According to the yogic traditions, there are four aspects to every human being – body, mind, emotions, and energy. Different schools of yoga work on different aspects. Some concentrate only on the body (Hatha yoga), some on the energy (Kriya yoga), while some tell you to utilize the emotions instead (Bhakti yoga or devotion), and a few of them mix and match between these four. But essentially, all these different approaches aim towards invigorating the Kundalini energy. If done properly, under the guidance of the right people, this process can transform your life completely.
What is Kundalini?
The Sanskrit word, ‘Kunda’ means a pit or a water pot and ‘Kundalini’ means one who resides coiled up inside the pit. So, Kundalini energy can be explained as the basic life force that governs everything in the existence but tends to remain dormant unless you do something to activate it. When it gets sufficiency activated, it rises through the seven chakras (energy centers) and leads to spiritual awakenings. Every living being has some access to it because in its absence one cannot survive in this world. But yogis try to tap into its full potential to reach the state of enlightenment.
This energy is often depicted as a coiled-up snake, sleeping near the base of the spine where the first chakra, Muladhara is located. As you activate your Kundalini through yogic practices like asanas, kriyas, breathwork, mantra chanting, meditations, or devotion, this snake starts rising upwards, passing through the seven chakras.
History of Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga has its roots in Shaivism, which is one of the oldest as well as largest traditions within Hinduism. Shaivites revere Lord Shiva as the Adi Yogi (the first yogi) and the Adi Guru (the first guru) who propounded the intricacies of yoga or self-transformation that leads to the ultimate liberation (Moksha). Concepts related to Kundalini can be found in the Upanishads (ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts) which are believed to be written between the 9th century BCE to 7th century BCE. In modern-day history, yogic practices designed by gurus like Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Sivananda, Paramhansa Yogananda, Muktananda, Osho, and Sadhguru can lead to Kundalini awakening experiences.
History in the West
Celebrated psychoanalyst Carl Jung took interest in Kundalini practices and tried to introduce the western world to its possibilities in the 1930s by using it as a model for cultivating higher consciousness. Around the same time, Swami Sivananda wrote a book on the topic which was very well received by western countries. Sri Aurobindo was another world-renowned scholar, yogi, and national leader who is responsible for bringing this form of yoga to the west.
Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, also known as Yogi Bhajan went to the US in 1968 and started teaching Kundalini yoga practices by establishing the spiritual organization, ‘Healthy Happy Holy Organization’, or the 3HO. His Kundalini yoga practices are a combination of the Shaiva Tantra practices and Sikh Dharma’s principles. In his own words, Yogi Bhajan describes his form of Kundalini yoga as –
“A form of yoga that consists of active and passive asana-based kriyas, pranayama, and meditations which target the whole body system including the nervous system, glands, mental faculties, and chakras, to develop awareness, consciousness, and spiritual strength.”
Now Kundalini yoga has become pretty mainstream not just in the US, but in all parts of the world. You can find many yoga studios offering Kundalini yoga practices as well as independent studios where only this form of yoga is taught. Since Kundalini yoga is extremely powerful, but at the same time, extremely dangerous, if it’s not practiced in a correct atmosphere, under the guidance of expert teachers, more harm can occur than good. So, make sure you choose to learn Kundalini yoga only from an authentic, well-trained, experienced yoga teacher or from an ashram.
What Makes Kundalini Yoga Different
Essentially, all forms and types of yoga aim towards attaining Moksha, but different people need different approaches because no two human beings are in the exact same state of health, mental or emotional wellbeing, or carry the same kind of Karmic blueprint. Hatha yoga practices bring physical and mental wellbeing, while Pranayamas work on your energy system to make it more strong and stable. Karma yoga detangles the bonds of Karma and Bhakti yoga puts you in the right state of selflessness. All these aspects are important if one wants to reach the highest potential a human being is capable of reaching.
Kundalini yoga is actually an amalgamation of all these different forms of yoga. It involves asana practice, pranayamas, kriyas, mantra chanting, yogic rituals, elements of Bhakti or devotion, meditation, and breathwork of several different kinds. Traditionally, your guru reads your Pranic System and Karmic Structure, and based on that, he/she recommends you what kind of Sadhana (daily yogic/spiritual work) you need to follow in order to activate your Kundalini. Generally, we can say that Kundalini yoga is different from other forms of yoga in these three ways –
- It is more spiritual as compared to other forms of yoga such as Hatha Yoga or Gnana Yoga.
- It employs various lesser-known yogic techniques and practices like – mantra chanting, meditations, kriyas, rituals, and breathwork, instead of just focusing on the asanas and pranayamas.
