I simply cannot contain my excitement about this piece on Kundalini Yoga.
‘Yoga’ the term itself is derived from the word root that means ‘to join’, and in almost all scriptures on yoga, you’ll find them talking about unifying the individual to his higher or divine self. However, the way Kundalini Yoga does that, is just mind boggling to mind blowing.
I started with Yoga, and then found it unlocking gates to subjects ranging from Psychology to Biology to Genetics and Spirituality and what not. This practice brings everything we know about everything under one giant umbrella.
What is Kundalini actually? What do yogis mean by ‘awakening your Kundalini?’ And is it even a disorder of mind when scholars talk about Kundalini Syndrome?
We’ll know one by one.
- What is ‘Kundalini’?
- Anatomy of Subtle body
- Kundalini Yoga – The Practice
- Awakening of Kundalini (How to sense)
- Kundalini Meditation – for beginners and beyond
- Health benefits
- Is Kundalini Syndrome a disorder?
What is ‘Kundalini’?
The word ‘Kundalin’ in Sanskrit means ‘circular or annular’, usually associated with a coiled snake, a term used in Yoga Upanishadas in 16th century. In Yogic philosophy, it is visualized as a goddess or serpent resting in dormant stage at the base of Sushumna Nadi, waiting to be awakened.
In modern sense, it is like an unconscious, untapped potential source of energy located anywhere between rectum and the navel in a triangular shaped sacrum bone (a.k.a. the tail bone). The serpent is said to be slumbered in three and a half coils where each coil represents a guna or the intrinsic nature of any human being (Sattva or creation, Rajas or preservation and Tamas or destruction) while the half turn represents transcendence from them i.e. transformation.
Biology tells us, when our heart and brain cease to function, we die. So, its all understandable in physical terms. But even, Biology believes in an entity called Soul or spirit. In yogic terms, a person dies when this soul leaves the body. The soul is nothing but the sum total of Pranic energy or our life force which our subtle body possesses.
This subtle body, as I mentioned exists only in metaphysical terms, implying you can’t touch or see it, but you sure can feel it through Kundalini Yoga.
Anatomy of Subtle body
Our mystical subtle body is composed of four components:
- Nadi, the energy channels,
- Chakra, the psycho-energetic centers,
- Bindu, the drops of essence, and
- Prana, the subtle energy
The Sanskrit word Nadi means ‘flow or vibration’ suggesting the fundamental nature of a nadi (pronounced as Naa-dee): to flow like water on a path of least resistance and nourishing everything on its way. Basically, they are like our energetic irrigation system. When the system becomes congested, we struggle with ill-health and disorders.
Nadis or the Energy channels
According to scriptures, the human body contains 72,000 nadis that channel prana to every cell.
There are mainly three energy channels of consideration: Pingalâ (tawny), Idâ (comfort) and Sushumna (most gracious). Sushumna is the grand nadi running through the spinal cord. At the lower end of this channel is what the Yogis call the Lotus of the Kundalini or Mooladhara Chakra.
Okay, here I want you to visualize your body like a tall building and this Sushumna nadi like an escalator that can take you to the various floors or energy chakras, if activated. At each floor you experience a different view of the world, i.e., your vision evolves. When it reaches the top floor or the brain (Sahasra Chakra), the Yogi is perfectly detached from the body and mind, and the soul finds himself free.
Now, the arrangement of Ida and Pingala: If you could recall the logo of Indian Medical Association, you’ll get a fair idea about the arrangement of the two nerve channels. For those who can’t, picture it like two ropes spiraled around a pole (which in this case is Sushumna nadi), one in clockwise direction and another in anti-clockwise. Ida starts from the left side and ends in left while Pingala begins from the right side of the body and ends in right. At the points where the two nadis cross each other, an energy Chakra exists.
