Category Archives: Related Topics in Yoga

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website: http://www.yssofindia.org/

 

Article written by: Sean Gaiesky (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Chidvilasananda

“Gurumayi’s striking beauty rivets attention wherever she goes…[H]er energy seems inexaustible. Her grace, delightful wit, and respectful regard for the needs of each devotee have expanded Siddha Yoga’s appeal beyond what even Muktananda achieved.” (Brooks 136)

 Swami Chidvilasananda, often referred to as Gurumayi Chidvilasananda or simply Gurumayi is the current leading guru of Siddha Yoga. Gurumayi is a female Guru, who was born in India, who now resides in the United States of America. After studying yoga under the leadership of her own guru Swami Muktananda, she became the head guru of Siddha Yoga when he passed on his title to her in a five day fire ceremony called a yajna; which was celebrated during the time of his birthday in 1982 [Swami Muktanananda passed away later in that same year]. (Caldwell 27) Siddha Yoga is a form of yoga that is very much about finding energy inside one’s soul and discovering personal inner peace through meditation and connection with their guru.

Siddha Yoga has become a major trend in North America, and the SYDA or Siddha Yoga Dham of America that was created by Swami Muktananda, and has been carried on by Swami Chidvilasananda, is a non profit organization that has dealt with a great deal of controversy (Harris 92). Siddha Yoga’s claim to fame is an extremely intense meditative state known as guru”shaktipat“. Shaktipat is described as a cosmic orgasm that one feels after they connect with their guru (Neimark 60). There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, and the gurus that lead this spiritual activity. There is much controversy surrounding how much money the SYDA appears to have. The SYDA owns more than three hotels worldwide and has a variety of wealthy celebrity followers (Harris 92). Some have gone so far as to call it a cult; others have questioned the sexual integrity of the gurus; however there are valid arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Some criticize Swami Chidvilasananda of not living a truly pure and holy life; claiming that she, and other Siddha Yoga Gurus are simply concerned with money and fame, and others regard her as one of the most powerful and influential yogic gurus of her time.

Born in Mumbai India in 1955 under her given name Malti Shetty, Gurumayi experienced shaktipat at the age of fourteen and at age fifteen began studying under her guru Swami Muktananda. She moved to the ashram (a hermitage in which she studied religion and yoga) to study yoga seriously. Swami Chidvilasananda accompanied her Guru on many tours as his English translator, and in 1982, both Shetty and her brother, Subhash Shetty were appointed to be the successors of their guru; however in 1985 her brother stepped down, leaving Gurumayi to be the sole successor of Swami Muktanananda or Baba, as he was called by his students and devotees. [Baba meaning father.] Some have criticized Gurumayi for the “falling out” that she had with her brother, claiming that it is not spiritual or holy to have a relationship fall apart, and that it is just as it is in secular life; criticizing the way she dealt with the situation (Healey 12). Gurumayi is the current Guru of Siddha Yoga, which has two main ashrams for people to learn the practices in; one in India, and one in New York. There has been controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, claiming that it has a likeliness to that of a cult-like religion, (Healey 5) however Gurumayi’s students seem to feel a deep appreciation for the fact that she not only lives her life purely, but truly tries to bring her teachings into every day-to-day life. She has many interactions with her students and spends a great deal of time with them to offer guidance and teachings (Brooks 159). Gurumayi is known for her kind heart, and her caring attitude towards all human beings. Her students respect her greatly and put her at the center of their spiritual lives. (Brooks 136). Siddha Yoga places emphasis on self-evaluation and tries to eliminate personal negativity, and negative tendencies within one’s life.

