Kundalini yoga (Sanskrit: कुण्डलिनी, kuṇḍalinī = '"coiled" + योग, yoga = "to yoke") is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline for developing strength, awareness, character, and consciousness. Practitioners call Kundalini Yoga the yoga of awareness because it focuses on the expansion of sensory awareness and intuition in order to raise individual consciousness and merge it with the Infinite consciousness of God . As a form of yoga and meditation, Kundalini's purpose is to cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human to uphold values, speak truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others.
Several definitions of Kundalini Yoga have been used in Eastern and modern Western teachings. According to various teachers and authors, Kundalini Yoga has been described as:
"Kundalini Yoga consists of active and passive asana-based kriyas, pranayama, and meditations which target the whole body system (nervous system, glands, mental faculties, chakras) to develop awareness, consciousness and spiritual strength." —Yogi Bhajan
"Kundalini Yoga, at its highest form, is practiced for the purpose of attaining bliss, opening the heart center, developing power, serving others, attaining self-realization and ultimately merging into God consciousness." —Swami Sivananda
All yoga forms are believed to raise kundalini energy, and have their origins in the pillars and Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, a foundational yoga scripture believed to have been compiled around the 2nd century BCE. Based on this foundation, most yoga forms and meditation derive their structure and discipline from the ashtanga 8-limbed approach, which provide guidelines for the austerities of practice.
An earlier written mention of Kundalini Yoga is in the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad, one of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad is eighty-sixth among the 108 Muktika Upanishads, associated with the Krishna Yajurveda from India. The origin of this particular writing is difficult to substantiate because scholars disagree about the exact dates of the composition of the Upanishads, but agree that all Upanishads have been passed down through oral tradition. Some have estimated that the composition of the Yajurveda texts date as far back as between 1,400 and 1,000 BC.
In the late 1800s into the early 1900s author John Woodroffe, an Oxford graduate, translated some twenty original Sanskrit texts under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon. His most popular and influential book titled The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga, became a major contribution of the time to the appreciation of Indian philosophy and spirituality and the source of many early Western occult appropriations of tantra and kundalini practice.
In 1935 Sri Swami Sivananda penned a detailed depiction of some historically classic Kundalini Yoga practices in a treatise called Kundalini Yoga.
According to yogic philosophy, kundalini is a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine. It is conceptualized as a coiled up serpent. Literally, kundalini or kundala is that which is coiled (Sanskrit kund, to burn; kunda, to coil or to spiral). It is believed that Kundalini yoga is that which arouses the sleeping Kundalini Shakti from its coiled base through the 6 chakras, and penetrate the 7th chakra, or crown. This energy is said to travel along the ida (left), pingala (right) and central, or sushumna nadi - the main channels of pranic energy in the body. This process can be seen depicted even today in modern medical iconography as two snakes spiraling a central staff, and although the origin of this image is more directly derived from the Caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, it may express the same or a similar principle.
Kundalini energy is technically understood as being sparked during yogic breathing when prana and apana blends at the 3rd chakra (naval center) at which point it initially drops down to the 1st and 2nd chakras before traveling up to the spine to the higher centers of the brain to activate the golden cord - the connection between the pituitary and pineal glands - and penetrate the 7 chakras.
Borrowing and integrating the highest forms from many different approaches, Kundalini Yoga can be understood as a tri-fold approach of Bhakti yoga for devotion, Shakti yoga for power, and Raja yoga for mental power and control. Its purpose through the daily practice of kriyas and meditation in sadhana are described a practical technology of human consciousness for humans to achieve their total creative potential.
Mainstream traditions propose that kundalini energy can be awakened and enlightenment attained by practicing a combination of yogic techniques—ideally following the guidance of a certified teacher—including the use of mantra, prana and breathing techniques, sadhana, asana practice, meditation, or purely through devotion and prayer.
