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Kundalini yoga

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Indian Tantric illustration of the subtle body channels which kundalini transverses

Kundalini yoga (kuṇḍalinī-yoga) derives from kundalini, defined in tantra as energy that lies within the body, frequently at the navel or the base of the spine. In normative tantric systems, kundalini is considered to be dormant until it is activated (as by the practice of yoga) and channeled upward through the central channel in a process of spiritual perfection. Other schools, such as Kashmir Shaivism, teach that there are multiple kundalini energies in different parts of the body which are active and do not require awakening. Kundalini is believed by adherents to be power associated with the divine feminine, Shakti.[1][2][3][4] Kundalini yoga as a school of yoga is influenced by Shaktism and Tantra schools of Hinduism.[5] It derives its name through a focus on awakening kundalini energy through regular practice of mantra, tantra, yantra, yoga, laya, haṭha, meditation, or even spontaneously (sahaja).[6][7]


Drawing of the subtle body in an Indic manuscript showing the energy centres (chakras), the main subtle channels (nadis), and the coiled serpent energy at the base of the spine (kundalini). The serpent is shown again on the left of the drawing.


The Sanskrit adjective kuṇḍala means "circular, annular". It occurs as a noun for "a snake" (in the sense "coiled", as in "forming ringlets") in the 12th-century Rajatarangini chronicle (I.2). Kuṇḍa, a noun which means "bowl, water-pot", is found as the name of a Naga in Mahabharata 1.4828. The Sanskrit feminine noun kuṇḍalī means "ring, bracelet, coil (of a rope)", and is the name of a "serpent-like" Shakti in Tantrism as early as the 11th century, in the Śaradatilaka.[8]

What has become known as "Kundalini yoga" in the 20th century, after a technical term particular to this tradition, is actually a synthesis of Bhakti Yoga (devotion and chanting), Raja Yoga (meditation) and Shakti Yoga (the expression of power and energy)."[9][better source needed] However, it may include haṭha yoga techniques (such as bandha, pranayama, and asana), Patañjali's kriya yoga (consisting of self-discipline, self-study, devotion to God, dhyāna, and samādhi), tantric visualization and meditation techniques of laya yoga (known as samsketas).[10]

Laya may mean either the techniques of yoga or (like Rāja yoga) its effect of "absorption" of the individual into the cosmic.[11] Laya yoga, from the Sanskrit term laya (meaning "dissolution", "extinction", or "absorption"), is almost always described in the context of other Yogas such as in the Yoga-Tattva-Upanishad, the Varaha Upanishad, the exact distinctions between traditional yoga schools are often hazy due to a long history of syncretism, hence many of the oldest sources on Kundalini come through manuals of the tantric and haṭha traditions, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the qualified yogi as practicing the four yogas' to achieve kundalini awakening, while lesser students may resort solely to one technique or another: "Mantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga. Laya Yoga is the third. The fourth is Raja Yoga. It is free from duality."[12]

Hatha yoga[edit]

The Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad is a syncretistic yoga text related to the schools of Hatha and Mantra yoga.[13]

Other Sanskrit texts treat kundalini as a technical term in tantric yoga, such as the Ṣaṭ-cakra-nirūpana and the Pādukā-pañcaka. These were translated in 1919 by John Woodroffe as The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga. He identifies the process of involution and its techniques in these texts as a particular form of Tantrik Laya Yoga.[14]

Late Kundalini Model of Hatha Yoga[15]

The Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad consists of three short chapters; it begins by stating that Chitta (consciousness) is controlled by Prana, and it is controlled by moderate food, postures and Shakti-Chala (I.1-2). Verses I.3-6 explain the concepts of moderate food and concept, and verse I.7 introduces Kundalini as the name of the Shakti under discussion:

I.7. The Sakti (mentioned above) is only Kundalini. A wise man should take it up from its place (Viz., the navel, upwards) to the middle of the eyebrows. This is called Sakti-Chala.
I.8. In practising it, two things are necessary, Sarasvati-Chalana and the restraint of Prana (breath). Then through practice, Kundalini (which is spiral) becomes straightened.[16]

Modern forms[edit]

Yogi Bhajan[edit]

In 1968, Harbhajan Singh Puri, also known as Yogi Bhajan, introduced his own brand of kundalini yoga into the United States, "Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan". Yogi Bhajan founded the "Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization" (3HO) as a teaching organization. Former Kundalini teacher and scholar Philip Deslippe claims that Yogi Bhajan took yogic postures and techniques, attached them to Tantric theories and Sikh mantras, synthesizing a new form of 'Kundalini' yoga. "When placed alongside the teachings of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari and Maharaj Virsa Singh, it becomes strikingly apparent that at least in its earliest years, Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini yoga was not a distinct practice, but essentially a combination of yogic mechanics learned from the former and the Sikh-derived mantras (Ik Ongkaar, Sat Naam, Sri Waheguru) and chanting from the latter", Deslippe writes.[17]


Kundalini is the term for "a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine", conceptualized as a coiled-up serpent. The practice of Kundalini yoga is supposed to arouse 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.[18]

