According to the texts that were written in yoga by “rishis” (seers or knowers) the purpose of yoga is union or yoking up to a higher universal understanding or power. Being conscious, present.
What do all these rules and practices of yoga postures have to do with a higher understanding? Not much.
The hatha yoga pradipika tells us to use yoga practices to raise our “kundalini”, raising our “kundalini” helps us to be more aware and present which will allow us to then yoke to the higher universal power.
What is raising your kundalini?
Most yoga texts describe kundalini rising as some dormant magical energy (the ‘kundalini’, which means “coiled one”) that is coiled up sleeping at the base of your spine in your “first chakra” … Yoga exercises, breathing, and meditation awaken this energy or awareness. As it rises it goes up our spine piercing our “chakras” we magically become “enlightened”. So What is Kundalini, what is a “chakra”?
Kundalini explained by the Sikhs makes the most sense to me. They explain Kundalini as “ignorance”, “delusion”, “unlearned”, “unwise” … And David Williams was told this too by Pattabhi Jois (he writes about it in his book), he was doing kundalini yoga previously, when he asked Pattabhi Jois if this practice will release the kundalini, Pattabhi Jois told him “Kundalini means ignorance, yes you will release your ignorance through the practices you are learning”.
In the Yoga Yajnavalkya (and in Desikachar’s book “The heart of yoga”) kundalini is explained as a snake we want to burn up or kill. A dead snake can not make itself coil. This unrolling of the kundalini is what allows energy to flow upward toward the brain helping us to reach higher states of consciousness — which the upper fibers of the vagus nerve do. So the live coiled snake is what is blocking the flow of our energy to the upper fibers of the vagus nerve, if you kill it and it relaxes then the blockage is removed.
Our spine, known as sushumna nadi in yoga language is contained within the vagus nerve complex — according to the Upanishads it also locates the sushumna nadi within the upper fibers of the vagus nerve — specifically rising from the space of the heart, behind the upper palate and into the skull, which is indeed the path of the vagus nerve. (This is explained in more detail in Yoga and your Vagus Nerve).
Pulling it together, the sushumna nadi is in the vagus nerve, and the sushmna nadi houses our kundalini, which is ignorance. Kundalini as ignorance would be in the lower fibers of the vagus nerve — which are in our gut — you “kill” or relax the lower vagal fibers (meaning remove tension from the gut) so the energy moves to the upper vagal fibers from the heart to the brain where we make more enlightened decisions.
So you want your kundalini to uncoil and escape.
Carolyn Myss says “hold on tight” if your Kundalini starts rising — this is not a fun experience; when your kundalini rises it shakes the earth you stand on. Meaning it changes your beliefs or your whole belief system, so to speak — you see things in a new way … you are less ignorant.
It is not some psycho-spiritual mystical awakening as your kundalini pierces each chakra. It is down to earth, shaking your knees.
The kundalini does not “rise” or “escape” the same way in everyone, often times it will accompany dramatic experiences, other times not.
You can assume your kundalini is escaping if you have interest in religion, mysticism, meditation, yoga, chanting, going on pilgrimages, visiting spiritual teachers, and other similar endeavors.
Everyone’s kundalini is active to varying degrees — you don’t need to try to wake up your kundalini. We have all had experiences that have made us see our world in a different way (covid!)
Kundalini rising is said to be your Self creating experiences to “wake you up” or better yet “shake you up” to seek answers to basic existential questions; “what is this world?” “Who am I”? It’s also trying to get you to shift your world, or even change your life or maybe just look at your world in a different way.
While in the past I have heard awakened kundalini associated with enlightenment — maybe it is a form of enlightenment — when your ignorance is removed the darkness is removed and you see clearly now. I would not call it enlightenment when your kundalini has escaped.
An awakened Kundalini just means the mind is more subtle and can better experience “inner states” — not just the five senses and, emotions, and thoughts — but other states of consciousness, you are more aware of how your thoughts are driving you in your life – positive and/or negative, gross and/or subtle.
