Kundalini is the energy that exists in a latent state in man at the base of the spinal column. When this force is “awakened”, it springs upwards (or downwards if the person is practising the headstand position ''Shirshasana''). It moves along the central axis of the body (the spinal column) towards the crown or lotus on the top of the head ( Sahasrara Chakra). Yoga tradition mentions the existence of 7 energetic centres (chakras), whose levels comprise the steps or phases of the process of creation. When rising from one level to another, Kundalini is given different names, according to the chakra where it settles. For instance, in the heart chakra ( Anahata), Kundalini is called Hamsa and in the chakra in the middle of the forehead ( Ajna) it is called Bindu. Sometimes Kundalini can ascend so much that it goes beyond the top of the head. Here it creates a mystical state ofconsciousness of indescribable ecstasy with duality no longer existing.
Kundalini is present in the body of every man as the aspect of Transcendental Power that precedes and penetrates the whole Macrocosmos. This power exists everywhere in the Universe, even in a tiny atom, “coiled” in the nucleus. Matter, life, consciousness and the supra-consciousness are only different degrees (that also manifest as different frequencies of vibration) of the revealation of the dormant power of Kundalini. Divine power (MahaVidya) embodies itself into individual souls, attaining limits in time and space, but also into matter, becoming coiled into itself, or in other words becoming asleep. The transcendental state is only realized when Kundalini completely ascends from the base to its ideal location at the top of the head and beyond it.
Awakening and Raising Kundalini
As in all ancient spiritual teachings of the world, Integral Yoga regards the human being as a genuine reflection of the macrocosm. Unobstructed, unlocalised universal power is present in man in a place corresponding to the base of the spine in the anal region. It is associated with the earth element, the sense of smell and the general distribution of vital force ( Prana) in the body ( Muladhara chaka). When Kundalini ascends towards the top of the head, beatitude is experienced and a very intense light is perceived. The light that accompanies Kundalini’s awakening is one of the essential spiritual experiences as revealed by mystical persons of all religious traditions.
In 1971, Gopi Krishna confirmed the following: “Every time I focus the eye of mental knowledge upon my inner being, I invariably perceive an intense light inside and outside my head, as if a shining and extremely subtle substance has ascended the spinal column and spread inside and outside theskull, filling it up and surrounding it with indescribable radiation”.
When awakened, the Kundalini energy can ascend along three channels: Sushumna in the centre, and the other two, Ida and Pingala, coiled around it, which all join together in Ajna chakra. According to traditional explanations, the channel on the right performs the function of “warming up”the body, while the left channel “cools” it down. From a physiological point of view, these energetic routes correspond to the two nervous systems: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
Tantra and Hatha-Yoga texts are very categorical about the fact that once awakened, Kundalini must be directed only through the main channel, in order to avoid the unpleasant or even dangerous secondary effects. During the ascent, the chakras (subtle centres of force) become active and according to certain authorities, this is the only time when they become alive. Passing through every centre, Kundalini temporarily energises it and then travels further, absorbing its energy. As Kundalini reaches the next chakra, the rest of the body is de-energized and the lower extremities tend to go cold and lifeless.
These physiological phenomena are in a striking contrast to the intense state of beatitude, light and super-lucidity felt when Kundalini penetrates Sahasrara. This experience is not cataleptic, but rather the shapeless ecstasy of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
At first the complete ascent of Kundalini lasts only a very short period of time (in seconds or minutes). This gigantic force descends then into one of the lower chakras. Until Kundalini is established for good in the crown centre (Sahasrara), the aspirant must try to experience these elevated states as often as possible. Usually the yogi is advised by his master to consciously guide the descent of Kundalini and not allow it to go lower than heart centre (anahata chakra). Apparently Kundalini active in the first three centres is quite dangerous because it includes the amplification of the ego and an unrestrained sexual desire.
Traditionally, the awakening of Kundalini power is regarded as an intense purification process that leads to the transcendence of the body and mind, ecstatically crowning the state of unification of the subject with the object.
