Putting Chakras in Their Place

An anatomist studies the maps of our human energy systemsWhile 30 years ago a chakra couldn’t get the time of day in my neighborhood, nowadays they’re a veritable growth industry. Hardly a day goes by without a catalog in the mail touting a CD, crystal set, or technique to open, rev up, tune, tone, or soothe my harried chakras. For the longest time I’d gotten by without even realizing that I had chakras, and now I have to maintain them? Heck, I’m still trying to master flossing.Their currently vibrant commodification aside, chakras are something worth thinking about. As an ethicist by training and an anatomist by avocation, I ground that inquiry in the context of the whole person and the whole body.The notion of a “chakra system” — a series of spinning vortices of light representing an esoteric or energetic level of human anatomy — can be found in classical medical, religious, and native traditions worldwide. Chakra systems are schematized with a great variety of descriptive characteristics, variously enumerating from six or seven, to 108, and more. According to Jeffrey Kripal, Ph.D., chairman of the De …

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