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Kundalini (kuṇḍalinī कुण्डलिनी) is a Sanskrit word meaning either "coiled up" or "coiling like a snake." There are a number of other Westernized translations of the term, e.g. 'serpent power'.
According to tradition, Kundalini is present in an inactive coiled-up state in the root chakra, which is located by various sources as proximate to the sacrum or base of the trunk of the body. Activation of kundalini is said to be associated with the experience of somatic bio-energetic phenomena by the practitioner.
Hindu sources[edit | edit source]
In Hinduism, the concept of Kundalini is part of a complex of ideas related to esoteric anatomy. These ideas occur most often in the class of texts that are called Āgamas or Tantras. This is a large body of scripture, most of which is rejected by orthodox Brahmans.
There are many variations on these concepts in the Sanskrit source texts. In earlier texts there are various systems of chakras and nadis, with varying connections between them. Over time one system of six or seven chakras along the body's axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system may have originated in about the 11th century AD, and rapidly became widely popular. It is in this model where Kundalini is said to "rise" upward, piercing the various centers until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine.
The most famous of the Yoga Upanishads, the Yogatattva, mentions four kinds of yoga, one of which being laya-yoga, the symbolic dissolution (laya) of the universe visualized within the body with a corresponding raising of a corporeal energy known as Kundalini.
Siva Sutras (translated by Jaideva Singh), one of the main texts by Kashmir Shaiv Tantra written sometime in the 8th century by Vasugupta, hints at the Kundalini and Chakras (Energy centers). When translating, Jaideva Singh had to give a separate chapter on Kundalini, as some of the verses require knowledge of it. This means Kundalini must have been common knowledge to the Vasugupta. However, most books of Kashmir Shiavism have been lost, and the Siva Sutras are the oldest to survive.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Another source text for the concept of kundalini is the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika" written by Swami Svatmarama (English translation, 1992) somewhere between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.
Western interpretation[edit | edit source]
Kundalini is a popular concept that is is widely quoted among various disciplines of yoga and New Age beliefs. However, Stuart Sovatsky warns that the recent popularization of the term within new religious movements has not contributed to promote a mature understanding of the concept.
One of the first people to bring Kundalini to the West was Sir John Woodroffe (in his pen name Arthur Avalon), a High Court Judge in Calcutta. He became interested in Shaktism, a part of Hindu Tantra. His translation and commentary of 2 rare books was published as "The Serpent Power", now considered a classic. He invented the word "Serpent Power" as that was the closest to the concept of the Kundalini, which Hindus believe lies as a snake curved 3 and a half times at the base of the spine.
Two early western interpretations of Kundalini were supplied by C.W. Leadbeater (1847-1934), of the Theosophical Society, and psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung's seminar on Kundalini yoga, presented to the Psychological Club in Zurich in 1932, has been widely regarded as a milestone in the psychological understanding of Eastern thought and of the symbolic transformations of inner peace. Kundalini yoga presented Jung with a model for the developmental phases of higher consciousness, and he interpreted its symbols in terms of the process of individuation. 
A few western translators interpret the energetic phenomena as a form of psychic or paranormal energy, although the western parapsychological understanding of psychic energy, separated from its cultural-hermeneutic matrix, is probably not the same as the yogic understanding.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Yogic philosophy understands this concept as a maturing energy that expresses the individual's soteriological longings. Viewed in a mythological context it is sometimes believed to be an aspect of Parvati, the goddess and consort of Shiva.
Some Western versions refer to "pranic awakening". Prana is interpreted as the vital, life-sustaining force in the body. Uplifted, or intensified life-energy is called pranotthana and is supposed to originate from an apparent reservoir of subtle bio-energy at the base of the spine. This energy is also interpreted as a vibrational phenomena that initiates a period, or a process of vibrational spiritual development.
Joseph Campbell suggested that the symbol of snakes coiled around a staff is an ancient representation of Kundalini physiology.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The staff represents the spinal column with the snake(s) being energy channels. In the case of two coiled snakes they usually cross each other seven times, a possible reference to the seven chakras.