As Kundalini rises it encounters all types of impurities that are burnt through by its dynamic activity. Sanskrit texts mention three major structural blockages, known as “knots” or granthi
. According to tradition, these knots are located in the centre of the anal region ( Brahma granthi
), in the centre of the heart ( Vishnu granthi
) and in the centre between the eyebrows (Rudra granthi
Kundalini can be blocked anywhere along its upward trajectory. These blockages are in fact areas where tension is concentrated. Thus when Kundalini is ascending it directs the central nervous system to remove these blockages. This experience is usually painful. When Kundalini meets those blockages, it acts upon them until they are dissolved. Once the blockage is dissolved, Kundalini can freely flow on through that point until it encounters another stressed zone. In addition, Kundalini energy can be diffused so that it can act upon many levels at one time, simultaneously eliminating different areas of tension.
Kundalini moves upwards till it reaches the last chakra, Sahasrara. Although it may scatter along the way, it becomes coherent when it gets to this centre. According to traditional Yoga and Tantra texts, this movement takes place from the base of the spinal column, along the spinal axis, corresponding to what Swami Muktananda and Gopi Krishna testify. However, some non-Hindu texts state that the route taken by Kundalini originates from the feet, to the legs, along the spinal column, to the head, and then descends through the front along the neck, the chest and ending in the abdominal zone.
In Charles Luk’s Tao Yoga
, the “microscopic orbit” of the inner fire begins at the base of the spinal column, ascends towards the brain and from there returns to the starting point. Nevertheless, the yogi who attempts the ancient techniques of raising Kundalini relies on the classic model. He expects the energy to awaken in the lowest chakra and to rise towards the top of the head where it will generate ineffable ecstasy. It is then easy to explain why he can ignore any phenomenon that does not meet these descriptions.
Sensations and experiences in Kundalini
Yoga tradition distinguishes between the partial and the total awakening of Kundalini. The partial awakening may lead to different mental and physical experiences. However, the complete ascent of Kundalini towards the crown centre (Sahasrara) will give birth to the true impulse of God realisation (or spiritual liberation) and will bring the much-desired revolution of the consciousness. It is only then that the body can be transcended into the pure and perfect ecstasy of enlightenment.
The awakening of Kundalini power is accompanied by different sensations and experiences:
- If the energy is awakened and ascends through Pingala Nadi, a powerful sensation of warmth appears along the back at first and then in the whole body. On the other hand, if the energy ascends through Ida Nadi, a sensation of coldness is perceived.
- When Kundalini enters the central spinal channel, called Sushumna, a specific sensation of unification appears in the whole being and the respiration may stop for a short time.
- When Kundalini reaches Anahata chakra, heart palpitations can be observed.
- Sometimes itches can be felt in the fingers or the whole body may start to tremble. Tradition mentions that the ascent along the back to the top of the head can be felt in different ways: as the slow motion of an ant, the sinuous movement of a snake, the hopping of a small bird, the slow advance of a fish in calm water, or as the leap of a monkey to a distant tree.
All these signs are mentioned in traditional Hindu scriptures,especially in Yoga and Tantra. The wise yogi Ramakrishna, one of the greatest masters of mysticism in modern India, described his experiences regarding Kundalini in almost similar terms. Speaking of the different ecstatic states towards which he was naturally “inclined”, he said:
"In these ecstatic states of Samadhi, the sensation of the Spiritual Current can be felt as the movement of an ant, of a fish, monkey, bird or snake. Sometimes, the Spiritual Current ascends through the spinal column, crawling like an ant. Other times in Samadhi, the soul swims happily in the ocean of divine ecstasy like a fish. When I recline on my side, I feel the Spiritual Current pushing me like a monkey and playing joyfully with me. I rest still. This current can reach Sahasrara in a single jump, like a monkey. That is why you see me springing up sometimes. Now and then, the Spiritual Current goes up like a bird, hopping from branch to branch. When it stops, I can feel it as a fire. Sometimes the Current is slithering like a snake. Ascending in a zigzag line, it finally reaches my head and I experience Samadhi. The spiritual consciousness of a man is not awakened until Kundalini is ascended."
An Exercise for Awakening Kundalini - Uroboros
Uroboros – the snake that swallows its own tail – is an ancient symbol of continuity, of the great vital principle and of the union between the sky and earth. Sometimes the body of the snake that swallows itself is represented half light and half dark, similar to the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol. It shows the game of polarities in nature and the harmony in apparent contrast. Thus Uroboros serves as an important symbol in the Gnostic tradition, whose adepts aspire to unified consciousness by transcending the ego personality and the mind.
