Version 2.0, January 1996
The following account of Kundalini is provided by Kurt Keutzer (email:
email@example.com) all contents are copyright (1996) of the author
What is Kundalini ?
"Kundalini " literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical
literature of hatha yoga Kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at
the base of the spine. The image of coiling, like a spring, conveys the
sense of untapped potential energy. Perhaps more meaningfully Kundalini
can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy at the base of
the spine. It's not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in our
head and think of Kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our
spine. Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to
accentuate this alien nature of the image. It's more useful to think of
Kundalini energy as the very foundation of our consciousness so that when
Kundalini moves through our bodies our consciousness necessarily changes
The concept of Kundalini can also be examined from a
strictly psychological perspective. From this perspective Kundalini can
be thought of as a rich source of psychic or libidinous energy in our
In the classical literature of Kashmir Shaivism Kundalini
is described in three different manifestions. The first of these is as
the universal energy or para-Kundalini . The second of these is as the
energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-Kundalini . The
third of these is as consciousness or Shakti-Kundalini which simultaneously
subsumes and intermediates between these two. Ultimately these three forms
are the same but understanding these three different forms will help to
understand the differerent manifestations of Kundalini. Return to table of contents
What is the difference between prana
and Kundalini ? What is the difference between qi (or chi) and Kundalini
First let us try to relate to concepts from the same tradition - prana
and Kundalini . Prana has been translated as the "vital breath"
and "bio-energetic motility"; it is associated with maintaining
the functioning of the mind and body. Kundalini , in its form as prana-Kundalini
, is identical to prana ; however, Kundalini also has a manifestations
as consciousness and a as a unifying cosmic energy. One could ascribe
these same aspects to prana as well so past a certain point these become
distinctions without differences.
From the subjective standpoint of an individual actually
experiencing the awakening of Kundalini I have found three completely
The first opinion is that a pranic awakening is only a prelude to a full
Kundalini awakening. Tibetan yogins that I have encountered consider the
activation of prana (Tibetan: rlung) as merely a prerequisite for the
activation of Kundalini (Tibetan: gTummo). What's attractive about this
viewpoint is that it explains the difference between the experience of
simply having pleasant sensations in the spine and the much more powerful
experience of having a "freight-train"-like full Kundalini experience.
The second opinion, espoused by Swami Shivom Tirth for
example, is that prana and Kundalini are absolutely equivalent and that
it is not meaningful in any way to describe a difference between Kundalini
rising and prana rising. When posed with question as to how to distinguish
between pleasant sensations that show some pranic-activity in the spine
and the much more powerful experience Swami Shivom Tirth said that the
difference is not in the nature of the activity but in the consciousness
that observes it. If the consciousness that experiences the pranic activity
is seated within the spine (or more correctly, the central channel, known
as the sushumna), then the experience is felt much more powerfully.
The third opinion, espoused by the modern hatha yogin, Desikaran, is that
pranic awakening is the true experience to be aimed for and Kundalini
is actually an obstruction. Desikaran sees the Kundalini as a block in
the central channel and thus the Kundalini must be "killed"
to make way for the prana. This is the most unusual view of the three.
The Chinese concept of qi (or chi) can be safely identified
with the Indian concept of prana.
If all this seems confusing - don't worry, you're in good company. My
conclusion is that these are all different terminologies for dealing with
a common set of experiences. Any one of these viewpoints is adequate for
describing the full range of experiences. What is probably more relevant
is to distinguish two different experiences which are often confused.
In one an individual experiences some pleasant energizing electric energy
running along the spine. This experience itself brings about a wide range
of experiences and results in vitality and sensitivity. Another very distinct
experience is the experience of Kundalini entering the sushumna and rising
up the spine. As soon as Kundalini enters the sushumna this experience
will completely overwhelm ordinary waking consciousness. From the moment
that Kundalini enters the sushumna there will no longer be a distrinction
between the subjective consciousness which experiences and the object
of experience. This experience much more profoundly transfigures consciousness.
Return to table of contents
If Kundalini is universal, why do
some Kundalini yogins seem to have more Kundalini -energy than others
It's an intriguing question. If an individual's Kundalini is viewed as
simply a personal reservoir of a cosmic energy then why would one person
appear to have more of a reservoir of Kundalini energy than another? Nevertheless,
this does appear to be the case. This is probably another advantage of
the viewpoint that prana (or qi) is the same as Kundalini . Some Chinese
texts distinguish between "innate qi" or "pre-natal qi"
that one is born with and "cultivated qi" that can be developed.
Clearly some people simply have more "innate qi." This manifests
as a stronger more resilient body and greater general vitality.