The practice of Siddha Yoga was first introduced to the West in 1970 by Swami Muktananda during his first excursion out of India. Siddha Yoga, the word Siddha meaning perfect master (Healey 6) is a practice of yoga in which its main purpose is to achieve shaktipat through the guidance, chants and presence of a Guru. Shaktipat is the ancient method of awakening the kundalini energy, which creates enlightenment at the base of the spine, and sends the body into an orgasm-like state, that causes the body to shake and pulsate upon achieving this sacred energy. When people experience shaktipat through the practice of Siddha Yoga they lose all control over their physical selves, often screaming, pulsating, or physically moving around the room. This energy can only be achieved through the presence and touch of the Guru; and through shaktipat it is said that one can truly achieve self-realization and Atman. Contrary to controversy about Siddha Yoga and its sexual nature; it is said that if one finds a true guru, one who is fully devoted to the art of Siddha Yoga, that it is not about sexual pleasure, but about losing touch between the inner and outer self, and experiencing a more divine power and ecstasy. Achieving shaktipat is said to be the feeling of “seeing the Divine in different forms” (Tymn 180). Gurumayi herself said that “When you experience it, you see light everywhere, you find joy in everything. You experience happiness in times of happiness, but you are also able to experience happiness in the midst of sorrow. This is the greatness of meditation.” (Chidvilasananda 46)

Another important aspect of Siddha yoga is the importance that its devotees place on grandiose ceremonies, such as yajnas. Yajnas are extremely important and have helped to characterize Siddha Yoga. Swami Chidvilasananda holds yajnas many times a year, that attract Siddha Yoga students and Brahmins from all around the globe. Brahmins travel from India to attend Swami Chidvalasananda’s yajnas, as months of hard work and preparation go into preparing for them. During these sacred fire ceremonies, Gurumayi sits and observes, while Brahmin priests adorn her with garlands and perform sacred rituals. Gurumayi holds herself with great dignity and always puts her position as great Guru first and foremost. (Brooks 135) In Gurumayi’s yajnas food and gifts are offered to the Gods and burned in a sacrificial fire. Yajnas and yoga are said to be alike in the sense that yoga offers sacrifices to the Gods as well; however the fire of the yajna; in yoga is an internal flame. Gurumayi has taught numerous courses in the ashram, which emphasize the importance of sacrifice in ones day-to-day life. She teaches that sacrifice is the secret to fulfilling a pure and whole life. (Brooks 136) Love, peace, patience and self awareness are very important aspects of Siddha Yoga, often taking a great deal of time and inner reflection to truly master.

Gurumayi places a great amount of importance on love, calmness, happiness, and inner peace. A young man that attended a retreat led by Gurumayi in Mexico said that “These two weeks were the happiest weeks of my whole life. They gave me a new vision of myself and the world we live in. Never in my life had I experienced so much love, nor did I know that so much love was possible. We just sat down to talk about the day and it was pure ecstasy. Or sometimes we just sat in silence looking at each other and we cried out of love” (Brooks 140). Siddha Yoga focuses on the simplicity of life and helps people to understand what happens within themselves to create pure ecstasy throughout any aspect of life. Another practice that is unique to Siddha Yoga is guruseva which helps a student to gain wisdom by working under the instruction of their guru. The idea of working to gain wisdom is important in Siddha Yoga. For example students of Gurumayi have volunteered to chop vegetables for hours at a time; while chanting throughout the whole process. The idea behind the work is that “unselfish action purifies the mind.” (Brooks 144) Guruseva can take form in any day to day activity; for example washing dishes, doing chores, creating art are all forms of Guruseva. The use of work to diminish ego and create a connection to the gods is extremely important to Siddha Yoga devotees, but only if the work is done with no thought or expectation of reward. The acts of Guruseva must be done selflessly in order to reap its rewards. Guruseva is comparable to the feeling of kundalini in that it creates a deep interior experience. Students who do guruseva experience realizations within themselves, and intense feelings of calmness and love (Brooks 144).

