Yoga Ethics & The Subtle Body

Our history books have shown us that the systems we use to organise our lives have an enormous effect on our collective reality. This knowledge makes it imperative to innovate systems that serve us intelligently. As we pass through this particular cusp in history, we must build bridges between past and future, not only creating models that fit new realities, but continually updating old models to keep them viable in a rapidly changing culture. If the Chakra System is going to be meaningful in the twenty-first century, it must reflect the underlying fabric that has always existed, while still having the flexibility to be relevant to the demands of modern life. The ancients created a profound system. We can now marry its wisdom with modern information about the natural world, the body, and the psyche to create an even more effective system.”

Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith PhD


“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” 

Rudyard Kipling

Millennia have passed, and the narrative of Western civilisation has often undermined the ancient wisdom of the East, dismissing it as somehow inferior to our own. Yet, as we unravel the depths of these time-honoured traditions, a revelation dawns upon us.

As the 21st century unfolds, modern scientists and researchers are awakening to the possibility that the ancient sages of India and the Buddhas of the East might have possessed knowledge surpassing our own. Could it be that what we perceive as ‘new discoveries’ and ‘revolutionary’ in contemporary medicine and psychology are, in fact, lost ancient truths, waiting to be rediscovered?

It is tempting for modern science to cast a condescending gaze upon these past civilisations, assuming superiority due to material and technological advancements. However, the wise ones of antiquity lived with a simplicity that eludes our complex modern lives. Their contentment with the essentials led to lesser desires and, consequently, reduced mental suffering and impact to our planet. While we often misconstrued their lifestyles as primitive, they cultivated a spirituality akin with the greater universe, as they contemplated the deeper mysteries of existence and the divine structures and balance within the microcosms and macrocosms of Mother Nature.

In stark contrast, our relentless pursuit of material gain has overshadowed the spiritual insights embedded in these age-old traditions. Amidst the turmoil of our modern world, the intelligent systems of existence woven by the brilliant  minds of ancient sages and mystics, have sadly been left in the shadows of the past. It is perhaps in our greatest interest, as both individuals and as a collective, to revisit these insights and practices of our forefathers and mothers, as they may hold the key to a more fulfilling and enlightened existence. A life marked by simplicity, longevity, and a deeper sense of connection and happiness.

Edgar Allan Poe once wisely mused…

“Invisible things are the only realities.”

Since a young lass, I’ve been fascinated by the “invisible” and mysterious realm of the subtle body. The ancient chakra system especially, deeply rooted in Indian philosophy, has captivated me with its detailed map illustrating the enigmatic link between mind and body.

Chakra (also cakra, pronounced “cha-kruh”), a word derived from Sanskrit meaning “wheel,” represents an age-old yogic concept of energy centres that run along the central channel of the body, spanning from the tail bone to the crown of the head. Also known as padmas (lotuses), in yoga traditions from the twelfth century CE onwards there has been widespread consensus that the chakras are six in number, although other variations are also common. [1]

The focal points of the chakras, transcend the tangible as they encompass facets of the psyche, and illustrate transition zones between matter and consciousness. They represent the junctions within us where the mind, body and spirit meet. 

While the exact origin of the chakras is difficult to trace, the notion of a subtle body [2] and the earliest mention of chakras can be traced back to the Vedas (meaning ‘knowledge’) [3], the oldest texts of Hinduism derived from the ancient Indo-Aryan culture of the Indian Subcontinent. Beginning as an oral tradition, the ‘knowledge’ within the Vedas was passed down from generation to generation, before finally being written in Vedic Sanskrit between 1500 and 500 BCE.

In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, a fundamental source of knowledge for modern yoga, believed to have been transcribed between the 1st and 4th century CE [4], the concept of seven chakras is not explicitly mentioned. However, there is a passage, yoga sutra 3.29, where Patanjali discusses the navel plexus and its connection to understanding the body’s arrangement. The sutra states, “Nābhi-cakre kāya-vyūha-jñānam,” suggesting that by practicing samyama on the navel – combining concentration, meditation, and union simultaneously – one can gain deep insights into the constituents and inner workings of the body.[5]

Parallel to yoga philosophy, other wisdom traditions in the East also place great significance on the navel centre. In Chinese and Japanese martial arts, the navel, known as the ‘Hara’ or lower ‘Dantian,’ is considered a crucial focal point. It is believed to be the seat of our greatest power and the reservoir of vital or source energy, known as Yuan Qi. Many martial art styles, including Aikido and Tai Chi, emphasise the importance of moving from the Hara or Dantian, as it is seen as the centre of gravity and the convergence point of mind and body.[6] 

Collectively, these distinct yet interconnected Eastern perspectives shed light on the relationship between the navel centre and our physical and energetic systems. They underscore the significance of looking beyond the physical body and delving into the greater depths of our being to discover the essence of who we truly are. 

