Today reports have become common of strange, intense body sensations, sometimes involving loss of consciousness, intense surges of energy, burning sensations accompanied by emotional highs, and emotional discharges and catharses. Some of these experiences are described as ecstatic or epiphanic, others as frightening and threatening. A hallmark common to them is that they are described as beyond control. Sometimes these experiences seem related to experimenting with Mula Bandha and breathing, but often, they seem completely spontaneous. Those with these experiences after initial euphoria often struggle to make sense of them, and to integrate them meaningfully into their lives.
When inquiring into such sensations we first must out rule any underlying medical condition. If you have repeated episodes involving loss of consciousness, uncontrolled catharses and spasms, etc., the first port of call should be a medical doctor. We would need to rule out any underlying medical condition that could impinge on safely operating machinery, such as driving a car. The next compound to rule out would be psychiatric/ psychological disorders such as bipolar, multi-personality disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety/depression or borderline disorder. If any of the above-mentioned physical sensations cause disfunction, it might be worth being assessed by a psychologist. Having ruled out a medical or psychiatric condition, let’s look next at the origins that such intense physical sensations are linked to Kundalini. The father of this notion is the late Indian yogi, writer and civil servant Gopi Krishna, who in his 1967 book Kundalini The Evolutionary Energy in Man, described how a seemingly innocent meditation technique plunged him into a 12-year-long abyss of madness, pain and burning sensations, described by him as a state between life and death. Once he had transited through that period, his experience stabilized and morphed into genuine spiritual awakening and ecstatic, mystical experience. By looking at Gopi Krishna’s life and work we can shed light on these strange, physical and energetic experiences related to Kundalini.
According to his own account, Gopi Krishna’s awakening was not spontaneous, but caused by 17 years of daily, hour-long meditation on the crown chakra (Sahasrara), while sitting in lotus posture (Padmasana). As many critics have pointed out, Gopi Krishna had no instruction on yoga stemming from within the yoga tradition. He did not prepare himself in any meaningful way292, besides reading on the subject whatever he could find. Yogic adepts would never start their practice by meditating on the crown chakra for any significant length of time, especially not while sitting in Padmasana for extended periods. Judging from the many sincere books Gopi Krishna wrote, in which he describes not only his own mystical states, but also researched and evaluated those of others, his attainment is genuine. He himself ascribes his success to a. the fact that he became expert in concentration and b. heredity, that both of his parents were Hindu saints. If you add to both these preconditions that Gopi Krishna meditated 17 years daily in Padmasana on the crown chakra293, and spent another 12 years in a Dark-Night-of-the- Soul-type spiritual crisis, the whole process took him 30 years. We need to then let go of the notion that anything in G. Krishna’s account amounted to ‘spontaneous’ awakening. He makes no claims to have found any form of shortcut. If we are investing many decades of our life into spiritual pursuit, we should use technology that makes progress to some extent smooth, traceable and reliable. Yet Gopi Krishna’s first book created a whole new genre of Kundalini accidents and spontaneous awakening and spawned a flood of reports of people seeking spiritual causes and explanations for weird physical symptoms they experienced. The difference between G. Krishna’s account and most of these new reports was that Krishna’s experiences were caused by decades of spiritual practice, but the new reports were about spontaneously occurring symptoms, not preceded by prolonged practice.
During his 12-year ordeal, G. Krishna realized that the physical symptoms of his state arose because Kundalini ascended through the solar nadi (Pingala), instead of through the central nadi (Sushumna). He briefly rectified this by meditation on the silver, lunar nadi (Ida), but later, he failed to revisit this important issue. Had he balanced the three nadis from the outset, he would not have experienced little if any physical symptoms! By practising pranayama, precisely Nadi Shodana and its two cousins Surya and Chandra Bhedana, including mantra, sun/moon visualization, and internal and external kumbhaka, we can, through skill, conduct Kundalini safely. Of course, we wouldn’t do this all at once, but we would gradually start with simple alternate nostril breathing. Yogis harped about this point for thousands of years and only as recent as a few decades ago T. Krishnamacharya said, ‘Pranayama is instrumental for attaining samadhi’.
