What is Kundalini Energy?
Kundalini is a Sanskrit term from ancient India meaning ‘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, 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 much easier and quicker.
“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
How does it feel?
When Kundalini unravels due to 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 western traditions, although Christian mystics have often been said to have 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 the heart and mind to major shifts in perspective, kriyas – meaning spontaneous movements of the limbs, or 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 awakening is not dangerous and does not harm you, but it can be frightful and unsettling, especially when one is not sure what is happening.
Kundalini psychosis is a common experience in those that are not prepared mentally and emotionally for the surge of energy released up to the head in a sudden awakening, causing hallucinations or altered states of 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 in the West).
Groups such as the Spiritual Crisis Network or Maudsley Integration sessions can offer helpful recommendations and advice. Time and simply sharing the experience can be therapeutic, even though answers will be hard to come by. One should be wary of some of the expensive treatments and answers offered by people in the space.
Shakti 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 birth.
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.
Like any energy of creation (prana, electricity, atomic energy), this energy can be misused by those who are not spiritually motivated or have not completed this process and are not free of personal patterns. It is very helpful to understand the process and the intention of your own life force as it awakens you so that you may discover wisdom, love and authentic direction in your own life. Simplicity, contentment, unconditional acceptance and presence are hallmarks of an awakened life.
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.
How do you awaken Kundalini Energy with Yoga?
It is possible to find evidence and acknowledgement of this little understood spiritual movement in many yogic and tantric traditions, 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 works on strengthening the nervous system, it increases bodily strength, and promotes overall fitness. Kundalini is not a practice but a system, just as Hatha Yoga is not a practice but a system.
Akin to meditation, breath-work (pranayama breathing), stretching through posture (asana) and chanting mantras rolled into one, it’s said to aid fighting emotional stress by balancing the system whilst awakening spiritual thoughts.
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 gain support during awakening symptoms. Ashrams encourage regular meditation, mantra, spiritual philosophy and yoga, which act in synergy to utilise the energy within.
“Supersensual visions appear before the mental eye of the aspirant, new worlds with indescribable wonders and charms unfold themselves before the yogi, planes after planes reveal their existence and grandeur and the Yogi gets divine knowledge, power and bliss when Kundalini passes through chakra after chakra, making them bloom to all their glory” – from Kundalini Yoga by Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Kundalini and Esoteric Psychology
Swiss Psychiatrist Dr Carl Jung delivered a seminar on Kundalini Yoga in 1932, which 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 Carl Jung, the concept of Kundalini has for us only one 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 pathological.
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 and holistic approach.