Many are her name. The Inner Woman, the Serpent Power, Kundalini Shakti. Present in many esoteric traditions, Kundalini refers to an energy that is coiled at the base of the spine. It’s been there since birth, and in most of us, it lies dormant. In a way, it is like a cable with a plug point that might not have found its energy socket. Today, many look for this socket through practices such as kundalini yoga, hatha yoga, and tantra.
The concept of Kundalini is present in the Upanishads, Sanskrit texts with essential philosophical concepts and ideas of Hinduism. Some of these concepts are also shared with Buddhism. No wonder it is such a present word in tantra: traditionally, tantra comes from the esoteric arms of Hinduism and Buddhism. But the same energy exists in different traditions, with different names. In Kabbalah, for example, it is called Shekhinah.
This mystical energy is described as a coiled snake with heads at both ends; a snake that when awakened can act either creatively, or destructively. The snake comparison is by no means by chance: the poison of a snake can take one’s life, but if prepared correctly, it can save one from great illness.
What Kind of Energy Is Kundalini?
Kundalini is the ultimate life force. Creative power, divine feminine energy. Put simply, it is our “inner fire”. So simple, and yet so abstract. Once activated, this energy is felt like liquid fire: electric, timeless, paralyzing.
When we activate this energy, it flows within us resembling the wavy shape of a serpent: curving from the base of the spine, into the gut, then into the heart and into the head.
As the energy flows through this “pipe”, it goes through all of our chakras, giving each of them a “boost” as the energy activates them (both kundalini and chakras live in the subtle body), all the way to our head, the crown chakra. It also passes through our nadis (energy “pipes” in our bodies that allow the energy to flow). The result is an expanded state of consciousness.
To get more technical, Kundalini can awaken once sushumna nadi (the center channel) awakens, which in turn requires ida and pingada nadis (the left and right channels) to be harmonized and balanced in ajna chakra (the third eye). These three main nadis (ida, pingada, sushumna) all run from muladhara to ajna chakra (root to third eye).
“When the sleeping goddess Kundalini is awakened through the grace of the teacher, then all the subtle lotuses and worldly bonds are readily pierced through and through. Let the wise person forcibly and firmly draw up the goddess Kundalini, for She is the giver of all miraculous powers.” Shiva Samhita
Alright, life force… but I am alive. What’s so special about Kundalini?
In traditions such as tantra where Kundalini is often referred to as Shakti, the goal of the practice is for the energy to rise all the way to the head, for that is where resides the energy of Lord Shiva. This represents the union of feminine and masculine energy, which leads us out of duality, and back to our own divinity state. It’s the purest ecstasy of union. Similar work is found in Kabbalah: Shekhinah is to rise and merge with Eheieh.
Shakti is oftentimes called the manifested reality, whereas Shiva is pure consciousness.
“The inner woman, entering the ‘royal road’, takes rest at intervals in the secret centers. Finally She embraces the Supreme Lord in the lotus of the head. From that union there flows an exquisite nectar that floods and permeates the body; then the ineffable Bliss is experienced.” Anandagiri
As the kundalini energy goes up activating each chakra, it expands our mystical spiritual experiences, transforming us along the way. In a way, the more the energy gets to rise and our chakras are activated, the more we merge with the universe and cosmic consciousness.
Due to the potential of spiritual enlightenment and higher conscious awareness, rising the snake power is so sought after. This also means that kundalini awakening becomes both the path and the goal. The effects of awakening this energy include a higher sense of life, creativity, and support to reach our full potential.
“The great goddess Kundalini, the primordial energy of the self, sleeps in the sexual region of the body. She has a form rather like a serpent, having three and one half coils. As long as she remains asleep, the individual soul (Shiva) is limited and true knowledge does not arise. But just as the right key unlocks a particular door, so Hatha Yoga unlocks the door of Kundalini, allowing the self to experience Brahma and obtain Liberation.” Gheranda Samhita
Dangers and Pitfalls
Kundalini, the ultimate life force, is pure creative power. But what can create can also destroy. No wonder Kundalini is often represented by a snake: its poison can kill us. Still, when we uncover its mysteries, it can save us from illness.
