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Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning either "coiled up" or "coiling like a snake"; there are a number of other translations usually emphasizing a more serpent nature to the word - 'serpent power' or suchlike.

It is a term in Yoga referring to the mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation. According to Yogic phenomenology a large part of this awakening is associated with the appearance of bio-energetic phenomena that are experienced somatically by the yogic candidate. This appearance is also referred to as Pranic Awakening. Prana is interpreted as the vital, life-sustaining force in the body. Uplifted, or intensified life-energy is called pranotthana and is supposed to originate from an apparent reservoir of subtle bio-energy at the base of the spine. This energy is also interpreted as a vibrational phenomena that initiates a period, or a process of vibrational spiritual development. According to the Yogic tradition Kundalini is curled up in the back part of the root chakra in three and one-half turns. Quite a number of western translators interpret the energetic phenomena as a form of psychic energy, although the western parapsychological understanding of psychic energy, separated from its cultural-hermeneutic matrix, is probably not the same as the yogic understanding. Yogic philosophy understands this concept as a maturing energy that expresses the individual's soteriological longings. Viewed in a mythological context it is also sometimes believed to be an aspect of Shakti, the goddess and consort of Shiva.

Two early western interpretations of Kundalini were supplied by C.W. Leadbeater (1847-1934), of the Theosophical Society, and the Analytical Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (18751961) (The psychology of Kundalini yoga, Princeton: 1966).

Kundalini is a popular concept that is widely quoted among various disciplines of Yoga. However, the recent popularization of the term within new religious movements has - according to some scholars of religion - not contributed to promote a mature understanding of the concept (Sovatsky, 1998). As with many eastern contemplative concepts there exist considerable difficulties, and possible semantic confusion, connected to the way these concepts are adapted to a western context. This has led to somewhat different interpretations and applications of the concept of Kundalini within the spiritual and contemplative culture in the west. On the one hand there is the New Age popularizations, and on the other hand there is the traditional lineage of Kundalini Yoga understood from its cultural background and interpreted within the academic fields of Religious Studies and Transpersonal/Humanistic psychology.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga is a meditative discipline - or a system of meditative techniques and movements - within the yogic tradition that focuses on psycho-spiritual growth and the body's potential for maturation. The concept of life-energy - pranotthana - is central to the practice and understanding of Kundalini Yoga. It also gives special consideration to the role of the spine and the endocrine system in the understanding of yogic awakening (Sovatsky, 1998). Recently, there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation, and some of these studies have applied the discipline of Kundalini Yoga to their clinical settings.

Kundalini rising

According to Yogic terminology the force of Kundalini is supposed to be raised through meditative exercises and activated within the concept of a subtle body, a body of energy and finer substance. As it raises from the root-chakra up through the spinal channel, called sushumna, it is believed to activate each chakra it goes through. Each chakra is said to contain special characteristics, and although the opening of higher chakras are believed to mark advanced spiritual unfolding, it is important not to measure spiritual growth solely by the opening of higher potentials. According to this view chakras might be under- or overdeveloped, and lower chakras are thought to be just as important as higher. In raising Kundalini, spiritual powers "siddhis" are also believed to arise, but many spiritual traditions see these phenomena as obstacles on the path, and encourages their students not to get hung up with them.

According to much contemporary spiritual literature, and the field of Transpersonal Psychology, it is not considered wise to engage in this sort of practice without the guidance of a credible teacher or without thorough psychological preparation and education in Yoga. Any form of intense contemplative or spiritual practice without the support of a cultural context, or without the support of thorough psychological preparation, is usually considered to be unfortunate, and in some cases even dangerous. These warnings cannot be underestimated without risk. A growing body of clinical and psychological literature notes the growing occurrence of meditation-related problems in Western contemplative life (Lukoff, 1998; Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). Among these we find the Kundalini Syndrome.

Spiritual literature also describes instances when Kundalini can be initiated. Initiation of kundalini activity is usually considered to take place by a form of 'laying on of hands', or shaktipat, where physical contact to the body or the forehead of the subject by the guru or initiator is supposed to cause an experience of Kundalini that later may persist or grow with continuing practice, or fade away if practice is neglected. Eye contact during satsang with the guru is also supposed to cause this experience. Within the context of spiritual literature inadvertent kundalini experiences have also been reported to take place when subjects physically contacted powerful gurus, such as Meher Baba, by accident.

Kundalini in the world's religions

Kundalini as a spiritual experience is thought to have parallels in many of the mystical traditions of the world's great religions. Many factors point to the universality of the phenomenon. The early Christians might have referred to the concept as 'pneuma', and there are some recent parallels in contemporary Christian charismatic 'Holy Ghost' phenomena. Religious studies also note parallels in Quakerism, Shakerism, Judaic davening (torso-rocking prayer), the swaying zikr and whirling dervish of Islam, the quivering of Eastern Orthodox hesychast, the flowing movements of tai chi, the ecstatic shamanic dance, the ntum trance dance of the Bushman, Tibetan Buddhist tumoheat, and the Indically-derived Andalusian flamenco (Sovatsky, 1998; 2002).