According to Sovatsky, the concept of Kundalini comes from yogic philosophy of ancient India and refers to the mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation, where it is also known as Kundalini Shakti. It might be regarded by yogis as a sort of deity, hence the occasional capitalization of the term. Within a western frame of understanding it is often associated with the practice of contemplative or religious practices that might induce an altered state of consciousness, either brought about spontaneously or through yoga, psychedelic drugs, or a near-death experience.
Kundalini Yoga[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga is a system of meditative techniques and movements within the yogic tradition that focuses on psycho-spiritual growth and the body's potential for maturation. The practice of Kundalini Yoga consists of a number of bodily postures, expressive movements and utterances, characterological meditations, breathing patterns, and degrees of concentration. The movements and the body-work should not, according to some scholars of religion, be considered mere stretching exercises. The concept of life-energy, pranotthana, is central to the practice and understanding of Kundalini Yoga. It also gives special consideration to the role of the spine and the endocrine system in the understanding of yogic awakening. Recently, there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation, and some of these studies have applied the discipline of Kundalini Yoga to their clinical settings.
Kundalini rising[edit | edit source]
According to yogic writings and oral tradition, the force of Kundalini is raised through specific meditative exercises.
Kundalini-experiences are understood using the structure of the Hindu chakra system, the psycho-spiritual energy centers along the spine. According to Hindu tradition the Kundalini rises from the root chakra up through the spinal channel, called sushumna, and it is believed to activate each chakra it goes through. Each chakra is said to contain special characteristics. The chakras are any of the nerve plexes or centers of force and consciousness located within the inner bodies of man. When the Kundalini Shakti unites itself with the Supreme Being, the aspirant gets engrossed in deep meditation during which he perceives infinite bliss.   In raising Kundalini, spiritual powers (siddhis) are also believed to arise, however most spiritual traditions see these phenomena as obstacles on the path, and encourage their students not to be distracted by them.
Spiritual literature also describes instances where Kundalini is said to be activated by a practice called shaktipat. Shaktipat is a form of direct transmission of spiritual energy from a yogi to a student. The most common form is as simple as a touch to the third-eye area by the yogi, at this point wisdom, prana, or both are transferred directly to the student.
Contemporary spiritual literature (and the field of Transpersonal Psychology) recommends only to engage in these practices when guided by an accredited teacher, or with thorough psychological preparation and education in yoga or all of these. Any form of intense contemplative or spiritual practice without appropriate support is considered risky and in some cases even dangerous. Traditional teachers of kundalini meditation also warn neophytes of the potential dangers of experimenting with kundalini Yoga techniques. Without the proper checks and balances of a whole system of practice, simply raising energy is as foolish as it would be to raise electrical energy without any method of release or grounding. A growing body of clinical and psychological literature notes the growing occurrence of meditation-related problems in Western contemplative life.. Among these we find the "Kundalini Syndrome" (see below) and different forms of "wind illness" described in the Tibetan tradition.
Problems and side-effects[edit | edit source]
Kundalini syndrome[edit | edit source]
Theorists within the schools of Humanistic psychology, Transpersonal psychology and Near-death studies describe a complex pattern of motor functions, sensory, affective and cognitive-hermeneutic symptoms called the Kundalini syndrome. This psychosomatic arousal and excitation is believed to occur in connection with prolonged and intensive spiritual or contemplative practice (such as meditation or yoga) or as a result of an intense personal crisis or experience, or a brush with death (such as a near-death experience).
According to these fields of study the Kundalini syndrome is different from a single Kundalini episode, such as a Kundalini arousal. The Kundalini syndrome is a process that might unfold over several months, or even years. If the accompanying symptoms unfold in an intense manner that destabilizes the person, the process is usually interpreted as a spiritual emergency.
Interdisciplinary dialogues within the mentioned schools of psychology (see references below) have now established some common criteria that describe this condition, of which the most prominent feature is a feeling of energy traveling along the spine, or progressing upwards in the body. Motor symptoms may include tremors, other spontaneous or involuntary body movements and changes in the functioning of the respiratory system.