For seekers of spiritual mysteries within sexuality, working with kundalini is paramount. And yet sex works the same as a snake: it can hold us hostage or empower us. We are after all in the plane of duality, where all extremes coexist. Discernment and humility are necessary in any kind of energetic work if we are not to get burned.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
The awakening does not happen gradually. No, kundalini is not a little more awake one day after the other, giving us time to adjust. It is about quantum leaps in pure awareness. Are you experiencing something gradual and mild, a little spark here and there? Then chances are it is some other energy rather than kundalini energy. There is no shortage of energies in the body. Sometimes the energy is flowing to prepare the way for a future kundalini rise. We are all human. At times, we tell ourselves our kundalini is rising as it makes us feel we are progressing. It fills us with pride, even makes us feel superior. Unfortunately, spirituality often doesn’t walk hand in hand with personal development.
In the pursuit of more pleasure and status, many chase a Kundalini rise to feed their self-image. Remember, pride belongs to the ego, the arch-enemy of spiritual practice. Having a kundalini awakening with a big ego is a recipe for much suffering. That’s why many practitioners focus on cleaning their containers. For example, a paramount piece of hatha yoga, a lineage that focuses on kundalini awakening, is purification practices (shatkarmas). When the container is purified, the energy can flow.
Also, many rush to say they had a kundalini awakening after feeling a new surge of energy. The human body contains multiple energy channels (nadis), and much activity can happen in our nadis without that being a kundalini awakening. Once again, we are asked to not jump into conclusions and watch out for our egos.
“Before awakening the kundalini, you must have deha suddhi (purity of body), nadi suddhi (purity of the nadis), manas suddhi (purity of mind), and buddhi suddhi (purity of the intellect).” Swami Sivananda
The serpent metaphor has a clear meaning: the awakening forces the shedding of our skin and reveals our innermost Self. Are we ready to welcome the destruction of our self-image, the dissolution of an individual self?
For those not prepared, this can be scary and even devastating. Kundalini can wreak havoc, provoking an internal earthquake. Its awakening can be a slap on the face. Significant changes come in different levels: physical, emotional, sensate, and psychic capacities. What is blissful for some, is a nightmare for others. Once the awakening comes, it will be impossible to avoid those parts of us that we had left under the carpet.
Whatsmore, when and if the awakening happens is out of our control. Which means it can happen without one’s will, or when one is far from ready. People who never heard of kundalini before and have no spiritual practice can experience awakenings. At times, they are taken to existential hell.
In such scenarios, the experience can relate more to a bad drug trip or a psychotic break. I had a friend who had his kundalini awakened in a rather unfortunate way. He had sex with a spiritually gifted woman who gave him a Shaktipat without talking to him first. That was a clear example of someone abusing her power. For months my friend would have random episodes, spasms, and visions. First, he thought he was sick, and about to go crazy. A bomb of animalistic energy would explode in his body, driving him to feel like a starving predator in the middle of the jungle. Being a shy and polite person as he is, it was a tough thing to deal with. It was hard work to understand what that energy was, and it was even more difficult to learn how to work with it. Yoga, mindfulness, and breathwork were his main allies in this journey.
Even for those who willingly want the rise and have been preparing, it can be tough. The awakening can stress the body as the energy pushes through. This can bring different sensations including shaking, vibrating, spontaneous movement, visions. Grounding practices are crucial. By removing our delusions of a separated self, kundalini can cause us to go too high up. Yes, this might be a beautiful journey. But at the end of the day we live on Earth, in the material world, and we need to function here. To go that up it is imperative to know how to come back to Earth and anchor the energy received. The vastness of expanding our consciousness can be overwhelming and disorientating.
I had my first experiences with energy rises during sexual relations. What would happen to me is that I would have intense dreams intertwined with the soul of the person I had sex with. I would wake up many times unable to distinguish reality from dream. The problem was worse the next day, as I would feel disassociated, out of my body, unfunctional, in a never-ending dream state. I couldn’t cope with my head. I, who have always meditated so much felt my mental body was overwhelmed with sound. My mind was charged with many different voices speaking in different speeds and in different volumes. This might sound weird but one thing that helped me ground on such occasions was to eat a lot. It’s almost like the food brought back an element of materiality, Earth. The weight of it brought gravity, and that brought me back to my body and feet. I also learned kundalini impacts my dream state and when I feel it is rising I need to sleep in a room alone.