What causes your kundalini to wake up? Usually it is someone who is fed up with how the world operates, bored, sick of being “in the box”, or “looking for something”, but not really sure what they are looking for…
When this happens it illuminates what is called in yoga language your “vasanas” which is kinda like your Default Mode Network — your habitual or automatic response to a situation. These could be good or bad, once your kundalini starts to escape it illuminates your bad mental patterns so you can replace them with better patterns.
Sometimes it takes a trauma or drama to wake us up to see things differently. Other times not, can you let your Kundalini escape without the drama? That would be a good direction to head in.
On to chakras and prana~
Many people explain chakras as “energy centers that are situated along our spine and head, that are not tangible and you can not see on an x-Ray. I beg to differ … Chakras are tangible; each chakra coordinates with a major nerve plexus in the body. Each chakra or part of our nervous system deals with different aspects of being human.
In past chapters (Minding your Mindstuff, and Prana -ways we use it, lose it, and better yet accumulate it) I share how prana is believed to be biophotons — biophotons are quantum particles –light emitting photons in our body.
Biophotons help our body communicate instantly and wirelessly kinda like wifi with lots of bandwidth. This is what gives us vitality and the best health. The health of your body and mind is reliant on the speed of communications your body can send and receive. Biophotons can be in our breath, and in our nerve function, in our eyes, and throughout our body — essentially prana is biophotons.
In yoga it is said we want to get our prana into our spine so it can rise up with the kundalini. So basically we are trying to get our biophotons into our spine; If prana is biophotons and we get biophotons in our sushumna nadi (spine) – our spine houses all the nerves that communicate messages between the body and brain ~ this would equate to instant communications and functions in the body which would create supreme health and vitality. So … my one hanging question begs; How do we get our biophotons in our spine? This is what remains for me to figure out.
Still we are making progress, years and years of the yogic lore “Use yogic exercises to get your prana in your sushumna nadi, to raise your kundalini so it pierces your chakras leading to higher consciousness” explained as “pull biophotons into your spine so your entire body communicates quickly, relax your lower vagus nerve in your gut through stress reduction, which allows our energy to flow to the upper fibers of our vagus nerve where we are capable of higher functioning”, those “inner states” of higher consciousness, where you are more aware of how your thoughts, actions, and words drive you, effect others, and effect the world around you.
Morality – and raising your Kundalini
I like how Jiddhu Krishnamurti (an Indian philosopher) described it:
The real yoga which is to lead a highly moral life (not morality according to circumstances or culture) — True ethical activity; not to hurt, clear thinking, acting morally, right amount of sleep and food, doing the right thing.
(Or as one of my favorite Buddhist sayings say: Just do the next Right thing!
The other point I feel this is making . . . the highest good for all involved . . .). Not just what is good for ourself, but everyone effected by what we do and think . . . Highly moral for every being effected “not morality according to circumstances or culture”!
On kundalini rising — aka removal of ignorance . . . If you get the right amount of sleep and good food, and exercise …. You have more energy … you are not dulled by disease, feeling sluggish from bad food; you are less likely to be in a bad mood attitude, which helps to remove ignorance and give you more energy to seek intelligence. This increased energy makes you feel better and be happier and more caring with others — this is your kundalini rising!
The physical asanas are exercise for a healthy body, and for some discipline — discipline is necessary in our life, we do sometimes have to do things we just don’t feel like doing . . . and in our modern life exercise is more needed — in the old days our lifestyle naturally had more exercise built into — not today.
I want to expound on kundalini rising energy and leading a highly moral life; This means we get rid of “our agendas”, no longer do we want to operate looking for what is best for ourselves only — it’s not just about me or you. We want to operate in a way that what we do — even our vocation — is the highest good for all effected. And truly moral, not morality according to culture or circumstances takes into effect societies that put certain sexes or cultures down, this is not moral. Or if you steal because you are poor or hungry — it is still not moral.
