Kundalini: A Hidden Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Asanas, pranayamas, meditation, trataka, shatkarmas, ashtanga yoga, etc. are all part of tantra. Originally certain mystical traditions in tantra were secret and could not be made available to the people. Therefore, yoga was developed by the great rishis in a free and non-occult atmosphere, so that the benefits of tantra could be given to everyone without disclosing any secrets. Yoga is an offshoot of tantra. Kundalini yoga is a part of yoga and, therefore, is part of tantra. Kundalini is not a myth; it is a reality, an evolutionary process taking place in human beings. In each and every person there is a great power, a hidden treasure of potentiality which lies in the physical body and has connections with the psychic body.

Definition of Kundalini

Everyone seems to have different ideas about what kundalini is. Some say that it is energy stored like a coiled spring; some say it is the infinite treasure of knowledge hidden in the self; others call it the divine creative energy, the essence of pranic energy, or the latent energy of the higher consciousness. Ramakrishna says; "A man's spiritual consciousness is not awakened unless his kundalini is aroused."

Many generations ago man did not know anything about his body, but through different experiments he came to realize that he had one heart, two lungs etc. In the some way, kundalini is there, but we have to find it. Kundalini is divine power - the essence of creation - which is hidden in the self, and can be manifested or awakened by the use of different methods and practices.

When you compare the concept of kundalini with modern psychology, kundalini represents the unconscious in men. When you compare it with Hindu mythology, then it represents the shakti (divine mother). When we make a study of the different civilizations it appears that a serpent is the common symbol used to represent kundalini. Therefore, it has another name - the serpent energy.

In Africa, this power is known as njum. In China it is known as chi energy. In Japan as ki energy. In the Christian tradition Saint Theresa of Lisieux is said to have undergone the experience of kundalini awakening. Saints from the Sufi tradition and the tantric tradition have also experienced it. So we come to the conclusion that kundalini is the latent power in man.

The Pathway of Kundalini

Kundalini, when awakened, follows various paths. The ancient Yogis said that kundalini rises up the spine from mooladhara chakra, goes through the different chakras in the spine, and comes to rest in sahasrara chakra. The pathway of kundalini can start anywhere in the body, in any chakra, not necessarily from mooladhara. From each chakra there is a direct connection to sahasrara. If kundalini awakens in mooladhara, it goes directly to sahasrara, not to swadhisthana. When it is awakened in swadhisthana, it goes to sahasrara and not to manipura. Kundalini can be awakened in anahata or vishuddhi, but it will always go directly to sahasrara. It can be awakened in any part of the body, and make its way upward.

Scientific research done in the United States and other countries indicates that the stimulus of the awakening first affects the toes, then the ankles and the calves. It opens the way upwards to the head, then down to the face, through the throat and chest into the abdomen, and there it comes to rest. Many saints experienced kundalini rising from the lower limbs, up sushumna in the spine to the head, then down to the left side to become passive energy.

The Chakras

The word chakra means 'wheel' or 'centre'. There are six main chakras which run up the spine in the human body: mooladhara, swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, vishuddhi and ajna. Sahasrara is the control centre for all the chakras - the big boss! There are also many lesser chakras in the body such as bindu lalana, nasikagra, bhrumadhya and so on.

Mooladhara, the first chakra, it is situated at the base of the spins in the perineum. In ancient yoga, this centre was believed to be the residing place for the kundalini. Its element is earth.

Next is swadhisthana, in the coccygeal area of the spine. It means 'one's own abode'. The element is water. Manipura chakra is in the spine behind the navel. It means 'city of jewels'. The element is fire. Fourth is anahata, in the spine behind the heart. Anahata means 'centre of unstruck sound'. Its element is air. Fifth is vishuddhi in the spine where it joins the neck. It means 'the centre of purification'. The element is ether. Sixth is ajna, at the centre back of the head in the pineal gland. It means 'place of knowledge'.

The Awakening

In science these chakras are understood to be dormant energy centres, from where there is no flow of energy. Scientists say that the chakras contain impurities and kundalini has to remove these in order to pierce them. Due to these impurities pain is experienced when the kundalini is trying to pass through. There is a feeling of tearing apart. Imagine seven rooms with closed, pressurized doors. In order to pass through them, you have to open the doors. But what happens if you don't know how to open them? There is conflict between the body strength and the strength of the pressurized door. You have to break the door to pass, and this can be an exhausting struggle. But when kundalini finally passes through the chakra a feeling of bliss is experienced, and the manifestations of spiritual potential begin.

