Q: I have read about the importance of chakras in spiritual practice. What are they and how do they figure into the lessons here? A: Chakras, also known as spiritual energy centers, are components of our internal energy anatomy corresponding to various aspects of our nervous system. They are vital internal mechanisms through which consciousness, as prana, functions in us. Philosophically, they are prominent in the religions of the East, and can be found in Christianity as well, for example, in the Book of Revelations. How important are chakras in advanced yoga practices? They are important, but not in the sense that they need to be intellectually understood for maximum spiritual progress to occur. Think of your car for a minute. When you get into it in the morning, there are just a few things you have to do to get going on your way. You turn the key, put the car in gear, step on the gas, and go. Then you have to steer, step on the brake, and so on. Driving a car is something that most of us can handle fairly easily. But suppose while driving we had to involve ourselves in every detail going on under the hood to make the car go. Suppose we had to pump the gas from the tank to the engine, fire the spark plugs, monitor the pistons going up and down, and follow the torque through the crankshaft and transmission to the wheels. Suppose we also had to simultaneously supervise everything going on in the engine cooling system, lubrication system, air conditioning system, electrical system, and so on. Could we drive the car then? Probably not. The reason we can drive the car as easily as we do is because we know how to handle the main controls. All the rest is automatically going on under the hood. We don't even have to think about it. The car was designed to be easy to drive, even though the technology inside it is complex. This is just how it is in advanced yoga practices. Spiritually speaking, we were designed to be easy to drive. We can use the main controls, and all the rest will go on automatically. We do not have to be involved in every detail. For the most part, the functioning of the chakras is "under the hood." There is a tendency we all have to get involved in the details of things. We are a curious species and we want to know how things work. We like to tinker. That's okay, but it doesn't have much to do with engaging in effective spiritual practice, i.e., driving the car. These lessons have to do mainly with driving the car, not analyzing the machinery under the hood. Having said that, lets take a brief look at how the main controls we've learned so far affect the chakras. In meditation, we are quickly calming all the inner machinery and going straight to the source, the silence of pure bliss consciousness. So, the effect of meditation on chakras is to calm them, to still them. In meditation, purification occurs according to the unique patterns of obstruction in the nervous system. The chakras are involved in this, but not in any predictable way. The purification goes the way it needs to, and all we do is follow the simple procedure of meditation. In pranayama, we are tracing the inside of the spinal nerve up and down with the breath. The spinal nerve, or sushumna, is the main highway in the nervous system. Every other nerve is influenced by what is happening in the spinal nerve. It is the master nerve over the many thousands of nerves in our body. The chakras are rooted in the spinal nerve, spread along it from bottom to top. So, as we travel up and down, purifying the spinal nerve and increasing the flow of prana in the nervous system, we are also purifying and enlivening the chakras. It is automatic. As we progress in our advanced yoga practices, we will be increasing stimulation of the spinal nerve in particular ways. In doing so we will be influencing the chakras. This will be done through practices that are both physically and mentally oriented. We will not be pondering the chakras as part of our practices. But we will influence them tremendously all the same as we utilize the master controls. We may mention a chakra occasionally in these lessons as we discuss the various experiences that are coming up. Too much focus on chakras can be a distraction to spiritual practice, just as thinking too much about the car engine can distract us from our driving. We are doing quite a lot with chakras already in meditation and pranayama. It is going on automatically under the hood. So take it easy and enjoy the ride. The guru is in you. Note: For detailed instructions on spinal breathing, see the AYP Spinal Breathing Pranayama book. http://aypsite.com/47.html