Through training those that have relatively weak "innate
qi" may surpass those who have strong "innate qi" but do
not train. There are many stories in the Chinese literature of Qi Gong
about people who took up Qi Gong in order to improve their poor health
became powerful martial artists or great qi gong masters. Of course those
that have strong "innate qi" and also train their qi may develop
the strongest qi of all. Return to table of contents
What does Kundalini have to
do with spiritual enlightenment? What is the goal of Kundalini yoga?
First we need a few concepts: In yogic anatomy the sushumna is the central
channel and conduit for the Kundalini energy that runs along our spine
and up to the crown of our head. Along this channel are placed additional
channel networks called cakras. These cakras are associated with major
aspects of our anatomy - for example our throat, heart, solar plexus,
and in turn these aspects of our anatomy are related to aspects of our
human nature. According to the literature of Kundalini yoga our experience
of these centers is limited due to knots which restrict the flow of energy
into these centers. Three knots are particuarly important. The knot of
Brahma which restricts the center at the base of the spine. The knot of
Vishnu which restricts the heart center and the knot of Rudra which restricts
the center between the eyebrows. These knots form an important framework
in yogic thinking and the stages toward enlightenment are articulated
in terms of breaking through these knots in the yogic classic the Hatha
Yoga Pradipika as well as in some of the yoga upanishads. Specifically,
four stages of progress are described: arambha, ghata, parichaya and nishpatti.
Arambha is associated with breaking the knot of Brahma
and the awakening of Kundalini . Ghata is associated with breaking the
knot of Vishnu and and with internal absorption. Parichaya the absorption
deepens and in nishpatti the knot of Rudra is pierced and the Kundalini
may ascend to the center at the crown of the head. In this state transcendence
is integrated and, according to the yogic liteature, the yogi has nothing
more to attain.
Putting these elaborate physiological decriptions aside,
the goal of Kundalini yoga is the same as the goal of any legimitate spiritual
practice: To be liberated from the limited bounds of the self-centered
and alienated ego. In Kundalini yoga this is associated with internal
manifestations of the Kundalini but the external manifestations should
be similar to any other legitiimate spiritual practice. Return to table of contents
So does everyone agree that
Kundalini awakening is necessary for enlightenment?
The view that Kundalini awakening is necessary for enlightenment is held
in the diverse literature of Kashmir Shaivism and in other Hindu Tantric
literature. It is found in the literature of the Hatha Yogis and the Nath
Sampradaya. You will find similar views in many Buddhist Tantric works.
In addition this view is held by recent spiritual figures such as Shri
Ramakrishna, Swami Sivananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda
and of course by contemporary Kundalini yogins themselves.
Nevertheless there are some dissenters from this view. These include Sri
Chinmoy, Da Free John and Gurdjieff. Dissent can take a number of different
forms. For Gurjieff Kundalini is associated only with a binding force
that leads us to be more attached to the world. Such a view of Kundalini
is not entirely inaccurate but only reflects the functioning of Kundalini
in the lower energy centers. For Sri Chinmoy Kundalini is an amplifying
function that may make an individual more powerful but not more enlightened.
From my perspective this also only addresses the impact of Kundalini while
it operates in the lower energy centers.
Da Free John (born Franklin Jones, a. k. a. Da Love
Ananda) has a much more fundamental criticism of Kundalini . As far as
I understand his position, for him enlightenment cannot be the result
of an experience; it is a cognitive transformation. Kundalini may evoke
a wide variety of experiences but these are not in and of themselves enlightening.
This is an interesting perspective but it seems to assume that the raising
of Kundalini is an experience in which an ego-consciousness experiences
a separate object known as Kundalini . Again, this view is consistent
with the experience of Kundalini in the lower energy centers in which
the ego is detached from the movement of Kundalini and Kundalini experiences
are precieved as separate from oneself. However, I would argue that as
Kundalini rises the ego-consciousness becomes infused in a more fundamental
consciousness of cit-Shakti-Kundalini and this experience does in fact
produce a fundamental cognitive change.
Finally, there are many other spiritual practices, such as Zen, Vipassana
meditation that consider Kundalini irrelevant. Some practitioners or even
teachers of these paths, such as Jiyu Kennet, may have Kundalini experiences
but generally Kundalini is not a pivotal part of these paths. Return to table of contents
Can I use Kundalini yoga simply to
improve my health?
Yoga exercises which were traditionally used to purify the body in preparation
for awakening the Kundalini can also be used simply to improve the health.
