Hatha Yoga and Awakening of Kundalini

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at the Yoga Teachers Seminar in Collbato, Spain in August

The science of yoga has not brought any great surprise to the world, but it has given man the hope of awakening the potential that is dormant in every individual. When man was engrossed in ignorance, he was only thinking and identifying with the material part of his existence - the body, mind and emotions. He was then caught in the realm of pain and pleasure. But it seems that the universal consciousness is taking a round about turn and man is gradually becoming more concerned with the discovery of his real nature, and the means by which he can achieve this goal.

Because man is so habituated to identifying himself with the body and mind, he finds it very difficult to transcend this level of consciousness and realise or experience his higher consciousness. How can we separate the consciousness from the lower nature, and discover our link with the deeper and higher self? It is only through awakening our dormant spiritual energy - kundalini, that we can achieve this end. And yoga has a gradual and systematic method for awakening kundalini, which has been practised and perfected throughout the ages.

According to the scriptures, hatha yoga plays a very important part in awakening spiritual energy. Just as in an automobile there must be harmony between the functioning of brakes, accelerator and steering, etc., in our body the different systems must also function in harmony. Hatha yoga actually means balance between the two principal forms of energy in the physical body.

Harmonisation of the energy forces

The two energies comprise lunar energy, represented here by the syllable 'ha', and solar energy represented by the syllable 'tha'. From the modern scientific point of view, lunar energy corresponds to the mental functions of man and is a composite of the knowing, thinking, reasoning, remembering and analysing processes. The solar energy, on the other hand, encompasses movement, locomotion and life. The processes of breathing, digestion, secretion, circulation and conception are all in the realms of solar energy.

When there is harmony between the mental and pranic functions of the body, yoga becomes swift and smooth. However, this harmony rarely occurs. In most people, either the solar or the lunar energy predominates. An excess of solar energy manifests rajo guna, and if lunar energy predominates, tamo guna is present. If the lunar energy is weak and the solar energy is powerful, one becomes restless, violent and schizophrenic. People are sensuous on account of excess solar energy. Conversely, when lunar energy is more powerful man falls into the realms of depression or frustration. Therefore, if you wish for harmony between the two forces, you must maintain a balance between frustration and depression, and aggression and action.

These two energies in the physical body should be known as mind and vitality. In modern terminology we call them the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, and they control the functioning of the entire body. An imbalance between these systems can lead one to confinement in a mental hospital or a jail sentence. On the other hand, a balance results in an awakening of the higher energies.

Purification of the nadis

According to hatha yoga scriptures, there are 72,000 nadis or flow circuits in the human body which control all the different bodily functions. Of these, ida and pingala are the most important. The pingala nadi carries the solar energy or the flow of prana shakti, and ida the lunar energy or mental shakti. These two nadis flow within the framework of the spinal cord, ida on the left side and pingala on the right. In different centres along the spinal cord, ida and pingala branch off to the various organs of the body. Let us use the electric power station as an illustration. The high tension lines leave the main station and the current is stepped down at the transforming station ready for distribution to the domestic outlets.

In the same manner, ida and pingala carry a high range of energy to the chakra points where it is transformed into a lower voltage of energy. In this way the mental and pranic energy flow to different parts of the body. If the nadis do not flow freely you will feel mental or physical weakness. On account of excessive and useless thinking, the nadis are generally weak, impure and incapable of efficiently conducting the pranic and mental shakti to the various organs of the body. So an important function of hatha yoga is the purification of the nadis.

Besides ida and pingala there is one other very important nadi which flows through the centre of the spinal cord. It is called sushumna and it conducts a higher form of energy. We could say that while ida and pingala conduct earthly energy, the flow of energy in sushumna is of a cosmic nature. Whereas pranic and mental energy are finite, the cosmic energy of sushumna is infinite. Therefore, the major object of hatha yoga is to connect this finite body with that infinite source.

So now we arrive at the understanding that hatha yoga is not physical yoga; it is a higher practice carried out in the physical body. The practice of the six cleansing kriyas, asanas, pranayama, mudras and bandhas should not be considered as physical yoga.

The aim of asanas and pranayama

Although people have been using asanas for the treatment of disease, this is not their real purpose. It is only a side benefit. Yogasanas are an important preparation for kundalini yoga because they give a mild awakening to the chakras. When I lived with my guru, Swami Sivananda, I used to type his writings on yoga. When he wrote that sarvangasana awakens vishuddhi chakra, bhujangasana wakes up manipura chakra, and the practice of sirshasana awakens sahasrara, I did not believe it. I thought it was all nonsense until one day Swamiji explained how a mild awakening is exerted in each chakra when you practise the postures.