Much of Swami Chivalasananda’s time is spent traveling the globe, spreading the word of Siddha Yoga, through the use of chants, workshops and intensives. There are approximately three hundred Siddha Yoga meditation centers worldwide, located in Europe, North and South America, India and Australia to name a few (Brooks 143). Gurumayi is said to be such a powerful leader of Siddha Yoga, that her devotees do not have to be in her presence to feel her spirit and teachings. Many of her students have seen her through focused and intense meditation. Devotees have said that Gurumayi has appeared in meditation and in dreams where she has provided guidance to them. Many of Gurumayi’s students have felt her presence when she was not physically with them. For example a school teacher in Perth Australia was struggling with a young student’s behavior, when she saw Gurumayi walk through the door and smile lovingly at the boy, giving hope to the teacher (Brooks 147).

Regardless of where Gurumayi is in the world, her presence is honored by her devotees. When she appears at conferences, workshops or intensives often she is greeted with a great amount of emotion and joy from her students.   She works hard to prove that she is a strong leader, and tries to live her life in a way that shows example to her students of how to achieve peace and harmony with ones self. Gurumayi provides a realistic approach to her work in the fact that she also talks about inner turmoil. Siddha Yoga requires personal work and sacrifice to find oneself and she has displayed acts of sacrifice in her own life to teach her devotees.

“Where is heaven? Where is Hell? Within us. Each one can create a heaven, each one can create a hell…Look within. Meditate. It just happens. You find your own joy, you find your own inner peace.” (Chidvilasananda 49)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Caldwell, Sarah (2001) “The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 5, No.1:9-51

Haruni, Elisa Santos, Ferreira Dourado Rueda, Adriana Amelia Benedito-Silva, Ana Leite De Moraes Ornellas, Felipe Leite, Jose Roberto (2008) “Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi Yoga for Anxiety and Depression Symptoms: a Preliminary Study.” Psychological Reports, Vol. 103, No. 1: 271-274.

Healy, John Paul (2011) “Involvement in a New Religious Movement: From Discovery to Disenchantment.” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, Vol. 13, No. 1: 2-21

Harris, Lis (1998) “O guru, guru, guru.” New Yorker, Vol. 70, No. 37: 92

Neimark, Jill (1998) “Crimes of the soul.” Psychology Today, Vol. 31, No. 2: 55

Mutananda, Swami and Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Durgananda, Swami Muller-Ortega, Paul E Mahony, William K Rhodes Bailly, Constantina Sabharathnam, S.P. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of Siddha Yoga Lineage. Muktabodha Indological Research Institute.

Tymn, Michael E. (2006) “Secrets of Shaktipat.” Journal of Spirituality & Paranomal Studies. Vol. 29, No. 3:179-180.

 Related Topics

PRASAD

Swami Muktananda/Controversy surrounding his practices

Siddha Yoga vs. other forms of Yoga

Gurumayi’s various projects

 Related Websites

http://www.siddhayoga.org/

http://www.siddhayoga.org/gurumayi-chidvilasananda

 

Article written by Jaimee Jarvie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

B. K. S. Iyengar

B. K. S. IYENGAR

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, better known as B. K. S. Iyengar, was born into an influenza epidemic on December 14, 1918, in the small village of Bellur, India (Iyengar 2000: 15). Iynegar’s mother, Sheshemma, battled with influenza when she gave birth, which threatened Iyengar’s survival as a new born (Iyengar 2005: xvi). Despite the odds, Iyengar survived the influenza. However, he was very weak and sick, and battled with malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis throughout his childhood; furthermore, he was often unable to attend school in his weakened states (Iyengar 2000: 16). At the age of nine his father passed away, leaving Sheshemma to take care of Iyengar.

Fortunately for Iyengar, his family’s Brahmin status resulted in the marriage of his older sister to Shriman T. Krishnamacharya, an honoured and highly revered scholar of Sanskrit (Iyengar 2005: xviii). At the age of fourteen, Iyengar was asked by Krishnamacharya to visit his wife in Mysore while Krishnamacharya was away. Upon his return, Krishnamacharya suggested that Iyengar remain in Mysore and begin practicing yoga asana (posture) to improve his health (Iyengar 2000: 17).

