Kundalini, also called Shakti, is the primal creative energy, or life force, that animates living beings. Under normal circumstances, Kundalini energy pervades the nervous system and is replenished through the breath. However, when yogis talk about awakening the kundalini, they're referring to the repository of energy that is contained or trapped in the base of the spine in the lower chakras. Awakening or freeing this energy is the ultimate goal of serious yogis who practice Kundalini Yoga, who regard it as the ultimate pinnacle of spiritual progress.
Anatomy of the Yogic Body
Kundalini inhabits a sort of alternative physiology that correlates to the human nervous system. The word Kundalini originates from the Sanskrit word Kundal, which means "coiled up" and is visualized as a snake wrapped around itself in three-and-a-half coils at the base of the spine in the sacrum — or, "Lotus of the Kundalini" — where it rests dormant until stirred to life by one or another esoteric practices.
The coils of the snake are highly significant. They represent the three stages of cosmic creation (past, present and future), the three primal forces (inertia, activity and truth); the 3 states of consciousness (waking, sleeping and dreaming) and three types of experience: subjective, sensual and oblivion. The half coil signifies the transcendent consciousness that lies beyond the realm of creation. Otherwise put, the wisdom eye is opened.
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When Kundalini is freed through meditation, asanas or other practices, it travels up the spinal cord through a hollow canal known as the Sushumna and up to the brain. In his book "Raja Yoga," Swami Vivekananda describes it as trying to "force a passage through this hollow canal, and as it rises step by step, as it were, layer after layer of the mind becomes open and all the different visions and wonderful powers come to the Yogi." When the Kundalini reaches the brain, the Swami writes, the yogi is no longer trapped in the cage of his physical and mental identity and the soul is free.
Don't Try This at Home
Awakening the Kundalini is not for amateurs, and while it can occur spontaneously through contact with the right mystic or a near-death experience, it is not likely to happen in a yoga class. However, serious yogis caution in all seriousness that incompetent efforts to awaken the kundalini can lead to grave mental and physical injury. The danger of improperly channeled Kundalini is likened to a power surge that burns out the circuitry.
What to Expect
Awakening of the kundalini can be described in many different ways, but, in essence, it represents the pinnacle of spiritual progress, or samadhi, the ultimate inner awareness that finds complete union with the divine. When newly roused, Kundalini is said to be the energetic version of Kali, the wrathful Hindu goddess who wears a necklace of 108 human skulls that represent past lives. Properly channeled, she then takes on the form of Durga, the embodiment of wisdom and creative power whose fiery energy cleanses the negative karma of past lives that has been blocking the practitioner's progress for eons. The end result after your Kundalini has been awakened: ultimate freedom.
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Martin Booe writes about health, wellness and the blues. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Bon Appetit. He lives in Los Angeles.