According to some Hindu traditions, Kundalini yoga is considered a highly developed spiritual awakening which relies upon a technique called shaktipat to attain enlightenment under the guidance of a spiritual master.
In the classical literature of Kashmir Saivism kundalini is described in three different manifestations. The first of these is as the universal energy or para-kundalini. The second of these is as the energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-kundalini. The third of these is as consciousness or shakti-kundalini which simultaneously subsumes and intermediates between these two. Ultimately these three forms are the same but understanding these three different forms will help to understand the different manifestations of kundalini .
The word 'Kundalini' can be traced to the Sanskrit word 'kundala', which means 'coiled'. Kundalini can therefore be used by believers to refer to the latent energy within the human body which is constantly trying to manifest as our insight, power and bliss.
According to one author, the word kundalini literally means "the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved.". It is a metaphor, a poetic way of describing the flow of energy and consciousness which already is said to exist within each person.
The practices are said to enable the person to merge with or "yoke" the universal self. This merging of individual consciousness with the universal consciousness is said to create a "divine union" called "yoga".
The practice of kriyas and meditations in Kundalini Yoga are designed to raise complete body awareness to prepare the body, nervous system, and mind to handle the energy of Kundalini rising. The majority of the physical postures focus on navel activity, activity of the spine, and selective pressurization of body points and meridians. Breath work and the application of bhandas (3 yogic locks) aid to release, direct and control the flow of Kundalini energy from the lower centers to the higher energetic centers.
Along with the many kriyas, meditations and practices of Kundalini Yoga, a simple breathing technique of alternate nostril breathing (left nostril, right nostril) is taught as a method to cleanse the nadis, or subtle channels and pathways, to help awaken Kundalini energy.
In the Upanishads, it is mentioned that the control of the three bhandas, along with the control of held and expired breaths, are the keys to releasing and harnessing Kundalini energy.
Several schools teach methods of visualizing and meditating on the chakras to balance and maintain the pathways for Kundalini energy to flow.
According to some traditions Kundalini Yoga techniques are only communicated from master to disciple once the disciple is deemed ready. In these cases, yogic masters believe that in ascetic settings ignorance or refusal to follow instructions of a master can lead to harmful effects. However, in a few instances teachers from India encouraged students to update and spread the teachings to the West, thereby putting doubt to this claim.
Sovatsky, a scholar of Yoga associated with transpersonal psychology, adapts a developmental and evolutionary perspective in his interpretation of Kundalini Yoga. That is, he interprets Kundalini Yoga as a catalyst for psycho-spiritual growth and bodily maturation. According to this interpretation of yoga, the body bows itself into greater maturation [...], none of which should be considered mere stretching exercises.
All intensive spiritual practices associated with Asian traditions require attentive practice. Psychiatric literature notes that "Since the influx of eastern spiritual practices and the rising popularity of meditation starting in 1960s, many people have experienced a variety of psychological difficulties, either while engaged in intensive spiritual practice or spontaneously". Some of the psychological difficulties associated with intensive spiritual practice are claimed to be "kundalini awakening", "a complex physio-psychospiritual transformative process described in the yogic tradition". Also, writers in the fields of Transpersonal psychology and Near-death studies describe a complex pattern of sensory, motor, mental and affective symptoms associated within the concept of kundalini, known as kundalini syndrome. Believers say that the negative experiences might occur only when acting without appropriate guidance or ignoring advice, as this is a system designed for personal spiritual growth.
Medical research 
- Venkatesh et al. studied twelve kundalini (chakra) meditators, using the Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory. They found that the practice of meditation "appears to produce structural as well as intensity changes in phenomenological experiences of consciousness".
- Lazar et. al observed the brains of subjects performing, "a simple form of Kundalini Yoga meditation in which they passively observed their breathing and silently repeated the phrase 'sat nam' during inhalations and 'wahe guru' during exhalations," and found that multiple regions of brain were involved especially those involved in relaxation and maintaining attention.
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- Columbia Encyclopedia article on Yoga
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