds to the testes and ovaries in the human body. And it is physiologically related to the prostatic or uterovaginal plexus of nerves (Maxwell, 2009). The psychic propensities of swadhisthan are loss of fear of water, intuitive knowledge, ability to desire fulfillment, and awareness of astral entities (Satyanand-Swaraswati, 1996). ...
... Visudhdhi chakra is located in the cervical plexus behind the throat pit and corresponds to the thyroid gland (Maxwell, 2009). Meditation concentrating on vishuddhi chakra, practitioners achieve excellence in eloquence and pervasive peace of mind. ...
... Physical Level (Maxwell, 2009) • ...
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... This digital artwork was created by Aaron Staengl and reprinted here with his permission. from a common developmental process (Maxwell, 2009). The concentration points for each chakra are used for meditation practices and are located more ventrally than the controlling points. ...
... Recently, one of us proposed an alternative mechanism for kundalini expression (Maxwell, 2009). According to it, neural and glial gap junctions within the spine and brain form compartments that can be linked. ...
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... They are located on the spinal cord where flow of energy is intensified due to congregation of energies from various neuronal centers. Chakras are an integral part of Yoga [1] and get activated through Yoga practices particularly Pranayama (Controlled breathing) which help in directing spinal cord energy upwards by producing spark in motor and sensory nerves. The power of consciousness of the brain is also controlled by this flow of energy. ...
... During week 4, the forebrain, middle brain, hind brain, and the optical stalk begin to develop [38]. The differentiation of midbrain from forebrain would make the physical base of the Sahasrára Chakra [1]. The brain hemispheres start to form at week 6, and the brain waves begin. ...
... Studying the expansion of consciousness through the chakra points is a challenge for science. Attempts have been made to relate chakra points to the existence of gap-junctions in the spinal cord (Maxwell, 2009) and other maps of the central nervous system (Loizzo, 2016). However, at the current stage, there is no convincing physiological correlate that may be used as evidence for the existence of or measurement of the chakras. ...
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