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

In the Dhyanabindu Upanishad, one of twenty yoga texts in the four Vedas [7] dating back somewhere around the 100 BCE to 300 CE period, [8] “subtle” physiology is particularly well articulated. This text mentions four main yoga postures among the many, several chakras, and describes the three mystical veins, or “nadis”, of the human body: susumna (central nadi), ida (left nadi), and pingala (right nadi). [9]  These are the metaphysical pathways that carry our vital life force energy, or prana throughout the body. The Yoga Upanishads emphasise the importance of personal experience in understanding these aspects of the self for those seeking liberation. Thus, meditation and contemplation on these metaphysical points and pathways is key to comprehending this subtle domain of our being. 

The chakra system was further developed, refined, and documented in later texts such as the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana (1526 CE) [10] and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century CE) [11]. 

It’s important to note that different traditions and cultures have their own interpretations and variations of the chakra system. The framework I refer to in my work today is the widely popularised ‘seven chakra’ system, which has captured my interest over the last three decades of research and study.

In my exploration of the chakras, I have delved into the interpretations and teachings of influential figures like Yogananda, as well as his direct disciples Swami Kriyananda, Nayaswami Savitri, Asha Nayaswami, and others within this yoga lineage. Combining their wisdom with personal insights gained through self-inquiry, I have found the seven chakras to be an incredibly powerful tool for self-study. On a personal level, the chakras have become a means of making better sense of the deeper layers of myself. 

As a yoga teacher and therapist, I have utilised this system with my students and clients, providing them with a rich palette of contemplative material for exploration.

In the realm of yoga, the chakras serve as gateways to heightened consciousness, representing the journey from the material realm to the spiritual. By embracing the chakra framework in our modern yoga practices, we can unlock a dynamic resource that offers meaningful insights into our own being, our strengths, and our vulnerabilities. The chakras provide us with a potent toolbox, empowering us to embark on a transformative journey of self-healing, and ultimately, self-realisation.

Teachers from the Yogananda yoga lineage often describe this intangible aspect of the self, known as the astral body, as our spiritual anatomy—a metaphysical counterpart to the physical body’s spinal nerve plexuses. These plexuses are where nerves culminate and branch off, providing stimuli to different parts of the body. This characterisation helps us grasp the connection between our spiritual and physical selves, bridging the gap between the seen and unseen aspects of our existence.

“The chakras are an extension of the subconscious mind. They are storage vaults for our karma. They are the medium in which karma is carried. They are a part of our spiritual anatomy. Just as there is an anatomy to the physical body and maps of the physical world, so there is an anatomy of our spiritual being, as well as maps and guideposts to follow along the path of inner awakening. If we understand this spiritual anatomy, we will find it much easier to advance in our search for God.”

Swami Kriyananda, Awaken to Superconsciousness

As the bridge between the mind and body, the chakras influence and are influenced by specific aspects of our being—physical, emotional, and spiritual. 

Originally focal points for meditation, the evolution of the chakras has expanded their significance to include associations with colours, endocrine glands, yoga postures, and facets of the psyche.

Through my own exploration, I have come to appreciate the seven-chakra framework as an invaluable tool for examining the mind-body connection, as it offers a nuanced understanding of how consciousness permeates every aspect of our body and being, down to the cellular level.

Beginning at the base of the spine, each chakra holds unique significance:

1. Muladhara (Root Support / Earth element): Associated with stability, loyalty and trust, linked to the adrenals, and the colour red.

2. Svadhistana (Sacral / Water element):  Governs creativity, sexuality, movement and flow, connected to the testes/ovaries, represented by the colour orange.

3. Manipura (Solar Plexus / Fire element):  Influencing willpower and self-esteem, governing the pancreas and digestive system, and represented by the colour yellow.

4. Anahata (The Heart / Air element): Centred around love and compassion, linked to the thymus gland and the colour green.

5. Visuddha (The Throat / Ether element): Governs communication, authentic expression, associated with the thyroid and represented by the colour sky blue or turquoise.

6. Ajna (Third Eye / Ether element):  Influencing intuition and clarity, connected to the pineal gland and represented by the colour indigo.

7. Sahasrara (Crown / Ether element): Associated with awareness and spirituality, linked to the hypothalamus/pituitary and represented by the colour ultraviolet or white.

