Dr. Charles T. Tart on May 28th, 2012

Once a very esoteric concept, known only to a few, such as scholars of Eastern religion, probably most people have now heard of chakras, psychic energy centers spread throughout the body, although mostly along the spine, which, when activated, can affect the quality of a person’s consciousness.  Here’s a typical diagram I found with a Google search.  While various metaphysical systems differ in how many chakras they think there are, probably seven is the most common number, with the lowest being at the base of the spine, the highest being a little bit above the head.

More than 60 years ago I was one of those then unusual people who had heard of chakras, through my extensive reading about parapsychology, Eastern systems of thought, psychical research, and the like.  But it was simply an intellectual concept to me.  I thought it was possible that chakras were somehow real, even if not physical in nature, and that some special people had the psychic ability to perceive them.  Or they could have just been an interesting idea that didn’t really have any reality to it.

Ajna Chakra?

While I was still undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I became quite ill and was hospitalized for a few days in the student infirmary.  I was running something of a fever throughout this time, although I don’t remember what I was actually diagnosed as having.  But one evening, a very interesting experience happened.

I was setting partially up my hospital bed, talking to a visitor, probably my wife Judy, when my visual field slowly became circular in shape, rather than rectangular as it normally is.  Then the size of the circle shrank over the next few seconds, my visual field shrinking to fit.  It was as if the real scene I was looking at was only that circle, and it was pouring down to my forehead, shrinking down as it flowed down a funnel.  The tip of the funnel ended at a spot just between my eyes and slightly above them.

When the visual scene reached that point on my forehead, I think it blanked out for a very short time, a second or less – I’m not sure of the accuracy of my memory on this detail – and then a new visual scene expanded out through a funnel going into an interior world, perhaps a dream world.  Within a few seconds I was in a dream world, moving about, doing things, as one hardly does the dream.  The sketch I made below shows how this felt to me.

I would be in the inner or dream world for a few seconds to a minute or so, and then the that inner world would shift from a rectangular visual field to a circular one, the visual details of the scene would flow back down the funnel shape to that point just above my inner eyes, a moment of transition would occur, and then my vision would expand out in circular field and then a rectangular field, encompassing what I was actually looking at in the ordinary world.  The second figure diagrams that.  It took just a few seconds whichever direction the visual world was going to go from tip to full open.

Note I did not see a “funnel” directly, I just inferred it from the way the visual scene flowed and shrank or expanded.

I went back and forth several times, funneling into the point between my eyes out into the other world, then back again, etc.  I’m remember thinking at the time that this spot above my eyes was one of the classic chakra points, the ajna chakra, and that this must mean that my consciousness was deed changing its quality in “going through” this particular chapter.  I put “going through” in quotes, for while the direct feeling of my visual world moving in or out of the funnel and passing through a point on my forehead was so strong, I know I may only be using a metaphor here.

Muladhara Chakra?

That was my only experience with something that I thought of as a chakra until half a dozen or so years later.  I was teaching in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and Ralph Metzner, one of the early investigators of psychedelic drugs, and some colleagues came to Charlottesville to offer a “psychedelic seminar.”  This did not involve any drugs, although I think they were still legal, they were trying to see how much of psychedelic experiences could be induced solely by music, visualization and meditation techniques.  My wife and I offered to have the workshop held at our house in the country, and it went on for a full day, involving lots of music, light shows, and guided meditations.

Having had some previous experience with chemical psychedelics, the few experiences I had during that day were pale shadows what was possible with psychedelics, although interesting.  My one really interesting experience came toward the end of the day.  I suddenly became aware of a solid, oval shaped something at the base of my spine.  AI think it was bright red in color, for I could see a visual image of it as well as feel it.  But the mostly amazing thing about it was that it felt as if there actually was a solid object pushing against the bottom of my spine, and it was a steady sensation that went on for many minutes.  I can visualize anything for a second or two, but to have something be that real and steady was very unusual.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this had anything to do with the root chakra that is supposed to be at the base of the spine, the muladhara chakra.

Could We Objectively Study Chakras?

Years later, while heavily involved in hypnosis and dream research, I came up with an idea for investigating the reality of chakras.  Since I knew from my work with hypnosis that I could induce almost any kind of hallucination in 10 to 20 percent of the population I hypnotized, could it be that the chakras were arbitrarily created hallucinations?  That the meditation methods and the like used to help people experience them were some kind of covert hypnosis?  If that was so, it should be possible to induce similar experiences anywhere in the body of highly talented hypnotic subjects, rather than in just the classic locations where the chakras were supposed to be.