- Kundalini yoga works on your pranic system (energy body). Its aim is to invigorate the Kundalini Shakti. Most other schools of yoga concentrate on achieving physical and mental wellbeing alone.
Kundalini Yoga and the Chakra System
The core concept of any Kundalini yoga based practice is to cultivate the Kundalini energy and then to make it rise through the seven chakras or energy centers, which are located along the length of your spine. Before you attempt this, as a preparation, you need to work towards removing any blockages that can obstruct the flow of Kundalini through these chakras. Here are some of the common blockages one needs to deal with, in each of the seven chakras –
- Muladhara (Root Chakra) – Located near the perineum, this energy center holds the integrity of your physical nature. If your energies are dominant in this chakra, you tend to be pretty compulsive about food and sleep. It is usually blocked by anger, fear, and hatred.
- Swadhisthana (Sacral Chakra) – Located just above the reproductive organ, Swadhisthana deals with physical pleasures of life like sexuality. It tends to get blocked by too much indulgence, guilt, distrust, and emotional trauma.
- Manipura (Solar Plexus) – This chakra is located just above your navel area and is usually associated with materialistic pleasures. Manipura tends to get blocked by the feeling of worthlessness, victimization, and anxiety.
- Anahata (Heart Chakra) – This one is located a couple of inches below the point where your rib cage meets. It deals with love, creativity, and devotion and it can get blocked by toxic relationships, revengefulness, judgemental nature, and disloyalty.
- Vishuddhi (Throat Chakra) – It sits in the hollow of your throat and deals with self-expression and pursuit of power. Vishuddhi tends to get blocked by self-centeredness and people-pleasing.
- Ajna (Third Eye Chakra) – Located between the eyebrows, Ajna is the spiritual center of your body. It opens up the doors of mysticism and heightened perception. It is usually blocked by illusions, skepticism, and depression.
- Sahasrara (Crown Chakra) – Associated with cosmic energy and divine consciousness, Sahasrara is the center of deep states of meditativeness and spiritual enlightenment. It gets blocked by earthly attachments, fear of change, and ego.
Working on these blockages is important for a practitioner of Kundalini yoga because if you try to awaken the Kundalini with a major blockage(s) in your system, the experience of Kundalini awakening would not be pleasant for you. In fact, there is a number of cases where Kundalini awakening caused considerable damage to the system. So, it’s very important that you invest enough time and energy to prepare yourself properly and attempt these practices only under the guidance of expert teachers.
Elements of Kundalini Yoga
As discussed above, Kundalini yoga makes use of various different elements borrowed from different yogic traditions for the purpose of Kundalini awakening. Let’s discuss some of the main elements of Kundalini yoga –
Asana practice is essentially a part of Hatha Yoga. ‘Ha’ means the sun and ‘Ta’ means the moon. So, the purpose of Hatha yoga practices is to bring a balance between the masculine and the feminine (or the sun and the moon) aspects of you. Only when there’s a balance between your ‘Ha’ and ‘Ta’ you’ll be able to raise your Kundalini and make it stay like that for long durations of time. This is kind of a passport for practicing Kundalini yoga or any other form of yoga that allows you to scale the heights of consciousness. This is why, in the yogic culture, practicing yoga asanas is the first thing you learn.
The word ‘Prana’ means vital energy and ‘Yama’ means ‘to take charge of’. So, Pranayama literally means to take charge of your vital energies. Primarily, there are 5 types of manifestations of prana in your body – prana vayu, samana vayu, udana vayu, apana vayu, and vyana vayu. These vayus travel through two main nadis (energy channels) in your system – Ida (feminine) and Pingala (masculine).
Even, Kundalini is also a manifestation of prana but when it rises, it rises through the central nadi called Sushumna. Different types of pranayamas work on different types of vayus, making your energy flow consistent, smooth, and stable.
A kriya can be described as an internal energy action. While Hatha yoga brings a balance to the physical aspects of your being, Kriya yoga works on your energy system to make it more vibrant and at the same time, more stable. Most of the kriyas involve a strict combination of pranayamas and a few mantras, practiced in a particular asana, holding a particular mudra (hand position).
Today, modern science also agrees that the whole creation is just a reverberation of energy, and where there’s a reverb, there’s bound to be a sound. So, in a way the whole creation is a complex amalgamation of different sounds. Now, from all these different sounds, few sounds can be identified as mantras or sacred sounds.