For whatever reason G. Krishna’s first book introduced into the public sphere the notion that rising Kundalini is spontaneous and chaotic. Rather than something that G. Krishna intended to communicate, this was a narrative that our culture at this point wished to hear. 1967, the year when G. Krishna’s book was first published, was the year in which both the psychedelic revolution and the sexual revolution converged into the ‘Summer of Love’. However, Kundalini raising is not a chaotic and spontaneous occurrence. If approached through a systematic long-term practice of asana, kriya, pranayama, Kundalini meditation and samadhi, based on the yogic shastras (scriptures), Kundalini-rousing has lawful, predictable, and repeatable outcomes. G. Krishna himself stated that we need to prepare for Kundalini awakening by mastering beforehand asana, kriya and pranayama294. After his initial bestseller, Gopi Krishna published another 10 books in which he tried to clarify that his readers had misunderstood him when believing that the Kundalini was a physical force. He stated that Kundalini truly is the divine creative force, even identically with the Divine. But by then, the horse of public perception had bolted. The public wanted to believe that weird body sensations were a sign and proof of a spontaneously, unpredictably rising, spiritual force.
Weird physical symptoms accompanying spiritual experiences indicate that the solar nadi is overcharged in which case pranayama needs to be practiced. Since today everybody has an overcharged solar nadi, Kundalini-raising should not be attempted without a serious daily Nadi Shodana practice. After one has gained a foothold in pranayama, chakra-Kundalini meditation needs to be practiced in a daily, consistent form to bring about repeatable effects. Both meditation and pranayama need to be supported by a daily asana and kriya practice. If all of these are practiced as an integrated whole, progress will be steady, and no adverse symptoms will be encountered.
A final word on the spontaneity with which some of these states are supposed to occur. The whole world is an endless chain of cause and effect. Like all other aspects of life and the world, also spiritual experiences fall under the laws of causation. That genuine spiritual experiences come about spontaneously and uncaused is about as unlikely as somebody awarding you a PhD in quantum physics (or any other difficult academic discipline) uncaused. Genuine spiritual awakenings are brought about by long periods of sadhana (spiritual practice). All traditional spiritual teachings, whether indigenous shamanism and animism, Daoism, Sufism, Qabalah, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, or Yoga, have in common that breakthrough experiences come through, and after, long periods of practice. That these things just happen spontaneously is a product of Western neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism here is the belief that us modern people can get whatever we want without giving in return (in this case, a period of our life for practise), doing away with so-called primitive and long-held beliefs of traditional and indigenous societies. These beliefs are not primitive; they are accurate.
The other driving force of so-called spontaneous spiritual experiences is consumerism. Consumerism in this context is that we are entitled to immediate gratification without putting in any work. If we are seriously interested in spiritual awakening and spiritual evolution, we need to first let go of ideas according to which we are entitled to something without giving something else in return. Spiritual awakening is powered by the law of karma. We may have short-term experiences, caused, for example, by psychedelics, but none of that is sustainable or can be integrated without time spent on sadhana, spiritual practices such as asana, pranayama, kriyas, mudras and meditation. The following practices are extremely powerful and can lead to fast progress. However, it is necessary to integrate them into a supporting network of long-term yogic practices.
This is an excerpt from Gregor’s 2021 text Mudras Seals of Yoga.
292 Gopi Krishna, Kundalini The Evolutionary Energy in Man, Shambala, Boston & London, 1997, p. 137
293 Gopi Krishna, Kundalini The Evolutionary Energy in Man, Shambala, Boston & London, 1997, p. 34
294 Gopi Krishna, Kundalini The Evolutionary Energy in Man, Shambala, Boston & London, 1997, p. 130