Kundalini Yoga in Hinduism is a form of divine feminine energy (or shakti) believed to be located at the base of the spine, in the ‘Muladhara’. It is an important concept in Shaiva Tantra, where it is believed to be a force or power associated with the divine feminine or the formless aspect of the Goddess. This energy (Kundalini) in the body, when cultivated and awakened through Kundalini Yoga practice, is believed to lead to spiritual liberation. Siddha Spirituality of Swami Hardas Life System considers Kundalini Yoga important activity for well-being.
What is Kundalini Yoga?
In Kundalini Yoga, it is believed that this energy coils around the spine like a snake, passing through each of the seven chakras before reaching the crown, where it is released. Kundalini is moved through the chakras with breathwork, or pranayama, which is key to the practice.
All Yoga has its benefits, but Kundalini Yoga is an excellent way to connect to your spiritual energy. All breaths, movements, and postures aim to coax the snake of Kundalini energy up the spine to release it into the world.
Kundalini Yoga Etymology
The use of kundal (ring) as a name for Goddess Durga (a form of Shakti) appears often in Tantrism and Shaktism from as early as the 11th century. It was adopted as a technical term in Hatha Yoga during the 15th century and became widely used in the Yoga Upanishads by the 16th century. Eknath Easwaran has paraphrased the term as “the coiled power”, a force which ordinarily rests at the base of the spine, described as being “coiled there like a serpent”.
Kundalini Yoga in Shaiva Tantra
Kundalini arose as a central concept in Shaiva Tantra. In these Tantric traditions, Kundalini is “the innate intelligence of embodied Consciousness”. The first possible mention of the term is in the Tantrasadbh Shaiva-Tantra (8th century), though other earlier tantras mention the visualization of Shakti in the central channel and the upward movement of Prana or vital force (which is often associated with Kundalini in later works).
According to David Gordon White, this feminine spiritual force is also termed boghavati, which has a double meaning of “enjoyment” and “coiled” and signifies her strong connection to bliss and pleasure, both mundane physical pleasure and the bliss of spiritual liberation (Moksha), which is the enjoyment of Shiva’s creative activity and ultimate union with the Goddess.
Kundalini Yoga Description
The progress of Kundalini through the different Chakras is believed to achieve different levels of awakening and mystical experience, until Kundalini finally reaches the top of the head, Sahasrara or Crown chakra, producing an extremely profound transformation of consciousness.
Kundalini Yoga experiences
Invoking Kundalini Yoga experiences
Yogis such as Muktananda consider that Kundalini can be awakened by Shaktipat (spiritual transmission by a Guru or teacher), or by spiritual practices such as Kundalini Yoga or Meditation.
The passive approach is instead a path of surrender where one lets go of all the impediments to the awakening rather than trying to actively awaken Kundalini. A chief part of the passive approach is Shaktipat where one individual’s Kundalini is awakened by another who already has the experience. Shaktipat only raises Kundalini temporarily but gives the student an experience to use as a basis.
According to the Goraksasataka, or “Hundred Verses of Goraksa”, Hatha Yoga practices such as Mula bandha, Uddiyana bandha, Jalandhara bandha, and Kumbhaka can awaken Kundalini. Another Hatha Yoga text, Khechari mudra enables one to raise Kundalini and access various stores of Amrita (Nector) in the head, which subsequently flood the body.
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba emphasized the need for a master when actively trying to awaken Kundalini:
Kundalini is a latent power in the higher body. When awakened, it pierces through six chakras or functional centers and activates them. Without a master, the awakening of the kundalini cannot take anyone very far on the Path; and such indiscriminate or premature awakening is fraught with dangers of self-deception as well as the misuse of powers.
The important point is that the awakened kundalini is helpful only up to a certain degree, after which it cannot ensure further progress. It cannot dispense with the need for the grace of a Perfect Master.
Kundalini Yoga and Tantra propose that Kundalini can be awakened by a guru (teacher), but body and spirit must be prepared by yogic austerities, such as pranayama, or breath control, physical exercises, visualization, and chanting.
Traditionally, people visited ashrams in India to learn Kundalini Yoga and awaken their dormant kundalini energy with regular meditation, mantra chanting, spiritual studies, and physical asana practice such as kundalini Yoga.
What are the religious interpretations of Kundalini Yoga?
Kundalini is considered to occur in the chakra and Nadis of the subtle body. Each chakra is said to contain special characteristics and with proper training, moving Kundalini through these chakras can help express or open these characteristics.
Kundalini is one of the components of an esoteric description of the “subtle body”, which consists of Nadis (energy channels), chakras (psychic centers), prana (subtle energy), and Bindu (drops of essence).