Again, when it happens it might not be in the safety of our home or in the bedroom with a loved one. Practices can support us to prepare our container, yet the maxim holds true: there is no such thing as control. Our sense of control has to do with fear, pride and self-image and destroying these are some of the tasks of Kundalini.
“The sleeping Kundalini is extremely fine, like the fiber of a lotus stalk. She is the world-bewilder, gently covering the “door” to the central Great Axis. Like the spiral of a conch shell, Her shining snake-like form is coiled around three and a half times; Her luster is like a strong flash of lightning; Her sweet murmur is like an indistinct hum of swarms of love-mad bees. She maintains all beings of this world by means of inhalation and exhalation, and shines in the cavity of the sexual region.” Satchakranirupan
How to Awaken It
Taking the kundalini energy from the base of spine all the way up to the crown chakra is a challenge for a whole life. Sometimes we can get it started at Muladhara, the root chakra, and get it maybe all the way up to Manipur, the third chakra. But until we get to connect it to the 1000 watts light bulb (Sahasrara, the crown chakra), we don’t manage to stabilize the energy. It’s like a light bulb we can sometimes turn on to 50 watts, but most often it is turned off.
The wise and excellent Yogi, rapt in ecstasy, should lead the Kundalini, along with the life-force, to consummate union with Her Lord, who stays in the Abode of Liberation in the pure lotus of the head center. When the Kundalini rises, all things become absorbed into her.” Sat Chakra Nirupana
How can one awaken Kundalini Shakti?
Yogis and tantric devotees spend years in preparation for this energy, for the reasons described above. Yes, we can work to stimulate its rising, but when (and if) it will actually awake is completely out of our control.
The energy might awaken spontaneously for some. Yet, for most of us, its conscious awakening demands strength of mind, a well-balanced body, and awareness of the movement of this raw energy. Given the importance of the physical body, a healthy diet and exercise can be of great support. When it comes to strength of mind, clarity of intentions, and willingness to do the work are crucial. Modalities such as Hatha, Tantra, and Kundalini yoga, breathwork, and intonations can greatly support the practitioner.
If you google “how to awaken your kundalini”, you will find a vast range of perspectives. Some focus on certain foods, affirmations, cutting distractions and music. How much of that actually stimulates the awakening, I rather refrain from discussing. I will instead focus on what I have experienced that has helped me so far.
There is a reason why Shiva is so predominant in tantra and yoga, instead of Vishnu and Brahma: the first step is dissolution of who we think we are. That is, the destruction of illusions, of mental models, and conditioning that are limiting us from seeing reality. All these impurities in our physical, mental, emotional and pranic bodies are not allowing the full power of our energy force to circulate within us. Great progress can be made simply by cleaning ourselves, so to speak.
I am a big advocate of not trying to force kundalini to rise and instead focus on unclogging our tubes, a.k.a. purifying our nadis. That is because when we are trying to force it, it has 1 a lot of ego in it, 2 a lack of patience and trust in divinity, 3 a lot of masculine energy, that forgets to simply be and enjoy the process (and progression is all about the inner marriage of our female and male energies). But even worse than that, when we try to force and get some results, they are often not sustainable for our container is not fully ready, and one of the results is that the rise destabilizes us, causing some havoc in our lives, and this can actually regress our spiritual projection, so be mindful.
Purification requires discipline, willingness, and tenderness. At the same time, many purification techniques are rather simple and powerful. I have a whole article about it, take a look.
Yoga, especially Hatha, is a beautiful lineage with a robust toolkit for preparing our container for kundalini awakening.