Represented by color white, Ida is regarded as the lunar nadi which is cool and nurturing by nature, and supposedly controls all our mental processes including the more feminine aspects of our personality. Pingala, on the other hand, being our solar nadi, is warm and stimulating by nature, controlling all vital somatic processes, it governs the more masculine aspects of our personality. Accordingly, it is represented by the color red.
The unique interaction between these two nadi gives rise to the internal dance between intuition and rationality, consciousness and vital power, and the right and left hemispheres of brain (See I told you, a foxtrot between Biology and Spirituality).
Usually, one of these is always dominant and their dominance may change variably in different individuals during the day. This gives rise to a variety of personalities, behavior traits, and health issues. For e.g. Ida-like individuals are more nurturing and full of potential but lack strong determination while Pingala-like or Type A personalities are filled with vitality but lack quietude(phew! Psychology).
To awaken Kudalini, the dominance has to be thrown away and the most powerful method of creating equilibrium between the two is Nadi Shodhana or alternate-nostril breathing (I’ll come to that later).
Bindus or drops of essence
At various points on our body surface, the 72,000 nadis end and those points are the Bindu or drops of essence. Reiki, the Buddhist system of alternate medicine makes use of these special points in treatment of disorders of the body.
(Please don’t confuse these points or the nadis with the nervous system of human body. Subtle body and anatomical physical body are two very different ideologies)
Kundalini Energy and the Seven Chakras
The psycho-spiritual energy centers are visualized as spinning wheels of energy, and hence the name chakra. There are in total seven energy chakras namely:
- Muladhara (at the base of spine),
- Svadisthana (lower abdomen below the navel),
- Manipura (mid abdomen),
- Anahata (middle of chest),
- Visuddha (throat),
- Ajna (between the eyebrows), and
- Sahasrara (crown).
Normally they are not aligned, so, the energy residing in the base chakra is not able to travel up to the crown which prevents one from reaching an enlightened state of mind. To clear the channel and align the chakras, deep meditation and effort is required and this is precisely where Kundalini Yoga comes into play.
For your convenience, here is a video that’ll help you. Video: The Seven Chakras
Kundalini Yoga – The Practice
In simple words, Kundalini Yoga a.k.a. Laya Yoga is like a practical technology of human consciousness to achieve one’s total creative potential. It borrows and integrates the highest forms of three different approaches of Bhakti Yoga (for devotion), Shakti Yoga (for power), and Raja Yoga (for mental power and control).
A typical class
In a typical class of 60-90 minutes, there will be six major components:
- Opening prayer,
- Pranayam as warm-up,
- Kriya or a set of sequential exercises,
- meditation and,
- Closing song.
Each component has its own unique importance.
A special kind of Pranayama is practiced, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or the channel clearing breathing technique. The distinguishing characteristic of this technique is breathing alternately from both nostrils, one at a time.
How to do:
- Gently close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left.
- Now close your left nostril with your little finger, simultaneously release your thumb and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
- Keeping the right nostril open, inhale, then close it with thumb.
- Open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle.
Kriyas are a complete set of exercise performed under the guidance of a Guru or teacher. The exercises or asanas range from short and simple to vigorous to even strenuous accompanied with breathing technique called Vinyasa which can be challenging initially. This breath synchronized movement focused on navel activity, activity of the spine, and selective pressurization of body points, aids in release of energy from lower centers to higher energetic centers.
They are specifically designed to raise complete body awareness so, every system of the body is ready to handle the energy of Kundalini rising.
Who should do it: Anyone who is up for both mental and physical challenges as the Kundalini sequences can be very intense at times and people looking for a permanent solution to depression.
What to wear: The preferred form of clothing is anything white or ivory as it brings about a feeling of peace and thereby aids in self-reflection during the process. Though some practitioners have been seen wearing long flowing garments with covered heads, its not at all compulsory.
Awakening of Kundalini (How to sense)
In yogic terms, it is the physical psycho-spiritual transformation of an individual. People have reported feeling euphoric with happiness softly permeating their being. A woman once described the moment to be orgasmic and electric, like a truly blissful fire marching up her spine. Some call it the zenith state of meditation, enlightenment and complete bliss. So, the less you analyze, the more you relax, the better you’ll feel.