Kundalini energy is technically explained as being sparked during yogic breathing when prana and apana blends at the 3rd chakra (solar plexus) 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.[19]

Borrowing and integrating 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 as a practical technology of human consciousness for humans to achieve their total creative potential. With the practice of Kundalini Yoga one is thought able to liberate oneself from one's Karma and to realize one's Dharma (Life Purpose).[20] It is recommended to become free of desire or adopt vairagya before trying to arouse Kundalini.[21] Additionally, having a guru is beneficial in Kundalini Yoga, because a guru can suggest the best method to awaken the Kundalini.[21]


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 bandhas (3 yogic locks) aid to release, direct, and control the flow of Kundalini energy from the lower centers to the higher energetic centers.[22]

Along with the many kriyas, meditations and practices of Kundalini Yoga, a simple breathing technique of alternate nostril breathing (left nostril, right nostril), are taught as a method to cleanse the nadis, or subtle channels and pathways, to help awaken Kundalini energy.[23]

Sovatsky (1998) 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.[24]


There have been accusations that modern Kundalini Yoga practice and related groups including 3HO and Ra Ma are cult like[25] in practices, financial abuse,[26] and sexual abuse. The accusations include that Kundalini yoga as practiced in the US was invented by Yogi Bahjan that borrows from traditional practice but is not.[27] "Many traditional Sikhs insist that yoga has no place in their religion. Sikh Historian Trilochan Singh says Bhajan's synthesis of Sikhism and Tantrism is "a sacrilegious hodgepodge." Far more important, High Priest Jaswant Singh, a leader of the Sikhs in eastern India and comparable in status to Bhajan Backer Tohra, last week denounced Bhajan's claims. He and his council professed to be "shocked" at Bhajan's 'fantastic theories.' Yoga, Tantrism and the 'sexual practices' taught by Bhajan, the council declared, are 'forbidden and immoral.'"[28]

