Chakras – they’ve become quite the thing. There are so many good articles out there that outline the basics of what you need to know about your chakras (like this one at mindbodygreen), so I won’t bore you (or myself) with synthesizing that information here. Essentially, there are seven main chakras along the spine that correspond with major centers of the nervous system that interact with specific organs and glands. Each chakra has a specific color and function that can be focused on through clothing, foods, crystals, essential oils movement practices, and more. There are even specific affirmations that go with each chakra. Energy can flow freely when all of the chakras are open and balanced, allowing mind and body to be more easily connected. However, as with all elements of the human condition, our chakras are rarely in perfect alignment and often require some attention.

In this article, I’d like to explore how each chakra can relate specifically to mental health. I’ve encountered many different ideas on how chakras work, so I’ve based my words primarily on my own experiences as influenced by my teachers and all the wisdom I’ve encountered. There really is no right or wrong way to get curious about chakras – think about this practice as another way to get in tune with the connections between your physical and spiritual self. So, let’s get to it!

  • Root ChakraRoot Chakra – Located at the base of your spine, this chakra has everything to do with safety and security. Symptoms arising from this chakra can be related to various kinds of instability in childhood or in specific life experiences. This lack of grounding is often felt as abandonment-related as anxiety and can show up as fear-based decision making, often fueled by a scarcity mindset. Issues in the root chakra can lead to struggles in the rest of the chakras as they rely on the energy flowing up from this foundation.

    To heal the root chakra, channel anything red, earthy, and grounding. Pay extra attention when you see red in the world and let the sight of this color bring energy to this chakra. One of my favorite healing techniques here is to visualize a silky red ribbon winding its way around my body, comforting and grounding me.

  • Sacral Chakra – This energetic center is located inside the pelvis and is home to the energy of emotions, creativity, and sexuality. Blockages here can relate to anything from depression to addiction and general emotional instability. You may be able to identify issues here through more physical presentations like tight hip muscles or sexual changes/dysfunction. I’ve noticed that problems residing in my sacral chakra are often the most difficult to talk about, which makes sense because they live in the world of nonverbal emotions.

    As you work on healing your sacral chakra, follow your feelings more than your logical thoughts. Focus on the color orange and do activities that encourage creativity. One of my yoga teachers taught me that emotions live in the hips, and she was so right. If you really want to open up this chakra, get into some long-held deep hip openers (half pigeon, butterfly legs, etc.). Bonus points if you warm up with some booty-moving interpretive dance. Either way, be ready for those tears to flow.

  • Solar Plexus – Just below your sternum at your naval point, this chakra is the seat of your personal power. If you’ve struggled with self-confidence, odds are you have some stuck energy here. Since this chakra lies very near to your stomach and intestines, blockages can also present as digestive issues (i.e. nervous butterflies in your stomach). The solar plexus is also where you might see a secondary manifestation of root or sacral chakra issues – if you experienced a period of instability, it likely impacted your ability to trust yourself and can result in anxiety.

    To heal the solar plexus, utilize lots of yellow and breathing exercises that warm you up, like the ujjayi pranayama used in most yoga classes. Challenge yourself in your workouts to hold longer than you believe you can. Practice some “I am ____” affirmations in the mirror. Intend to bring out your personal power in any way that you can.

  • Heart Chakra – This is perhaps the most intuitively understood chakra. It is located near your physical heart and revolves around your ability to feel an affinity to yourself and others – to love and be loved. This energetic center also functions as the bridge between the lower and more physically-focused chakras and the upper more spiritual chakras. When we are disconnected here and struggle to have love for ourselves, mental illness can thrive. It becomes exceedingly difficult to do anything to improve your mental health when your heart chakra is suffering.

    Healing the heart chakra can also be an emotional process. Focus on the color green in your food, your clothing, and especially the world around you. Do heart/chest/shoulder openers in yoga. You can picture a warm, healing green light filling your heart space – it helps if you pair this visual with remembered sensations of feeling love.

  • Throat Chakra – This chakra is all about expression. Think of those moments where you speak up, or felt like you had something to  say but couldn’t quite get it out. Perhaps you even felt a lump in your throat – that’s stuck energy in your throat chakra. Being able to ask for what you need is vital to healing any issue, but especially those around mental health.

    To heal this chakra, focus on a beautiful bright blue light in the center of your throat that enables your true voice to shine. Do some gentle neck rolls in the morning to get the energy flowing through. Throw some blueberries in your morning oats. Lean into the activities that allow you to truly express yourself, and pay special attention to communicating authentically.

  • Third-Eye Chakra – Located between your eyebrows, this is the seat of your intuition. Here you can access your own inner knowing and look at yourself with the perspective of an observer. Trauma and mental illness often present as some kind of dissociation – this can happen when much of your energy is focused in this chakra and imagination has become a way to escape reality. This chakra is incredibly powerful, and has the ability to take us out of the present moment.

    Meditations that guide you into the center of your head are particularly healing for this chakra. Physically stimulating this area can feel lovely – run your thumbs from your third eye across your eyebrows and to your temple, or roll it back and forth in child’s pose. Deep indigo is the go-to third-eye color, and I’ve also read that chocolate may be good for your third eye. I’m definitely not going to argue with that one.

  • Crown Chakra – This energetic center is actually just above the top of your head. It is the portal through which we access all the light and love of the greater universe. It can be difficult to directly relate this to anything in the physical world, but what can be easily said is that if there is any imbalance in any of the other chakras, the crown cannot possibly be in balance. Sometimes imbalances here show up as very rigid beliefs about religion, spirituality, and the way of the universe that make it difficult to grow.

    The best way to heal this chakra is to focus on the lower 6 chakras. You can focus on violet, but as this is not a physically-oriented chakra it will not respond as much to physical things like colors. Pay special attention to the mystery in between things – the way the light travels from the sun to cast an enchanting golden glow on the leaves. Allow yourself to marvel at the nonphysical wonders that can only be experienced fully through the crown chakra.

Chakras can get incredibly complex (I got lost in so many rabbit holes writing this post), but they can also be beautifully simple. Even having an intention to send some good vibes to a certain chakra can be enough to make an impact. You have the freedom to get creative when working with chakras – make it as complex or as simple as you want. However, and this is my humble opinion, I think it’s the awareness and intention behind all of these actions that make them powerful. Notice how you feel when focusing on certain colors and pay attention to what your being may be trying to communicate to you. When you set out to mindfully show your body some love in a way it’s asking for, the results can be quite profound. Know that if a particular practice or belief in relation to a chakra feels right to you, even if you haven’t read about it here or in another article, it probably is and you should follow that intuition. Our beings are so intelligent all on their own. The practice of getting in tune with your chakras is just another way to help that knowing shine through.

Thanks to mindbodygreen and well+good for putting out some quality articles on chakras that helped me write this one, and especially to my meditation school, Psychic Horizons, for giving me the tools to use this knowledge in my own life.