Kundalini is a psycho-spiritual energy, the energy of the consciousness, which is thought to reside within the sleeping body, and is aroused either through spiritual discipline or spontaneously to bring new states of consciousness, including mystical illumination. Kundalini is Sanskrit for "snake" or "serpent power," so-called because it is believed to lie like a serpent in the root chakra at the base of the spine. In Tantra Yoga kundalini is an aspect of Shakti, the divine female energy and consort of Shiva.
The power of kundalini is said to be enormous. Those having experienced it claim it to be indescribable. The phenomena associated with it varies from bizarre physical sensations and movements, pain, clairaudience, visions, brilliant lights, superlucidity, psychical powers, ecstasy, bliss, and transcendence of self. Kundalini has been described as liquid fire and liquid light.
Indian yoga, with its emphasis on the transmutation of energy to higher consciousness, was the chief contributor to the cultivation of kundalini and the preservation of its knowledge prior to present times. Kundalini was a rarity in the West before the 1970s until more attention became centered upon the consciousness. In 1932, for example, psychiatrist Carl G. Jung and others observed that the kundalini experience was seldom seen in the West.
However, an examination of mystical literature and traditions showed that kundalini, called by various names, seems to have been a universal phenomenon in esoteric teachings for perhaps three thousand years. Kundalini-type descriptions or experiences are found in esoteric teachings of the Egyptians, Tibetans, Chinese, some Native Americans, and the !Kung bushmen of Africa. Kundalini has been interpreted from the Bible as "the solar principle in man," and is referenced in the Koran, the works of Plato and other Greek philosophers, alchemical tracts (the philosopher's stone), and in Hermetic, Kabbalistic, Rosicrucian, and Masonic writings.
There has been an awakening of kundalini knowledge among the Western populations since the 1970s because of two major reasons: more people who are trained in the spiritual disciplines are likely to release the energy, and the increased number of people that are aware of kundalini are more likely to recognize its symptoms or benefits.
Not all kundalini experiences are identical to those classical awakenings experienced in yoga, but may vary in intensity and duration. Typically the yogi meditates to arouse the kundalini and then to raise it through his or her body. (It should be remembered though, not all types of yoga are devoted to the arousal of kundalini.) First, the yogi feels the sensation on heat at the base of the spine, which may be intensely hot or pleasantly warm. The energy then travels up a psychic pathway parallel to the spinal column. The sushumna is the central axis, crisscrossed in a helix by the ida and pingala. As it rises the kundalini activates the chakras in succession. The body becomes cold and corpse-like as the kundalini leaves the lower portions and begins to rise.
The yogi is likely to shudder, tremble, or rock violently, feel extreme heat and cold, hear strange but not unpleasant sounds, and see various kinds of lights including an inner light. The length of the kundalini may be fleeting or last several minutes. The objective is to raise the kundalini to the crown chakra, where it unites with the Shiva, or the male polarity, and brings illumination. The yogi then attempts to lower the energy to another chakra, but not below the heart chakra because descent to lower chakras is thought to produce ego inflation, rampant sexual desire, and a host of other ills. By repeatedly raising the kundalini to the crown, the yogi can succeed in having the energy permanently stay there.
It is said that kundalini opens new pathways in the nervous system; the pain associated with this apparently is due to the nervous system's inability to immediately copy with the energy. Yogis assert that the body must be properly attuned for kundalini through yoga, and that a premature or explosive awakening can cause insanity or death.
Other individuals, it has been determined by Western psychologists and psychiatrists, have experienced kundalini awakenings but not the explosive kind. One notable characteristic of these lesser awakenings is that the individual thinks, acts, and feels remarkably different. Symptoms may involve involuntary and spasmodic body movements and postures; pain; abnormal breathing patterns; paralysis; tickling itching; vibrating sensations; hot and cold sensations; inner sounds, such as roaring, whistling, and chirping; insomnia; hypersensitivity to environment; unusual or extremes of emotions; intensified sex drive; distortion of thought processes; detachment; disassociation; sensations of physical expansion; and out-of-body experiences (OBEs).
Generally the elimination of such symptoms can be brought about by a heavier diet and temporary cessation of meditation. The phenomena of these lesser kundalini awakenings seem to indicate that the definition may have to be expanded from that of the coiled serpent of yoga. Such experienced awakenings are difficult to definitely define though because scientific research of kundalini energy is still in its embryonic stages, little is known of the energy's nonphysical nature, and many of its symptoms are similar to those associated with mental disturbances and stress.
One of the most dramatic instances of classic kundalini awakening was experienced by Copi Krishna (1903-1984), of India, who meditated for three hours every morning over seventeen years. On Christmas Day, 1937, he had his explosive awakening with kundalini pouring up his spine. By his personal account, he rocked out of his body and was enveloped in a halo of light. His consciousness expanded in every direction, and a vision of luster unfolded before him; he was like a small cork bobbing on a vast ocean of consciousness. This extraordinary experienced occurred once again, and then Krishna was plunged into twelve years of misery, during which he "experienced the indescribable ecstasies of the mystics…and the agonies of the mentally afflicted."
Following twelve years his body apparently adapted to the new energy and stabilized, but he was permanently changed. Everything in his vision was bathed in a silvery light. He heard an inner cadence, called the "unstruck melody" in kundalini literature. Eventually he could experience bliss just by turning his attention inward. He became, as he said, "a pool of consciousness always aglow with light." He creativity soared allowing him to write poetry and nonfiction books.
Krishna devotedly spent most of the remainder of his life learning the secrets of kundalini. He considered it "the most jealously guarded secret in history" and "the guardian of human evolution." To him it was the driving force behind genius and inspiration. He also thought within the brain is the blueprint to evolve humankind to a higher consciousness, one that makes use of kundalini. Too, he believed kundalini could improve the health of humankind with its ability to regenerate and restore the body, to lengthen life, and eradicate such conditions as mental retardation.
Krishna made ever effort increase the cultivation of kundalini in the West. Many researchers followed him, but some disagreed with the importance that he gave kundalini.