Fifteen years ago my life changed significantly. I had, what is called in Yoga, a spontaneous Kundalini awakening. I had never done yoga and had absolutely no context for the experiences that started unfolding within me. At that time I didn't even believe in spiritual awakening! Today I would like to share with you some of my experiences, my learnings, and how the deeper practices of Yoga helped in reigning in and expanding this energy.
SO WHAT IS KUNDALINI?
The esoteric goal of all Yogas is the awakening of the primal energy of Kundalini. “Kundal” means coiled in Sanskrit and Kundalini energy is envisaged as a serpent coiled three times around the base of the spine. Hatha yoga practices aim to prepare the body and nervous system for the increased flow of energy that is Kundalini. The goal is to raise Kundalini energy from the base of the spine to the top of the head resulting in the spiritual realization of unified consciousness. Yogic imagery aside, Kundalini is essentially the experience of your unfolding and the means by which you unfold.
MY STORY… IN BRIEF!
About 15 years ago, inspired by a family member who was studying Mindfulness Meditation, I began meditating by myself, for long periods of time. After a number of weeks, one evening I descended into a state of calm, unwavering peacefulness. I intuitively felt afterwards that this meditation had somehow created a deep shift within my being.
It is said that Kundalini can awaken through, among other things, deep meditation, yogic practices, trauma, illness, or Shaktipat: the "descent of grace" through an awakened teacher.
Dreams followed, typical of awakened Kundalini. In one telling dream, I was flying rapidly through an architectural labyrinth as if pulled into its subterranean depths. I arrive at the centre to find a statue similar to the one here on the left. When I see this statue, I am immediately rapidly thrust upwards, up and out, through the roof of the temple. Years later I learned that this statue is a Shiva Lingam and the symbolic representation of the Yogic deity Shiva, the evolutionary aspect of Consciousness. At that time in my life, I had never seen such a thing nor even a picture of one.
THINGS START MOVING!
At this point, life was pretty much still just clicking along, status quo until I decided to join a yoga studio to strengthen my bad back. That's when the spontaneous body movements caused by Kundalini energy flow started. I later learned these are called kriyas. The first time it happened to me, I awoke in the middle of the night to see both my arms fully extended upwards into the air, spiralling gracefully. "How beautiful!”, I thought. My arms responded by falling heavily back onto the bed. Just one thought had muted this deep dancing impulse! The only thing that was different in my life was Yoga and meditation and I was pretty sure they were shaping my life in ways I couldn't have foreseen.
Some people have very intense kriyas and may even find themselves entering into a flow of yoga postures, never having studied yoga. Kriyas are simply the flow of the body's innate intelligence working though energetic obstructions. It is as if one is being given a massage, from the inside out. I continue to have kriyas daily but can easily shut down the experience if I need to ... such as at work, socializing, or just being out and about. Yup, just imagine how your active mind is constantly shutting down these deep instinctual impulses arising within you!
Shortly thereafter I serendipitously came across a book on Kundalini in a bookstore and to my surprise, joy, and well, some skepticism, I now had a context for my experiences. Eager for connection, I then went from urban yoga studio to yoga studio to share my experience and get additional information. My questions to Yoga teachers were met with strange looks, silence, or "Really? Yeah ... I've heard of that". (I know now there are lots of knowledgable yogi/inis within this big city and where to find them. Also times have changed.) I became frustrated and felt lonely and isolated. My husband, while doing his best to be supportive, was even more challenged with this whole scenario. I responded by throwing myself into my Hatha Yoga practice, propelled by this energy actively and viscerally moving inside me and seeing this as my only way through a confusing situation.
In addition to kriyas, awakened Kundalini can manifest in a variety of ways including: spontaneous breathing patterns, breath retention, and muscular locks; the powerful release of emotions; a sense of subtle pulsation or throb within the central channel of the body; expanded intuition and insight. I personally experienced all of these at certain points in time. I also powerfully descended into repressed memories which retriggered intense feelings of sadness and fear. At times I questioned my own mental stability. Not surprising, given that I myself was a community mental health worker providing services to those suffering from chronic depression, mania, and schizophrenia! As if life wasn't already intense enough. And then it got more intense.
The heightened activity in my nervous system was becoming palpable. I began to experience a feeling of electricity throughout my body, dizziness, trouble walking at times, and you could even see the nerves firing rapidly underneath my skin. I basically felt like a Christmas tree: with sensations of electricity in my spine, my head, and nerves jumping throughout my body. The neurologist was rushing tests but prior to getting tested, I went to see a Chinese acupuncturist who cleared up this feeling of excess electricity in one session. "Detoxification" she said. It worked.
