“The Serpent Power.” “The Coiled One.” “The Sleeping Goddess.”
Known by many names, Kundalini is the dormant force hidden within each of us. We feel her… our hidden potential.
When we get quiet enough inside we can sometimes sense her power. There’s something below the surface of our conscious mind, something far beyond our current capacity to comprehend.
If only we could access it.
What is Kundalini?
Many volumes have been written about Kundalini. Some are informative and inspiring, others read like fantasy novels. Some sing the praises of the Goddess, while others warn of her danger.
Kundalini is far more vast and subtle than any label or description could convey. She is the very creative power by which all the stories about her were formed.
On a macro-level, Kundalini-Shakti is the great force that emerged with a “Big Bang” and gave rise to the entire universe. She is the organizing, intelligent energy which condensed into the 118 elements recorded on the periodic table, the substance from which our universe and all life within it was born.
On a personal, micro-level of being, Kundalini manifests as the life-force which creates, maintains, and sustains our subtle and physical bodies.
Most people direct the vast majority of their attention and vitality outward through the senses and into the world. But for those drawn to the spiritual path, there’s a shift which causes the life-force to become more internally operative. This is sometimes referred to as the activation of Kundalini.
In truth, Kundalini is always active, we’re just not aware of her movement. The majority of our energy goes toward upholding our mental and physical functions. Our attention is usually caught up in our thoughts, emotions, and in whatever is taking place in our environment.
Through spiritual practice we become more quiet inside, our awareness is drawn within and we acquire a greater sensitivity to subtle energies. At the same time, Kundalini begins to move in a different direction.
She reverses her flow and begins to travel upward toward her source. Shakti (power or energy) begins her journey back to Shiva (Awareness).
This upward flow is experienced by some as an uncoiling of energy that was held under pressure. This is our untapped potential coming to life. It’s described as a coiled snake springing up through the body toward the top of the head.
This aspect of the awakening energy came to be visualized as a form of the goddess, Shakti. Hence the name, “kunda”: coiled, “lini”: goddess.
As energy rises, it transforms. Awareness moves into higher chakras, those centers unfold, and dormant spiritual capacities come online.
This may manifest as greater health, enhanced intellectual abilities, heightened powers of perception, or an increased capacity for creative expression. There are stories of spontaneous healings and of people becoming prolific in art, poetry, or music when they had no previous talent in those crafts.
2 Types of Awakenings
Most changes usually take place over an extended period of time rather than all at once, although some people have described explosive “kundalini awakenings” that catapult them into higher states of being. This doesn’t mean the process is completed in an instant. Even in sudden, transformative awakenings the changes need to be integrated into one’s daily life before they can become permanent traits.
In other words, Kundalini creates the opening, then the opening has to be sustained. And this takes time and a depth of inner work.
Essentially, there are two ways. In the first, the yogi performs much of the work before the Goddess awakens. He clears a path for her by purifying his mind and nervous system.
The second is the way of sudden awakening. In this case Kundalini, like a forest fire, burns through a massive amount of blockages and conditionings as she rises through the chakra system and into the crown. After, the work must be done to integrate the new level of consciousness.
The transformative rise of Kundalini is rarely a steady and consistent process. What stands in the way is resistance. Resistance is push-back from the ego-mind.
The ego doesn’t want change. It’s identified with the patterns and conditionings constructed while living on lower planes of existence. When an upward shift occurs those limiting identities are weakened and destroyed.
The ego will do anything to maintain its fixed sense of identity. When something comes along and washes away the foundation of that identity, it will scramble to shore it back up, to reinforce and reconstruct itself.
But as much as it wishes to be, the ego is not immortal. It’s playing a game it can never sustain. There’s a deeper part of us that knows we are not the small ego-entity we pretend to be.
When the desire to discover this greater Self becomes strong enough, Kundalini wakes from her slumber.
Clearing the Path
There’s a lot of talk today about “activating and controlling Kundalini”. There are teachers who claim to be “masters of Kundalini”. But Kundalini is not something to be controlled or mastered.
Kundalini is the life-force within you that has an intelligence far beyond the capacity of the mind. It knew how to bring the two single cells from each of your parents together and grow your entire body out of that tiny fusion. And it’s what is present now, sustaining your body and expressing through it, as it.
Kundalini awakens naturally, along with our desire to grow spiritually. But this doesn’t mean we have to wait passively by. There are actions, kriyas, we can engage in that will help fan our desire for growth and clear a path through which Kundalini can flow.