Here I will try to put in tangible terms what it is like when our “kundalini begins to rise”:
- The first chakra is located at the bottom of our spine and deals with our family (sense of belonging to a community), our home (food water shelter). As we learn to accept the predicaments we were born into and love our family members even though they may be radically different than us (or me radically different from them!), this would be higher minded … For example if your yoga makes your family uncomfortable you don’t need to talk them about it or push it on them. If you choose to be vegetarian and your family is not, do not expect them to have vegetarian food for you at family gatherings. And if we live modestly, a comfortable home without being wasteful or indulgent, this does not waste our resources. These may be signs your kundalini has pierced your first chakra …
- Second chakra in in our lower gut and is the energy of relationship energy and vocation energy. Signs of kundalini rising through your second chakra may be things like caring for your partner — feeling true affection for one another, not trying to control each other. Other signs of kundalini energy in your second chakra might be choosing a vocation that gives back to humanity, not just choosing a vocation to make yourself some money. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, ideally we get a job based on our strengths and skills, and hopefully something we enjoy as well that helps our community and/or world. Then pray to God we can earn a comfortable living from it! There is a balance with money; too little and you are struggling with no time for Spiritual pursuit . . . and too much comes with another whole lot of issues . . . We do want to be comfortable, this is good. And yes we do need to earn money, but keep it in perspective. It is not what makes life happy or fulfilling.
- Third chakra energy is the core of our personality it is our solar plexus. Our ego is housed here. Kundalini piercing the third chakra might take the form of something along the lines of giving up the “ego”. This gets a lot of attention when starting on the yogic path — the absence of ego. This might include things like not talking about yourself so much, not always trying to get attention, not trying to pretend you are so important or your job is so important … Not putting your self worth in how well you can do yoga postures …. Is a good sign your kundalini has made it to your third chakra.
- Fourth chakra kundalini rising is all about love, the fourth charka is at our heart. Unconditional love. For example, give love even if you don’t get it in return. Respond with love in all your dealings and doings.
- Fifth chakra kundalini rising is something like giving up your will, letting the universe guide you — have faith you will either be given solid ground to stand on or wings to fly … and then roll with it. Also the fifth chakra governs what goes in our mouth and what comes out. Eat smart and Speak kindly. I like how satya or truth is described … Speak the truth, but don’t hurt. Very difficult.
- The Sixth charka is at our 3rd eye between our eyebrows. Sixth chakra piercing may give us clear visions and clear thinking. Realizing the big picture, not getting caught up in the little details. When our kundalini makes it to our 6th chakra we are easier able to operate in a meditative state most of our day.
- There is something important to point out here: The yogic textbooks (Kundalini Tantra by Bihar School of Yoga) states that it is important to open your 6th chakra first when you start to work with your kundalini rising . . . then go base to crown with your ‘openings’. “If our kundalini starts rising before we open our 6th chakra it will rock the stability of the practitioner; one may experience physical, mental, and/or emotional shocks. The awakening of the 6th (ajna) chakra brings a great degree of detachment, which allows one to withstand the lower chakra awakenings without excessive shock. One is able to observe chakra experiences with the attitude of a witness.” How do you open your 6th chakra? Meditation would be a great start.
- And the kundalini reaching the 7th chakra at the crown of our head; the 1000 petal-ed lotus flower on the crown of our head where we connect with our spirituality … Wow … I guess when that happens you go sit by the River all day ….
What this is saying is the practices of yoga get us healthy, help us get grounded in family and community, give us self esteem and strength, help us respond with love, have faith in what the universe throws at us, and develop the ability to see the big picture in life. When these fall into place we are able to follow a higher path of understanding and serving our communities.
I like how Dr. Kelly Brogan, Functional Medicine Doctor and Kundalini Yoga Teacher, used the pyramid to describe this process:
First we must get our home, health, and family stable, then we need to feel safe, have a job and connection to people and community, then we need to love ourselves and respect others. After all this is in place we are ready to work on our spiritual journey, the rising of our consciousness. The practices of yoga are aligned with this principle, get the body and mind healthy then you can see the bigger picture and operate in a way that all you do is the highest good for everyone effected in any of your thoughts, words, and actions.