There has been much confusion in the last years about what is tantra. In the West, Tantra is easily confused with sexual empowerment. Tantra relies greatly on triggers as a pathway to wisdom. Traditionally, Tantra is an esoteric part of Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Tantras are scriptures from esoteric traditions rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism. They teach many methods of “awakening”. Take this passage from the Gheranta Samhita, a Sanskrit text of Yoga in Hinduism:
“Sit in a comfortable posture and inhale fully, visualizing the vital Prana (the evolutionary life energy) conjoining with the Apana (the downward moving energy of the body). Contract the rectum and visualize the vital breaths entering the central Great Axis at the region just above the base of the spine. By restraining the inhaled breath, the serpentine Kundalini begins to feel cramped and suffocated. She begins to stir. Then awaken the sleeping goddess Kundalini by mentally repeating the all-powerful seed-sound “HUM”. Say to yourself “SOHAM” (‘I am it’), while imaging yourself as filled with Shakti and in union with Shiva. Draw up the Kundalini-energy from the lower region and contemplate the union of the pure Shiva-spirit with the primordial Shakti-energy.”
There are countless tantra scriptures and unfortunately, most have not been translated. Just as there is an overwhelming amount of lineages of Hinduism and Buddhism, so there are endless tantra lineages, each devoted to their own group of scriptures. A famous scripture that has been translated is the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra. In it, 112 tantric meditations methods are given. However, this scripture is said to be much atypical, compared to most Tantric scriptures.
A traditional tantra practice, Bhairavanand Tantra, derives from Shaivism. It focuses on the kundalini energy through mantra meditation, yantras and yagnas (offerings to the fire). Is also involves other rituals and daily practices (sadhanas). However, the practices are always done following the passing of a guru. It is the guru who can channel what the student needs to continue on the path.
When it comes to traditional tantra, this is critical: tantra is an initiatory lineage. Commitment to the path and following the guidance of a guru, who has the connection to the lineage and can transmit the energy, is crucial. I know that for many Westerners this sounds like bullocks. If we want to get mental, it probably does. My position on this is: when you meet a real guru, a spiritual master with authority in the light to transfer energy and initiate others, you will get it. Till then, no point discussing about it.
Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism, is practiced mainly in Tibet and the Himalayas. Since this is not my practice I refrain from writing more about it.
Sexual contact can stimulate and awaken the kundalini energy. Just as a snake’s poison can kill us, or help us heal from illness, so can sex hold us hostage or set us free. Kundalini energy can transform biological instincts into the urge for transcendence.
Energies can reach new levels of convergence through love-making, leading lovers to experience the awakening spontaneously. To not leave it to hazard, a couple can learn to channel this energy consciously to be taken to timeless bliss.
Here, breathing is key to circulating the energy: deep breathing, and synchronizing the breath with the partner through convergence, and the exchange of vital breaths. Movement of the pelvis and grunting also play an important role.
For such practices, seating love-making positions work best, as they offer the right pathway for the energy to rise.
However, it is easy for people to engage in sexual practice saying they want to awaken their kundalini when in fact they are acting first and foremost out of lust. Ego and spiritual progression don't get hand in hand, and when we work with powerful energies from a place of ego we create lots of karma. The creation of karma is one of the reasons why I personally recommend purification-based paths, and these paths focus on the dissolution of karma. We do not need to create more harm than good.
Pure and simply, meditation is a tool of purification of the mind. When we purify and awake the head center, the soul and the personality are coordinated and fused, and in this way, we get much more inner alignment. When done consistently over long periods of time, meditation awakens the centers of force in the etheric body and stimulates the rise of kundalini in a consistent and safe manner. That is why the emphasis in all esoteric schools is laid upon meditation.
Shaktipat is the transfer of spiritual energy from the teacher to the student. Besides bringing new energy to the student, it helps the student’s energy to remain active and stable.
The transfer occurs most often by touch; for instance, the teacher may touch the student’s third eye area. But there are other ways: it is said the transfer can occur by sight, through a mantra, or a word.
The guru might not be transferring her own energy, but the energy of an ancient member of her spiritual lineage that is no longer incarnate. Shaktipat is seen as an act of grace performed by the guru.
Also, the transfer of energy does not need to be conscious and official. Spending time around people with awakened kundalini is in itself a way to stimulate one's kundalini.