Hatha yoga practices seek to fortify and purify the mind/body through asana, breathing practices (pranayama), mantra, and meditation in order to strengthen the “container” for the increased flow of energy that is Kundalini. Individuals are warned to not "awaken" Kundalini forcefully and especially without the guidance of a skilled teacher. Why? Because as Kundalini moves through your system it purifies by releasing obstructions and latent emotional or physical issues. When a Kundalini awakening becomes overwhelming it is referred to as "Kundalini Crisis", "Spiritual Emergency" or "Kundalini Syndrome".
At this point I decided my life needed change and I left my job as a community mental health worker permanently. Within a few months I met a woman who became my teacher for many years. She had trained extensively in India within the Tantric tradition: a broad, complex philosophical system. (Tantra is not necessarily sexual, as we think of it here in the West, but rather harnesses Kundalini energy, which also expresses itself as our sexual energy.) Tantra does not attempt to control Kundalini energy, as in Hatha Yoga, but rather advocates partnering with this innate power within consciousness. As my teacher chastised me one day, "You don't figure out Consciousness, Kara! You surrender to it!" Her own teacher, when asked why the awakenings within their lineage were so sweet, had responded by explaining that Kundalini was not seen as a libidinal force, as in psychology, but instead as the awakening of the Goddess Shakti: a Goddess to be adored and to dance with.
I continued to throw myself into practice. For years, I awoke at 3am and practiced until 7am. It was a very powerful time in my life. My meditations felt as if my head was illumined by a brilliant light. Subtle body experiences continued. When lying in bed, I occasionally would feel as if a layer of my body was detaching from my physical body while remaining attached at the head, and the subtle body would be doing yogic postures around my physical body! And yes, this felt strange!
Currently things feel pretty normal. I no longer live with the intensity of experiences that I used to probably for a few reasons: some purification/release of traumas and emotions has already occurred, I'm a busy almost-full-time single mommy of a 9-year old, and the use of sound, specifically mantra has had a phenomenally powerful, beneficial effect on me. Mantras are considered some of the deeper Yogic practices and can configure our energy in powerful ways. They provide an anchor for meditation. They are calming and of course, science corroborates that deep states of calm can be healing. They have a powerful effect on the body, certain sounds said to correspond to specific points, and can act as a form of "ultrasound". They purify bringing to the surface of our awareness emotions, memories, and images. They simultaneously reconfigure our state, emotions, and the flow of images and thoughts. I continue to release and shift but with much more ease and acceptance now.
And herein is the key. Lawrence Edwards, American psychotherapist and Kundalini expert, points out that the unfolding of Kundalini is really the greater and greater relinquishing of our own will to the Larger Will. For our entire life the will has always been focused on getting what it wants. The challenge with Kundalini awakening is to allow the will to become more transparent to deeper forces. Meaning surrender. To Presence/Consciousness/God whatever you like to call it.
My own personal unfolding has been challenging at times. I lacked context beyond the paradigm of abnormal mental health and let's just say surrender was never my forte. But where my will has served me is that I decided no matter what happened to not give up, to never stop. Why? Because even though my unfolding began with difficulty, I continue to learn about my own being and Being. Because I'm a better person for all these experiences and insights. Because after exploring a few different systems I kept returning to the Yogic system with increased respect and awe. It is a powerful way to work with our body/mind and to tap a rich, meaningful experience of being a human being. It is practical and effective. It is empowering. It is also beautiful. As a student of psychology, I always wanted to learn about the beauty of the Mind only to learn later it is truly about the beauty of the Great Heart. It's been quite a journey. And I feel like it's really just beginning.
“You see, the Kundalini in psychological terms is that which makes you go on the greatest adventures. …It is the quest that makes life livable, and this is Kundalini; this is the divine urge.” — Carl Jung
Kundalini does not cause physical or mental conditions per se but is said to bring these latent imbalances to the surface. If you feel you are experiencing a Kundalini awakening that has become challenging and are having health issues, whether physical or psychological, you need to consult with a doctor or a mental health professional.
Curious about how sound and mantra can beneficially reconfigure your energy and tap deep states of consciousness? Join me Thursday, Oct. 12 from 7-8:30 at Cafe Zephyr in Montreal for a workshop. Cafe only open to participants. $10 donation suggested. More info here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.