Misconception #4: There are seven chakras.
I have a beautiful illustration from the Nath Charit which depicts 12 chakras, four of them between the two-petalled lotus at the eyebrow center and the innumerable-petalled lotus above the crown of the head. The Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati by Gorakshanatha describes nine chakras. The Netra Tantra describes six (pelvic floor, navel, heart, palate, eyebrow, and crown), all with different names than the system most familiar these days. Abhinavagupta, a famous Kashmiri tantric adept, describes a five-chakra system: base, kanda (pelvis), heart, palate, and crown. The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, an important Shaiva text, also refers to 12 chakras.
The 6 + 1 system currently dominant (root, pelvis, navel, heart, throat, and eyebrow center, plus one above the top of the head) is only one of many systems which variously describe 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, or 12 major centers. In fact, there are innumerable energy centers, but 12 major centers through the core axis of the body. In ayurveda, minor energy centers are called marma points, and the centers aligned along the axis of the body are called chakras. Why so many different systems?
The number of centers enumerated and described depends on the practice or the tradition. Different schools or texts use a different conceptual model to prescribe or describe visualizations, practices, and invocations of powers (deities). For example, some traditions emphasize the talu chakra, at the soft palate, while others don’t mention it at all. Some traditions have elaborate practices for six or more chakras; others focus only on the navel or pelvis, and the heart and brain centers.
The reality of the subtle body is much more vast and mysterious than we realize.
Misconception #5: The second chakra is all about sex.
Truthfully, there is a whole host of desires that play out through instinct, karma, and the innate desire to be alive, express ourselves, and gain both worldly experience (bhoga) and ultimate freedom (apavarga). Rather than thinking of specific desires as exclusive to specific chakras, it’s better to think of desire as our innate wealth as human beings, and the foundation of life in the body. And then to remember that, without exception, all schools of yoga advocate transcendence, transmutation, or mastery of sensual desires of all kinds, though they differ in how that transcendence is to take place.
Right Understanding: A Work in Progress
Our first simplification of the concept of chakras is to attribute the qualities of the physical plane to the subtle body, but the reality of the subtle body is much more vast and mysterious than we realize. What we do know is that what we believe not only affects what and how we practice, it also affects both the subtle and physical bodies. So it’s important to keep on learning and growing. Finding a living lineage of time-tested practices and practitioners can make all the difference. If our study and practice are working, they begin to free us from the grip of cultural conditioning and our assumptions about ourselves. That can be uncomfortable at times, but nothing else is as rewarding! So let us be flexible but rigorous in our thinking, make use of what makes sense, continue practicing and making inquiry, and be willing to change our minds.