Sensory symptoms may include subjective changes in thermoregulation (feelings of heat or cold), a feeling of electricity in the body, Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (refer to Gopi Krishna and Irina Tweedie's books), headache and pressure inside of the head, tingling, vibrations and gastrointestinal problems. Cognitive and affective symptoms are said to include psychological upheaval, stress, depression, depersonalization, intense mood-swings, but also moments of bliss, deep peace and other altered states of consciousness. Within the mentioned academic traditions this symptomatology is often referred to as the Physio-Kundalini syndrome or Kundalini-experience/awakening. Transpersonal literature emphasizes that this list of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for self-diagnosis. Any unusual or marked physical or mental symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical professional.
Greyson developed The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index in order to measure the degree of Physio-Kundalini symptoms among Near-Death experiencers. Most researchers within this field believe that the core of the process is not pathological, but maturational, even though the symptoms at times may be dramatic and disturbing. If the process is supported and allowed to progress to its conclusion it might - according to transpersonal theory - actually result in psychological health (Grof & Grof, 1989; Hansen, 1995). According to the field of Transpersonal Psychology the Kundalini-syndrome is largely unknown to Western psychiatry. Many writers within this field are consequently working towards a clinical approach to the problem. Possible improvements in the diagnostic system that are meant to differentiate the Kundalini syndrome from other disorders have been suggested. Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse & Lu have suggested that the Kundalini-symptomatology might be placed under the diagnostic category "Religious or Spiritual Problem" (American Psychiatric Association: DSM-IV, Code V62.89).
A recent criticism of some of the approaches to this clinical category, and the current interpretation of the symptoms, has been put forward by Sovatsky who believes that it is crucial to differentiate between the symptoms of what may be a Kundalini awakening, and the symptoms of different preliminary yogic processes or pranic imbalances. According to this view many reported Kundalini problems might rather be signs of the precursory energetic state of pranotthana. A confusion of terms within this delicate area of clinical concern might also lead to various undiagnosed neurological problems being misdiagnosed as related to Kundalini.
In an article from Psychological Reports Thalbourne discusses whether scores on a 35 item Kundalini Scale are correlated to the concept of Transliminality (a hypothesized tendency for psychological material to cross thresholds into or out of consciousness). The Transliminality Scale, presented by Lange, Thalbourne, Houran & Storm, defines a probabilistic hierarchy of items that address magical thinking, mystical experience, self-absorption, hyperesthesia, mania, dream interpretation, and predilection to fantasy.  An article from the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine briefly discusses the similarity between the interpretation of medical "mystery syndromes" and the Kundalini experience.
Known side effects[edit | edit source]
Problems have been known to occasionally arise from Kundalini rising The following possible side effects have been noted by various teachers. These problems can persists for moments, hours, days, months, years or decades. They can also reoccur. All students with an active kundalini, experience at least a few, if not many, of these side effects. Generally these problems begin to occur after a few months (less likely) or years (more likely) after starting a contemplative practice, but in some cases they begin very soon after starting meditation or yoga.
Summary of Known Problems: Death, pseudo death, psychosis, pseudo psychosis, confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, sadness, suicidal thoughts, urges to self-mutilate, homicidal urges, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), exacerbation of prior or current mental illness, insomnia, inability to hold a job, inability to talk, inability to drive, sexual pains, temporary blindness, and headaches.
According to Transpersonal theory, and eastern spiritual traditions, these problems are thought to arise as karma - deep physical, psychological and emotional material - is brought to the surface of the mind as a result of yoga and meditative practice. Consultation with a meditation teacher who is not trained in kundalini techniques or with a psychiatrist, medical doctor or therapist who is unknowledgeable about this process often leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Using Western medicine to treat or suppress the kundalini symptoms is not recommended, and might in some cases, have undesirable side effects. Grof noted that suppressing kundalini's side effects with psychiatric medicine could lead to death. However, Lukoff et.al note that there may be times when medication can play a role in recovery, and integration of spiritual experiences.
Kundalini and development[edit | edit source]
Within the transpersonal field Sovatsky has put forward the hypotheses of post-genital puberties. The possibility of viewing pranotthana (yogic terminology for intensified life-energy) and the larger Kundalini process as a maturation of body and character beyond conventional psychological growth. Within the yogic frame of mind this maturation is to be considered no more spectacular than conventional adolescent puberty, and it signals that psychological and spiritual development can continue throughout the life-span. The interpretation of Kundalini as a developmental, or maturational phenomena, was first suggested to the West by the Indian Pundit Gopi Krishna, whose autobiography is entitled Kundalini—The Evolutionary Energy in Man (Krishna, 1971).