Iyengar studied under Krishnamacharya for many years, and thus Iyengar considers him to be his guruji, which is an honorable title a student gives to his guru or teacher (Rodrigues 549). At first, Iyengar struggled with his asana practice due to his poor health, but gradually his skill improved, as did his health. The pivotal moment that helped Iyengar become a guru himself occurred in 1936 when Krishnamacharya asked Iyengar to teach a class for women who wanted to learn yoga. As Iyengar was one of the youngest of Krishnamacharya’s students, the women were not as shy around him, and he was successfully able to instruct them (Iyengar 2000: 17). Not long after, Iyengar was sent to Pune to teach yoga to schools, colleges, and physical activity centres. While he was not at first accepted by his students due to his slight physique and difficulty speaking English, Iyengar put in a great deal of effort to instruct his classes for the benefit of his students. He remained teaching for the Deccan Gymkhana Club of Pune for three years (Iyengar 2000: 18).

During this time, Iyengar expanded his practice and started focusing on how his body responded to it. He stretched and breathed deeply in different postures, testing how his asana practice affected his own body. He learned by trial and error since his guru, Krishnamacharya, was nowhere near him. He felt as though he had no qualifications of practical knowledge to draw upon, so instead he chose to use his practice to teach him more about yoga. He felt pressure to master the art of asana for the benefit of his students, so he would practise for up to ten hours a day, and often until his body ached with pains and his mind felt fatigued. Yet he persevered, and after many years he developed what he considered to be a true understanding of asana. Moreover, Iyengar discovered that he could further his understanding of asana from his experiences teaching his students. One of Iyengar’s students was an eighty five year old professor of Ferguson College, Rajawada, who suffered from dysentery and could not even walk. From these experiences, Iyengar started to understand how asana could be adapted to both healthy and unhealthy bodies (Iyengar 2000: 32).

All these experiences helped Iyengar develop into one of the world’s most influential yoga instructors. Since Iyengar had received limited instruction from Krishnamacharya and was independently teaching himself about yoga, Iyengar developed a strong understanding of what it meant to be both a student and a guru. His teachings were very different from Krishnamacharya’s as he put emphasis on clarity of knowledge and purity of what one does to guide their students (Burley 69).  More importantly, Iyengar asks of his students a consistent and dedicated practice, claiming; “your guru is your practice” (Budia 16). This can be interpreted to mean that, while instruction and book learning are important, one’s self and practice are the most important aspects for a student who is learning yoga.

Iyengar also discovered the importance of being a good student in order to be a good teacher, and of being a good teacher to be a good student. It was only through close examination of his students and himself that he was able to breakdown the different postures and focus on proper alignment. Moreover, from the wrestlers that lived next door to him in Pune, Iyengar learned of the importance of balance in one’s life and physical activity. The wrestlers had developed such inordinately large muscles that they were unable to use the latrines without help from someone else in locking the doors to the toilets (Iyengar 2000: 31).While Iyengar was considered by many of his students to be physically inferior, he did not wish to be crippled by physical strength, and instead desired a well balanced and healthy body. As with the wrestlers, Iyengar used many common people in everyday situations to help him learn more about the body and yoga asana. His student Agens Mineur studied in Pune under Iyengar’s supervision for many years, and recalled how her guruji would turn everything into a learning experience by pointing out poor posture or indications of pain in nearby people (Busia 13). Another of Iyengar’s students, Marian Garfinkel, has noted that “Iyengar is always practicing and inquiring. He is focused on his study and learns from his practice … Iyengar is his own best teacher and his own best student. He has always remained a student – eager to learn, to find out, to question” (Busia 59).

