Understanding Kundalini Yoga
According to Hindu beliefs, the creation of the universe is the result of the union of Shiva, the masculine principle and fabric of existence, and Shakti, the feminine principle and the ultimate creative power. While Shiva is material in existence, it is formless and lifeless without the creative influence of Shakti. And while Shakti is limitless in its creative power, it is without physical existence. Only when the two come together, can the creation of the universe, and life, occur. Shakti infuses everything in the universe with energy. Everything, including our beings, and in this way Shakti is present in everyone. This inner presence is called Kundalini Shakti. According to holy sages in ancient India, known as rishis, kundalini shakti manifests as dormant energy, coiled at the base of your spine. The rishis came across these revelations during a time in which they thought to seek enlightenment by turning inwards and exploring their mind, body, and soul to discover the divinity within. They recorded their insights and unique techniques in Sanskrit scriptures called Upanishads, and according to the yoga Upanishads, kundalini shakti can be awoken by “agitating it, like hitting a snake with a stick.” Upon being awakened, kundalini shakti begins its upwards journey through the six chakras, until it reaches the peak of its ascent at the final, seventh chakra, and merges with Shiva into pure consciousness and endows the practitioner with enlightenment.
Kundalini yoga is an authentic spiritual tradition that goes back at least 2000 years, and the Yoga Upanishads are the sole source for the entire body of teachings on the practice. There are a total of 108 Upanishads included in the Vedas, which is the primary scripture for all Hindu religious and spiritual practices. Twenty of those 108 Upanishads are dedicated to the theory and practice of Kundalini Yoga, prescribing a variety of yoga postures, breathing exercises, and mantras to help guide you on your inner journey.
The purpose of kundalini yoga is to gain enlightenment and spiritual knowledge. While you cannot attain enlightenment by practicing yoga alone, kundalini yoga helps you gain spiritual knowledge by leading you to a state of meditative absorption known as samadhi. Samadhi is the goal of many meditation practices, because it is in this state of mind all distracting mental activities are removed, and all that remains is your true, natural self, a consciousness, independent of your body and the world around you. It is together with the yogic practices, and the spiritual knowledge obtained, that one can achieve enlightenment.
Start at the base of the spine
The journey is one that may take time. Starting In lowest chakra at the base of the spine, the yoga upanishads prescribe a number of visualizations, and yoga techniques, known as pranayamas, asanas, and bandhas, to help force your kundalini up into the sushumna nadi( the channel running from the base of your spine to the crown of your head, which connects the chakras), and through the chakras. According to the ancient rishis, when meditating on kundalini shakti, the practitioner should envision a serpent, coiled closely around the base of the spine. Through the practice of the prescribed pranayamas, asanas, and bandhas, one can create friction between the snake and your core. In turn, creating heat which will grow, and eventually, drive the serpent up and into the next chakra.
Your journey will begin in the muladhara chakra, also known as the root chakra. The muladhara chakra is located at the base of your spine, is associated with the Earth element, and the deity Brahma. All chakras are depicted as lotus flowers, turned upwards, with varying numbers of petals. The muladhara chakra has four petals, and while the upanishads do not specify colors for any of the different chakras, the Earth element is represented by a yellow square within the flower.
The Muladhara Chakra
Start by fixing your attention on your muladhara chakra, visualize it in your mind’s eye while reciting the Earths’ mantra ‘lam.’ Spend this time reflecting on the earths’ influence on your existence. After some time, imagine the god Brahma, seated on the lotus with his four heads and four arms. Brahma is a god in all aspects as the creator of the universe; he is the root of existence and therefore resides within the root chakra. While meditation on Brahma, seek his blessings for success on your journey and allow the peaceful mood to envelop you. It is within the muladhara chakra that the yoga upanishads prescribe the pranayamas (breathing techniques), asanas (yoga postures), and bandhas (muscle contractions) for kindling the flame within. Some of these techniques include; the mula bandha (contraction of the perineum), uddiyana bandha (contraction of the abdomen into the rib cage), jalandhara bandha (tucking the chin close to the chest), bhastrika (rapid, forced exhalation), sukhasana (easy pose), siddhasana (perfect pose), padmasana (lotus pose). A combination of these techniques are said to force prana (life force) into the muladhara chakra. Gradually begin to visualize a roaring fire within the muladhara chakra while practicing the yoga techniques. Each day that you practice, envision a sense of warmth at the base of your spine, notice it gradually growing more intense. Eventually, you will feel a shift, as your point of concentration is drawn upwards, to the next chakra.
The Svadhisthana Chakra
When shifting your concentration upwards to the svadhisthana chakra, you will notice that sense of warmth at the base of your spine move upwards as well. After your kundalini begins its accent, there is no more need to fan the flames within the muladhara chakra, and therefore there is no need to practice the pranayamas, asanas, and bandhas any longer. The svadhisthana chakra is located just above your tailbone, which is fitting considering svadhisthana means seat. This lotus has six petals and is associated with the water element which is represented by a silver crescent moon. The deity residing within the second chakra is Vishnu. Vishnu is a god in aspect as the sustainer of the universe. Just as water sustains all life on the planet, Vishnu sustains all of life. Begin meditating on the svadhisthana chakra by visualizing the lotus while reciting the mantra for water, ‘Vam,’ and reflecting on how water sustains you in your life. Eventually, imagine Vishnu residing within the chakra, depicted with blue skin and four arms. Here is where you may seek his blessings, and settle into a peaceful state. You may notice the warmth growing in intensity within you svadhisthana chakra. Again you will see the sense of warmth shift upwards towards the next chakra.
