Kundalini, in yoga: latent feminine energy believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine; as a system of meditation: practices directed towards the release of kundalini energy
What is Kundalini Energy?
Kundalini is a Sanskrit term signifying ‘coiled snake’. According to Tantra, Kundalini is described as a dormant potential force within the human organism, which rests as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. When this dormant energy flows freely upwards through the 7 chakras (energy centres), it leads to an expanded state of consciousness known as a Kundalini Awakening. Kundalini is one of the components of an esoteric description of the ‘subtle body’, which also includes: nadis (energy channels), chakras (psychic centres), prana (subtle energy), and bindu (drops of essence).
According to some esoteric sources, the purpose of awakening your Kundalini is to awaken your divine purpose, to integrate your soul and to awaken your potential to serve yourself and others, through learning how to love yourself and others equally. It is believed to cleanse and purify the energy systems, such as chakras and meridians. As one is cleansed, they can move forward in awakening towards ‘enlightenment’.
“Whenever you meditate, you find that scintillating energy flowing all over your being. That is what Kundalini is. The awakening of the Kundalini energy happens very naturally through proper guidance“ – Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
What does Kundalini feel like?
When Kundalini unravels with spiritual practices, or in response to life events, it can either move gradually, or quickly and explosively into the gut, the heart or the head, with corresponding symptoms. This can be frightening or blissful, and triggers months or sometimes years of new sensations and changes in the recipient. In Eastern traditions, it is seen as a significant adjunct to spiritual realisation, but is barely recognised in many Western traditions, although Christian mystics have often been said to have similarly intense energetic or physical episodes.
In an intense awakening, the person may have difficulty sleeping, with waking during the night, appetite loss, emotional instability, and an intense rush of energy up the spine. A wide range of phenomena (both positive and negative) are possible including changes in psychic capacities, stress in vulnerable areas of the body, opening of the heart and mind to major shifts in perspective, kriyas (spontaneous movements of the limbs), shaking and vibrating.
A partial Kundalini awakening may be perceived as a feeling of electrical energy originating from the legs, and expanding into the higher body. Kundalini awakenings are not dangerous and do not harm people, but they can be frightening and unsettling, especially if someone has no context of what is happening to them. Kundalini psychosis is a common experience in those that are not prepared mentally or emotionally for the surge of energy released up into the head (in a sudden awakening). This can cause hallucinations or altered-states of consciousness (non-ordinary consciousness) that may persist for weeks.
It is important to seek rest, nature, a break from spiritual practices and to ground yourself with stodgy foods and plenty of emotional support (which can be difficult to come by due to the poorly understood nature of the beast, especially in the West). Growing groups such as the Spiritual Crisis Network or Maudsley Integration sessions can offer helpful resources and empathetic advice. Sometimes, simply sharing the experience can be therapeutic. Even though answers will be hard to come by. It helps to be wary of some of the expensive treatments and solutions offered by even the well-intentioned in the field. Have faith and give yourself time and space.
Shakti broadly translates as power, ability, strength and energy, and is the primordial life force or cosmic energy. It represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism and Shaktism especially. Shakti is identified as a female energy responsible for creation and destruction. The energy of the serpent coiled near the base of the spine is said to be involved with the mothers womb and rebirth.
For those who feel called to follow a spiritual path, this can be seen as a profound opportunity. It gradually releases many patterns, conditions and delusions of the separate self. This can be threatening to the ego structure because a person may feel a loss of interest in their old life and identity, and consciousness may go into unfamiliar expansive or empty states that are disorientating. Over time, this can come to be more navigable and enjoyable, and may open the doors to novel and fulfilling ways of being in the world.
Like any energy of creation (prana, electricity, atomic energy), it is said that this energy can be misused by those who are not morally-motivated or have not engaged with this process, and are not free of personal patterns. It can be helpful to better understand the process and the intention of your own life-force as it awakens, so that you may be drawn to wisdom, love and authentic direction in your life. Simplicity, contentment, unconditional acceptance and presence are hallmarks of an awakened life.
Some say that the difference between a Kundalini awakening and a Spiritual awakening is that Kundalini is a powerful phenomenon that occurs in consciousness, whilst Spiritual awakening is consciousness waking up to itself as its true identity. In a temporary awakening the ego-self remains in tact, although with a different cognitive-map of reality, as values, beliefs and attitudes are re-evaluated and re-aligned.
How do you awaken Kundalini Energy with Yoga?
It is possible to find evidence and acknowledgement of this concept in many yogic and tantric traditions, including Tantric Buddhism, Taoism, Gnostic Mystical Tradition and some Native American teachings. The capacity to raise energy in the body has been explored for thousands of years and is seen by these groups as natural human potential.
Personal spiritual practice such as yoga, meditation, entheogens, and Shaktipat (transmission of spiritual energy from one person to another) may all activate the process. A Kundalini massage, or Tantra massage, sets out to free blocked energy throughout the body, in order to awaken the potent force at the base of the spine.
Kundalini and Hatha yoga work on strengthening the nervous system. They can increase bodily strength, and promote overall wellbeing. In their interaction with the whole body, Kundalini and Hatha are systems, rather than practices. Breath-work (pranayama breathing), stretching through posture (asana) and chanting mantras are other parts of this systemic framework, and can aid emotional resilience through balance, breath and introspection.
The student is advised to follow the path in an open-hearted manner. Traditionally people visited ashrams in India to awaken their dormant Kundalini energy, or to gain support and guidance if experiencing awakening symptoms. Ashrams encourage regular meditation, mantra, spiritual philosophy and yoga, which act in synergy to transmute the energy within.
Kundalini and Esoteric Psychology
Swiss Psychiatrist Dr Carl Jung delivered a seminar on Kundalini Yoga in 1932. At the time, it was widely regarded as a milestone in the psychological understanding of Eastern thought and of the symbolic transformations of inner experience. Kundalini yoga presented Jung with a model for the developmental phases of higher consciousness, and he interpreted its symbols in terms of the process of individuation, with sensitivity towards a new generation’s interest in alternative religions and psychological exploration.
According to Jung, the concept of Kundalini has one main use: to describe our own experiences with the unconscious. Jung saw the system as a symbolic understanding of the dynamic connection between conscious and unconscious processes. He warned that all forms of yoga, when used by Westerners, can be attempts at domination of the mind-body connection and unconscious, through the ideal of ascending into higher chakras.
Since the influx of such practices from the East and the popularisation of meditation in the 60s, there has been an increase in the types of symptoms and psychological experiences described above. However most Western practitioners are not equipped to deal with such manifestations, as they are not commonly found on mainstream curricula and can be mistakenly diagnosed as psychiatric pathology.
The inner workings of the brain and the nature of consciousness remain poorly understood fields as far as the eyes of science can see, so when self-experimenting with such practices, it’s important to adopt a gradual, well-researched, intuitive and holistic approach.