This is also the Archetype
symbol revealed to the chemist Kekule in a dream in the 19th century, which gave him the idea that the molecular structure of benzene was a closed ring of carbon atoms.
In the modern esoteric school of Arica, founded by Oscar Ichazo, Uroboros is an exercise in which the energy is accumulated in the being through the control of respiration. In the inhalation, attention is focused on the perineum area in order to feel the energy at this level. The energy is then directed through the spinal column, from the base to the top of the head. It is next led around the curve of the skull and begins its downward journey during exhalation. Thus the energy moves from the top of the head towards the forehead, where it splits into two going towards the eyes. Further on, the energy descends along two paths, on each side of the nose and upper lip and it unites again at the chin. The energy continues to descend down the chest area, down to the abdominal zone and the genital organs. During this exercise the aspirant perceives an intense light both within the head area and along the entire energetic route.
Awakening of Kundalini - Testimonies
One of the richest autobiographies is that of Swami Muktananda, a master of the Siddha Yoga Indian tradition who has attracted many western disciples. Regarding kundalini, he sometimes noticed his body moving involuntarily and other times he stood immobile in strange positions. He also observed powerful energy currents in the body, unusual patterns of breathing, inner lights and sounds, terrifying visions and noises and many other extraordinary mystical phenomena. During meditation for example, he used to smell fragrances and taste nectar and often experienced ecstasy.
He also noticed unpleasant secondary effects. “All my body was hot, my head felt heavy. Every single cell of my body started to groan.” He specifically noticed that his anal area was very painful. Moreover, he mentioned that from time to time he was overwhelmed by sexual desire – a confession also made by the sufi disciple Irina Tweedie. The connection between the stimulation of the vital force and sexual energy is recognised by all esoteric traditions, especially Tantra and Taoism. Swami Muktananda’s perfecting of the Kundalini process required a few years. It reached the climax when he traveled beyond such experiences in order to permanently establish himself “in perfect peace and self-possession”.
In the incipient stages of Kundalini’s awakening, Swami Muktananda often used to be annoyed and afraid, having absolutely no control of his body’s movements. He felt clumsy performing yoga positions and dazzling lights appeared in his head. For a while he believed he was losing his mind. It is easy to imagine the diagnosis he would have received had he asked a psychiatrist and not a Guru
(spiritual master). Once the initial difficulties were overcome, everything progressed along perfectly. He later became a master himself and so could help many people on their Spiritual path
Another biography that tells of spontaneous awakening of Kundalini is that of Gopi Krishna, a teacher and superintendent in Kashmir. As a child Gopi Krishna had many psychic experiences. He however became agnostic but constantly practised meditation for many years. He did not have any further mystical experiences until 1937 when at age 34, he experienced a spontaneous awakening of Kundalini which radically changed his life. Since that time his consciousness remained awake, as a lighted area, increasing and decreasing mysteriously. Then in 1943 he had a powerful experience of Kundalini that lead to Samadhi. He described this state as: “I distinctly felt an incomparable sensation of beatitude in all my nerves. It moved from the tips of my toes and my fingers and other parts of the body towards the spinal column where, concentrated and intensified, it ascended to the upper region of the brain. Thus it made me feel even better. I felt the beatific and frantic torrent of an extremely rare radiant neuron secretion. In the absence of a more adequate name, I called this “nectar”…”
This ineffable sensation disappeared when he focused his attention upon it, but it continued to flow even more intensely when he ignored it. Unexpectedly, he felt a stream of liquid light, murmuring like a waterfall, entering the brain through the spinal channel. His body started to shake and he was surrounded by a halo of light. He became one with the surrounding environment and he felt overwhelmed by ecstasy.
These were followed by feelings of terror, weakness and indifference towards others. There was a bitter taste in his mouth, his throat was dry and burning, he felt his body was pierced by countless hot needles, and suffered insomnia. In the dark he could distinguish a reddish light surrounding him. From time to time, he endured back pains. He thought Kundalini was operating abnormally and that he could die.
Once the Kundalini process started within him, Gopi Krisha was completely at its discretion. Many years had to pass for him to reach physical equilibrium and an inner calm state. When Kundalini was established, Gopi Krishna obtained extraordinary mental powers that he gradually perfected, such as mental creativity and complete serenity.