From his constant work to remain an attentive and critical student, Iyengar helps his students by allowing them to realize their full physical capabilities, while still remaining knowledgeable of their limitations. Agens Mineur recounted one time when she was helping her guruji Iyengar teach a class, and he told her “your pupil is your god” (Busia 12). Mineur took his words to heart, always remaining attentive of her students, and treating them as demigods. Similarly, Iyengar cherished his students, and learned as much from them as they did from him. From his years of work analyzing asana, Iyengar developed an unparalleled understanding of postures and the importance of body position and alignment. He could skillfully direct students into the most appropriate form for their specific bodies. Another of Iyengar’s students, Rama Jyoti Vernon, commented that when Iyengar would correct postures he “worked like a sculptor, moving bodies into exacting alignment, with or against the gravitational pull” (Busia 8).

However, possibly even more important than his understanding of asana and of teaching yoga, Iyengar began to learn the true meaning of yoga. Asana simply refers to the postures that are taught in yoga, but yoga is much more than that. Hatha-yoga, the type of yoga that Iyengar studied under Krishnamacharya, is a branch of Indian soteriology, which is the study of the means to attain salvation (Burley, 1). It is a form of self-realisation, and as Iyengar explains, “yoga is the process of stilling the consciousness and then merging the individual soul (jvatma) with the Universal Soul (Paramatma)” (Iyengar 2000: 69). The term yoga is derived from the word yuj, which means to yoke, and implies the binding of the individual with the Supreme. While Iyengar did not know this when he began to practice yoga, he eventually learned of it, and feels that through yoga he has achieved self-realization. He describes humans as a unit comprised of a trinity of body, mind and self, and that yoga practice helps to combine the three (Iyengar 2004: 12). Moreover, he explains that certain principles are important in this process, using the metaphor of an eight limbed tree to explain the core values of yoga. Iyengar places the values yama (ethical discipline), and niyama (restraint), at the roots and trunk of the tree, as they form the basis of yoga (Burley 190). Asana is placed as the third limb, and only comprises one out of the eight major values or limbs of yoga, demonstrating the postures are only a small component of yoga.

In its entirety, the type of Hatha-yoga that Iyengar constructed drew together all of the important aspects of traditional Hatha-yoga, with emphasis on asana and correct body alignment and position. This type of yoga consequently became known as Iyengar yoga (Burley 96).  Iyengar yoga has become more and more popular over the years, and while it is not always practiced to “still the conscious” as Iyengar would like, it is frequently used by people of various degrees of health as a form of physical activity. Often yoga is sold to the masses as a trendy new exercise for people wanting to get fit; however, Iyengar yoga can and should be practised by people of all levels of health, age, and disability (Garfinkel 6). Moreover, Iyengar Yoga has been the subject of many studies examining the effects of yoga on various health conditions. In a 2009 study on chronic lower back pain it was found that sufferers who performed Iyengar yoga had significantly greater reductions in functional disability and pain intensity when compared to the non-yoga control group at 24 weeks. Moreover, at the end of the six month investigation, the yoga group demonstrated an even more significant reduction in functional disability, pain intensity, and depression compared to the standard group (Williams et al. 2074).  Similarly, a 2005 study found that Iyengar yoga is effective at treating knee osteoarthritis symptoms, such as stiffness (Kolasinski et al, 692). The effects of Iyengar yoga on breast cancer survivors was also examined in 2008, and it was found that participants in a structured eight week Iyengar yoga program had improved quality of life, flexibility, balance, and cognition compared to breast cancer survivors that did not participate in the program (Galantino et al. 25).

While Iyengar never suspected that his developments in yoga would lead to such an incredibly diverse following and medical uses, he also never envisioned himself becoming a guru himself. Since Iyengar began on his yoga journey, he has traveled abroad, teaching yoga across the globe. He has written a multitude of books, the first being Light on Yoga, which took him six years to write and is considered by many to be a bible of sorts for modern hatha yoga practitioners (Iyengar 2000: 49). He has written several more books on yoga, which have examined the importance of pranayama (breath work), spirituality, and many more yogic concepts.