These sounds represent cosmic geometry and therefore they tend to vibrate at higher frequencies. If uttered with a clear intention and a strong sense of integrity or devotion, mantras can help transform your very state of being. They can even allow you to explore various different dimensions of consciousness.
Kundalini yoga makes use of mantras to either awaken the sleeping energy or to direct its flow in a certain direction. Commonly used mantras include – ‘sat nam’, ‘wahe guru’, ‘aum namah shivay’, ‘aum chanting’, ‘ek omkar satnam sri waheguru’, ‘the gayatri mantra’, ‘asatoma sadgamaya tamasoma jyotirgamaya’ and many more.
Mudras can be roughly defined as hand gestures. According to the yogic tradition, you can use your hands to direct the flow of prana to different body parts, organs, glands, or energy channels. When combined with certain breathing techniques, mudras can work to energize different parts of your body to make them more alive or to heal them in a certain way. Some of the most commonly used mudras in Kundalini yoga are – anjali mudra, chin mudra, chinmaya mudra, brahma mudra, adi mudra, and shoonya mudra. Please see our post on Kundalini Yoga Mudras if this interests you.
The word ‘bandha’ means a lock. So, holding a bandha means consciously locking certain muscles of your body to gain mastery over your pranic system. By holding a bandha you are teaching your prana how and where to hold the energy. They are particularly beneficial to purify the system and to get rid of the blockages. Holding bandhas after completing a kriya or pranayama makes the upsurge of the Kundalini energy a consistent and smooth process. Four main bandhas used in Kundalini yoga are – mula bandha, jalandhara, uddiyana bandha, and maha bandha (all three together).
As you begin your Sadhana (daily spiritual work), you start with a ‘tuning in’ mantra. Followers of Yogi Bhajan usually start with mantras like ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’. In Eastern schools like Isha Yoga (Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva’s yoga ashrams) disciples start their Sadhana with this invocation mantra – ‘Asatoma Sadgamaya Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya Mrityorma Amritamgamaya Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti’. These types of mantras create a positive, uplifting environment around you stabilizing your energies and helping you concentrate better.
Then you prepare your body by doing warm-up asanas like butterfly pose, sufi grinds, neck rotations, cat and cow stretch, rock n roll, paschimottanasana, janushirasana, leg raises, shalabhasana, bhujangasana, dhanurasana, etc. Most of the warm-up asanas target the spinal area to facilitate the upsurge of Kundalini. But it’s also important to prepare your neck, shoulders, abdominal area, and leg muscles as well.
Many times your Kundalini rises but because of blockages, it starts quivering in your pranic system. This can be a physically challenging process. So, it’s very important to warm up your body to avoid any injuries.
Pranayamas and Kriyas
Depending on what kind of class you are attending (level-wise), you now practice pranayamas followed by one or two kriyas. If you are in a beginner class, the kriya would be designed to activate the chakras and to build strength in your pranic system. If you are in an advanced class, the kriya itself can activate the Kundalini energy. Then you hold bandhas as a part of the kriya itself or after completing the kriya.
Meditation and Mantra Chanting
After activating your system through asanas, pranayamas, and kriyas, you are now ready for Kundalini meditation. Again, there are many different kinds of Kundalini meditations with varying levels of intensity and purposes. In fact, there are different meditations for each of the seven chakras. Your guru or an experienced teacher can pick an appropriate meditation for you depending on which chakra you need to work on and in what manner.
Mantra chanting can be a part of your meditation or you can chant mantras at the end of the meditation. This is also decided by the guru or an experienced teacher. You can utter the mantras loudly or in a whisper. Kundalini meditations also have certain very strong ‘Beej mantras’ or ‘Guru mantras’ which are exclusive to each student and are given to you by your guru. This mantra is not to be shared with anyone else and you are not supposed to utter it out loud. You just say the mantra consciously in your head, while keeping your eyes closed.
Just like the invocation mantra at the beginning of the class, you tune out by chanting another mantra. Commonly used mantras are – ‘sat naam’ and ‘aum shanti shanti shanti’. It’s ideal to complete your Sadhana first thing in the morning after taking a cold shower. Once you are done with everything and you end the session with a powerful mantra, you set a refreshing, lively, and peaceful direction for the rest of your day.
Kundalini Yoga at Home Vs Studio
Kundalini yoga can be practiced in a class or once you have attended enough sessions, you can practice it in your home as well. Basic Kundalini yoga can be taught as a yoga program in about 4-8 days and after that, you can practice the routine on your own, wherever you want.
Do I Need a Guru?
