The subject of kundalini yoga has become very popular in India as well as abroad and so it has become necessary for all of us to understand both its practical and philosophical aspects in clearly defined terms. Just as Ananta, the serpent king, is the support of the whole earth, so too is the serpent kundalini the support of all tantra and yoga. The concept of kundalini and its ascent through sushumna, the royal road, has been symbolised in many stories and parables of various religions throughout the world.
One of the greatest stories symbolising kundalini is found in the tales of Lord Hanuman, the monkey god. The story of Hanuman symbolises the sadhana of one striving to awaken this inherent power. It is said that once, as a child, he was standing watching the sunrise. Suddenly he felt hungry and leapt into the sky and ate the sun, believing it to be a huge apple. Immediately all the three worlds became dark and the gods grew panicky. Hanuman definitely did not eat the sun. It is merely a symbolic expression representing the withdrawal of prana or the solar force from his body into the sushumna passage. This is the secret understanding of kundalini.
Kundalini yoga is a part of the tantric tradition. Although the word kundalini literally means 'coil', according to tantra it is derived from the word kunda meaning 'a deeper place', like havan kund. Kundalini is mahashakti, residing in a deeper place, mooladhara. Tantra incorporates many branches within its fold such as hatha yoga, mantra yoga, laya yoga, asanas, pranayama, kriya yoga, yoga nidra, bhakti yoga and above all kundalini yoga. The prime purpose of tantra has always been to awaken this great dormant potential and evolve the human consciousness beyond the frontiers of mind and time and space.
The mind is limited by certain barriers and its functions are confined to space and object. The word tantra is a composition of two ideas: expansion and liberation. Its aim is to expand consciousness and finally liberate it from its union with matter in the micro cosmic as well as macro cosmic aspect. Human consciousness is evolving constantly, it can never be disintegrated totally. Death of the body does not kill the consciousness. Disease of the body does not affect it. Tantra is the science of this consciousness.
It is said in the Gita that there are two eternal forces known as purusha and prakriti. They are the beginningless and endless forces behind the whole cosmos and our human existence. Prakriti is the matter, the totality or manifestation. Purusha is the consciousness manifesting itself further in the realm of mind, manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara. Existence and the individual being arise when purusha and prakriti come together.
For ages and ages throughout the cycle of reincarnation and evolution, these twin realities have moved and lived together as an inseparable unit. Even today in our individual existence we are a composition of matter and consciousness. The eternal union between these two aspects of creation has been so great that it has not been possible for an ordinary man with a gross and intellectual mind to separate them. The philosophy and practices of tantra aim at breaking this inseparability. Therefore yoga involves a process of separation (viyoga), and when pure consciousness is disconnected from entanglement with the mind and the manifested world, union (yoga) is the result.
In relation to the micro cosmic unit, within our physical body there are two forces: chitta and prana. Prana is the life force and chitta is the totality of awareness- the conscious, subconscious and unconscious states of the mind. Combined they are responsible for our knowledge and action. They control the karmendriyas (senses of action), the gyanendriyas (senses of cognition), and the functions of mind and consciousness.
Prana and chitta are channelled through our physical body in two nadis known as ida and pingala, which flow within the framework of the spinal column. In the same way as radioactive waves pass through the different lines in a transistor radio but are not perceptible to our naked eyes, the flow of mental and pranic consciousness in ida and pingala is not perceivable even after anatomical dissection of the spinal cord. Nevertheless they are realities.
Ida flows through the left nostril and pingala through the right nostril. Ida represents coolness, the moon and the mental and psychic functions. Pingala represents heat, the sun, energy and activity. Recent scientific investigations have shown that the temperature of the left nostril is slightly less than the right nostril supporting the age-old yogic theory.
The word nadi is generally translated as nerve channel, but the yogic definition differs. Nadi comes from the root word 'nad', to flow. It is not a vehicle or a nerve channel, which indicates a physical part of the body. Ida nadi is the flow of mental consciousness and pingala nadi is the flow of pranic consciousness. Prana and chitta flow throughout the body controlling every part, every organ, activity, impulse, every action and reaction of the whole gross, subtle and causal bodies.
These two nadis emanate from the base of the spinal cord at mooladhara chakra and terminate at the top of the spinal cord in ajna chakra. In the masculine body, mooladhara chakra is situated in the area of the perineum between the excretory and the urinary system. In the female body it can be found at the posterior side of the cervix. Mooladhara chakra is known as the seat of kundalini, the great mahashakti. Ajna chakra corresponds to the most important controlling gland in the human body known as the pineal gland. It is situated at the top of the spinal cord directly behind the mid-eyebrow centre in the area of the medulla oblongata. From mooladhara, pingala goes to the right and ida to the left and they curve and cross each at swadhisthana, manipura, anahata, and vishuddhi, finally terminating in ajna.
