A common question people who are new to the Andean tradition have is whether the chunpis—the energetic belts of the poq’po (energy body)—are similar to the chakras. They are not. The misunderstanding arises for several reasons that I won’t go into here. But let’s take a look at the differences, acknowledging that both are complex subjects and I will provide only a cursory overview.
Tradition of Origin
The concept of chakras is Eastern—usually Hindu or Buddhist in origin.
The chunpis are Andean.
To call the chunpis “charkas” is to confuse two entirely different traditions, for as you will see below, there is little to no similarity between chunpis and chakras.
Chakras are usually described as spinning or swirling vortices of light energy. The word itself is Sanskrit for “wheel” or “disk.” Traditionally, there are seven of them, aligned along the spine from the root of the body to the top of the head. They are centers where energy and matter meet, facilitating the flow of the life-force energy. The chakras are aligned with major nerve plexuses and organs of the body, and each is associated with a color and with various human emotional traits and states of consciousness, which we will discuss briefly later.
The chunpis are belts or bands of kawsay, the animating energy of the universe. This Quechua word literally means “belt,” and there are four belts, with a quasi fifth belt. The lower belt is at the trunk of the body, wrapping around the hips and between the legs. The three other chunpis are around the belly area, the chest area, and the throat area. The quasi fifth belt encompasses the two physical eyes and the seventh eye (called the third eye in other traditions) at the center of the forehead.
The chunpis are not wheels or disks. I remember once giving the karpay to weave the belts to a large group. A man who had been taught the karpay by another teacher and then coached by me was helping me. I overheard him say to the person he was working with something along the lines of: “Now see a brilliant red energy around your belly. See a brilliant spinning disk of red.” I had to stop him. The chunpis are not disks! They are bands that wrap around the body and interpenetrate it. They are not connected to or aligned with the spine, as chakras are, nor do they spin.
Each chunpi has an “eye,” called a ñawi. Except for one, the ñawis are opposite the spine. For the three upper belts, the ñawis are at the front of the body. For the lower belt, it is at the back of the body, near the base of the spine.
The chakras always exist. You come into human form with them. For optimal well-being, the chakras must be “opened” and balanced. If they are not balanced, then some chakras become overactive to compensate. Energy practices include opening the ckakras (there are various methods and practices) and restoring balance to any underactive ckakras.
The chunpis do not exist until you weave them into your poq’po, which is what you do during the karpay, called the Chunpi Away (pronounced “ah-why” and which means “to weave” in Quechua). In contrast, the ñawis exist from your birth. The work is to “awaken” or “open” these mystical eyes. This part of the karpay is called the Ñawi K’ichay.
Both the chakras and the chunpis are associated with colors and elements. The seven chakras from the lower chakra to the higher are associated with the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, dark blue/indigo, violet.
For the chunpis, the lower belt is black and is associated with water. The belt around the belly is red and is related to earth (and, by the way, this belt is not associated with the sacral and solar plexus areas; it is around the entire trunk of the body at the belly area and the eye is usually located below the navel). The belt around the chest/heart level is gold and associated with the sun. The belt at the throat is silver and linked with moon and wind. The quasi fifth belt for the two physical eyes and the seventh eye is violet. However, it is not really a violet band of energy. The color of the belt is that of your two physical eyes. It is sometimes, for ease of reference only, called the violet belt because at the end of the karpay you pull violet light into your poq’po through the seventh eye. But you move that violet light through your entire poq’po and body, not just through this eye area of your head.
Capacities of Consciousness
Both the ckakras and chunpis mediate flows of energy to and through the energy and physical bodies. The consequence of blocked or stalled energy is the same in both systems, loss of well-being. However, the similarities of the energy dynamics stop there.
For the chakras, the four upper chakras are said to relate to spirituality and our higher cognitive and emotional capacities, such as insight, creativity, and love. The three lower chakras are associated with our more physical and instinctual selves, including survival, self-image, social bonds, power, family, and the like. The elements and senses of the belts are usually identified as follows: the root chakra with earth and sense of smell, the sacral with water and taste, solar plexus with fire and sight, heart with air and touch, throat with ether and hearing, third eye with light and perception, and crown with spirit and being.
The capacities of conscious for each chakra are too long a list to go into here, but generally the root chakra is the life-force and connection to earth and physicality, survival instinct and capacity to be a stable physical being in the physical world. The sacral chakra is about relations and relationships, sexuality, impulses, creativity, and confidence. The solar plexus is associated with emotions, identity and self-image, power, and strength. The heart relates to feelings, love, trust, and safety. The throat capacities include communication, expression, and will. The third-eye chakra relates to ideas, mind, insights, inner expression, and intuition. The crown is associated with spirituality, wisdom, and awareness.
The chunpis, in contrast, each confer a specific range of capacities. They are not, as some say, belts of “protection.” The entire range of energy practices in the Andes (as passed down through the two lineages I was taught) is to master your energy so that you can perceive and relate to every nuance of kawsay. Since the entire cosmos and everything in nature is made of sami, there is nothing to protect yourself from. The capacities of consciousness encoded within the belts can be both realized abilities we already use in the world and potentials that are as yet not developed. The specific capacities are as follows:
- The three eyes (two physical eyes and seventh eye) confer a capacity for insight and mystical vision, called qaway.
- At the throat, the capacity is rimay, which is to speak with integrity and power, and also to speak with magical power, such that the sounds or vocalizations you make can affect physical reality.
- At the heart and Inka Seed level is kanay, the capacity to be who you really are, to express and live your mission here on earth.
- At the belly, the qosqo, is personal power, especially in relation to the kinetic capacity to take action in the world and to live with khuyay, or engaged passion.
- At the root, the capacities involve being able to time your actions for maximum effect and to measure your power at the current time.
As you can see, the physical, mental, emotional, psychological and energetic capacities of the chunpis are quite distinct from those associated traditionally with the chakras.
This has been only a brief overview, but I hope you now better understand how different these two systems of “energetic anatomy” are and why using terminology from one tradition when referring to the dynamics of an entirely different system is not only imprecise but can be downright confusing.