Through his work, he has improved the lives of many, both directly through his teachings, and indirectly through his development of Iyengar yoga. He has spread yoga across the globe, and has developed a safe and easily accessible form of yoga that can be practiced by people of any physical ability or walk of life. It would be difficult to argue that yoga would be the same without the contributions of B. K. S. Iyengar.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Busia, K. (ed.) (2007). Iyengar: The Yoga Master. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Galantino M. L., Cannon, N., Hoelker, T., Quinn, L., and L. Greene. (2008) “Effects on Iyengar Yoga on Measures of Cognition, Fatigue, Quality of Life, Flexibility, and Balance in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Case Series.” Rehabilitation Oncology. 26(1): 18-27.

Garfinkel M. (2008). “The Use of Iyengar Yoga as a Complementary Therapy to Traditional Medicine.” Frontier Perspectives. 16(2): 6-10.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2000). Astadala Yogamala: Collected Works, Volume 1. Mayapuri Phase 2, Delhi: Allied publishers.

Iyengar, B. K. S. (2004). Astadala Yogamala: Collected Works, Volume 4. Mayapuri Phase 2, Delhi: Allied publishers.

Iyengar, B.K.S., Abrams, D. & Evans, J.J. (2005). Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness,      Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Pennsylvania: Rodale.

Kolasinski, S. L., Garfinkel, M., Tsai, A. G., Matz, W., Van Dyke, A., and H. R. Schumacher,   Jr.(2005). “Iyengar Yoga for Treating Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Knees: A Pilot Study.” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 11(4): 689-93.

Rodrigues, Hillary P. (2003). Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books,   Ltd.

Williams, K., Abildso, C., Steinberg, L., Doyle, E., Epstein, B., Smith, D., Hobbs, G., Gross, R., Kelley, G., and L. Cooper. (2009). “Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Efficacy of  Iyengar Yoga Therapy on Chronic Low Back Pain.” Spine. 34(19): 2066-76

Related Research Topics for Further Investigation

Shriman T. Krishnamacharya

T. K. V. Desikachar

Astanga Vinyasa Yoga

Vini-yoga

K. P. Jois

Indra Devi

Pattabhi Jois

Yoga

Asana

Hatha

Guruji

Abhyasa

Patanjali

Yoga-Sutra

Yamas

Niyamas

Jvatma

Paramatma

Pranayama

Yuj

Soteriology

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kofibusia.com/iyengarbiography/biography.pdf

http://www.yoga-works.net/what-is-iyengar-yoga.htm

http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/iyengaryoga/

http://aplaceforyoga.com/B-K-S–Iyengar.php

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/298425/BKS-Iyengar

http://www.bksiyengar.com/

http://iyengaryogacanada.com/

Article written by Beth Millions (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Yoga and Shamanism (A Comparison)

Shamanism and Yoga are spiritual practices originally found in Siberia and India, respectively. While Shamanism is practiced in various forms world-wide, traditional Yoga is mainly found in South-East Asia. Although the practices of Shamanism and Yoga share similar qualities, they are not always considered interlinking spiritual practice. Undoubtedly, there are times when the specifics between Shamanism and Yoga become vague and unclear. In order to contrast and compare these two magical/meditational traditions, precise definitions of both terms are absolutely necessary.

Shamans are religious healers and miracle workers, who may appear to be possessed by divine spirits. They are perceived to have power within the realm of the invisible, and thus, have powers outside the mortal world of average human beings (Robinson and Rodrigues 13). Scholars often describe Shamanism as “a visionary tradition, an ancient practice of utilizing altered states of consciousness to contact the gods and spirits of the natural world” (Drury 1). It may seem natural to relate Shamans with magicians or medicine men. However, it is necessary to maintain awareness that Shamans may take on many different attributes depending on their own personal practices. One may become a Shaman through ancestral lineage (considered a “lesser”, or inferior, Shaman), or may be called upon and chosen by spirits through dream or premonition (considered a “greater”, or preferred, Shaman) (Drury 6).