The chakras are the nervous system of the soul, linking the mind, body and spirit through an expansive network of nerves, connecting human existence to the greater matrix of Mother Nature. 

In tandem with the chakras, the subtle energy channels, the nadis, form an energy distribution network throughout the body, akin to blood vessels distributing life-giving blood. While there are said to be up to 72,000 nadis in the human body [12], three are particularly important to understand in yoga practice: pingala, associated with the sun and masculine energy, flows through the right nostril and is governed by the left hemisphere of the brain. Ida, associated with the moon and feminine energy, flows through the left nostril and is governed by the right hemisphere of the brain. Sushumna is centrally located, running along the length of the spinal cord, and connects the base chakra to the crown. The ida and pingala nadis travel upward along the spinal column, crossing each other and the sushumna nadi, and ending in the left and right nostrils respectively. The chakras are the junctions where the ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis meet along the spinal column.

As a significant component of the yoga wisdom tradition, there is immense value in cultivating a modern understanding of the insights encapsulated by the chakras and nadis. According to the ancients, understanding both the chakra system and the nadis is essential for effectively harnessing the body’s energy system in yoga practice. By applying this knowledge to our lives today, we can experience remarkable physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

“We used to think that anything having to do with the mind, had to be in the head, in the brain. But now we’re coming to know that there’s a very strong mind-body connection, and we’re understanding that we are somehow conscious in every part of our bodies, in every cell.”

Savitri Simpson

Functioning as the mind and body’s in-house translators, the chakras are both transmitters and receivers of stimuli. Inputs, such as thoughts and external factors like food, air quality, water quality, and movement, shape our outputs. These outputs determine our productivity and health or lack thereof. As we make conscious choices and refine our inputs, the layers of our being progressively fine-tune, leading to a more harmonious output and an enhanced sense of well-being.

In the words of Asha Nayaswami, “The chakras represent different levels of consciousness and form a system through which our actions are registered. We are essentially an energy pattern, held in place by certain fixed ideas. This transcends Vedanta; this is science.”

Meditating on the chakras allows us to refine our consciousness, facilitating an upward flow of prana and a shift from lower levels of awareness to the awakening of our highest selves.

This understanding of the seven chakras as evolving levels of consciousness, beautifully aligns with the Conscious Competence Learning Model developed by Noel Burch in the 1970s. Burch’s model outlines the stages of learning and mastery, providing a framework for understanding our journey towards self-awareness and growth:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence 

Stage 3: Conscious Competence 

Final Stage: Unconscious Competence

For the keen novice, applying this model to the path and practice of yoga might unfold something along the lines of this: 

1. Beginning from a state of Unconscious Incompetence, where we don’t know what we don’t know, the initiation of yoga practice sets the wheels of self-inquiry in motion. 

2. Progressing through Conscious Incompetence, awareness begins to blossom regarding previously unnoticed aspects—behaviours, habits, patterns, idiosyncrasies, and beliefs, alongside imbalances in both the physical and metaphysical domains. 

3. Delving into this newfound knowledge facilitates a shift into the realm of Conscious Competence. Here, positive habits of productivity are nurtured through thoughtful consideration and consistent practice. 

4. As these positive actions seamlessly integrate into our daily lives, a natural ascent to the summit of awareness—Unconscious Competence—occurs. In this state, positive actions, and their outcomes (the fruit of our actions) unfold effortlessly on autopilot, reflecting a mastery achieved. With sustained practice, this state of mastery can be maintained, evolving over time, but consistency is key.

To ascend the ladder of self-awareness, competence, and mastery, a guiding methodology or discipline is essential for most of us. Seeking wisdom solely in books, wellness trends, or even a regular yoga posture practice focusing on the physical body alone often falls short. Without an understanding of how the metaphysical (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, mental patterns etc) influences the physical, even a daily yoga posture practice will lack the depth required for true transformation. Achieving sustainable positive change requires a system in place that we can follow and default to day in and day out, for lasting results. Some find it in religion, others in sports, art, or self-help groups. Personally, my development as a yoga teacher, therapist, and human has been shaped by a blend of art, music, and Aṣṭāṅgayoga practice

Aṣṭāṅgayoga, a transformative path and practice that holds immense potential for personal growth, not to be confused with Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, but rather sage Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of Aṣṭāṅgayoga, with a ‘present-day approach’.

