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What is Kundalini

December 17, 2017

``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 when kundalini moves through the sushumna and through our cakras our consciousness necessarily changes with it.

 

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 unconscious.

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 orprana-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.

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 unconscious.

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 orprana-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.

 

What does kundalini have to do with spiritual enlightenment?

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 

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.

 

So how do I awaken kundalini?

Indirectly kundalini can be awakened by devotion, by selfless service, or by intellectual enquiry.

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 this 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.

 

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?