In Hinduism, kundalini refers to the psychic or cosmic energy that lies dormant in most people. It is sometimes identified with Shakti, the Great Goddess who is equated with divine energy.
When dormant, the kundalini is said to lie coiled like a snake (kunda means coiled) at the base of the spine, but it can gradually be raised upwards through the spine using meditation techniques including postures, purification practices, ritual gestures and regulated breathing.
This process of raising the kundalini, called kundalini yoga or laya yoga, is considered physically and psychologically beneficial throughout, but the ultimate goal is to induce the kundalini to rise to the top of the spine and into the brain. This is said to result in union with Shakti (divine energy) or atman (the cosmic Self), which is accompanied by an extraordinary state of awareness and bliss.
Religious Contexts of Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is primarily emphasized in Tantric Hinduism, the esoteric tradition associated with the Goddess. It is also widely practiced in Sikhism.
Kundalini yoga was first introduced to the west through a book called The Serpent Power, written by Sir John Woodroffe, an Englishman and the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court. Deeply impressed by the feats of tantrics he observed in India, Woodroofe was initiated into Hindu Tantra and became one of the earliest westerners to transmit Hinduism to the west.
In Los Angeles in the 1960s, Yogi Bhajan (born Harbhajan Singh) founded the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), which centers on the concepts and practices of kundalini yoga.
The practice of kundalini yoga centers on raising the kundalini, or dormant psychic energy, through the body's seven major chakras, or centers of conciousness. The seven chakras are:
- Muladhara chakra - base of the spine
- Svadhishthana chakra - near the genital organs
- Manipura chakra - behind the navel
- Anahata chakra - at the heart
- Vishuddha chakra - at the throat
- Ajna chakra - behind the point between the eyebrows (the "third eye")
- Sahasrara chakra - the cerebral cortex
Each chakra is associated with a different set of psychic powers and spiritual experiences. For example, accessing the vishuddha chakra in the throat bestows powers of telepathy and prophecy, while activating the ajna chakra on the forehead brings universal knowledge. Specific colors and sounds are also associated with the chakras and used to activate them.
When the Serpent Bites
Kundalini teachers commonly caution those interested in kundalini yoga to practice only under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Uncontrolled kundalini awakening has been reported to produce symptoms such as the following:
- mental confusion
- gastrointestianal disorders
- itching, burning, or involuntary twitching
- sexual dysfunction
- severe mood swings
- ringing or hissing sounds in ears
- paranormal activity
- immoral behavior
- Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism (Alpha, 2002), pp. 312-13.
- "kundalini." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. Accessed March 2005. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9046421>.
- "Kundalini Complications." Kundalini Survival and Support. Accessed March 2005. <http://www.kundalini-support.com/comp.html>
- "Kundalini yoga." Wikipedia. Accessed March 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini_yoga>
- Kundalini Yoga - kundaliniyoga.org. Offers a free online course on kundalini yoga.
- Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization - Official site of 3HO. Provides information on Yogi Bhajan, kundalini yoga and the "3HO Lifestyle."
- Kundalini Yoga - A full-length e-book on kundalini yoga by Sri Swami Sivananda, published by the Divine Life Society.
- Kundalini Yoga Survival and Support - Website supportive of kundalini yoga but providing thorough information about its potential dangers. Includes support forum.
- Kundalini Yoga FAQ - Questions and answers on kundalini yoga practice.