Category Archives: Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga

Although Tantric literature has gained popularity throughout the world, Kundalini Yoga remains one of the most mysterious subjects within Hinduism. Perhaps this is because it is one of the most radical forms of worship in Hinduism, and to work with Kundalini is to work with the occult.

Kundalini is the name of the serpent energy that Tantric physiological models say is located in the base of the human body. When utilized properly, one can use this energy to achieve moksa and reach levels of indescribable bliss. However, teachers of this approach warn that it is a grave mistake to attempt to reach these goals without proper guidance, as this may lead to complete moral and spiritual degeneration (Kapoor et al 1074).

Kundalini is envisioned as a serpent that lies dormant in most people throughout their lives, idly coiled around herself three and a half times. The serpent occupies a point in the body lying two fingers above the rectum and two below the generative organs, the location of muladhara plexus. (Kapoor et al 1074). However, it is important to note that the serpent lies not in the physical body, but rather in what is known as the “subtle body.” She, for Kundalini is also considered to be a goddess, rests there before being awakened, and scholars differ in their opinions on where she ends up after her awakening. Some say that after reaching the highest point in the body, she stays there permanently, although others argue that she returns to her base at the muladhara plexus (Kapoor et al 1074).

The female nature of the serpent is important, as Kundalini is regarded as Sakti manifested as the serpent energy. Kundalini at the muladhara is regarded by Tantrics as the whole primordial Sakti (Woodroffe 306). Sakti is the female principle, perceived as primordial force, a causal matrix which spews out matter and endows it with forms, colours, and other attributes, called prakrti (Fic 28-9). Sakti is said to both create and obscure the material universe, also known as maya (Fic 29).

The process to moksa through Kundalini begins with consultation with a guru who has been through the process before. With an understanding of the aspirant’s mental and intellectual capabilities, the guru should be able to tell from experience whether it is possible for him or her to succeed in this task (Woodroffe 25). It is said that for every thousand individuals who embark on this path, only one will succeed (Woodroffe 26).

Before being able to understand the process of awakening Kundalini, though, one must understand the concept of the cakras. At various locations of the subtle body, there are six centres of operation, each depicted as a lotus flower with a different number of petals. These centres are: muladhara, as mentioned above; svadisthana, located around the generative organs; manipura, around the navel region; anahata, the region around the heart; visuddha, the region connecting the spinal cord and lower portion of the medulla oblongata; and ajna, located between the eyebrows (Bhattacharyya 144). Above all of these lies the sahasrara, known as the cakracita, or “beyond cakra” (Thakur 106). This lies on the top of the cerebral part of the brain. Each cakra and cakracita is depicted as a lotus flower with a different number of petals. The numbers are, respectively, four, six, ten, twelve, sixteen, two, and the sahasrara having 1000 (Thakur 106). The total of the number of petals (excluding the sahasrara) is 50 – the number of characters in the Sanskrit alphabet. It is said that Sakti creates the world by singing her song using all 50 characters, and after propagating the world, rests in the individual’s muladhara cakra (Stutley 260).

Another important concept in this yoga is the asana. Simply put, asana means position or posture. However, there is much more to it than that. 84 asanas are mentioned in various works, but there are believed to be 8 400 000, of which only 84 are known to human beings (Stutley 21). One important idea is that it is essential in asanas is that all extremities of the limbs must be pressed together to keep an uninterrupted flow of life energy by ensuring the energy radiated by nerves in fingers and toes is kept in a closed circuit and not wasted (Stutley 21).

One last concept important to understanding the awakening process is prana. Prana is the “vital energy” that is all around us and in the air we breathe. Prana in the body of the individual is just part of the “Universal Breath” (Woodroffe 199). The yogi aspiring to awaken Kundalini must grab hold of prana in the process.

To utilize the energy of Kundalini, one must get her to pierce all six cakras and rest above them at the sahasrara. This is to be done through a complex process, focusing mainly on meditation under the supervision of a guru. There is no simple, generally accepted set of rules for the process of awakening the energy, but all processes tend to be very similar. One method suggests that the yogi should fill the body with prana by breathing in slowly, and eventually hold the breath. Then, he or she should relax to lower the heart rate, move the prana downwards, contract the anus and direct prana through a semicircular motion, left to right around the muladhara, all while slowly saying a secret bija-mantra. Doing this will warm up and stir Kundalini (Kapoor et al 1074).