So I came up with this interesting idea.  I would a group of highly sizable people, and I would make sure that these were people who had never heard of chakras.  If they already knew about these things, that kind of bias could create experiences of chakras even if they did exist.  At that time it would still have been possible to find people fairly readily who had never heard of chakras. Then I would have a trained hypnotist, someone who also knew nothing about chakras, hypnotize these subjects, one by one, and use their ability in deep hypnosis to focus very strongly on particular parts of the body.  They would then be given a particular location the focus on, and allowed the focus on it for a minute, and then asked what, if any, kind of experience, seemed to be associated with focusing on that particular spot.  The spots chosen to focus on would include the classical seven chakra locations, as well as an equal number of locations I picked in the body which, to my knowledge, no spiritual system had ever claimed were psychically special kind of spots.

If my hypnotic explorers did not come up with any consistent experiences in the control locations, but did come up with consistent experiences in the classic chakra locations, that would argue that there really was something special about those locations, maybe there was indeed a (non-physical) chakra associated with that spot in the body that would produce predictable kind of effects when activated.  If the effects produced where those classically described as associated with particular chakras, that would be even stronger evidence that they possessed some kind of “objective” reality.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I have always had way too many interests, so I never got around to working on this particular experiment.  That’s a shame, because I did have several highly trained hypnotic subjects that I was using in dream research at the time.  But perhaps somebody else will do this someday.

Why might it be important?  If the classical chakras are indeed “real” in some sense, and have particular, specific effects, learning how to activate them in an appropriate way might be very valuable for health and spiritual growth.  On the other hand, if there was nothing consistent about those particular locations, if you want to help someone with psychological and spiritual growth it might be more profitable to pursue other lines of inquiry.  Although if you were working with a client who already had a strong belief system involving chakras, working with this belief system, whether you thought there was good evidence of its reality or not, would probably be helpful.

Which reminds me of the dream I’ve had for many years of a laboratory staffed by bright young psychologists/parapsychologists with strong personal spiritual interests and knowledge, working on building bridges between the best of science and the best of spirituality…..if you know anyone with a few million dollars (smaller donations welcome too!) who would like to endow such a lab, let me know!

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One Response to “Me and My Chakras”

  1. Tor says:

    Hi Dr. Tart,

    Interesting post this one. It reminds me of my own experiences with meridians,acupoints and the dan tiens. To me there seems to be a major overlap between the Indian and Chinese systems (I am not sure I agree with what is written about these things online though, e.g Wikipedia).

    Anyway, through my own experience I’ve felt meridians with their acupoints as distinct sensations going from my lower back, over my neck and and down to my eyebrows. I didn’t know it had anything to do with meridians until I saw a meridian chart and could recognize it all later. In addition I often have felt some of these major points that seem to correspond to some of the Indian chakras. When these activate it often leads to a lot of “pressure” and/or “electric” type sensations, and sometimes a “flow” of some sorts. We usually associate these sensation with the workings of Qi in our method, which I guess is analogous to Prana in the Indian system. The physical sensations of the centers/points themselves are sometimes accompanied by effects in the mind and consciousness.

    The most powerful experience I’ve had so far was when I entered the so called “Qi-gong state” (a kind of altered state of consciousness that one is supposed to be in while practicing, but in my experience has been really hard to get into). I stayed in this state for about 2-3 weeks straight, and it was the most conscious, calm and free I have ever been. To be able to think and feel what I wanted, and not what my mind wanted to feed me through its internally generated noise was completely new to me and gave rise to a deep inner feeling of peace and contentment. While in this state I also noticed how the sensation in these major points/centers got much stronger, how energy seemed to flow from the environment into me and back through these points. It was like being a child all over again. Everything was new and exiting. I couldn’t even open a door without something happening with this in/out flow. I felt healthy on a whole other level, and bodily problems started to adjust themselves without me doing much to make it happen.

    Based on this experience I’d say at least some of these points/centers are real.

    From the purely objective side I also know that the physicist Joie P. Jones has been doing some research on the acupoints/meridian system using ultrasound to try and stimulate them, measuring the response along the meridian and in the brain. I find his work extremely interesting and supportive of the reality of these points and centers. The SSE has a video of his presentation on this topic from a few years back. You can find it here if you haven’t seen it already: http://www.scientificexplorati.....cture.html

    If I had millions of dollars I would probably start researching this stuff too. In order to get the proper motivation for doing a PhD I think it would need to be something along these lines. If it is too mainstream it gets too boring :)

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