Kundalini is the Tantric (See What is Yoga) name given to the condensed, primal and creative life force that is in each of us. Prana is another word for this force that pervades all of nature. Kundalini is even more specific to our individual consciousness and spiritual development. Kundalini represents this energy and how it dwells specifically in the human body. In Tantric mythology, Kundalini is represented as a serpent goddess who lies asleep at the base of the spine, coiled three and a half times around the first chakra, (see section on chakras below). This is considered a living goddess who enlivens all things. Her name is Kundalini Shakti, and she represents the unfolding of the “Divine Shakti energy” or the awareness of the sacred energy of creation within the body and the energizing potential of life itself. Our physical body as well as our thoughts, emotions, perceptions. memories, dreams, senses and actions are all made active by this force.
This energy is often seen to be “dormant” in most people, meaning that we may not be operating at our fullest, most integrated potential. That isn’t inferring that you have no life force, since obviously you are alive. It’s that all aspects of us can be more or less energized by this Shakti. It’s even more specifically referring to our individual consciousness, our ability to be aware of the connectedness of all things through this all pervading, sacred force. Here is rather mundane but simple analogy. We could view ourselves as distinctly separate from the other organisms around us in nature having no real connection to them. Or, we can see that we share a tremendous amount in common. All plants and animals (and humans) are deeply connected by the mere fact that we all breathe the same air and have the same water and other nutrients flowing through us. We all share the same Earth and live under the same Sun and Sky. Together, we make up our living environment.
Under certain circumstances, or through specific yogic practices, the Kundalini energy awakens and begins to rise through the body, piercing and opening the charkas (representing levels of awareness) as she moves in her undulating, snake-like fashion. As Kundalini releases stored and blocked energies (and perceptions), her movement can be quite intense and often leads to mental states that seem out of this world. Circumstances that stimulate Kundalini awakening are many and varied, but are usually triggered by such things as extended periods of meditation, various yogic practices, fasting, stress, trauma, psychedelic substances, or near death experiences. When released, it creates a vertical connection between the chakras (integrated perception) by opening the subtle channels known as nadi (see chakras). More specifically, it activates the “central channel” that moves up the spine called Sushumna Nadi. The movement of Kundalini can also be seen as a result of the chakras connecting to each other (high levels of perception). Theoretically, as the chakras clear, the opening of one can enhance the opening of the one above or below it. This connection is what most opens our hearts and our minds to a unified, higher spiritual perception. All the various yogic practices are all designed to help this process of unification in specific ways.
In summery, Kundalini Shakti represents our individual, animating life force as well as our individual awareness or “consciousness”. She represents our most clarified and integrated physical, mental, emotional and spiritual processes and how these in turn help us see our deepest connection to all of life.
Nadis, the Path of Kundalini
The root of nadi is nad, which in Sanskrit means, “to flow”. So nadis are the flowing currents of energy in the body. They are energy centers in the body so are actual physical organs. The origin point of the nadis is called the medhra and is located between muladhara and manipura charkas.
Prana is the subtle force that pervades all matter. In living beings it is the force responsible for all life and movement whether physical, mental, psychic or spiritual. In humans the name given to this energy is Kundalini Shakti. At the subtle level this pranic force is stored and transmitted to the related organs and parts of the body by the charkas. The energy is moved through the body from the charkas via the nadis. Out of 72,000 there are said to be ten principle ones: Ida, Pingala, Sushumna are the three most major with regard to yoga practice, the remaining seven are gandhari, hastijihva, pusha, yashavini, alambusa, kuhu, and shanhini.
The physical termination point of ida nadi is said to be the left nostril and the pingala nadi is the right. By manipulation of the breath through alternate nostrils, the pranas are balanced and control. Then the jiva or individual consciousness can be perceived. (see Chandra bedha, Surya bedha and Nadi Shodhana)
Citta Shakti (conscious or mental force) is the energy flowing through Ida nadi, and Prana Shakti (vital or physical force) is that running through Pingala Nadi. Through Sushumna Nadi flows Atma Shakti (spiritual force). Ida and Pingala physiologically correspond to the two aspects of the auotonomic nervous system. Pingala corresponds to the symapathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and the Ida corresponds to the parasympathetic nervous system: reduces heart rate, constricts blood vessels, slows respiration and generally relaxes the mind, body and senses.
The Two Primary Currents Manifesting – The current of ida nadi. This current moves down through the body. It is the process of moving from an idea or concept and making it a reality. It is the process through which any creative process is brought to fruition. Apana vayu is closely related to this current. It moves from sahasrara to muladhara, akasha or ether to earth or prthivi. Liberating – The current of pingala nadi. This energy moves from our lowest centers up to the top of our bodies. This current moves from the earth or muladhara up through the body toward the element of ether or sahsrara to merge with Purusha or Bhraman. It is the current that takes us from being stuck in the mundane preoccupations of our daily life and helps us to recognize our Divine aspects and inspires us toward spiritual pursuits. It is closely associated with prana vayu.
*DNA testing has shown that the San people in Africa are the direct ancestors of the first humans on the earth. For the past 10,000 years or more, the San have been living in small hunting bands in various parts of the Kalahari. They have a curiously similar way of experiencing the intrinsic energy of the body: They ceremonially dance around the campfire, casting their beings into trance. The vital force of life that resides in the belly rises up the spine as a vapor, touches the base of the skull, defuses through the body, and spins the spirit into higher consciousness. (From The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis)
Artwork by Bruce Bowditch