The Kundalini Syndrome

Theorists within the schools of Humanistic psychology, Transpersonal psychology and Near-Death Studies describe something called The Kundalini-syndrome, a complex psychological and somatic syndrome - or process - involving a pattern of motor, sensory, affective and cognitive/hermeneutic symptoms. This psycho-somatic arousal and excitation is believed to occur in connection with prolonged and intensive spiritual or contemplative practice (such as meditation or yoga). It might also occur spontaneously as a result of intense life experiences or a close encounter with death, a near-death experience. According to these fields of study the Kundalini-syndrome is of a different nature than a single Kundalini episode, such as a Kundalini-rising. The Kundalini-syndrome is a process that might unfold over several months, or even years. If the accompanying symptoms unfold in an intense manner - that de-stabilizes the person - the process is usually interpreted as a Spiritual Emergency (Grof & Grof, 1989; Lukoff, 1998).

Interdisciplinary dialogue within these particular schools of psychology has now established some common criteria in order to describe this condition. Motor symptoms are thought to include tremors, shaking, spontaneous or involuntary body-movements and changes in respiratory function. Sensory symptoms are thought to include changes in body-temperature, a feeling of energy running along the spine or progressing upwards in the body, a feeling of electricity in the body, headache and pressure inside of the head, tingling, vibrations and gastro-intestinal problems. Cognitive and affective symptoms are thought to include psychological upheaval, stress, depression, hallucinations (inner visions or acoustical phenomena), depersonalization or derealization, intense mood-swings, altered states of consciousness, but also moments of bliss and deep peace (Sannella, 1976; Greyson 1993, 2000; Scotton, 1996; Kason, 2000). Within the mentioned academic traditions this symptomatology is often referred to as the Physio-Kundalini syndrome (Sannella, 1976, Greyson 1993; 2000) or Kundalini-experience/awakening (Scotton, 1996; Lukoff, 1998). Greyson (1993) developed The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index in order to measure the degree of Physio-Kundalini symptoms among Near-Death experiencers. Most researchers within this field believe that the core of the process is not pathological, but maturational, even though the symptoms at times may be dramatic and very disturbing (Greyson, 1993; Lukoff, 1998). Transpersonal literature emphasizes that this list of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for self-diagnosis. Any unusual or marked physical or mental symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical doctor (Kason, 2000).

In a medical journal, Le Fanu (2002) briefly discusses the similarity between the interpretation new mystery syndromes and the Kundalini experience. According to the field of Transpersonal Psychology the Kundalini-syndrome is largely unknown to Western psychiatry. Many writers within this field are consequently working towards a clinical approach to the problem. Possible improvements in the diagnostic system that are meant to differentiate the Kundalini-syndrome from other disorders have been suggested. A recent criticism of some of the approaches to this clinical category has been put forward by Sovatsky (2002) who believes that when interpreting the symptomatology one must differentiate between the symptoms of - what is thought to be - a Kundalini-awakening, and the symptoms of different preliminary yogic processes. According to this view many reported Kundalini-problems might rather be signs of the precursory energetic state of pranotthana. A confusion of terms within this delicate area of clinical concern might also - unfortunately - lead to various undiagnosed neurological problems being misdiagnosed as a Kundalini-problem.

Kundalini and physiology

Contemporary spiritual literature often notes that the chakras as described in the esoteric kundalini documents bear a strong similarity in location and number to the major endocrine glands, as well as nerve bundles called ganglions. One speculation is that the traditional practices have formalized a method for stimulating the endocrine glands to work in a different mode which has a more direct effect on consciousness, perhaps ultimately by stimulating the release of DMT by the pineal gland, which may be analogous to the 'pineal chakra' (Strassman, 2001). Within the context of meditation Kundalini might also be interpreted as a meditation-induced ecstatic experience, a non-sexual "air-gasm".

Within the transpersonal field Sovatsky (1998) has put forward the hypotheses of post-genital puberties. The possibiliy of viewing pranotthana (yogic terminology for intensified life-energy) and the larger Kundalini process as a maturation of body and character beyond conventional psychological growth. He has also made some criticism about the tendency - of much contemporary alternative culture - to frame the concept of Kundalini in a New Age-vocabulary. A tendency that might hinder a mature understanding of the subject. The interpretation of Kundalini as a developmental, or maturational phenomena, was first suggested to the west by the Pandit Gopi Krishna, whose autobiography is entitled Kundalini - The Evolutionary Energy in Man (Boulder: Shambhala, 1971).

Pathological Kundalini

When practiced in a religious context, Kundalini is mostly beneficial and benevolent, but its initial physiological precursors have the potential to diverge into some peculiar types of pathology, when induced to arise via violence and outside of a religious context, where it may be part of a PTSD response to extreme experiences.

The PTSD researcher, Dr. Jonathan Shay describes several cases with kundalini-like symptoms in his book 'Achilles in Vietnam'.

Kundalini energy has also occasionally been abused by various gurus or spiritual teachers of various sects, usually by creating an unhealthy dependence of the disciples upon the guru for 'energy treatments'. The philosopher Nietzsche may have also been the victim of a pathological form of kundalini awakening, leading to his breakdown and 'insanity', from which he never recovered.


Bhagvad Gita



Above article originally  from Wikipedia. The above text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
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