lights, chakras, action

It has been described as everything from an epiphany to a dark night of the soul. It has also been called the razors edge. Throughout history, there have been stories of transformation accompanied by extremes of light and darkness. Kundalini awakening is believed to be the real gold sought by the alchemists. By all accounts, it can be illuminating, terrifying, blissful and sometimes deadly. Kundalini is said to be a primordial energy sitting at the base of the spine coiled like a serpent. This energy rises along the spine, moves through six different nerve centres called chakras, curves over the head and nestles in the third eye, leading to enlightenment. If this energy is not properly channeled, it has been known to blow the mind. But that does not deter the bravest of yogis and yoginis who invite the serpent into their lives.

It was frightening, says Sandra Sammartino, a well-known yoga teacher in White Rock, BC. Her first con-tact with what she believes is Kundalini took place at age thirty-two during meditation, when she felt energy rush through her body and cause her to lose consciousness. But then I began to make adjustments, control the energy and integrate it more into my body. It is not my purpose to awaken it, but to stay open to what is happening, explains Sammartino. While most people experience Kundalini after regular mantra, meditation or Hatha practice, there are others who stumble upon it by chance. Sammartino recalls the experience of an acquaintance: A woman at the beach looked out at the sea and had a Kundalini experience. She was never the same again.

Dharm Kaur Khalsa teaches Kundalini at Yoga West in Vancouver. Since 1984, she has been part of the Healthy Happy Holy Organization (3HO) started by Yogi Bhajan in the seventies. The 3HO approaches Kundalini Yoga as a way of life, offering vigorous Hatha practices, mantra, breathing and diet as means to achieving happiness. Khalsa describes her encounters with Kundalini: Its subtle. I feel better, more focused, happier, more accepting, more like myself. Life becomes whole. Some-times I just get that WOW feeling. She thinks its not dissimilar to a skiing high. A skier achieves that high by focusing, releasing prana through exercise and aligning the body and mind.

She has not observed some of the more dramatic signs of this energy. You hear about Kundalini experiences as being crazy, wild, spine burning up, body jerk-ing and losing consciousness. This is not what we call Kundalini. This is just pranic energy that cannot be con-tained because the nervous system is not strong enough.

James Fairbanks combines various techniques of breathing, mantra and postures in his classes at Integra Yoga in Vancouver. I interpret Kundalini at many different levels. It is a powerful energy that is coiled in our spines, but is also in everything around us. It is like the incredible energy stored within an atom, which can at once produce something as nourishing as the sun or as destructive as a bomb.

When people have strong experiences of energy, they are letting go of some fixed beliefsusually during a crisisand this can be very frightening. So, its not that the energy itself is dangerous, but people get confused about it and think there is something wrong with them. Its important to differentiate this type of energy from others. For example, waterfalls seem to emanate energy, but Kundalini is more localized in our bodies. I dont think it is just rooted in the sacrum; instead it can flow up though the legs or arms. The process of yoga is to cleanse my body so it can hold this charge of energy, says Fairbanks.

My experience of Kundalini is always spontaneous, even though I can create circumstances where it is more likely to arise. It has to do with deep, body-focused meditation on breath. Fairbanks is amused by how his perceptions can be altered when in this state of awareness. Once I heard a symphony of turned out to be a vacuum cleaner.

Mansoukh Patel is the head of the Life Foundation, which is based on the ancient technique of Dru Yoga and located in Wales, UK. Dru Yoga focuses on the heart and balances the body and mind, using breath and flowing movements to create energy and healing.

Every human being has a part of themselves that is not contaminated by the world, says Patel. That spiritual essence needs a key like Mother Kundalini, a bolt of lightning from within, to reach the Divine Creator. But it does not have to be like fireworks.

Patel describes the higher-level signs of Kundalini awakening as varying from a still moment of joy to a sense of an expansive bliss. Some people are brought to the stillness of the present moment through trauma. Mid-level Kundalini moments include a feeling that things are going along just right. Mysterious coincidences start to happen all the time, states Patel. Lower-level Kundalini may be experienced when a worry or fear disappears without a change in the circumstances. Its as if you have just pulled something from the base of your existence into a higher part of your being.

He describes an experience he had after praying and fasting for fourteen days at a former concentration camp in Germany. A stream of sunlight came in through a window and he felt a short thin needle of light shoot up through him. The light was translucent and all-embracing. I felt myself expand into the room. He believes an authentic Kundalini experience creates a permanent change in a person. People may become very humble or quiet after an awakening. They dont chase after the world like they used to. As my mother used to say, they dont prolong the past or invite the future.

As described by all four teachers, signs of Kundalini may be apparent in our bodies, our minds, in nature and the world around us. In the words of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh from his book on Kundalini: When you compose beautiful sublime hymns and poetry involuntarily, know that Kundalini has become active. Watch for the signs.
Hardeep Dhaliwal is a freelance journalist in Vancouver, BC. She is a regular contributor to ASCENT.
Sandra Sammartino: It is not my purpose to awaken Kundalini, but to stay open to what is happening.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life