The third and most important channel flowing up the centre of the spinal cord is known as sushumna, the synthesis or spiritual nadi, The force of sushumna is kundalini. In tantra, kundalini is said to be sleeping in mooladhara chakra in eternal nidra, in eternal potentiality, wrapped in tamoguna. As long as sushumna and kundalini are in this dormant state, they are considered to be a tamasic force. But when ida and pingala are balanced, this tamasic force is activated and awakened. If the awakening of kundalini takes place prior to the balancing of ida and pingala, however, the sadhaka may suffer severe physical, mental and emotional disturbances.
Ida and pingala nadis are of prime importance when we talk about kundalini yoga. All the karmas, samskaras, frustrations and jealousies, and all that the mind and prana are made up of, are contained in the flow of ida and pingala. This means that all you have experienced in the past remains in the system of ida and pingala in a micro cosmic form. Unless these samskaras and karmas, both good and bad, painful and pleasant, are exhausted and purified, the awakening of sushumna may result in total imbalance of the nervous system and in extreme cases a person may suffer insanity or become a criminal.
Psychic awakening in an individual does not necessarily take place with the awakening of sushumna. Sushumna is an independent system and does not lie across ida and pingala. Many experiences which aspirants have may correspond to the awakening of prana in pingala or consciousness in ida. The hatha yoga shastras clearly explain that harmony and balance between the mental and pranic forces are absolutely necessary before the awakening of sushumna, the experience of samadhi.
When ida flows, the right side of the brain functions, and when pingala flows the left side of the brain operates. When the flow in sushumna is activated the whole brain participates in the activities of life. Sushumna is the pathway for the upward ascent of kundalini; it does not flow through any other nadi. When ida and pingala flow at the same time, when their temperature is equal, when the differences between prana and consciousness are broken down and all the various aspects are in perfect balance, kundalini is compelled to travel through sushumna nadi to brahmarandhra, a higher centre in the brain.
It is clearly written in the shastras that one should not awaken kundalini without first awakening sushumna. If you have a motor car but there is no roadway leading from your home, what are you going to do? In the same way when kundalini wakes up you have to give it a passageway. The opening up of sushumna becomes the means of communication between the lower and higher worlds.
Before the awakening of sushumna the practices of hatha yoga, including asanas, pranayama, mantra yoga and so on are essential in order to purify the functional and structural form of ida and pingala. It is important for the aspirant to understand that the process of awakening of this divine consciousness needs thorough, complete and expert planning. It must be done gradually under the guidance of one who has gained previous knowledge of the path.
The word hatha in tantra is a composition of two syllables 'ha' and 'tha', representing the two forces prana and mind, shiva and shakti, sun and moon, Ganga and Jamuna and so on. The definition of hatha yoga has been misunderstood and mistranslated as physical practices, but it is an esoteric system intended to balance these forces and awaken man's deeper personality. Asanas are not physical exercises merely for the health. They are designed to give a mild stimulus to the chakras so that when the awakening takes place one will not be startled. Now we have come to understand this more clearly in the light of modern scientific research.
In the same way, the practices of pranayama are not deep breathing exercises for increasing the supply of oxygen into the body. Oxygen alone is not the pranic force that helps you in yoga. What is important are the ions which are released from oxygen after a process of separation induced by the practices of pranayama. For example, in nadi shodhana pranayama a concentration of these ions, or pranic energy, occurs around ida and pingala nadis, increasing in intensity according to the number of rounds practised. In normal breathing this does not happen. With continued practice of alternate nostril breathing, over a long period of time, this concentration is harmonised and sushumna awakens.
Some people who are not familiar with Sanskrit misinterpret pranayama as 'control of breath' but the word pranayama is composed of 'prana' and 'ayama'. Ayama is a dimension or field. As there are radioactive and electromagnetic fields there are also pranic fields in the physical body. So far, in the scheme of our evolution, we have been able to extend the prana into only the first three dimensions of our existence: the gross, subtle and causal bodies corresponding to the waking, dreaming and sleeping states. However, there are seven bodies- one that we can see, two that we can feel, and four others that we can neither see nor feel. They correspond to the chakras and to the seven planes of consciousness - bhu, bhuvah, swaha, maha, jana, tapa and satyam. The purpose of pranayama is to extend the permeation of prana into these other bodies, into the realm of samadhi and beyond.
When prana which is now controlling the karmendriyas and gyanendriyas is withdrawn from every part of the body and is no longer bound to mooladhara chakra, kundalini breaks out. When Hanuman ate the sun he stopped the flow of pingala nadi, also known as surya nadi. As a result the function of prana stopped, the heart and the brain ceased to work, and the other organs were nominally existing. He transcended the waking, dreaming and sleeping states, and the three worlds went dark. Feelings, sensations and the functions of the mind ceased. This is achieved through the practices of moola bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha. When you practise these three bandhas in combination with pranayama you are directing the prana into another ayama, into the field of kundalini. Pranayama stimulates prana and the bandhas direct it to the required centre, preventing dissipation.