Art, especially theatre arts, for me, has provided a platform for contemplating life’s existential questions, exploring thoughts, ideas, and human connection. Similarly, music has created a space for emotional expression, connection, and healing. Bring the principles and practices of Aṣṭāṅga into the mix, and we have a beautifully structured framework for aligning our thoughts, emotions, and actions with our most authentic self. 

Central to any effective system for personal transformation are a set of ethical guidelines. Within the Aṣṭāṅgayoga framework, these are yoga ethics: yama and niyama, encompassing self-restraints, disciplines, and self-observations. By comprehending these principles and their influence on our physical experience, we unlock powerful insights and cultivate self-regulation skills that significantly enhance our quality of life across all levels.


“I have heard it suggested that each of the different petals of these force-centres represents a moral quality, and that the development of that quality brings the centre into activity.”

C.W Leadbeater

In his thought-provoking work on the chakras, renowned Theosophist and Author C.W. Leadbeater speaks on chakra symbology. He suggests that each  petal depicted on the chakra yantras, the mystical symbols of the chakras, represents a moral quality. 

Having already touched upon the significant role of the mind in the healthy or dis-eased functioning of the chakras, several questions arise. With the understanding that the mind and body are intimately connected, where and how do virtuous, or indeed non-virtuous practices land in the body? How do the yogic principles of yama and niyama influence our physical experience in the world? And, perhaps most importantly, how can exploring this concept contribute to our holistic growth? 

Ethics significantly influence the mind by shaping our thought patterns and decision-making processes. When we cultivate a virtuous character and live our lives with a set of ethics at the foundation, we unlock a myriad of benefits [13] including clarity of thought, greater focus, enhanced self-esteem, self-respect, and overall mental well-being. [14]

Ethics also lay the foundation for healthy and meaningful relationships. By practicing virtuous conduct in our interactions with others, we build trust and foster positive connections. This, in turn, leads to more fulfilling and harmonious relationships. By prioritising ethical values and virtue, we can transform the way we see ourselves and others; the way we meet and move through difficulties or grief; the way that we appreciate our own and others’ lives. [15]

What we think and how we feel creates our internal climate. In essence, the deepest intentions we hold, and the ethics we live by, find their way into the fabric of our being in some way, shape, or form. In exploring the ten ethical principles of yama and niyama in conjunction with the concept of the chakras through a modern-day lens, we open a gateway to greater well-being.

“Illness doesn’t just happen and neither does wellness. 
Both need your time and energy to develop.”  

Sandy Brightman

Through the practice of deep guided relaxation, or yoga nidra (yogic sleep), we can delve into contemplation of the chakras, and develop insights into how our thoughts, emotions and actions impact these vital energy centres and associated physiology. We can develop our ability to decipher messages from specific parts of our body and being, unlocking a deeper understanding of ourselves and our inner and outer worlds.

Over the years, exploring yoga ethics, a profound physiological connection with each yama and niyama has become apparent. Just as the seven chakras are intertwined with different aspects and elements of our being, each yama and niyama carries its own unique energy and focus. Notably, each yama and niyama correlates with one or more of the chakras. The following correlations have been most evident in my own practice:

  1. Ahimsa (Nonviolence) – Anahata, The Heart
  2. Satya (Truthfulness) – Vishuddha, The Throat
  3. Asteya (Nonstealing) – Anahata, The Heart
  4. Brahmacharya (Moderation) – Svadhisthana, The Sacral Centre 
  5. Aparigraha (Non Attachment) – Muladhara, The Root 
  6. Saucha (Purity) – Manipura, The Solar Plexus / Digestive system
  7. Santosha (Contentment) – Anahata, The Heart
  8. Tapas (Self-Discipline) – Manipura, The Solar Plexus / Digestive system
  9. Svadhyaya (Self-Study) – Adja, The third eye
  10. Ishvara Pranidhana (Devotion & Surrender) – Sahasrara, The Crown

I have explored these connections in my own life and practice, as well as with numerous students in yoga class settings and clients in one-to-one yoga therapy sessions. It has been incredibly affirming to witness how the application of these ethical principles, combined with conscious movement, breathwork, and focused attention on specific chakras, accelerates the healing process and facilitates holistic well-being.

The relationship between yoga ethics and the subtle body can be seen most clearly in the correlation between the first yama, ahimsa (non-violence), and the heart chakra, anahata. An open and compassionate heart-mind naturally embodies non-violence. To restore balance to anahata and address ailments related to the heart and its affiliated areas, incorporating practices such as heart-opening postures, heart-focused mudras, mantra, breathwork, and the application of ahimsa in all aspects of life can be immensely beneficial.