Swami Vivekananda describes Kundalini briefly in his book Raja Yoga as follows:
At the lower end of the hollow canal is what the Yogis call the “Lotus of the Kundalini”. When that Kundalini awakes, it tries to force a passage through this hollow canal. When it reaches the brain, the Yogi is perfectly detached from the body and mind. Suppose you add eight after eight, piled one on top of the other, that will represent the spinal cord. The left is the Ida, the right Pingala, and that hollow canal which runs through the center of the spinal cord is the Sushumna. Where the spinal cord ends in some of the lumbar vertebrae, fine fiber issues downwards, and the canal runs up even within that fiber. The different plexuses that have their centers in the spinal canal can very well stand for the different “lotuses” of the Yogi.
When Kundalini Shakti is conceived as a goddess, then, when it rises to the head, it unites itself with the Supreme Being of Lord Shiva. The aspirant then becomes engrossed in deep meditation and infinite bliss”.
How to practice Kundalini Yoga?
Step One: Prepare yourself and your practice space
This practice is about your inner spirit, not your outward appearance! Set your mat and props in a quiet, spacious location so you can focus on your breath and movements without interruption. If you’d like, you could also play soft music in the background. Choose something that won’t pull your focus away from your practice.
Step Two: Find a class online or plan your own practice
The internet has made it easier than ever to practice Yoga at home. A simple search will yield thousands of results for Kundalini Yoga classes, many of which can be viewed on Youtube. If you’d prefer, you can even take a few minutes to plan a sequence yourself! Write it in a notebook and keep it near your mat to refer to throughout your practice.
Step Three: Connect with your Kundalini
Yoga classes typically start with pranayama, which helps set a rhythm for your practice. During this time, it is wise to set an intention for your practice, like being purposeful in every movement, or wishing well upon a loved one. This helps in the practice of mindfulness, which in turn helps your Kundalini travel with purpose! With every inhalation, imagine the air traveling through each chakra on its way to the base of your spine. There, it should churn the stored energy, awakening it and preparing it to elevate. With each exhalation, the Kundalini rises higher and higher until it reaches your crown!
Step Four: Settle in and follow along
If you find the opening pranayama to be particularly good, continue it until you feel ready to move on. If you have trouble with a sequence, take the time to practice it again, or just skip it altogether.
Step Five: Close your practice
After a spin class, people typically thank the instructor, and some might even applaud after a particularly good class. After Kundalini Yoga, it is customary to take a moment of silence in a comfortable position before saying “Namaste” to your instructor and classmates. The gesture means “the light in me respects and appreciates the light in you” and functions as a greeting, thank you, and goodbye.
Step Six: Plan to come back to your mat
As with anything, the more you practice, the more benefits you will experience. Every time you practice Kundalini Yoga, you are learning to access a part of yourself that usually lies dormant. As you clear away your props and roll up your mat, make a conscious decision about when you’ll practice next.
Why learn and practice Kundalini Yoga?
There are many subtle benefits to practicing Kundalini Yoga such as:
Kundalini Yoga strengthens your nervous system. So when you’re in down dog or plank pose for three whole minutes and your entire body is shaking, have no fear! Your nervous system is toning.
Kundalini Yoga awakens your inner willpower right at the core of your solar plexus (Third Chakra) at the navel point. What that means is that you build a strong heat in this region. This helps in digesting not only food but also past memories and self-doubt. We become much more able to process and digest events that happen.
Kundalini Yoga clears the fogginess of the mind. When the mind becomes clouded with several thoughts, it feels a little like a cobweb of thoughts have formed and are difficult to untangle and with a few minutes of the rapid breath of fire or one-minute breath, the mind becomes crystal clear, we feel more alert, focused, concentrated, with better memory and the capacity to make sound decisions.
Breathing alternately through the nostrils brings into balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain. We usually act, analyze, and do much more frequently than we feel, visualize, and imagine. Kundalini Yoga awakens our inner creativity.
Kundalini Yoga opens the heart center (Fourth Chakra). We remain open and trusting that the higher power (God) will provide us with what we need. So the world doesn’t collapse when we don’t get that job or etc. Whatever it is, we gain an attitude of acceptance.
In Kundalini Yoga, poses like the shoulder stand open the throat center (Fifth Chakra). Add this to an open heart and we become forgiving, compassionate, and nonjudgmental. Our lips can bless, give gratitude and kindness to all those around us. More so, when there is something bothering you, you will find the best way to express yourself.
We spend so much time stuck in our minds. We always have a gut feeling about something but we tend to ignore it. Kundalini Yoga gives us the ability to pause and listen to the message behind that gut feeling. It enables us to quiet down the mind to the point that our thoughts become still.
All forms of Yoga make us more conscious of human beings. So don’t be surprised if you start acting like a wise guy, refraining from behaviors that cause harm to you and the environment like smoking, alcohol, drugs, meat, and dairy products, and wastage of water and electricity. Instead, you will choose to consume fresh vegetables and fruits, whole foods, to protect animals and the environment.
Some kriyas will leave you feeling high and totally blissed out. Other kriyas will really provoke and confront you. What’s important is to stay present and accept pleasure and pain as part of the same journey to health and balance. Our ego naturally leans toward pleasure and comfort. It takes concerted effort and discipline to begin to release the ego’s grip on our consciousness. It is where we start to make great strides toward living as an enlightened being.