Movements: shaking and dancing
Sometimes we are so eager to go up that we forget we are not that connected to Earth. The energy that is to rise is Shakti. That is pure feminine energy, Mother Earth, vibrating. If Shiva sits and meditates on the top of a mountain, Shakti dances around the fire. There is a reason why Osho's Kundalini meditation has four stages: shake, dance, sit in stillness, lie down in stillness. This is the vibrational path from Shakti to Shiva.
Engage your hips. Make sounds, vibrate. Your body is the energy field. Chakra dance, shaking your body as you feel the shake coming to your feet from the Earth, freestyle dancing, belly dance are all great ways to stimulate the energy.
Even though shaking and dancing can help in the purification process and also get the energy moving, it is through stillness that we have a chance of sustaining the energy.
There’s no such thing as control
As in every spiritual practice, clarity of intention and disciplined practice is crucial. However, if and when we achieve this awakening is out of our control.
Different events in life might lead this energy to unravel and arise, intentionally or not. A person who has been preparing for years might never have the energy rise, whereas someone who has never even heard of it can have it spontaneously.
“I do so much to wake it up, but it doesn’t seem to work, what’s wrong?”
Sometimes we have small energetic blockages. In such cases, simpler practices can suffice. Other times, we have big energetic blockages in our subtle bodies that won’t be released by regular practices.
Our subtle body is not one, but many. In many traditions, they are seven (although you will find traditions stating more or fewer layers). Regardless of how many we have, the practical implication of a blockage in the subtle body is the same. Kundalini might be able to rise in a superficial way through some of the bodies but cannot do the full work.
According to Shivoham Tantra tradition, we can carry energetic blockages in our chakras from past lives. The result is that they can clog our energetic pipe. This is a very old and heavy trash bag we carry with us everywhere, the famous karma. No matter how much yoga, breathwork, meditation, and shaktipat we do, it won’t be enough to clean it. A more intense type of work is required from the practitioner in exchange for the karma to be cleaned. In such cases, one needs to find her guru. The guru can make a proper diagnosis of the subtle body and receive information from above about what kind of sadhana (practice) will remove the issue.
When I first started practicing tantra, I was scanned by my guru who saw a blockage on my Manipur chakra. The sadhana to unblock it was two months long. Mostly not strenuous, it required one hour of meditation a day with a specific mantra, which is a rather typical protocol in this line of tantra. What it required extra were specific rituals to be conducted on the full moons and new moons. These were too unusual and sacred for me to describe here.
The day after the first ritual, I went to a Vinyasa yoga class. On the mat, I started crying out of nowhere in gratitude: it was the first time I could feel and discern over the presence of Neelkanth Shiva. In that class, I was also able to do splits for the first time (which I haven’t managed to do again since). I knew I wasn’t the one doing the splits, it was Shiva through my body. I had been practicing yoga for a long time, but that ritual was a game-changer. Since then, it has become much easier for me to have spiritual experiences during practice. If before I did not have a relationship with Shiva, now I do. The sadhana cleaned something deep in me, and it was not only about my subtle body. Manipur chakra connects to the digestive system, and much has also changed in this part of my body.
When we do such extensive work clearing old blockages, we are not only working on kundalini energy but also cleaning karma, which I find fascinating on its own. In a way, we are returning to our original state, our pure divinity.
Truth is, most people dont take it seriously that there is no control, until it is too late and they are totally out of control. For such processes, guidance is paramount.
"On your part great patience is needed, and a trust that the whole existence is in support of all those who are trying to grow spiritually. It is not you who are trying to grow spiritually; it is existence who, through you, is trying to reach to its utmost heights." Osho
Patience is important in this work, first and foremost because it involves trusting the Divine. Enjoy the process of self-discovery, enjoy the dance with the fire inside that is transmuting you. Why are you rushing? You are here, on Earth, take your time to make your container able to hold the energy. Developing patience and acceptance are real grounded ways to transmute our ego in itself — which is needed for anyone's progression. Everything is part of the healing and the path, not only the time when you sit on your mat. Presence and awareness, above all.
Hi, I am Aline Ra M, spiritual guide and healer.