Another process is much simpler, but the yogi must have a higher level of expertise to do it. The yogi is to take up a specific asana as assigned by a guru. The breath is to be held by curling the tongue to the back of the throat, and then the sexual energy is to be aroused. This alone is enough to awaken Kundalini, since the sexual energy dwells near the muladhara cakra (Stutley 156).

To try and hasten the process, some tantric schools incorporate sexual practices with some asanas to achieve simultaneous immobility of breath, thought, and semen (Stutley 156).

Once she is awakened, Kundalini can be directed up the central column through nerves that lie in the subtle body. These nerves are known as nadi, and conduct prana through the body (Woodroffe 109). There is no confirmed number of nadis since the Bhuta-Suddhi Tantra speaks of 72 000, the Prapancasara of 300 000, and the Siva-Samhita of 350 000, but the most commonly agreed upon number is 72 000 (Woodroffe 110). There are fourteen main nadis, but in Kundalini Yoga, only three are really emphasized: ida, pingala, and susumna. Ida and pingala meander upwards through the body transporting prana, and susumna goes straight up the body and is the channel through which Kundalini flows. All three of these nadis meet at the cakras as they travel upwards through the body (Woodroffe 151). Ida is a white, feminine nerve beginning on the left side of the spinal cord and ending in the left nostril and is a symbol of the moon (Bhattacharyya 70). Pingala, on the other hand, begins on the right side of the spinal cord and ends in the right nostril. It symbolizes the waking state and leads individuals to violent actions (Bhattacharyya 123).

As Kundalini moves upward through the susumna, it opens up a myriad of nadi at every cakra it pierces for prana to flow through. It starts with the muladhara cakra, which is inverted prior to Kundalini’s awakening and turns upright after. The cakra is the location of the prthvi-tattva, meaning element of solidity, and is the grossest form of manifest energy (Thakur 159). The second cakra is the svadisthana cakra, which translates to “own abode of Sakti” (Woodroffe 118). The next cakra up, the manipura cakra, also known as the jewel city, is so called because the lotus is said to be as lustrous as a gem (Woodroffe 119). This cakra is the location of the teja-tattva, meaning element of heat (Thakur 159). When Kundalini reaches the anahata cakra, the yogi can supposedly hear the anahata-sabda, or the “sound which comes without the striking of any two things together” (Woodroffe 120). The visuddha cakra is the location where the biological self is purified by a vision of the true self, or atman (Thakur 160). Finally Kundalini reaches the ajna cakra, which provides the yogi with supernatural powers, or siddhi (Woodroffe 127). Finally the serpent reaches her ultimate destination: the sahasrara, the location where the serpent causes the yogi to reach moksa.

Physical effects also take place at each of the cakras once they are pierced by the serpent. These effects are called nimitta, meaning, literally, “signs” (Kapoor et al 1074). These signs are profuse sweating, an increase in body temperature, and a stinging sensation (Kapoor et al 1074). Some yogis say that as the energy moves up, all the cakras below return to a cold temperature, even described as “corpse-like” (Stutley 158).

Once piercing all six cakras (this is known as the sat-cakra-bheda), the Kundalini energy reaches the sahasrara, her ultimate destination. It is said that on the center of the sahasrara lotus shines the full moon, within which rests a triangle of lightning containing the most secret bindu. All gods worship this hidden bindu and it is said to be the basis of moksa (Thakur 160-61). Some yogis maintain, however, that after reaching the sahasrara, the energy returns to the muladhara (Fic 34). Some also say that Kundalini needs to pierce only three cakras, the muladhara, anahata, and ajna, to reach the sahasrara (Kapoor et al 1074). There are many different descriptions of the events that take place once Kundalini reaches the sahasrara. Some describe it as a very simple experience, whereby the yogi reaches a full understanding of the self, then returns to his or her normal life and repeats the procedure often to maintain control of the energy (Fic 36). Others describe a much more complex occurrence starting with the yogi perceiving the “inner sounds” – sounds that start like a roaring ocean, becoming progressively quieter until they are like a bee, and finally the nada, or “unmanifested” sound (Kapoor et al 1074). Often, the yogi is said to see a taraka; that is, a small, intensely bright light resting between and in front of the eyebrows (Bharati 265).