Hatha yoga, asanas and pranayama are intended initially to prepare the sadhaka for bearing, enduring, holding and understanding the experiences of kundalini yoga. Awakening of kundalini influences the physical elements in the body, so it is understood in kundalini yoga that the physical body should be rendered free of toxic elements. The body that has been purified by the fire of yoga will be the most permanent and most trustworthy base for the awakening of kundalini. For kundalini to arise the body must be able to cope with its force and the nervous system must be strong, healthy and mature. When these preparations are complete the practice of dhyana begins.
It is believed by some practitioners of yoga that dhyana is a method of concentration, but in tantra and kundalini yoga it is said that concentration is an injustice to the free flow of the mind. The nature of the mind is to expand and to flow. You can direct the mind but you can't control it. In kriya yoga you will find that no effort is made to force the mind or to concentrate it on one single point. Supreme awakening does not depend on concentration. It has nothing to do with the functions of the lower mind. The purpose is not to change the nature of the mind because the mind is not an ethical, moral, religious or national entity. This life is a force; the mind is a vritti, a formation. Therefore, in kundalini yoga we don't waste time fighting or interfering with the natural behaviour of the mind.
Then what do we do? For a few years work on hatha yoga, kriya yoga, and pratyahara. Practise nadi shodhana until it is perfected. Then Gayatri mantra can be incorporated into it. For example, perform pooraka, antaranga kumbhaka, rechaka and bahiranga kumbhaka with the mantra in the ratio 1:2:2:1. Maintain this ratio without fail. In addition, practise jalandhara and moola bandha in antaranga kumbhaka; and jalandhara, uddiyana and moola bandha in bahiranga kumbhaka.
After one round of nadi shodhana, pause for a while in chin mudra and fix your gaze, with eyes closed, at the nose tip, nasikagra mudra. When your pranas become quiet and tranquil, start another round. After the second round of nadi shodhana, again pause and practise nasikagra mudra. In this way continue for five rounds of nadi shodhana pranayama coupled with bandhas and combined with your own mantra or Gayatri mantra. If you use Gayatri let one mantra form one unit; if you use some other mantra you will have to adjust the ratio according to your capacity.
The rising of kundalini is an historical event in life, when a man departs from his involvement with lower forms of knowledge into higher realms of understanding. In the evolution of consciousness there have been definite historical landmarks. One was when it departed from unconsciousness to consciousness in the vegetable kingdom; another when it departed from vegetable life to sensual life in the animal kingdom, and another when it departed from animal life to human life. Now man lives in the mind by logic and mathematics. The awakening of kundalini is the most important landmark in the history of mankind when he shall make an absolute departure from the realm of reason into the realm of intuition. Kundalini yoga is intended to revolutionise the consciousness of mankind to fully understand the concepts previously known only through our intellect. Kundalini is the opening of that era in human life when the ordinary mind becomes a super mind.
Today the thinking individuals, belonging to any religion in the world, are becoming more and more aware. They want to know how to make an exit from their present existence and its limitations. They want to know the purpose of living and the end they are working towards. All over the world people are seeking the truth. Can it be found in the church, temple or mosque? Can it be read in the scriptures? Is it the awakening of kundalini?
We have been searching for a long time and from all that I have seen and experienced in life, I am not going to accept anything else but the practical side of yoga. It is the one way that is open to all. The practices are available and you are not asked to change your vocation, to renounce your family, or to believe that marital life is sinful. Tantra is one of the few philosophies throughout history that regards marital life as the holiest relationship that a man can have with a woman. It is known as dharma and is the primary philosophy of tantra and yoga. Marital life is the rock base on which kundalini yoga is situated.
The yoga shastras are dedicated to one purpose only: how to prepare the millions and millions of different people all over the world- people with sensual, animalistic, passionate, fearful, intellectual, and sattvic natures- for the awakening of kundalini. It is for this purpose that the concepts of dharma and karma have evolved, that ashrams and temples were built, that the order of guru and shishya was created.
As a householder with involvements and responsibilities, with mental, moral, emotional and physical difficulties of daily life, keep one purpose in mind. Prepare yourself for the awakening of that great power. With this aim, you will achieve success in life.
Finally, please do not be in a hurry for this experience. First train your mind. In order to discover if you are ready for the experience of the beyond, test yourself to see whether you can endure anger, worry, love and passion, disappointment, jealousy, hatred, memories of the past, sufferings and sorrows for the dead. If you can maintain a balance of mind in the face of these minor mental and emotional conflicts, if you can still feel joy when the scales are heavily loaded against you, then you are the aspirant for kundalini yoga. When all your preparations have been made, sit down, practise your kriyas and wait for the bomb to explode. Kundalini will awaken from its slumber, bringing about an historical change in your life.