In comparison, the practice of Yoga is based upon the philosophy that seeks integration of one’s true self (atman) and the Absolute (brahman), through rigorously self-disciplined psycho-physical techniques and practices (Robinson and Rodrigues 159). Generally, the term Yoga is used to describe every technique of asceticism and every method of meditation (Eliade 1975:9). A great yogi has ultimate devotion to their discipline, and certain yogis are considered “spiritual masters” (Eliade 1975:7). Yogis are self-helping spiritual beings, due to the fact that they seek liberation (moksa) through meditation. Hinduism includes the methods of several Yogic categories and techniques. In fact, all forms of Yoga are the offspring of Hindu religious practices, as documented in the Upanisads. For those who follow the Hindu tradition, the underlying goal of meditational practices is the attainment of moksa. According to the Hindu tradition, anyone may become a yogi due to the fact that it is a chosen spiritual path.

Shamanism is a world-wide phenomenon that is believed to have begun in vast regions of Siberia. It is largely practiced in small-scale tribal societies, such as the Australian Aborigines, Alaskan Eskimo society, and the Yaquis of northern Mexico (Drury, 12-17). Familiar characteristics of Shamans around the world include trance states, magical flight and contacts with spirits.
In contrast, Yoga has become somewhat of a trend in the Western World in recent years. In India, classical Yoga can be traced back as far as approximately 300 B.C.E., in portions of the Mahabharata (a major Hindu epic, with origins in India). Gradually Yoga began to spread to the rest of the world. Yoga was created by ancient Hindus with intent of providing a more concrete religious experience. It was also intended to make mystical devotion more accessible, intimate and personal in order for the masses to achieve moksa (Eliade 1969:144). Thus, the modern forms of Yoga – such as “power dance Yoga” which induces high energy cardio techniques without any meditational aspects – practiced around the world today do not pursue the same goals of moksa and spiritual knowledge as the classical forms of Yoga.

Practicing Shamanism often includes the use of sweating cabinets to stimulate extreme perspiration, magically raising body temperature (“magical heat”), mastering fire to the point of attaining insensibility of the heat from burning coals (“mastery of fire”), and producing “inner heat” (Eliade 1969:106). “Inner heat”, expressed by a “mastery over fire” and abrogation of physical laws, is fundamental for “primitive” Shamans. Hence, the “heated” Shaman can perform miracles and “create new conditions of existence in the cosmos” (Eliade 1964:412). In this regard, Prajapati (creator god depicted in the Vedas) becomes the epitome of all Shamans.
In Yoga, the parallel of this “inner heat” technique is documented in the Rg-Veda, in the concept of tapas. Tapas originally meant “extreme heat”, but evolved into a term to generally describe ascetic effort. Through tapas, the ascetic becomes almost psychic, and may even incarnate the gods. Furthermore, tapas results in a kind of magical power, creating countless illusions or miracles of the ascetics and yogis (i.e. Magical flight) (Eliade 1969:106). Pranayama (breath control) is “cosmogony in reverse” in the sense that, as oppose to the creation of new miracles, this power enables the yogi to disconnect from the world (Eliade 1964:413). Evidently, these are opposing views in regard to technical practices of Shamanism and Yoga.

In both Shamanism and Yoga, “extreme heat” is obtained by meditating close to a fire, or by retention of breath. Noteworthy to state, respiratory technique and detainment of breath were crucial components during the organization of ascetic practices, magical, mystical, and metaphysical techniques in the practices of Shamanism and Yoga. Here, the lines that differentiate Shamanism from Yoga, and vice-versa, are once again blurred.