Yoga is a path of purification. The reason for this is simple — we are already enlightened. At our core, we are pure Light. We are Awareness Itself.
We don’t have to evolve into a state of divinity. We are divine. But because our light is veiled, we can’t see it.
The great sage, Bhagwan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, India used the metaphor of a fireplace to explain this paradox. He described a soot-filled window that blocked the view of the fire. If you want a view of the fire, you have to scrub and scrub until the window is clean.
Through spiritual work–pranayama, meditation, service to others–the window of perception is cleaned and our inner light is revealed.
Fire And Ice: Melting Our Frozen Energies
Another way of looking at this is to see all of our mental conditionings, all the pranic blockages as frozen layers of energy. Through spiritual work, we use our inner fire to melt through them. This ice-melt then flows into our central channel and becomes part of our energetic flow.
The ego, of course, will resist this flow. It will struggle against it, slow it down, and the flow will refreeze. We’ve all experienced this. We work to rid ourselves of a bad habit, think we’re free of it, and then watch in horror as we fall back into the old pattern.
An alcoholic, eighteen months sober, opens a bottle at a weak moment and all his buried samskaras surge to the surface. A week later he’s back on his old stool at the local bar. An abuse victim, two years emancipated from her oppressive partner, gets a call from him on a lonely winter night and all her familiar co-dependent emotions float up and take over.
This is why surrender (letting go) is a core element of spiritual practice.
Surrendering to the Flow of Kundalini
When the yogini surrenders to Life’s flow, she grows. Each time the forces of habit emerge, she lets them go. Rather than contracting around a compulsion toward habit, she observes it, acknowledges it, and allows it to pass through. In this way, the yogini becomes energized and empowered.
By giving in to limiting habits, we work against the evolutionary force of Nature, against Kundalini. Our energy is directed outward toward the desire, and we become depleted.
To surrender is to cooperate with the flow of higher creative energy. It’s to let go and let Kundalini-Shakti come through. If we can learn to trust Her, to get out of Her way, She will bring us into higher and higher states of being.
Devotion is a key element of the process. Without it, the pull of habits and conditionings will continue to drag us back down into lower levels of consciousness. We remain stuck on those levels, struggling against the flow of life, trapped within the web of fear and desire.
In other words, we suffer. The deep desire to grow closer to Spirit creates a strong devotion within us that gives us the ability to climb back up no matter how many times we are sucked into lower states.
The Path of Light
In the ancient tantras, the yogis wrote about the complex system of energy channels (nadis) within the subtle body through which the life-force flows. These nadis–some texts refer to 72,000 of them–intercept at different points which form energetic hubs called chakras.
Out of the thousands of nadis, three hold the most importance to the yogi. These can be felt within the center of the spine, which is also where each of the six major chakras are seated.
Remember, nadis and chakras are part of the subtle-body anatomy. They transcend the physical body, so they are not actually located within the spinal column, but this is where they are felt.
There’s a channel to the left of center called ida nadi, which has a cooling, lunar quality. And there’s a channel to the right of center called pingala nadi, which has a heating, solar quality. Between these lies the radiant path of sushumna nadi.
When the yogi balances the flow of lunar and solar energies, Kundalini enters sushumna and ascends. Sushumna nadi is sometimes referred to as “the radiant path” or “the path of light”, because as we travel that path we become illumined.
Kundalini Rising: Ascending the Chakras
The ascension of conscious energy into the higher centers is often accompanied by feelings of levity and bliss. We are working our way up from the heavier, earth-bound energies into the subtler elements of air and space, and this is an experience of joyous expansion. The bliss we feel creates a positive feedback loop that encourages a deepening of practice.
There’s even a response in our physiology. In some cases the tongue rises to meet the soft palate, the eyes shift upward, or the body spasms as it releases areas of tension and blockages. Some people sweat, some see inner lights or hear inner sounds.
It’s important to remember that we are not in any way trying to force any of these experiences to take place or to spur a quick awakening. We are not attempting to manipulate Kundalini’s flow in order to bring about a particular state of consciousness. Our inner work is simply to clear the debris from the path.
We do this by calming the mind, releasing our tensions, and bringing our awareness inward back toward its Source.
The alchemical process of awakening happens naturally and organically as Kundalini climbs. All of the nadis and chakras become purified, enlivened, and saturated with her nectar (the nourishment of higher creative energy).
When Kundalini becomes fully active the nondual reality of ShivaShakti is revealed.