Although the entire process of using Kundalini to achieve moksa in this lifetime may seem relatively simple and straightforward, the yoga is not something to be toyed around with. Less documented than the theory and practice of this yoga are the potential negative consequences. Two of the main fears are that increased energy in the lower region will cause an insatiable sexual desire, and that awakening Kundalini will lead to moral and mental instability (White et al 460). The latter fear may become a reality for someone who suddenly awakens Kundalini, due to the increase in energy flow in the nervous system (White et al 198). Often, individuals who have improperly awakened Kundalini report symptoms such as short or long-term disorientation, severe anxiety, and a general mental incapacity (White et al 205-6).

It is important to keep these ideas in mind when considering Kundalini Yoga as a means to moksa, but they should not be discouraging as it is still a fascinating subject. Therefore, although the serpent energy is to be revered, with caution, a thorough knowledge of the subject, and the guidance of a guru, one can certainly consider the path of Kundalini for their own liberation.


References and further Recommended Reading

Bhattacharyaa, Narenda Nath (1990) A Glossary of Indian Religious Terms and Concepts. Delhi: South Asian Publications.

Bharati, Agehananda (1975) The Tantric Tradition. New York: Samuel Weiser Inc.

Fic, Victor M. (2003) The Tantra: its Origin, Theories, Art, and Diffusion from India to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, and Indonesia. Delhi: Shakti Malik / Abhinav Publications

Kapoor, Subodh et al (1999) Encyclopedia of Hinduism vol. 3. Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2005) Hinduism: the e-book: an Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Stutley, Margaret (2002) A Dictionary of Hinduism. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Thakur, Dr. Manoj K (2001) The Tantras: An Introductory Outline. Delhi: Book Land Publishing.

White, John et al (1979) Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books.

Woodroffe, Sir John (1978) The Serpent Power. Madras: Ganesh and Co. Publishing.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Cakras

Sahasrara

Tantra

Sakti

Yoga

Moksa

Asanas

Prana

Nadi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/download/kundalini.htm#_VPID_59

http://www.yoga-age.com/modern/kun1.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/practices/kundalini_yoga.htm

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/download/kundalini.htm

http://www.cit-sakti.com/index.htm

Written by Urvil Thakor (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Cakras

chak·ra: (n.) One of the seven centers of spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy.

[Sanskrit cakram, wheel, circle.] [American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn.]

Introduction

In ancient Indian physiological theory, the human body is composed of two systems, the physical system and the energy system. The physical body is filled with skin, muscles, tissue, and bones. Alternatively, the human energy body system is filled with physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental layers (Feuerstein 139-140). These energy systems are called cakras [Chakra is a transliteration format of the word to help Western pronunciation. The formal transliteration from Sanskrit is cakra]. Cakras are the centers of spiritual energy nodes in the human body and are fundamental to spiritual systems of yoga practiced in the Hindu culture (Radha 18) [Yoga is also practiced by many other religious cultures, especially the Buddhist, and many New Age movements that have adapted it through Western influence]. The cakras are associated with the interaction between the physical and mental nature. The cakras are a form of life energy (prana) (Mangla 39), which moves through a series of pathways (nadis)(Saraswati 303). Each of the seven main cakras is aligned along the spine in an ascending order, and each possesses many distinguishing characteristics (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The alignment of the cakras reflects an individual’s present state of consciousness and their desire to reach Sahasrara [Considered to be pure consciousness].

History

The cakras are thought to have origins in the later Upanisads (Mookerjee 24), specifically the Brahma Upanisad and the Yogatattva Upanisad. The earliest Upanisads originated in the eight century BCE, with over 100 different “lesser upanisads” being written over the following several hundred years (Mangla 249). These writings influenced both Tibetan Buddhism in Vajrayana theory (Feuerstein X), as well as Hinduism through the Tantric Sakta theory of cakras (Radha 25-28). The Sakta theory of the cakras is the primary form that is understood by most western cultures due to the work of Sir John Woodroffe, who went by the alias Arthur Avalon. In 1919, Woodroofe wrote The Serpent Power, a translation and commentary on two primary Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and the Padaka-Pancaka.