Kundalini and physiology[edit | edit source]
Contemporary spiritual literature often notes that the chakras, as described in the esoteric kundalini documents, bear a strong similarity in location and number to the major endocrine glands, as well as nerve bundles called ganglions. One speculation is that the traditional practices have formalized a method for stimulating the endocrine glands to work in a different mode, causing physiological changes that facilitate altered states of consciousness. These changes are perhaps ultimately effected by stimulating the release of DMT by the pineal gland, which may be analogous to the 'pineal chakra'.
The late Itzhak Bentov studied Kundalini from an engineering perspective. According to Bentov, the 7.5 Hz oscillation of the heart muscle rhythm induces mechanical frequencies in the brain that, in turn, create a stimulus equivalent of a current loop. The nerve endings in that loop correspond to the route through which the Kundalini "rises". This current polarizes the brain part through which it flows in a homogenous way, effectively releasing tremendous amounts of stress from the body. The body then becomes an effective antenna for the 7.5 Hz frequency, which is one of the resonant frequencies of the ionosphere. In layman's terms, you then pick up information from the air. This might account for repeated descriptions of heightened senses as a result of rising Kundalini, e.g. as described by Yogananda: "The whole vicinity lay bare before me. My ordinary frontal vision was now changed to a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all-perceptive. Through the back of my head I saw men strolling far down Rai Ghat Lane..."[How to reference and link to summary or text]
See also[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Flood, op. cit., pp. 98-99.
- Flood, op. cit., p. 122.
- Flood, op. cit., p. 99.
- Flood, op. cit., p. 96.
- Sovatsky, Stuart (1998) Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative (Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology) New York: State University of New York Press ISBN 0-7914-3950-X
- Princeton University Press Book description to C. G Jung - "The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga", 1999
- Lazar, Sara W.; Bush, George; Gollub, Randy L.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Khalsa, Gurucharan; Benson, Herbert (2000) Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation [Autonomic Nervous System] NeuroReport: Volume 11(7) 15 May 2000 p 1581–1585 PubMed Abstract PMID 10841380
- Cromie, William J. Research: Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Gazette, 18 April 2002
- Scotton, Bruce (1996) The phenomenology and treatment of kundalini, in Chinen, Scotton and Battista (Editors) (1996) Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry and psychology. (pp.261-270). New York, NY, US: Basic Books, Inc. PsycINFO Abstract, Accession Number: 1996-97805-024
- Kundalini Yoga: Available Online -http://www.siddhashram.org/kundalini.shtml
- Kundalini Yoga from Swami Sivanandha: Available Online - http://www.experiencefestival.com/kundalini
- Kason, Yvonne, Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives, 2000, Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, Revised edition, ISBN 0-00-638624-5
- Lukoff, David; Lu , Francis G. & Turner, Robert P. (1998) From Spiritual Emergency to Spiritual Problem: The Transpersonal Roots of the New DSM-IV Category. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 21–50, 1998
- Perez-De-Albeniz, Alberto & Holmes, Jeremy (2000) Meditation: Concepts, Effects And Uses In Therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, March, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p49, 10p
- Greyson, Bruce, The physio-kundalini syndrome and mental illness, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 25, 43–58. PsycINFO Abstract, Accession Number: 1994-09663-001
- Grof, Stanislav & Grof, Christina (eds) (1989) Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis (New Consciousness Reader) Los Angeles: J.P Tarcher
- Sannella, Lee (1976) Kundalini, psychosis or transcendence. San Francisco: Dakin online
- Greyson, Bruce (2000) Some neuropsychological correlates of the physio-kundalini syndrome. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 32, 123–134. PsycINFO Abstract, Accession Number: 2001-16631-002
- Hansen, G, [Schizophrenia or spiritual crisis? On "raising the kundalini" and its diagnostic classification]. Ugeskrift for Laeger (Weekly Journal of The Danish Medical Association). 1995 Jul 31;157(31):4360–2. [Article in Danish] PubMed Abstract PMID 7645095
- Grabovac, Andrea & Ganesan, Soma, Spirituality and Religion in Canadian Psychiatric Residency Training. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry, Vol 48, No 3, April 2003 (Table 3: Selected elements of a proposed academic lecture series on religious and spirituality in psychiatry) PubMed Abstract PMID 12728741
- Herrick, Karen, Finding Our Own Substance: New DSM-IV Code 62.89, Religious or Spiritual Problem. Poster Presentation Abstract at Toward a Science of Consciousness 1996, sponsored by the University of Arizona 8 April–13, 1996, Tucson Convention Center.