The practice includes crystals, wearing white, and restricted diets and is tied to medicine denial and encouraging practitioners to solve medical problems with costly retreats. "Norton said students were told that any problem they had  — addiction, mental-health issues, procrastination — could be solved by investing more time and money into Ra Ma events and programming. . .Jagat's practitioners were told not to wear black because it shrinks their aura and not to wear rings on their middle fingers because it interferes with their connection to Saturn. A former student included footage of Jagat in a TikTok video in which Jagat appears to claim that COVID-19 lockdowns were linked to an 'alien war.'"[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1984). Kundalini Tantra (2nd ed.). Munger, Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga. pp. 34–36. ISBN 978-8185787152.
  2. ^ Judith, Anodea (2004). Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self (Revised ed.). Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. pp. 451–454. ISBN 978-1-58761-225-1.
  3. ^ Paulson, Genevieve Lewis (1998). Kundalini and the Chakras: A Practical Manual--evolution in this Lifetime (1st ed.). St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications. pp. 7–10, 194. ISBN 978-0-87542-592-4.
  4. ^ Williams, W. F. (2000). "Kundalini". Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience: From Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy. Routledge. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-135-95522-9.
  5. ^ "Kundalini Yoga". www.dlshq.org.
  6. ^ "Spotlight on Kundalini Yoga". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  7. ^ Swami Sivananda Radha, 2004, pp. 13, 15
  8. ^ André Padoux, Vāc: The Concept of the Word in Selected Hindu Tantras, SUNY Press, 1990, 124-136.
  9. ^ "What Is Kundalini Yoga". 19 March 2020. Retrieved 21 December 2021.
  10. ^ Mallinson, James. "Dattātreya's Discourse on Yoga". 24 June 2013. accessed 25 October 2015. https://www.academia.edu/3773137/Translation_of_the_Datt%C4%81treyayoga%C5%9B%C4%81stra_the_earliest_text_to_teach_ha%E1%B9%ADhayoga . "The Yoga of Dissolution (layayoga) happens as a result of the dissolution of the mind by means of esoteric techniques (saṃketas). Ādinātha has taught eighty million esoteric techniques."
  11. ^ Woodroffe, John. 'The Serpent Power'. Illustrations, Tables, Highlights and Images by Veeraswamy Krishnara (PDF). pp. 88–89. Retrieved 25 October 2015. YOGA is sometimes understood as meaning the result and not the process which leads to it. According to this meaning of the term, and from the standpoint of natural dualism, Yoga has been described to be the union of the individual spirit with god." and "the ecstatic condition in which the 'equality' that is identity of Jīvātmā and Paramātma is realized. The experience is achieved after the absorption (Laya) of Prāṇa and Manas and the cessation of all ideation (Saṁkalpa)
  12. ^ Mallinson, James (1 January 2007). The : A Critical Edition and an English Translation (Kindle Locations 100-101) and (Kindle Locations 799-825) (Kindle ed.). YogaVidya.com. As Hatha Yoga, originally the preserve of the unorthodox Nathas, grew in popularity in the medieval period, the orthodox Shaivas sought to incorporate it within their soteriology, and thus may be an example of this appropriation." and "He is sure to achieve perfection in three years. He is entitled to practice all Yogas. In this there is no doubt.
  13. ^ Larson, Gerald James (2008). The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Yoga: India's philosophy of meditation. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-3349-4, p. 476, 615-617
  14. ^ Woodroffe, John. "The Serpent Power". Illustrations, Tables, Highlights and Images by Veeraswamy Krishnara. p. 11. Accessed 25 October 2015. http://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/Serpent%20Power%20Complete.pdf "when dealing with the practice of Yoga, the rule is that things dissolve into that from which they originate, and the Yoga process here described is such dissolution (Laya)"
  15. ^ Mallinson, James; Singleton, Mark (2017). Roots of Yoga. Penguin Books. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-0-241-25304-5. OCLC 928480104.
  16. ^ trans. K. Narayanasvami Aiyar Astrojyoti.com, based on a translation first published in 1891 in The Theosophist, Volume 12.
  17. ^ Deslippe, Philip Roland (14 March 2013). "From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga". Sikh Formations. 8 (3) – via escholarship.org.
  18. ^ Swami Sivananda (4th ed. 2007) page 12
  19. ^ Yogi Bhajan (2007). The Aquarian Teacher, KRI International Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan (4th ed.). Kundalini Research Institute. pp. 176–179.
  20. ^ Yogi Bhajan (2007). The Aquarian Teacher, KRI International Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan (4th ed.). Kundalini Research Institute. p. 20.
  21. ^ a b Sivananda, Sri Swami (1994). Yoga Kundalini (10th ed.). Uttar Pradesh, India: The Divine Life Society. pp. 35–36. ISBN 81-7052-052-5.
  22. ^ Yogi Bhajan, The Aquarian Teacher, KRI International Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini Research Institute, 4th Edition, 2007, page 177
  23. ^ Swami Sivananda (4th ed. 2007) page 23
  24. ^ Sovatsky, Stuart (1998) Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative, Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology, New York: State University of New York Press, p. 142
  25. ^ "The Second Coming of Guru Jagat". Vanity Fair. 1 December 2021. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  26. ^ a b Orecchio-Egresitz, Haven. "Before the sudden death of its leader, Ra Ma Yoga Institute was accused by some former members of being a cult. What happens now?". Insider. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  27. ^ "Sikhism and Tantric Yoga - The Gurumukh Yoga Forum". www.gurmukhyoga.com. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
  28. ^ "Religion: Yogi Bhajan's Synthetic Sikhism". Time. 5 September 1977. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 20 May 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Arambula, P; Peper, E; Kawakami, M; Gibney, KH (2001). "The Physiological Correlates of Kundalini Yoga Meditation: A Study of a Yoga Master". Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 26 (2): 147–53. doi:10.1023/a:1011343307783. PMID 11480165. S2CID 18448634.
  • Cromie, William J. (2002) Research: Meditation Changes Temperatures: Mind Controls Body in Extreme Experiments. Harvard University Gazette, 18 April 2002.
  • Eastman, David T. "Kundalini Demystified", Yoga Journal, September 1985, pp. 7–43, California Yoga Teachers Association.
  • Laue, Thorsten: Tantra im Westen. Eine religionswissenschaftliche Studie über „Weißes Tantra Yoga“, „Kundalini Yoga“ und „Sikh Dharma“ in Yogi Bhajans „Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization“ (3HO) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der „3H Organisation Deutschland e. V.“, Münster: LIT, 2012, zugl.: Tübingen, Univ., Diss., 2011, ISBN 978-3-643-11447-1 [in German]
  • Laue, Thorsten: Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter. Bibliografische Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan. Tübingen: 2008. Online at "TOBIAS-lib - Zugang zum Dokument - Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter: Bibliografische Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan - Laue, Thorsten". Tobias-lib.ub.uni-tuebingen.de. 31 October 2008. Archived from the original on 10 June 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2011. [in German].
  • Laue, Thorsten: Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter. Religionswissenschaftliche Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan, Münster: LIT, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0140-3 [in German].
  • Narayan, R; Kamat, A; Khanolkar, M; Kamat, S; Desai, SR; Dhume, RA (October 1990). "Quantitative evaluation of muscle relaxation induced by Kundalini yoga with the help of EMG integrator". Indian J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 34 (4): 279–81. PMID 2100290.
  • Peng, CK; Mietus, JE; Liu, Y; et al. (July 1999). "Exaggerated heart rate oscillations during two meditation techniques". Int. J. Cardiol. 70 (2): 101–7. doi:10.1016/s0167-5273(99)00066-2. PMID 10454297.
  • Shivananda, Swami (1999) [1935]. Kundalini Yoga (WWW ed.). The Divine Life Trust Society. ISBN 81-7052-052-5.
  • Sivananda Radha Saraswati, Kundalini Yoga for the West (1979; 2nd ed. 1996)
  • The Aquarian Teacher, KRI International Teacher Training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini Research Institute, 4th Edition, 2007.
  • Turner, Robert P.; Lukoff, David; Barnhouse, Ruth Tiffany; Lu, Francis G. (1995). "Religious or Spiritual Problem. A Culturally Sensitive Diagnostic Category in the DSM-IV". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 183 (7): 435–444. doi:10.1097/00005053-199507000-00003. PMID 7623015.

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