To practice techniques aimed at actively awakening Kundalini with the
goal of simply improving your health seems to be a misuse of these powerful
There are those that teach Kundalini yoga principally
emphasizing its benefits on health without much discussion of the spiritual
benefits. This is how hatha yoga has been taught in the west for some
time. The affect of this approach depends on the attitude of the student.
There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to improve your health but
there is a tension between awakening an energy that will ultimately burn
up the ego and trying to shape that energy to simply fulfill an ego-oriented
motive. Return to table of contents
Is there any scientific basis for Kundalini
and the cakras? Do I really have to believe that all these cakras physically
Research on Kundalini is especially spotty. There is no compelling work
to show that the system represents insights into actual human anatomy.
But it's important to understand that Kundalini and its network of channels
and cakras is simply how yogins have chosen to explain their experience
and that yogins from many cultures have arrived at similar, though not
identical, concepts. The true physical mechanisms underlying these experiences
may be very different from those described. Izaak Benthov has proposed
a model to explain Kundalini in terms of micro- motion in the brain. In
this model experiences are associated with parts of the body, such as
the heart, because the part of the brain associated with that part of
the body is stimulated by micro-vibrations. His model is treated in "The
Kundalini Experience" by Sannella referenced below. From a practical
perspective the key thing is our subjective experience and that the roadmap
of these subjective experiences has been mapped out. Return to table of contents
Is Chinese qi gong a kind of Kundalini yoga?
If there is any contemporary teaching that is even more diverse in approach
than Kundalini yoga it must be qi gong. As a result it is hard to compare
Kundalini yoga to qi gong. From my limited exposure to qi gong it is clear
there are many qi gong practices that are identical to Kundalini yoga
practices. What is also clear is that may qi gong practitioners have reported
experiences that are identical to those of Kundalini yogins. In so far
as each of these practices aims at eliminating blocks to the qi/prana
energy then they share a common ground. Return to table of contents
What about Tibetan Buddhism - has Kundalini
been known in Tibet?
Kundalini yoga in the Natha Sampradaya and Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism
both take their origin from the Mahasiddhas who were active in India from
the 8th century to the 12th century. Kundalini yoga practices formed the
core of the teachings of a number of these Mahasiddhas and are strongly
represented in both Tibetan Buddhist practices and contemporary Kundalini
yoga practices. Kundalini yoga was spoken of as "Candali yoga"
by these Mahasiddhas and became known as gTummo rnal 'byor in Tibet. Candali
yoga was a key practice of the famous Tibetan yogin Milarepa. The role
of Kundalini yoga in Tibetan Buddhism is discussed in more detail in the
Kundalini Yogas FAQ. Return to table of contents
Are there any other traditions that show
awareness of Kundalini ?
If you believe that Kundalini is at the basis of spiritual progress then
every valid spiritual tradition must have some awareness of Kundalini
. Christianity (especially Quakerism and Pentecostalism), Sufism, Qabalistic
mysticism, alchemy and magick all have literature which demonstrates some
awareness of the Kundalini process but these traditions are not, to this
author's awareness, so open in their exposition of the techniques and
so it is hard to judge the depth of understanding latent in these traditions.
Nevertheless, the imagery is so unmistakable in these traditions that
each must have, at least at one time, been conversant with the movement
of Kundalini . Return to table of contents
So how do I awaken Kundalini ?
Indirectly Kundalini can be awakened by devotion, by selfless service,
or by intellectual enquiry. In these paths the blocks to the awakening
of Kundalini are slowly removed. Occasionally, individuals on these paths
will experience a sudden awakening of Kundalini but generally because
the blocks are slowly and gently removed Kundalini -like experiences evolve
slowly in these paths.
Broadly speaking there are two radically different direct
approaches to awakening Kundalini . One approach requires initiation by
a guru and relies upon a technique called Shaktipat, or "descent
of Shakti." It is variously called: Siddha Mahayoga, Kundalini Mahayoga
or Sahaja Yoga (Spontaneous Yoga). These approaches are treated in the
Siddha Mahayoga FAQ. The other approach uses intentional yogic techniques
. The styles using intentional techniques include Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga,
Laya Yoga or Kriya Yoga. These approaches are treated in the Kundalini
Yogas FAQ .
Fundamentally the approach of Siddha Mahayoga and the
Kundalini Yogas are different. In Siddha Mahayoga the guru awakens the
Kundalini and after that the core of the practice is the inactive and
non-willful surrender to Kundalini . In Kundalini Yogas the will is used
to awaken the Kundalini and to guide its progress. Clearly these are different
approaches. Nevertheless, elements of the each approach occur in the practices
of the other. Siddha Mahayogins may use asanas, pranayamas and other hatha
yoga practices. On the other hand gurus in Kundalini Yoga may give infusions
of Shakti to their students to help them at particular points in their
practice. Return to table of contents
What are the advantages and disadvantages
of using effort, in Kundalini yogas, as opposed to the grace of the guru,
in siddha mahayoga, to awaken Kundalini ?