- House, Richard. Psychopathology, Psychosis and the Kundalini: postmodern perspectives on unusual subjective experience. Chapter 7 in Isabel Clarke (ed.), Psychosis and Spirituality: Exploring the New Frontier, London: Whurr Publishers, 2001, pp. 107-25
- Maxwell, Victoria, Bridging Science and Spirit. Visions BC's Mental Health Journal, NO. 12, Spring 2001. Vancouver: Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
- Thalbourne, Michael A., Measures of the Sheep-Goat Variable, Transliminality, and their Correlates. Psychological Reports, April 2001, pp. 339-350
- Le Fanu, James, A clutch of new syndromes? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2002; 95:118-125. PubMed Abstract PMID 11872759
- Grof, Stanislav & Grof, Christina, The Stormy Search for the Self, New York: Perigee Books, ISBN 0-87477-649-X
- Greenwell, Bonnie, Energies of Transformation: A Guide to the Kundalini Process, 1995, Saratoga, CA: Shakti River Press, ISBN 0-9627327-0-2
- Grof, Stanislav, Beyond the Brain: Birth Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, State University of New York Press
- Goel, B.S., Third Eye and Kundalini: an Experimental Account of Journey From Dust to Divinity, Vol II, Eye Foundation of India
- Tweedie, I., Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master, 1995, The Golden Sufi Center, ISBN 0-9634574-5-4
- Strassman, Rick, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, ISBN 0-89281-927-8
- Bentov, I., Micromotion of the Body as a Factor in the Development of the Nervous System, in White, J, edt. (1990) Kundalini. Evolution and enlightenment. New York: Paragon House
Further reading[edit | edit source]
Reference works on Hindu sources
- Banerji, S. C. Tantra in Bengal. Second Revised and Enlarged Edition. (Manohar: Delhi, 1992) ISBN 81-85425-63-9
- Bhattacharyya, N. N. History of the Tantric Religion. Second Revised Edition. (Manohar: New Delhi, 1999) p. 174. ISBN 81-7304-025-7
- Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996). ISBN 0-521-43878-0
- American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association. (Code V62.89 - Religious or Spiritual Problem).
- Krishna, Gopi, (1971) Kundalini : the evolutionary energy in man. Boulder, Colorado : Shambhala, 1971. (autobiography; many other books, see his entry.)
- Lange R.; Thalbourne M.A; Houran J. & Storm L. (2000) The Revised Transliminality Scale: Reliability and Validity Data From a Rasch Top-Down Purification Procedure. Consciousness and Cognition, December, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 591-617(27)
- Motoyama, Hiroshi (1981) Theories of the Chakras: Bridge to Higher Consciousness. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House.
- Sannella, L. (1987). The Kundalini Experience: Psychosis or Transcendence. Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing.
- Sharp, Dr. Michael (2005). Dossier of the Ascension: A Practical Guide to Chakra Activation and Kundalini Awakening, 1st edition, Avatar Publications. 0976537930.
- Svatmarama, Swami (1992) Hatha Yoga Pradipika. London: The Aquarian Press, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. Translated by Elsy Becherer, foreword by B K S Iyengar, commentary by Hans Ulrich Rieker.
- Thomas, Kate (2000) The Kundalini Phenomenon: The Need for Insight and Spiritual Authenticity. New Media Books.
- Turner RP, Lukoff D, Barnhouse RT, Lu FG (1995) Religious or spiritual problem. A culturally sensitive diagnostic category in the DSM-IV. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. July;183(7):435-44. PubMed Abstract PMID: 7623015
- Woodroffe, Sir John, The Serpent Power. an early presentation of Yoga to the West.
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