literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical literature of hatha yoga
kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. The image of
coiling, like a spring, conveys the sense of untapped potential energy. Perhaps
more meaningfully kundalini can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy
at the base of the spine. It's not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in
our head and think of kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our spine.
Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to accentuate this alien nature of the
image. It's more useful to think of kundalini energy as the very foundation of our
consciousness so when kundalini moves through the sushumna and through our chakras
our consciousness necessarily changes with it.
of kundalini can also be examined from a strictly psychological perspective. From
this perspective kundalini can be thought of as a rich source of psychic or libidinous
energy in our unconscious.
In the classical
literature of Kashmir Shaivism kundalini is described in three different manifestions.
The first of these is as the universal energy or para-kundalini. The second of these
is as the energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-kundalini. The third
of these is as consciousness or shakti-kundalini which simultaneously subsumes and
intermediates between these two. Ultimately these three forms are the same but understanding
these three different forms will help to understand the differerent manifestations
What does kundalini
have to do with spiritual enlightenment? What is the goal of kundalini yoga?
we need a few concepts: In yogic anatomy the sushumna is the central channel and
conduit for the kundalini energy that runs along our spine and up to the crown of
our head. Along this channel are placed additional channel networks called chakras.
These chakras are associated with major aspects of our anatomy - for example our
throat, heart, solar plexus, and in turn these aspects of our anatomy are related
to aspects of our human nature. According to the literature of kundalini yoga our
experience of these centers is limited due to knots which restrict the flow of energy
into these centers. Three knots are particuarly important. The knot of Brahma which
restricts the center at the base of the spine. The knot of Vishnu which restricts
the heart center and the knot of Rudra which restricts the center between the eyebrows.
These knots form an important framework in yogic thinking and the stages toward
enlightenment are articulated in terms of breaking through these knots in the yogic
classic the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as well as in some of the yoga upanishads. Specifically,
four stages of progress are described:
- Parichaya and
Arambha is associated
with breaking the knot of Brahma and the awakening of kundalini. Ghata is associated
with breaking the knot of Vishnu and and with internal absorption. Parichaya the
absorption deepens and in Nishpatti the knot of Rudra is pierced and the kundalini
may ascend to the center at the crown of the head. In this state transcendence is
integrated and, according to the yogic liteature, the yogi has nothing more to attain.
Putting these elaborate physiological decriptions aside, the goal of kundalini yoga is the same as the goal of any legimitate spiritual practice: To be liberated from the limited bounds of the self-centered and alienated ego. In kundalini yoga this is associated with internal manifestations of the kundalini but the external manifestations should be similar to any other legitiimate spiritual practice.