The Manipura Chakra
The manipura chakra is located behind the navel, with manipura meaning ‘lustrous gem’. While it is often referred to as the solar plexus chakra, this is not correct as the solar plexus is located well above the actual chakra. The manipura chakra has ten petals and is associated with the element of fire, which is represented by a red triangle, as well as the deity Rudra. Rudra is considered to be an extension of Shiva; he is associated with storms and the hunt and is known as the personification of terror. There is another side to him, also known as the Divine Archer, he is said to be able to fire arrows which deliver death and disease, but more than that he is said to possess the power to heal. While meditating on the manipura, visualize the chakra while reciting the mantra, ‘Ram,’ for the element of fire. Reflect on the nature of fire, with its ability to consume and destroy, but also set the way for something new. Imagine Rudra, depicted within the lotus as a hunter or warrior. Over time again, feel the sensation of warmth within the manipura, feel it grow and shift upwards.
The Anahata Chakra
When kundalini shakti reaches the anahata chakra, also known as the heart chakra, you may feel it expand to fill your chest and grow once more in intensity. The fourth chakra is located at the center of the chest, along the spine. It has 12 petals and is associated with the element air, which is represented by a smokey, six-pointed figure, and its mantra is ‘Yam.’ The deity residing within this chakra is the beneficial form of Shiva. Here, Shiva is depicted as looking in all directions, simultaneously, to bless everyone. Shiva is often referred to as the god of destruction, but would more accurately be considered the god of transformation, purification, and growth, as every development comes from the abolishment of the past. As you meditate on the anahata chakra, reciting the mantra for air, notice the breath flowing in and out of your lungs. Reflect on the air which fills you with life. Visualize Shiva in his beneficial form, reflect on the cycle of life, which you experience around you every day in even the more insignificant ways. When drawing your attention back to the sense of warmth in your chest, notice again as it rises up the sushumna nadi to the next chakra.
The Vishuddha Chakra
The vishuddha chakra is located at the throat. Its lotus has sixteen petals and is associated with the element space, represented by a transparent circle and the mantra ‘Ham.’ The deity residing within the fifth chakra is the bigender form of Shiva, whose right side is male and left side is female. This depiction is there to remind us that no one is exclusively male or female. When meditating on this form of Shiva, reflect on qualities and traits within yourself which may be more inherent to the opposite sex. Accept these qualities to be as much a part of you as those intrinsic to your gender. Returning to the warmth growing within your vishuddha chakra, feel it shift along with your concentration, as it moves up to the Ajna chakra.
The Ajna Chakra
The ajna chakra is located between the eye, but to call it the third eye chakra is not entirely accurate, considering there is no mention of a third eye in the upanishads. Unlike the previous five chakras, the ajna chakra is not associated with any deity or element. This means that there is no mantra associated with this chakra, though later traditions associated the mantra ‘om.’ Also unlike the previous chakras, whose petals increased in quantity, the ajna chakra has only two petals. Instead of reflecting on different deities and elements while meditating, practitioners will reflect on themselves, on their true, essential nature as pure consciousness, separate of your mind, body, and the world around you. Upon the revelation of your true nature, you are finally ready to ascend to the final chakra.
The Sahasrara Chakra
The sahasrara chakra is located at the crown of the head. Details on this particular chakra are scarce, many texts not considering it to be a chakra at all. It lies beyond the body, and other chakras, often depicted as on the outer surface of the head, instead of within. The sahasrara chakra has 1000 petals, but in Hindu scriptures, the number 1000 stands for infinity, suggesting that the sahasrara chakra is infinite. According to the ancient rishis, after ascending to the seventh chakra, kundalini shakti merges into pure consciousness and loses its individuality. The rishis are surprisingly vague on the details of the experience, believing that its significances are best understood through meditation itself, and not through words. When shifting your attention, notice the sensation of warmth rise as well, and notice it change into a brilliant light, consuming you and radiating outwards. As it fades, you will find your mind silent, in a state of samadhi.
The experience and the revelation of one’s true nature as consciousness, independent of everything can be life-changing. Though the upanishads contain the authentic, original teachings and techniques for kundalini yoga, it seems the rishis left many details up to the imagination of the practitioners. Later traditions and adaptations can be considered acceptable, if they genuinely help practitioners, such as the rainbow-hued chakra scale used in many modern adaptations. However not every adaptation can be regarded as helpful, and with the growing interest that can be observed around the world, everyone should be vigilant in doing their own research.
Cachet is an early 20’s freelance writer out of the US Midwest. Along with a longstanding passion for writing, she has a great interest in the psychedelics, states of consciousness and the human psyche. Her main interests are in the different dream states, and their influences on the mind, as well as alternative pharmaceutical uses for certain psychedelics.
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