Kundalini is the most powerful aspect of the human life force. Kundalini is a Sanskrit word which means ‘serpent power’ or ‘the power of consciousness’. The closest equivalent in our culture is the Christian concept of ‘Holy Spirit’.
Kundalini is a psycho-spiritual energy that resides within the human body. Considered female – the goddess within – she has enormous power, both creative and destructive. Her power extends to all levels of our being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Let me explain.
In the Hindu tradition, the human life force is represented as having two components: a universal/physical one – prana – and a personal/spiritual one – kundalini. Optimal health and emotional wellbeing are achieved as these combined energies rise within the subtle body. And enlightenment occurs when they reach the crown chakra.
This outcome usually takes time though, because initially kundalini is asleep on the perineum, the seat of the first chakra. In most individuals, she slumbers there for their whole lifetime. In others, she eventually awakens, uncoils and starts rising up the sushumna – is the subtle channel that links all chakras.
As she moves upwards, kundalini activates the chakras and brings powerful new states of consciousness at each level. At times, she creates havoc too. The goddess can be a challenging guest, especially when she wakes up very suddenly!
Triggers to kundalini awakening
- Many people wake up spiritually as a result of a profound emotional shock, such as a serious accident, divorce, a life-threatening illness, or the death of a loved one.
- Regular meditators tend to awaken kundalini in a much more gentle way.
- Shadow work, breathwork, enlightenment retreats and/or other experiential workshops lead to the same result in a shorter time.
- In the East, kundalini yoga and tantra are more popular, as is ‘shaktipat’ – an instantaneous initiatory process between spiritual master and devotee.
- Psychedelic drugs can also trigger a sudden kundalini awakening. This can be extremely dangerous for the long-term mental and physical health of the person experiencing it. Eastern traditions all warn of the serious dangers associated with a premature awakening of kundalini.
- Finally, some individuals experience a spontaneous awakening not related to any of the above.
All spiritual traditions throughout the world refer to kundalini in one way or another, even though she doesn’t awaken in everyone. Far from it. And when she does, in most cases she only rises up to the third chakra, which is located at the solar plexus.
The fun really starts when the serpent power keeps going! For some the journey is blissful, for others it can be harrowing.
First symptoms of kundalini awakening
People who meditate regularly tend to experience mild symptoms of kundalini rising, one chakra at a time, with several months of gentle progressive purification at each level. They might notice faint temporary sensations of warmth or tingling along the spine, in the belly or at the extremities of the body, in particular the big toes.
In other cases, even natural ones, the awakening can be experienced as a very sudden event, whereby the whole body is suddenly ‘electrified’. In that case, if kundalini reaches the upper chakras, the energy is felt as a succession of intense electrical shocks simultaneously linked to physical heat, visions of light, ultra-sensory knowledge and/or waves of ecstasy. This state can last from a few minutes to several hours.
And then the kundalini energy comes down, ideally taking residence in the heart centre, balancing upper and lower chakras.
A word of warning about psychedelic drugs
The experience of electricity running through the whole body is very real in a physical sense, and this is where danger lies. If the nervous system is not ready to handle a sudden ‘power surge’ of cosmic magnitude, the awakening can result in serious damage to the body, especially the brain.
Billions of nervous connections can ‘burn’ and dissolve, leading to mental illness, symptoms of strokes or multiple sclerosis. Such accidents usually are the consequences of a premature kundalini awakening due to psychedelic drugs.
On the other hand, when kundalini awakens naturally, self-regulating systems within the body control and limit the amount of electricity released. As a result of this filtering mechanism, the nervous system progressively adjusts to the extra power, rather than self-destructing.
Yet, regardless of the process, a spiritual awakening is often followed by unsettling phenomena. Even though the initial experience might be blissful, it can lead to temporary suffering.
The good news is that a spiritual crisis is the prelude to a better life. Mental illness isn’t.
In most cases, a powerful awakening process is followed by a dramatic response of the ego. Ego-consciousness resists change, especially when the sixth and seventh chakras are involved.
After experiencing an incredible ‘shot of love’, some people suddenly feel very negative. They can be angry, or become anxious to a point of panic – and they don’t understand why. They might also start to question every aspect of their life, especially past behaviours, personal values, work and relationships. Such self-exploration is usually painful.
Some people can also experience physical problems, temporary aches and pains that do not have a recognisable physiological basis.
In extreme cases, the person in spiritual crisis might also act as if mad, simultaneously laughing and crying. They have entered the rocky world of spiritual emergency. Their emotional instability can be linked to visions, or other spiritual phenomena that doctors call ‘hallucinations’. Transpersonal psychologists, on the other hand, explain such extra-sensory experiences as ‘archetypal encounters’. Yes, these encounters can be disruptive but aren’t necessarily pathological – far from it.
In the East, it is said that a full kundalini awakening activates all past karma at once, instead of taking lifetime after lifetime to get cleared.
Yet, all going well, these unpleasant symptoms soon disappear. Just as a butterfly eventually emerges out of its cocoon, the awakened person feels happier, stronger, healthier and wiser than ever before!
Beyond spiritual emergency
Unsettling phenomena are not part of kundalini per se. They happen because of physical and emotional impurities met along the way. These include past traumas, both conscious and unconscious, and negative emotions, such as guilt, anger, fear, resistance to change, etc. Physical and chemical imbalances are also dealt with.
As these impurities get ‘burned’ by kundalini’s fire, both body and mind detoxify. The process could be compared to a pond that is stirred to drain excess mud. Its water first becomes cloudy, then seriously polluted and then it clears up. Same within us. In time, the detoxification process leads to better health, more energy and a greater sense of wellbeing.
Benefits of kundalini awakening
Kundalini awakening leads to a profound restructuring of the nervous system and affects mind, body and spirit. At each new level, as a higher chakra gets stimulated, past certainties vanish to be replaced by a progressively more expanded, loving and accepting perspective of life. Self-actualisation can thus be explained as kundalini resting in the heart after a full awakening.
Once the ‘serpent-power’ has burnt many impurities and cleared her path, she can then move up and down the sushumna again any time, without painful physical symptoms. Her journey is then felt as heat associated with very pleasurable vibrations, somehow similar to a full body sexual orgasm.
Increased stamina, intuition, psychic abilities and wonderful meditations are some of kundalini’s other greatest gifts.
At a physical level, benefits are felt right down to a cellular level. To start with, extra energy becomes available and needs to be directed wisely, including sexual urges. Numerous studies also suggest that ageing slows down. As organs heal themselves quickly and efficiently whenever needed, good health becomes a natural state.
However, when kundalini reaches the upper chakras, the body becomes much more sensitive to pollutants of all types. For instance, it can react strongly to foods that putrefy in the body, as meat does. Nor does it handle alcohol well, even if it once did.
This is the reason why many people on the spiritual path turn to wholesome foods and often become vegetarians. Their body dictates it. And yet, in time, this can change again, as body, mind and spirit find a new balance that honours their respective long-term needs.
Marlyse Carroll is a principal of the INNER PEACE Institute for Wellbeing, a Melbourne-based organisation that teaches meditation and trains new teachers/facilitators in personal growth. She is also the author of ‘Am I Going Mad?’, the recently published book described by Dr John Demartini as ‘truly a physiological, psychological and spiritual masterpiece’.
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