In his book, Yoga from Shore to Shore, Paramahamsa Satyananda says:

The centres, or chakras, are lying dormant and inactive. The spiritual aspirant tries to awaken this vital energy, known as kundalini, at the base of the spine, so that it penetrates through these centres, one by one. Just as an electrician joins the active wire to a bulb or fan to make it function, so the aspirant, by connecting the regenerated and awakened energy to these centres, activates them. Then their spiritual potentials begin to manifest.

There are a lot of experiments being made, especially in the United States, where Doctor Lee Sannella has done considerable research on kundalini. Kundalini manifestations are really maturing processes. They resemble mantel illness because of the different states of consciousness which are induced. There are many theories about the awakening, Sannella, in his book Kundalini-Psychsis or Transcendence, quotes Itzhak Bentov's theory that, when people go into a meditative state, a regular beating sensation starts in the abdominal aorta. The aorta beats with consistent regularity and over a prolonged period of time, it sets up standing waves. In other words, when the wave beat passes along the aorta longitudinally, it bounces against the bifurcation at the lower end, and sends a water hammer effect back at the same speed. This bounces back against the other end and then back again to the bifurcation. So the process continues, creating a standing wave effect.

The same sort of effect can be seen in a bath full of water. If you stir the water around with your hand in an unrhythmic way, than the water splashes haphazardly, and eventually spills out of the tub. But, if the hand is moved rhythmically back and forth, and the rhythm is kept exactly constant, then the water goes to the extreme end and comes back, producing a standing wave effect. These standing waves affect the body. In meditation they can actually be experienced, building up until the top part of the standing wave begins to affect the skull. There are five stages, The heart-aorta system produces a standing wave, which oscillates the brain up and down. This produces sound waves and, because the skull is round, these sound waves are focused into the ventricles of the brain. These audio and supersonic sound waves stimulate the sensory cortex of the brain mechanically. This eventually results in the stimulus traveling in a closed loop around each hemisphere of the brain. This traveling stimulus is a minute electric current, and as a result, pulsating magnetic fields of opposite polarity are created in the hemispheres.

So, the beating occurs in the ventricles and sound waves are generated. The stimulation of the cortex produces an electrical current, which then produces a magnetic field. The gradual synchronizing of the heart beat with the aorta beat comes when one 's able to go into deeper states of relaxation. Presumably a deep state of meditation exists when these standing waves become regular and eliminates all of the stimuli that would produce changes in the heart rate and beat. From there the kundalini effect starts.

This whole process occurs in the central nervous system. The sensory manifestations of the kundalini rising occur in the body through nerve impulses. These are transmitted to the muscles and sensation areas, as a result of the current flowing in the brain, if a certain part of the cortex is stimulated, a sensation is felt in the hips. If the stimulus is continued it affects the toe, ankle and thigh area in the cortex, and a sensation is felt in the toes, ankles and thighs. Even though the sensation seems to come from these parts of the body, in actual fact it comes from the brain. The heart and the aorta produce the standing wave, and it goes to the skull. In the skull it touches the different sensory areas and awakens them. It is possible that the creation of the standing wave, and the stimulation of the sensory centres in the brain, is the awakening of the kundalini.

In the process of the awakening one may see many visions, but physical symptoms are rare. Considerable heat may be produced in the body, particularly in the hands and forehead, as these are the main conductors for the energy flow. It is possible to feel cold in the tropics, and to melt snow around you in cold countries.

Paramahamsa Satyananda says:

From the chakras hundreds of nadis or fibrous communications emerge, and they control the different physiological parts of the body. If you are contacting, stimulating or awakening manipura chakra, for example, there can be a physiological reaction, nervous reaction or depth psycho-physiological reaction. By 'awakening', however, we actually refer to the psychic phase; we mean that behind and inherent in the matter which we call chakras, there is some psychic force, some immaterial existence. The disintegration and fissioning of that immaterial existence is the process of awakening.

There are many, many theories and methods for the awakening of this potential power within man, but the best is to follow your guru's instructions. The road, though rough and full of hazards, is well signposted and with the guru for a guide, you are sure to reach the final goal, enlightenment. Not only does he know all the pitfalls, but he understands your capacities and limitations. He will tell you when your time is ripe.