Kundalini Yoga is an esoteric school of yoga which deals with awakening of the inner energy or power dormant in every human being called Kundalini Shakti. The Kundalini lies dormant below the base of the spine, above the Muladhara Chakra or the root plexus. In Yoga and Tantra texts, the kundalini is depicted as a feminine divine power or Shakti that raises up the spine like a serpent to meet the male divine principle called Shiva or Para Brahma. Kundalini Yoga is also called Laya Yoga or the Yoga of dissolution or total absorption.
Kundalini Yoga and the process of awakening the kundalini appears in many ancient texts starting from the Upanishads. The Yoga Kundalini Upanishad and the Yoga Tattva Upanishad contain the Vedic references to kundalini and its awakening. Classical Hatha yoga texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita also talks about methods to awaken the Kundalini Shakti. Special mention should be made of a text called Shad Chakra Nirupana written by Swami Purnananda, which has been translated and commented on by Sir John Woodroffe in his popular book, The Serpent Power.
Description of Kundalini
Various texts have the description of kundalini, but the most graphical and vivid description can be taken from the text Shad Chakra Nirupana.
The kundalini Shakti rest just above the Muladhara or the root chakra. The Muladhara plexus is described as a crimson flower with 4 petals. In the pericarp of this flower is a yellow square representing the earth element. In the middle of the square is an inverted triangle, which represents Shakti or energy principle. Within the triangle is a Linga called Swayumbu Linga which is smoky grey in colour. The Kundalini is represented like a serpent coiled around this Linga in three and half coils and appears like lightning. The three and half coils represent the three Gunas or qualities of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva and the half represents transcendence.
This is an esoteric representation of the kundalini. When the serpent like power un-coils, it straightens up and tries to enter the base of the central channel or Sushumna. That is why it is essential to purify and open the Sushumna Nadi, before awakening the Kundalini.
The goal of Kundalini Yoga
The goal of Kundalini Yoga is to awaken the dormant feminine energy at the root plexus or Muladhara and raise it up to the crown of the head or Sahasrara Chakra. The whole process involves opening up of the various plexuses and purifying the Pranic energy channels called Nadis. When the kundalini reaches the crown chakra, it merges with Shiva or the male principle. This leads to blossoming of the total potential of the human brain. We are utilizing only a small part of our active brain. Kundalini yoga can activate the various dormant parts of the brain and manifest many powers related to higher consciousness. After merging at Sahasrara, the kundalini returns back to the root chakra and rests there. But it brings with it the knowledge and awareness of the higher realm, which is manifested in all actions of the practitioner.
Technically, the kundalini may even go beyond the crown chakra, but such matters are beyond the scope of this article.
Prerequisites for awakening the Kundalini Shakti
Awakening of the kundalini can be achieved through various methods. But before it is attempted, certain preparations are required to avoid any dangers of the awakening. Once the awakening has happened, the energy has to be taken up the spine along the central channel or Sushumna. Else, if the kundalini is blocked at the root chakra or any other chakra, it can manifest in various physical and psychological disorders. One may even go crazy. Sometimes, one may develop certain psychic powers, but the benefits need not be spiritual. Many of these symptoms, where the kundalini gets blocked at any Chakra, is now commonly referred to as Kundalini Syndrome.
Preparing the central channel for the ascension of the kundalini is essential. Traditionally, the preparation starts with activating the Chakras or the plexuses along the spine. If the chakras are not developed, the kundalini can get blocked at those centres. There are 6 Chakras or plexuses starting from Muladhara Chakra, Swadhistana Chakra, Manipuraka Chakra, Anahata Chakra, Vishuddhi Chakra and Ajna Chakra which have to be developed and opened up. After that, the Nadis or the Pranic channels have to be purified. Ida Nadi (left channel along the spine) and the Pingala Nadi (Right Channel along the spine) are activated and finally the central meridian or Sushumna is purified and opened up. Only after this, it is safe to awaken the kundalini Shakti through various spiritual practices.
Methods of awakening Kundalini
The kundalini can be awakened by various methods including Mantra yoga, Pranayama, Raja Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Intense austerity or Tapas, Shaktipat or direct energy transfer from guru to disciple, certain tantric initiations, use of certain herbs or Aushadhi, the knowledge of which is now mostly lost, etc. For all these methods, the guidance and formal initiation from a genuine master is essential.
In some cases, Kundalini may be awakened from birth itself. Such individuals should seek a master to take the energy safely upwards for further spiritual evolution.
Need for a Proper Guru
Most of the texts mention the methods to awaken the kundalini. But how to safely take this energy up the spine? This is not mentioned elaborately in the classical texts as the methods were kept secret and was passed on through esoteric traditions through the Master-Disciple lineage. Kundalini when awakened and not properly guided upwards, can cause many difficulties in the life of the practitioner. This is where a role of a qualified Kundalini master is essential. A proper Kundalini teacher can help the student to raise the energy up and take it towards the crown chakra or Sahasrara Chakra safely without any side effects. Kundalini yoga is one branch of yoga, that cannot be practiced without the help of a Master. Practitioners are advised to seek a qualified master for learning Kundalini yoga.