3 of 9 – Kundalini Explained
By Marlyse Carroll
(Author of ‘Am I Going Mad? The Unsettling Phenomena of Spiritual Evolution’ – www.amigoingmad.com.au)
If you don’t know much about the chakras, please read this article first. And note that chakras and Kundalini are Eastern concepts that are highly controversial in mainstream Western neurology.
The word ‘Kundalini’ comes from the Hindu tradition. It is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘coiled’, which refers to ‘Serpent Power’, and also to a spiral. Metaphorically, it stands for ‘the power of the Higher Self’, or ‘the power of Consciousness’. There is no equivalent in English, apart maybe from the Christian concept of ‘Holy Spirit’.
As the power of consciousness, Kundalini is a psycho-spiritual energy that has enormous power, both creative and destructive. Considered female, this invisible energy is often symbolically represented as a serpent, a goddess, an ocean or a spiral.
Even though the above concepts might appear terribly abstract, Kundalini’s energy is real. It’s built into our DNA, exists in every human body, is electrical in nature, and is either turned off or turned on. To use a more conventional language, Kundalini is either dormant or awake.
When Kundalini is dormant, she is said to be coiled three and a half times on the perineum, which is the seat of the first chakra. In some individuals, she slumbers there for their whole lifetime. In others, she eventually awakens, uncoils and starts rising up the sushumna. 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!
Symptoms of Kundalini Awakening
People who meditate regularly tend to experience mild symptoms of Kundalini rising, one chakra at a time, with several months or even years 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, including the big toes.
Other people experience involuntary movements called kryas, which they cannot stop. The body just moves of its own accord, which feels really weird. These movements can be yoga-like, gracious and precise. Or they can be highly energetic, even chaotic, including violent shaking of the whole body.
When Kundalini reaches the upper chakras, most people also describe a brilliant light that they can see inside their brain, eyes closed. Deep sleep becomes elusive, especially if psychic phenomena kick in as well.
In some cases, the awakening is 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 first felt as a succession of intense electrical shocks simultaneously linked to physical heat, visions of light, extra-sensory perceptions and/or waves of ecstasy. This state can last from a few minutes to several hours. Less intense phenomena can last much longer.
Andre Gide, French writer (1869-1951)
And then the Kundalini energy comes down, ideally taking residence in the heart centre, balancing upper and lower chakras. Yet in most cases of sudden awakening, Kundalini oscillates wildly between chakras before settling down, which leads to an emotional rollercoaster ride.
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 can 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 or medicinal plants can also trigger a sudden Kundalini awakening. This can be 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.
- And 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 only awakens in a few – some estimates say one in a thousand peopleâ€¦ but who knows really? And when she does, in most cases she only rises up to the third chakra, which is located at the solar plexus1.
The fun really starts when the Serpent Power keeps going! For some, the journey is blissful, for others it can be harrowing.
Several factors influence the outcome, including prior life experiences, ego structure and how healthy or damaged the psyche is. In any case, understanding what’s happening is hugely beneficial in the unfolding process.
Which is why I recommend you do more research and/or read Am I Going Mad? The Unsettling Phenomena of Spiritual Evolution.
A Word of Warning
about Psychedelic Drugs
As already mentioned, Christianity and our Western medical system don’t acknowledge chakras or Kundalini. On the other hand, Eastern spiritual teachers have warned us for millennia that a forced Kundalini awakening can be harmful to mind and body.
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, a sudden awakening triggered by LSD, DMT, ecstasy or others substances can result in serious damage to the body, especially the brain.
Billions of nervous connections can ‘burn’ and dissolve, leading to schizophrenia, symptoms of stroke without haemorrhage, or multiple sclerosis.
On the other hand, when Kundalini awakens naturally, self-regulating systems within the body control and limit the amount of electricity released at each chakra. As a result of this filtering mechanism, the nervous system progressively adjusts to the extra power, rather than risking self-destruction.
Regardless of the process, unsettling phenomena often follow a full spiritual awakening. As the 6th and 7th chakras get fully activated, ego-consciousness feels challenged. That’s because profound changes in perception are disturbing to its world-view. So the ego needs time and an expanded framework of references to integrate these changes.
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. And some people need practical support whilst going through this process.
After experiencing an incredible shot of divine love, others become delusional, for instance believing they are the new Messiah or they are destined to save the world! Most symptoms of ego-inflation are usually temporary.
Other individuals can suddenly feel very negative, angry or 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, as the light of consciousness exposes previously hidden material – in other words, the shadow.
In fact, a Kundalini awakening will tend to magnify and amplify all emotions, both positive and negative. Again, this will pass if the crisis is handled sensitively and not medicalised.
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 appear psychotic. They have entered the rocky world of spiritual madness. They might laugh and cry simultaneously. And their emotional instability can be linked to visions, or other spiritual phenomena that doctors call ‘hallucinations’.
Transpersonal psychology, on the other hand, explains such extra-sensory experiences as ‘archetypal encounters’. And yes, these encounters can be disruptive but aren’t necessarily pathological, far from it.
The detox effect
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 seriously polluted, then cloudy, before it clears up.
It is the same within us. In time, the detoxification process leads to better health, more energy and a greater sense of wellbeing. Just as a butterfly eventually emerges out of its cocoon and starts to fly, the newly awakened person has abilities they didn’t have beforehand.
Benefits of Kundalini Awakening
Kundalini awakening leads to a profound restructuring of the nervous system that 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 and/or artistic abilities, spiritual powers and wonderful meditations are some of Kundalini’s other greatest gifts.
Physically, benefits are felt right down to the cellular level. To start with, extra energy becomes available and needs to be directed wisely, including sexual urges. Numerous studies also demonstrate 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 gut, 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 or become vegetarians. Their body dictates it. And yet over time, their diet can change again. Ideally, body, mind and spirit create a new balance that honours their respective long-term needs.
In the next article, we’ll take a closer look at enlightenment, which is what happens when Kundalini pushes through the top chakra. And in Article 5, we’ll explore the best ways to help a person in crisis.
- John E. Nelson M.D. ‘Healing the Split’, 1994
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