What is Kundalini and how does the process of Kundalini awakening happen?

1. What are the subtle energy systems in the body?

The universe is sustained by God’s mere presence. According to the Path of Kunḍalinī, God’s energy that is used in the running (i.e., creation, sustenance and destruction) of the universe is Divine consciousness (Chaitanya). With respect to a person, this Divine consciousness is known as chētanā and it is that part of God’s energy required for the functioning of a human being.

This chetana is of two types and, depending on its state of activity, it takes on two different names.

  • Active chetana – also known as Vital energy (Prāṇa-shakti). The Vital energy sustains and gives energy to the gross body (sthūladēha), mind (manodēha), intellect (kāraṇdēha) and subtle-ego (mahākāraṇdēha). It is distributed through subtle energy channels known as nāḍīs. These energy channels are prevalent throughout the body and supply energy to the cells, nerves, arteries, lymph etc. Refer to the article – What are we comprised of?
  • Non-active chetana – which is known as the Kundalini. This Kundalini lies dormant in a person until awakened as described in the methods below.

The diagram below shows the distribution of the total subtle-energy for vital energy and the Kundalini for spiritual growth.

Kundalini awakening - How is the subtle energy used?

2. What is the Kundalini used for?

The Kundalini or non-active chetana is used primarily for spiritual growth. It is not used for, nor does it take part in, day-to-day bodily functioning.

3. How to awaken the Kundalini?

Kundalini awakening happens through spiritual practice or spiritual transfer of energy.

3.1 Kundalini awakening through spiritual practice

This includes practices that come under generic spiritual paths to God such as Path of Action (Karmayoga), Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga), Path of Deliberate Rigour (Haṭhayoga) and Path of the Guru’s grace (Gurukrupāyoga). The practices in the Path of Deliberate Rigour include celibacy, breathing exercises (prāṇāyām) and yogic exercises and other spiritual practices.

Some people try to force awakening of the Kundalini by efforts through the Path of Deliberate Rigour. However, this can lead to deleterious effects. Some can even become insane from it.

3.2 Transfer of energy

Shaktipātyoga or Shaktipāt refers to the bestowal of spiritual energy on one person by another i.e. mainly a Guru/spiritually evolved person to His disciple. Shaktipat can be transmitted with a sacred word or mantra, or by a look, thought or touch – the last usually to the mid-brow chakra (Ādnyā-chakra) of the recipient. It is considered an act of grace from the Guru to a deserving disciple. This transfer of energy itself initiates the awakening of the Kundalini.

After it is awakened, the rate at which the Kundalini rises is dependent on the disciple’s continuous and ever increasing efforts in spiritual practice.

3.3 Recommended way to awaken and channelise the Kundalini

Whatever the spiritual path, when there is spiritual growth the Kundalini rises. SSRF recommends regular spiritual practice as per the six basic principles of spiritual practice to help awaken the Kundalini naturally. Here the unmanifest Guru Principle or the Teaching Principle of God itself awakens the Kundalini. As it is awakened by the Guru’s grace then it automatically travels upwards and transforms the seeker spiritually.

On the other hand, if it is thrust upon a seeker as in shaktipat, i.e. when someone is suddenly given an excess of spiritual energy, while the experience is very engaging and can be almost addictive, only ever increasing amounts of spiritual practice both at a qualitative and quantitative level assure that the continual grace of the Guru Principle leads the Kundalini on the right path and strengthens the seeker’s faith.

To better understand this let us take the help of an analogy.

  • Employing ones efforts in regular spiritual practice is like working hard and then amassing a fortune
  • Awakening the Kundalini by the direct transfer of energy is like being born to a billionaire where the father provides the son with instant money.

Out of the two, having earned wealth (spiritual wealth) through hard earned means is always a more sustainable and a surer option for future growth.

3.4 Key aspects of the Kundalini

Just as the heart is the principle centre (organ) of the circulatory system and the brain of the nervous system, similarly the subtle energy system has various centres (chakras), channels and ducts.

There are 72,000 subtle-channels. Of these channels, the three main subtle-channels are:

  • Sushumnānāḍī, that is, the central channel that extends from base of spine to the top of the head,
  • Pingalānāḍi or the Sūryanāḍi (sun channel), that is, the channel that runs to the right of the Sushumnanadi, and the
  • Iḍānāḍī or the Chandranāḍī (moon channel), that is, the channel that runs to the left of the Sushumnanadi.

Kundalini awakening and Vital energy

The Vital energy is transmitted in the body through the Sun channel and the Moon channel and the other smaller channels. The vital energy flow alternates between the Sun channel and Moon channel.

The Kundalini is spiritual energy and it generally lies dormant, coiled at the base of the Sushumnanadi for an average person. Through spiritual practice it begins to rise from the base of the spine through the Sushumnanadi right till the top of the head. While it does so, the Kundalini awakens each of the chakras along the way.

As the Kundalini passes each chakra along the Sushumnanadi, there is a thin subtle-valve that it needs to push through at each chakra to make its onward journey upwards. As it keeps pushing through the wall there is sometimes an increase in the amount of spiritual energy from the Sushumnanadi at that chakra. Having nowhere to go, it sometimes flows out through the surrounding subtle-ducts and becomes converted into Vital energy (Prāṇa-shakti). For that period of time, the concerned person may experience a heightened activity associated with that area. For example an increase in Vital energy or Vital energy around the sacral chakra (Swādhishṭhān-chakra) area can produce a heightened sexual drive.

As discussed earlier, the Kundalini rises through spiritual practice regardless of path. However the frame of reference may change in terms of how that Path to God perceives it. For example when the Kundalini passes the heart chakra (Anāhat-chakra):

  • According to the Path of Devotion the seeker is said to have reached a state of manifest spiritual emotion (bhāv).
  • However with respect to the Path of Knowledge a seeker begins to experience Divine consciousness.
According to a 1985 article by David T. Eastman in Yoga Journal, some of the more common signs and symptoms of an awakened Kundalini include:

  • Involuntary jerks, tremors or shaking
  • Intense heat, especially as energy is experienced passing through the chakras
  • Spontaneous pranayam, asanas, mudrās and bandhas
  • Visions or sounds at times associated with a particular chakra
  • Intense feelings of pleasure
  • Emotional purgings in which particular emotions become dominant for short periods of time.

Ref: Kundalini, Wikipedia.org, Sep 2010

Note from SSRF Editor: These are effects that are more seen in Shaktipat as a means of awakening the Kundalini. Seekers serious about spiritual growth must be aware that while these experiences seem very tangible and attractive, they are just preliminary outcomes and experiences due to the sudden transfer of spiritual energy, and do not in any way represent the end in itself of spiritual practice or alignment with the purpose of life.