Since every practitioner brings his own unique inclinations and obstacles
to the practice of yoga it is very hard to generalize on this point. In
terms of actually awakening Kundalini gurus of Siddha Mahayoga claim that
the Kundalini is more easily and reliably awakened by the grace of the
guru than by individual effort. In my limited experience I would agree.
with this assertion. While not every long-term student of either practice
necessarily shows signs of Kundalini awakening it is amazing how many
people have had instant awakenings of Kundalini through initiation from
In terms of encountering difficulties along the path
the siddha gurus would also claim that fewer problems due to Kundalini
awakening, such as mental imbalance, are encountered by students of Siddha
Mahayoga. Here I think the results are mixed. It seems to me that the
guidance of the teacher in either Siddha Mahayoga or Kundalini Yoga is
more a determining factor than which style of Kundalini practice is employed.
Generally speaking each style of practice has its strengths
and weakness. The strength of Siddha Mahayoga is the ease with which it
awakens the Kundalini . The weakness is that because the Kundalini is
so easily awakened by the guru students of Siddha Mahayoga often have
completely undisciplined personal meditation practices. Time is spent
instead to trying to recreate some of their initial experiences by following
the guru around hoping for his or her grace Some people spend 20 or more
years in this manner without ever developing an inner core of practice
The strength of the family of Kundalini Yogas is that
the progress is at least apparently more under the control of the student
of the yoga. These students seem more likely to have disciplined personal
practices and more of an understanding of how the practice relates to
their own experience. Unfortunately for some students this leads to a
fairly egotistical approach to their practice and ultimately the Kundalini
energy is used to bolster the ego rather than to merge the ego in bliss.
Return to table of contents
What are the signs of an awakened Kundalini
Briefly, according to classical literature the signs of an awakened Kundalini
can be grouped into: mental signs, vocal signs and physical signs. Mental
signs can include visions that range from ecstatically blissful to terrifyingly
frightful. Vocal signs can include spontaneous vocal expressions that
range from singing or reciting mantras to make various animals sounds
such as growling or chirping. Physical signs include trembling, shaking
and spontaneously performing hatha yoga postures and pranayamas.
From a more subjective perspective the more pleasant
experiences associated with a Kundalini awakening may include: waves of
bliss, periods of elation, glimpses of transcendental consciousness. The
less pleasant experiences associated with a Kundalini awakening may include:
trembling, sharp aches in areas associated with the cakras, periods of
irrational anxiety, sudden flashes of heat. Return to table of contents
Are these methods of awakening Kundalini
dangerous? What about Gopi Krishna's books?
There are two different kinds of danger involved in Kundalini : the inherent
danger in an awakened Kundalini and the danger associated with some forceful
methods of awakening.
As for the inherent danger in awakening Kundalini :
If we take the psychological perspective and view Kundalini as the power
latent in our unconscious then it is easy to understand that an awakening
of this force is going to bring a greater amount of unconscious material
into our consciousness. Unconscious material remains unconscious precisely
because it is uncomfortable to the conscious mind. Therefore, even in
the best of circumstances the joy associated with the awakening of Kundalini
is likely to be attended with a certain amount of anxiety as Kundalini
wrests control from the ego and unconscious contents spill over into consciousness.
A number of different factors can ameliorate this situation. First and
foremost the presence of a teacher in whom one has confidence can make
a great difference. The real demonstration of the skill of a Kundalini
yoga teacher is more in their ability to successfully guide the student
on the path of Kundalini than in their ability to awaken the Kundalini
. A supportive environment of fellow practitioners who have undergone
the same awakening can provide comfort and confidence. Finally, a strong
and resilient mind capable of coping with this sudden burst of unconscious
material will see the student through any difficulties
If an individual is lacking one or more of these factors then problems
can arise. In particular, individuals with a predisposition to mental
illness may be susceptible to particularly challenging Kundalini experiences.
There are many documented cases of Kundalini pushing people into psychotic
episodes. Some individuals have been subsequently helped by healers or
teachers while others, despite a lifetime of searching, remain tormented.