But if you are ready for an advanced Kundalini practice, you need to learn it from a genuinely authentic, spiritual organization or an individual who has a certain level of ‘Siddhi’ (mastery) over his/her own energies. Because only a person like that or in other words, only a guru can teach you advanced Kundalini practices and can give you a ‘Diksha’ (a formal initiation) by altering your own energies.
After receiving Diksha from the guru, you will be given an exact concoction of Kundalini practices that you need to perform every day as per your individual requirements. Then, you can perform your practices anywhere, be it at home, at your workplace (if they don’t mind mantra chanting and other strange sounding or looking stuff we keep doing!), or while being on a vacation. Any place becomes a good place to complete your Sadhana.
In a Group or Alone?
On the other hand, practicing Kundalini yoga in a studio or an ashram, as a part of a group also has some amazing plus points. The first one being – heightened collective consciousness of the group makes the overall atmosphere really charged up with energy. In such an environment it’s easier to make your energies rise. Also, a studio setup means you are doing your Sadhana under the guidance of a teacher who can help you correct the practice if need be.
But if you are someone who prefers to practice alone, that’s perfectly all right. Especially if your Kundalini yoga involves mediations like Shoonya and Samayama, it’s better to pick a quiet place, away from everyone else, and do your Sadhana. But one thing you need to remember while practicing Kundalini yoga alone is – never, ever change the practices for any reason! For example – if you have been told to hold chin mudra while doing a kriya, you can’t change the mudra to chinmaya or something else. Or if you’ve been told to hold your breath for 16 counts, make sure it’s 16 and not 14 or 18 or something else.
It’s always ideal to practice Kundalini yoga with a sense of surrender. Avoid setting goals or intentions because if you’ll keep thinking, “What I’m going to get out of this? What’s the purpose of this?”, you won’t be able to get above the chatter in your head and connect to your divine nature. Also, for different people, the experience of Kundalini awakening tends to be different. Depending on which chakra (or chakras) dominates your system, your experience could be either positive or negative.
Benefits of Kundalini Awakening
In general, Kundalini awakening is associated with the following list of benefits –
- As your chakras become more activated, your physical strength increases and a new sense of mental clarity arises. You no longer make decisions because of your insecurities or fears. This gives you a strong sense of balance, integrity, and stability.
- You experience a newfound peace and calmness and your ability to handle tricky situations also increases. This means you feel less anxious or depressed.
- As your Kundalini rises, your energy system gets charged up. You become intoxicated but you don’t lose your sense of awareness (unlike using any other intoxicant). Because of this, practicing Kundalini yoga is particularly beneficial for those who are dealing with any kind of addiction.
- Your creativity and concentration levels increase.
- The sleep quality becomes better as well. For most people, their sleep quota decreases. You feel well-rested and fully charged up even after sleeping for just 4 to 5 hours.
- Kundalini awakenings can prove to be really beneficial for your physical wellbeing. It can boost your immunity and can even slow down the aging process.
Risks Associated with Kundalini Rising
Kundalini yoga is considered to be the most dangerous form of yoga because it is also the most potent one. It’s like playing around with nuclear energy. If handled properly, nuclear energy is the most powerful as well as the most reliable source of energy we have on the planet. But if it’s not handled properly, we all know what havoc it is capable of creating. Similarly, Kundalini awakening can be the most powerful, life-changing experience, but if you haven’t prepared yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, it can destroy you in many ways.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev says – “Without the necessary preparation, without constant, expert guidance and observation, no one should ever attempt it. But the problem is books have been written about it and everybody wants to do the highest yoga. Nobody wants to start with ‘A’, everybody wants to start the alphabet with ‘Z’. This attitude itself is dangerous.”
- Kundalini yoga can lead to full-fledged episodes of anxiety-attacks and psychedelic states. It can bring up raw emotions and mental traumas that are deep-seated in your subconsciousness. And if you are not in the right kind of supportive atmosphere, there’s a high possibility of a mental breakdown.
- If you try to attempt an advanced practice that needs a proper initiation from a guru, your physical health can start deteriorating. And since what’s happened is on the energy-level, no doctor would be able to diagnose you either. Because of this reason, people spend months and years with unexplainable physical discomforts or ailments.
- Kundalini awakening by wrong, haphazard ways can even lead to seizures, convulsions, and memory loss. One can start experiencing intense physical pain, respiratory issues, and hallucinations.
The scientific community even has a name for these conditions called the Kundalini Syndrome. To make sure such a thing doesn’t happen to you, start with the basics and go slow. Only when you feel that you are absolutely ready for the next step, think about taking that plunge. If you are under the guidance of the right people, they would anyway offer you only what you are ready for.