Kundalini awakening requires meditation and yoga under a guru or teacher (active approach) but sometimes, it awakens by itself under physical and psychological stress and that leads to discharge of great amount of energy accompanied with mystical experiences (passive approach). The latter one, though is temporary, still gives the person an experience to base his practice upon.
The point noteworthy here is, it should only be under the guidance of an enlightened teacher, otherwise the person destroys himself through self-deception and premature awakening.
Kundalini Meditation – for beginners and beyond
Since a great amount of portion of class goes into meditation and pranayama, beginners often find stillness and silence quite challenging and frustrating. At that point of time, mantras come to rescue, as the room is always filled with melodious mantras or chants. People have doubts if any other form of modern music could be used, but what has to be kept in mind while practicing Kundalini yoga is that the music should be rhythmic, a kind that allows you to go deeper, not something that’ll distract you physically or mentally.
Beginner Tip: To get used to the process of clearing your mind of any kinds of thoughts, I suggest you begin with Candle Meditation. It is an open eye meditation technique where you first learn to focus your thoughts outward and then take them inwards. Read more about it here: Candle Meditation.
Once the practitioner is accustomed to sitting still, he is introduced to a profoundly trans-formative stillness called Shoonya (Hindi for Zero) or absence of everything (here, I’m feeling compelled to quote Jackie Chan from Karate Kid, “Sitting still and doing nothing, are two very different things“).
Kundalini shakti: Just to clear the fog, when yogis talk about Kundalini Energy and Kundalini Shakti, they are talking about the same thing. When Kundalini is conceived as a goddess, it is called Kundalini Shakti and it rises to the head to unify herself itself with the Supreme Being, Lord Shiva.
Since, Kundalini activation exists only in metaphorical sense, its physical manifestations are equally subtle. The person on the internal level feels enlightened. Externally, he’ll be found fitter, healthier and more energetic. But that’s not why one should doing it.
We awaken the Kundalini in order to be able to call upon the full potential of the nervous and glandular systems and to balance the subtle system of chakras and meridians within the body. And that is what is the root of all the happiness as well as diseases. Its like a re-calibrating your internal system.
Now, that we have come to diseases, I’m gonna clear the confusion about a recently very famous term among researchers, ‘Kundalini Syndrome.’
Is Kundalini Syndrome a disorder?
Big. Fat. NO!!
Feeling of a rush of energy in limbs, hot hands, un-explained shivering, awareness of flow of energy in body, deep ecstatic sensations and similar kind of sensory, motor and affective experiences that are traditionally associated with awakening of kundalini, have been put in the basket of ‘Kundalini Syndrome’ by researchers in the fields of Trans-personal psychology and Near-death studies.
The reasons will be explained later through further research as to why people experience such things, but as of now, they are Kundalini Syndrome. And with that, I assume you are ready for experiencing this cosmic union yourself. So, I’ll see you later.
References:  Mackay N, Hansen S, McFarlane O. Autonomic nervous system changes during Reiki treatment: a preliminary study. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Dec;10(6):1077-81. PMID: 15674004. ^Back to Top^  Devi SK, Chansauria JP, Udupa KN. Mental depression and kundalini yoga. Anc Sci Life. 1986 Oct;6(2):112-8. PMID: 22557558. ^Back to Top^  Arambula P, Peper E, Kawakami M, Gibney KH. The physiological correlates of Kundalini Yoga meditation: a study of a yoga master. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2001 Jun;26(2):147-53. PMID: 11480165. ^Back to Top^  James Le Fanu. A clutch of new syndromes? J R Soc Med. 2002 March; 95(3): 118–125. PMCID: PMC1279477. ^Back to Top^
Last Updated: May 12, 2014
Next Scheduled Update: July 12, 2014