The most famous case is an individual named Gopi Krishna who awakened
his Kundalini by doing unguided meditation on his crown cakra. His life
after awakening was both blessed by ecstatic bliss and tormented by physical
and mental discomfort. Eventually his experience stabilized. He wrote
down his experiences in a recently re-released autbiography entitled "Living
with Kundalini ." Gopi Krishna's autobiography appears to be an honest
representation of his experiences but it is only one extreme datapoint
in the panorama of experience on Kundalini yoga. So for some there appears
to be an inherent danger in awakening the Kundalini but for the majority
of people Kundalini the initial awakening may be disruptive but the rewards
soon outweigh the cost.
Some forceful methods of awakening Kundalini may pose
additional dangers. Without proper guidance practices involving extensive
concentration or breath retention can cause mental imbalance or physical
discomfort. On the other hand, techniques which work more on the flow
of breath and gently moving attention seem to rarely cause problems. These
techniques work more to purify the system preparing it for a Kundalini
awakening rather than focusing on awakening the Kundalini directly. Return to table of contents
But even if Kundalini is dangerous,
isn't it a faster way to enlighenment?
First of all it may be useful to observe that there is no technique currently
known on earth that appears to be rapidly catapulting large number of
individuals toward enlightenment. Because Kundalini yogas deal so directly
with a powerful enlightening force it seems natural that they would be
"faster", but there appears to be alot of tortoise and hare
phenomena at work with newbie Kundalini yogins. Many people begin Kundalini
yogas, have strong initial experiences and then become frightened. Many
who perservere through this initial phase become distracted by the energy
and focus on temporal and phenomenal applications of the energy. Return to table of contents
There have been many scandals among Kundalini
yoga teachers - particularly sexual scandals. Is there a correlation between
sexual scandals and Kundalini yoga practice?
There have been scandals regarding the teachers of many paths, both spiritual
and non-spiritual ; however, it is probably fair to say that Kundalini
yogins have had more than their share. Since the first publication of
these frequently-asked-questions in 1994 more than one well-known Kundalini
yoga teacher has been implicated in having clandestine affairs with students
and has been asked to step down from his position as spiritual leader
as a result.
An advanced Kundalini yogin is typically a powerful charismatic individual
who has the ability to directly influence the minds of others. Westerners
often mistake this power as a sign of enlightenment and allow such teachers
liberties as a result.
In addition it is quite common for Kundalini yoga to
temporarily accentuate the sex drive. This period requires extra discipline.
Finally, Kundalini yoga is closely associated with tantrism and sex is
often used in conjunction with tantric practice. Where sex is used there
is of course the opportunity for misuse or abuse. Return to table of contents
If my Kundalini is awakened will I need
to change my lifestyle?
It's hard to have your cake and eat it too. If you awaken Kundalini in
order to change and enrich your life it's reasonable to expect you may
need to change your lifestyle as a result. The recommendations of both
classical literature and experience is that sleep and diet will need to
be moderated otherwise severe discomfort may arise. Furthermore without
moderating sexual activity and physical work it will be hard to experience
much success with Kundalini . The extent that these elements of your life
need to change depends on the nature of the individual. While genuine
mental imbalances arising from Kundalini are rare nearly every Kundalini
yogin will find periods when one needs to be especially sensitive to needs
for sleep, quiet and diet. Return to table of contents
Where can I learn more?
Here are some references for further reading. They may not be the easiest
books to find but they are currently in print and are very good in their
categories. Note that by definition no reputable book on Kundalini will
tell you how to awaken your Kundalini . Either by effort or by Shaktipat
initiation, practicing Kundalini yoga requires the instruction of an experienced
teacher. Some introductory practices for cleansing the channels can be
learned from books.
Good introductory survey:
White, John (Editor) (1990). Kundalini - Evolution and
Enlightenment. New York: Paragon House.
Svatmarama (1985). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Swami Muktibodhananda
Saraswati, Trans.). (First ed.). Munger, Bihar: Bihar School of Yoga.
Silburn, L. (1988). Kundalini - Energy of the Depths
(Jacques Gontier, Trans.). Albany, NY: State University of New York.
Contemporary Kundalini Yogins:
Chetanananda, S. (1991). Dynamic Stillness. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Rudra Press.
Muktananda, Swami (1989b). From the Finite to the Infinite
(First ed.). Volumes I &II, South Fallsburg, NY: Siddha Yoga Dham
of America Foundation.
Tirtha, Swami Vishnu (1980b). Devatma Shakti (Fifth
ed.). Rishikesh: Yoga Shri Peeth Trust.
There are a host of related materials now published
on the Web. Since they move around the simplest thing is to simply perform
an altavista search (Altavista Search Engine) on the word "Kundalini