One crucial difference between Shamanism and Yoga lies in their functionary goals. Shamanism follows an ecstatic ideology, whereas Yoga prefers an enstatic approach. The Encyclopaedia of Religion states, “A first definition of the complex phenomenon of shamanism – and perhaps the least hazardous – is that it is a technique of ecstasy” (Jones 8269). This is to say Shamans exercise a sixth-sense, if you will, in the categories of dream analysis, astrology, and spirit possession. This special power is ecstatic, meaning it refers to “out of self” practices. Shamans are thought to have the capability of moving their consciousness beyond “normal parameters.” Shamans use their ecstatic ability to communicate with multiple beings (i.e. animals, nature, deities, and spirits). They are also able to diagnose illnesses, understand and communicate the wishes of a deceased family member, and presume desires of a deity. Shamanism is characterized by its everlasting effort to reach ecstatic flight (Eliade 1964:339). Therefore, Shamans are not solely concerned with their own personal spiritual goals (Robinson and Rodrigues 262). Shamans aid, and may be commissioned by, other persons in forms of healers, psychics, and priests (Drury 1).

Yoga cannot be confused with Shamanism, or considered in any aspect as ecstatic. In effect, Yoga truly contradicts the ecstatic philosophy of Shamanism. Yoga pursues the goal of individual moksa. Yogis are continually striving to achieve absolute concentration, in order to discover their true selves (atman). The “true self” in Hinduism is the person beyond all assumptions, ego formulations, and illusions. This is to say that all classical yogis are searching for their innermost self, as understood in their metaphysical systems. Keeping in mind that “enstatic” means “standing within oneself”, Yoga is appropriately defined as such.

Evidently, Shamanism and Yoga are two distinct, yet intertwining spiritual practices. Although traditional Yoga is found mainly in South-East Asia (specifically India), traditional Shamans are found in tribal communities world-wide. Though Shamanism retains its ecstatic philosophy, while Yoga contrasts with its personal enstatic ideas, the two blend together in several ways (e.g. “inner heat” and pranayama practices). In addition, ideologies of emergence from time and abrogation of history are components that bridge the gap between the two spiritual practices we call Shamanism and Yoga (Eliade 1964:339).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Drury, Nevill (1989) the Elements of Shamanism. Dorset: Element Books Limited.

Eliade, Mircea (1975) Patanjali and Yoga. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

_____ (1964) Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

_____ (1969) Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (1980) the philosophy of classical yoga. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

_____ (2002) the yoga tradition: its history, literature, philosophy and practice. New Delhi:

Bhavana Books

Fillozat, Jean (1991) Religion, philosophy, Yoga: a section of articles. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers.

Gupta, Madan Gopal (2000) Dictionary of Indian religions, saints, gods, goddesses, rituals, festivals and yoga systems. Agra: M.G. Publishers.

Jones, Lindsay, ed. (2005) The Encyclopaedia of Religion (second edition). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

Malotki, Ekkehart (2001) Hopi stories of witchcraft, shamanism, and magic. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Osho (1998) the path of yoga: commentaries of the Yoga Sustas of Patanjali. Pune: Tao Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

Pentikäinen, Juha (1996) Shamanism and Northern Ecology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Robinson, Thomas A. and Rodrigues, Hilary (2006) World Religions: A Guide to the Essentials. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Animism

Ecstatic

Enstaticism

Moksa

Pranayama

Pratyahara

Rg-Veda

Spirit Guides

Tapas

Yama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.books.google.ca/books?id=Yy5s2EHXFwAC&pg=PA126&lpg=PA126&dq=yoga+and+shamanism&source=web&ots=x6hYWHNMOR&sig=c9Dm8LzfKkZf4Qe0PF-Fj1BuPww&hl=en#PPA127,M1

http://www.carasands.com/Yoga%20and%20Shamanism.html

http://www.crystalinks.com/shamanism.html

http://www.deoxy.org/shaman.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/sha/index.htm

http://www.shamanism.com/

http://www.shamanism.org/

http://www.shamanlinks.net/

http://www.shamanism.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/yoga-and-shamanism-ecstatic-trance-postures/

http://www.swamij.com/

http://www.swamij.com/traditional-yoga.htm

http://www.yoga.com/ydc/enlighten/enlighten_category.asp?section=9&cat=134

Article written by: Jessica Schultchen (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

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.