“Studies on brain-heart coherence that we are working on are showing that the more relaxed you can get in your heart, the more awakened we get in the brain.” 

Dr Joe Dispenza, Tatragrammaton podcast 

In an insightful discussion on Rick Rubin’s Tetragrammaton podcast, Dr. Joe Dispenza highlights current studies on the brain-heart connection. These studies reveal that the more we can cultivate a state of relaxation and openness in our hearts, the more awakened and attuned our brains become. This aligns beautifully with Nischala Joy Devi‘s interpretation of Patanjali’s yoga sutra 1.2, which describes yoga as the uniting of consciousness in the heart. [16]

This translation of yoga sutra 1.2 deeply resonates both as a yoga practitioner and therapist, as it is evident through years of research, personal exploration, and working with individuals from all walks of life that leading from the heart, with compassion, kindness, consideration, and care as our guiding principles, allows us to experience our deepest sense of peace, joy, and connectedness. In placing yoga ethics at the forefront of yoga practice, as it was always intended, by default we learn to cultivate a deep sense of unity within ourselves and with the world around us.

In essence, the ten jewels of yama and niyama (kindfulness, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint, non-clinging, purification, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and devotional surrender) in correlation with the seven chakras offers a powerful template for self-inquiry and personal growth. This introspective journey establishes the groundwork for self-regulation, and ultimately, self-realization, paving a pathway for humble practitioners to extend their practice beyond the confines of the yoga mat. By integrating our understanding of each chakra with our personal understanding of each yama and niyama, we can move beyond the physical to the root causes of our symptoms and conditions, unlocking our richest potential.  

For more information, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out here.


1. Mallinson, J., & Singleton, M. (2017). Roots of yoga. Penguin Books. p 175

2. Mallinson, J., & Singleton, M. (2017). Roots of yoga. Penguin Books. p xix

Patrick Olivelle (1998). The Early Upaniṣads (in English and Sanskrit). Oxford University Press. p. 11-12. ISBN 978-0-19-535242-9ISSN 0262-7280Wikidata Q108772045

3. Judith, A. (1987). Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the chakra system. Llewellyn Publications. p 9

4. Bryant, Edwin F; Patañjali; Patañjali (2009). The Yoga sūtras of Patañjali: a new edition, translation, and commentary with insights from the traditional commentators. p xxxiv

5. Bryant, Edwin F; Patañjali; Patañjali (2009). The Yoga sūtras of Patañjali: a new edition, translation, and commentary with insights from the traditional commentators. p 357

6. Raposa, M.: Meditation and the Martial Arts. University of Virginia Press, 2003, p.18-19.

7. Ayyangar, TR Srinivasa (1938). The Yoga Upanishads. The Adyar Library p. vii.

8. Gavin Flood dates Dhyanabindu Upanishad, along with other Yoga Upanishads, to be probably from the 100 BCE to 300 CE period. Flood, Gavin D. (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780 p. 96.

9. Mircea Eliade (1970), Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691017646, p 133-134

10. Purnananda. Swami Sat-Cakra-Nirupana (1526 CE) Pūrnānanda a Brahmana of Kasyappa Gotra wrote Sat-Chakra-Nirupana and achieved Siddhi in VasisthAsrama, about seven miles from Gauhati, Assam, India. He wrote many other Tantric works. This work is part of Sri-Tattva-Cintamani.

11.The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā or Light on Hatha Yoga is a classic fifteenth-century Sanskrit manual on haṭha yoga, written by Svātmārāma

Master Murugan, Chillayah (20 October 2012). “Veda Studies and Knowledge (Pengetahuan Asas Kitab Veda)”. Silambam.

12. BD Akers (2005) The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, p 81

13.  Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press. This book provides an extensive overview of various virtues and their impact on psychological well-being.

14. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. This study examines the effects of practicing gratitude on subjective well-being.

15. Dowrick, Stephanie. (1999). Forgiveness and other acts of love / Stephanie Dowrick. Ringwood, Vic : Penguin

16. Devi, N. J. (2007). The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the heart and spirit of the yoga sutras. Three Rivers Press. p. 11-12

Tanaya Ti en

Tanaya Ti en

When she’s not at home in Western Australia with her favourite humans, Florence the Dalmatian, and Turbo the rescue cat, Tanaya Ti’en is an accredited Yoga Therapist and Yoga Teacher, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Coach, Civil Celebrant, and founder of Mind Body Collective Australia. Her passion, work, and philosophy is centred around the mind-body connection, and the mind’s role in illness, wellness, dis-ease, and the healing process.