Cakras comes from the Sanskrit, meaning wheel or circle, and is derived from the Aryan’s word for the wheel of their chariots (Feuerstein 47). It represents balance, and often refers to the “wheel of life” (Dharmacakra), as in the Mahabharata’s Aswamedha Parva (Section XLV). The Mahabharata [longest epic in history], an influential text in Hindu culture, was thought to have originated between 200 BCE and 200 CE. It tells the many stories of India, including what Swami Satyananda Saraswati explained as the “wheel of life” (Kumar 9) [“The whole process occurs in continuity, each stage fusing into the next and transforming in a very graduated way. This seems logical when you consider that it is the same consciousness which is undergoing the experience…” “From Mooladhara up to Ajna Chakra, the wareness is experiencing higher things, but it is not free from ego. You cannot transcend ego at the lower points of awakening. It is only when Kundalini reaches ajna chakra that the transcendence begins. This is where the ego is exploded into a million fragments and the ensuing death experience occurs. At this point Savikalpa ends and Nirvikalpa begins. From here, the energies fuse and flow together up to Sahasrara, where enlightenment unfolds.” (Kumar 9)]. When Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Padaka-Pancaka were written, they explained the cakras as an emanation of consciousness from Brahman. The energy of Brahman comes down to create the specific levels of the cakras, and settles in the Muladhara Cakra until union with Brahman is achieved in the Sahasrara Cakra.

Each cakra has many unique characteristics that make them different from the next. Each level is like a hierarchy that can only be reached by following a path through each cakra. The cakras represent different locations throughout the body. Each location rises up from the next until it reaches the head and above. The cakras also depict any relations to nature and the benefits that this must bring. Each of the individual cakras will be explored on an individual basis in the following sections.

Muladhara

The first cakra is the root or base. It is found at the base of the spine, as it is the foundation of all cakras. Muladhara represents the earth and an orientation towards self-preservation (Woodroffe 115). The relationship between the earth and energy leads to the hypothesis that this region is responsible for the survival instincts (Radha 34). The connection that is created between the individual and their bodies helps to bring health, prosperity, security, and dynamic presence. The Muladhara region is also thought to be the region that controls ejaculation in the sexual act (Johari 51).

Svadhisthana

The second energy along the spine is represented by the element water, which is related to emotional identity and a need for self-gratification (Mangla 183). The energy aids in the connection between individuals through feeling, desire, sensation and movement. The overall fluidity of life is increased by the development of Svadhisthana (Woodroffe 118). This is the first rise in energy in the flow through the cakras.

Manipura

Manipura is the power cakra that is located in the abdomen near the adrenal glands. This cakra is responsible for keeping individuals healthy (Johari 59). It works by representing fire and the need to orient oneself to better achieve success. Manipura allows for the energy required to stay spontaneous and effective. Patanjali argued that this was the cakra that was responsible for the knowledge of the orgasm because this is the cakra of the life force (Mookerjee 40). This control is important, as it is the base of all of the cakras and the origin of all life.

Anahata

The fourth cakra is one of balance and integration (Mangla 185). Anahata is represented by air and self-acceptance. The fourth cakra is considered the heart cakra because it is at the centre of the body’s energies. Anahata is related to love and is responsible for the unity of mind and body, male and female, persona and shadow, ego and unity (Radha 163). Anahata uses its strong positioning to develop along the spine to achieve an elevated level of consciousness. Like the heart is the center of the physical body, Anahata is the center of the cakras.

Visuddha

The fifth cakra is located just prior to the mouth, in the throat. It is responsible for many of the creative steps required to improve the status of a specific individual (Mookerjee 42). There is an overall feeling towards the vibrations that help to orient one’s self with their creative identity or self-expression (Johari 71). These vibrations are also responsible for the production of language and sound that can be used for Mantras.

Ajna

The sixth cakra is the eyebrow cakra. It has light as a symbol in order to help guide the way to a self-reflection (Saraswati 114-122). It works on the skills required to see both physically and intuitively. It allows for an increased level of communication with the God’s, as well as an overall bigger picture to see how to improve the current situation. This is the first level of cakras that is involved with abstract thought and the ability to look back at one’s self (Mookerjee 44).

Sahasrara

The final cakra is the crown cakra, which is considered to be like pure consciousness. It is required to have a high level of awareness, thought and universal identity (Mangla 89-95). By supporting the development of consciousness, the cakra is bringing new knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual connections (Woodroffe 138). This is the location where the paradoxical act of transcendence occurs by passing beyond samsara (Mookerjee 44).

Western Culture

Since the original versions of the Upanisads were written in India, there have been many different adaptations of Indian practices that have been brought to the western world, including the cakras. People have continually attempted to reach higher levels of consciousness through meditation, prayer, and overall lifestyle choices. The presence of higher levels of consciousness, or energy, continues to be found throughout the world. The impact of Indian culture and their traditions is becoming mainstream and is starting to be found in American pop culture (Sharp 84). By gaining an understanding of the history behind these traditions, people can be aware of the impact that these references have on them.