By practising pranayama we create proper organisation of the pranic energy in the body. We supply prana to the areas where there is a scarcity, and balance out the excess in other areas. Therefore, the word pranayama literally means supplying and balancing the pranic energy in different dimensions of the body.

Sometimes when you are relaxing, the prana is in the digestive system, or when you are eating, the prana is in the brain. When you need prana in mooladhara or sahasrara, you should be able to supply it. When you sit for meditation you need excess prana in the higher regions of the brain, and when you are eating you need more pranic energy in the digestive system. Similarly, when you are practising yoga nidra, or when you sleep, your prana should be distributed throughout the body. When you have mastered pranayama, you can transfer prana to any part of the body.

Pranayama increases vitality and ensures good health, but it is more than just a breathing exercise. It is intended to disturb the sleeping kundalini. Nadi shodhana, bhastrika, kapalbhati, sheetali and sheetkari pranayama are all ways of achieving this end.

Pranayama and mantra make a very powerful combination and they are said to be the real definition of yoga. If you have a missile and at its head you put an atomic weapon, then the missile is the carrier of that nuclear weapon. In the same way, prana is like a missile and mantra is like the nuclear weapon on top.

Understanding prana

Prana is not something we take in with the air we breathe; we are born with it. Prana was created in us when we were in the womb of our mother. The whole universe functions on account of prana. If there was no prana, there would be no existence, and if prana was withdrawn from the universe, there would be total disintegration. If you want to know what prana is, you must understand existence. When there is no existence, the pranas are dormant, and when the cosmos came into being, it was the result of an explosion of pranas.

Prana is comprehended in two aspects - microcosmic and macrocosmic I am not going to tell you about macrocosmic prana because you cannot conceive it; I cannot speak about it, and you would not be able to understand. But the microcosmic aspect of the universal prana is in me and you and every object of the universe, although it is in the gross form. We are not able to think about prana in its subtle form, but it is convertible. Just as matter is convertible into energy, energy is also convertible into matter; prana can be converted into action and action into prana. Therefore, in hatha yoga the science of pranayama is considered to be supreme.

Connecting ida, pingala and sushumna

In the human body there are two vitally important centres. One is mooladhara chakra, at the base of the spine, and the other is ajna chakra at the top of the spinal cord. Ida, pingala and sushumna emanate from mooladhara and terminate in ajna. The sleeping kundalini resides in mooladhara, and its path of ascent is through sushumna nadi. Unless you have been a regular practitioner of yoga for some time, ida and pingala are not in communication with sushumna. But when you practise trataka and kapalbhati, they are connected. When this link is established, the higher energy flows through them.

I will give you an illustration. In your domestic electrical meter there are three lines. One is positive, one is negative and the third is neutral. If you remove the neutral line, the lights immediately become dim. Although the energy is conducted through the positive and negative lines, neutral is necessary to maintain the higher voltage.

The negative line is called the 'cold line' and the positive line is called the 'hot line'. In the same way, the ida nadi carries cold energy, pingala carries hot energy, and sushumna is the booster.

To awaken ajna chakra and create union between the three conductors of energy in the body, you should practise shambhavi mudra. Simply close your eyes and concentrate on the mid-eyebrow centre. When you open your eyes, try to look at the mid-eyebrow centre. When shambhavi mudra becomes effective there is light within.

In order to master shambhavi mudra, you must practise trataka. Trataka is not merely gazing at one point, although in the beginning you have to keep your eyes fixed on something. Then gradually the eyes become concentrated at the mid-eyebrow centre and shambhavi mudra develops, bringing ida, pingala and sushumna into union and triggering the flow of kundalini energy.

When this energy begins to flow, one experiences definite symptoms. The consciousness manifests in the form of illumination. It is a psychic experience in which you see the blazing of light. You can call this experience either illumination or enlightenment.

Many people see the blaze as an explosion of light, whereas others experience it as a twilight which slowly increases. This illumination indicates that the union of ida, pingala and sushumna has taken place, and this is the ultimate purpose of hatha yoga.

Prana and kundalini

When we examine the absolute meaning of hatha yoga we see that it is union of sushumna with ida and pingala. In other words it is macrocosmic pranic force united with the microcosmic spiritual force. Therefore, the practice of hatha yoga can lead one to the ultimate destination. What is the ultimate destination? Awakening of prana. And what is prana? Prana and kundalini are synonymous terms. Awakening of prana is awakening of kundalini, and in awakening kundalini you unite yourself with the cosmic prana.

Kundalini is microcosmic prana shakti. Symbolically, they say it is a serpent, but you can conceive kundalini in any manner you like. Prana has no form or dimension, it is infinite. Prana is existence, and we are all specimens of prana. But our prana is at a very low voltage, and therefore all of humanity has to be taught how to increase the voltage of prana.