Figure 1: Cakra table depicting the many different aspects of the central body energies. Taken from Kundalini Tantra (Saraswati 401-403)

Cakra

Nature

# of Petals

Color

Location

Gland

Dhatu

Muladhara

root lotus

4

Deep red

Root

Perineal body

Bone

Svadhisthana

one’s own abode

6

Orange-red

Genital

Gonads

Fat

Manipura

city of jewels

10

Yellow

Navel

Adrenal

Flesh

Anahata

Source of unbroken sound

12

Blue

Heart

Thymus

Blood

Visuddha

Center of nectar

16

Purple

Throat

Thyroid

Skin

Ajna

Center of command

2

Clear or grey

Eyebrow

Pineal

Marrow

Sahasrara

Thousand petalled lotus

1000

Red or multi-colored

Crown

Pituitary

Semen (the essence of all others)

Figure 2: Cakra table further depicting the different energy nodes of the body (Meadow 3)

Cakra

Element

Symbol

Altar Offering

Sense

Animal

Deva

Granthi

Muladhara

Earth

Yellow square

Fruit

Smell

Elephant

Ganesa

Brahma

Svadhisthana

Water

Silver/white crescent moon

Water

Taste

Crocodile

Visnu

Manipura

Fire

Red inverted triangle

Flame

Sight

Ram

Rudra

Anahata

Air

Smoky six-pointed star

Incense

Touch

Antelope

Isa

Visnu

Visuddha

Ether

White circle

Flower

Hearing

White Elephant

Sadasiva

Ajna

Mind

Clear/grey circle

Mind

Mind

Paramsiva

Rudra

Sahasrara

Beyond

Beyond

God

Beyond

Siva

Jyotir


References and further reading

Eden, D and Finklestein D (1998) Energy Medicine. New York: Penguin Putman Inc.

Edson, Cynthia (1991) Kundalini: Is it Real? in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 14: No. 1.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: the Path of Ecstacy. New Delhi: Princeton University Press.

Johari, Harish (1987) Chakras. Bombay: India Book Distributors.

Kumar, Ravindra (1994) Journal Back Home-IV: Personality Transformation with Chakras in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 17: No. 4.

Mangla, Dharam Vir (2003) Kundalini and Kriya Yoga. Delhi: Geeta International Publishers and Distributers.

Mazak, Arlene (2002) Animating the Insentient Universe: The Hindu Tantric Yogin as Thaumaturge in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Palo Alto: EBSCO Publishing.

Meadow, Mary Jo (1993) Yogic Chakra Symbols: Mirrors of the Human Mind/Heart in Journal of Religion and Health. Vol. 32: No. 1.

Mookerjee, Ajit (1982) Kundalini: the Arousal of the Inner Energy. Delhi: Clarion Books.

Rhada, Swami Sivananda (1978) Kundalini Yoga for the West. Spokane: Timeless Books.

Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1996) Kundalini Tantra. Munger: Bihar School of Yoga.

Sharp, Michael (2005) Dossier of the Ascension: A Practical Guide to Chakra Activation and Kundalini Awakening. New York: Avatar Publications.

Wauters, A (2002) The Book of Chakras, Discover the Hidden Forces Within You. London: Quatro Inc.

Woodroffe, Sir John (1989) The Serpent Power: Being the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Paduka-Pancaka. Madras: Ganesh and Company.

Related Topics of Interest

Muladhara

Svadhisthana

Manipura

Anahata

Visuddha

Ajna

Sahasrara

Prana

Nadis

Brahma Upanisad

Yogatattva Upanisad

Mahabharata Aswamedha Parva

“Wheel of Life”

Tantra

Kundalini

Mantra

Shakti

Woodroffe, Sir John

The Serpent Power

Sat-Cakra-Nirupana

Padaka-Pancaka

Avalon, Arthur

Buddhism

Vajrayana Theory

New Age

Endocrine System

Medulla Oblongata

Spine

Theosophists

Hinduism

Sanskrit

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Noteworthy Websites on the Topic

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/download/kundalini.htm

http://www.sanatansociety.org/chakras/kundalini_yoga.htm

http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/JO-TEP.html

http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/chakras.htm

http://www.hinduism.co.za/wheelof.htm

http://www.hindunet.org/mahabharata/

http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/chakras-Shakta.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakras

http://www.indhistory.com/hinduism.html

http://web.utk.edu/~jftzgrld/MBh1Home.html

http://www.sacredcenters.com/chakras.html

http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/chakratest.php

Written by Aaron Doyle (Spring 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.