Kundalini yoga derives its name through a focus on awakening kundalini energy through regular practice of meditation, pranayama, chanting mantra and yoga asana. Called by practitioners "the yoga of awareness", it aims "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."
What has become known as "Kundalini yoga" in the 20th century, after a technical term peculiar to this tradition, has otherwise been known[clarification needed] as laya yoga (लय योग), from the Sanskrit term laya "dissolution, extinction". The Sanskrit adjective kuṇḍalin means "circular, annular". It does occur 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 with the meaning "bowl, water-pot" is found as the name of a Naga in Mahabharata 1.4828. The feminine kuṇḍalī has the meaning of "ring, bracelet, coil (of a rope)" in Classical Sanskrit, and is used as the name of a "serpent-like" Shakti in Tantrism as early as c. the 11th century, in the Śaradatilaka. This concept is adopted as kuṇḍalniī as a technical term into Hatha yoga in the 15th century and becomes widely used in the Yoga Upanishads by the 16th century.
The Yoga-KundaliniUpanishad is listed in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads. Since this canon was fixed in the year 1656, it is known that the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad was compiled in the first half of the 17th century at the latest. The Upanishad more likely dates to the 16th century, as do other Sanskrit texts which treat kundalini as a technical term in tantric yoga, such as the Ṣaṭ-cakra-nirūpana and the Pādukā-pañcaka. These latter texts were translated in 1919 by John Woodroffe as The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga In this book, he was the first to identify "Kundalini yoga" as a particular form of Tantrik Yoga, also known as Laya Yoga.
The Yoga-Kundalini and the Yogatattva are closely related texts from the school of Hatha yoga. They both draw heavily on the Yoga Yajnavalkya (c. 13th century), as does the foundational Hatha Yoga Pradipika. They are part of a tendency of syncretism combining the tradition of yoga with other schools of Hindu philosophy during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad itself consists of three short chapters; it begins by stating that Chitta (consciousness) is controlled by Vayu (Prana), and Prana 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."
Swami Nigamananda (d. 1935) taught a form of laya yoga which he insisted was not part of Hatha yoga, paving the way of the emergence of "Kundalini yoga" as a distinct school of yoga.
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.
Kundalini energy is technically explained 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.
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.
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.
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.
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". Writers in the fields of near-death studies and of "transpersonal psychology" have described a "kundalini syndrome".
Venkatesh et al. (1997) 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. (2000) 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.
^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
^Kason, Yvonne (2000) Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers, Revised edition, ISBN 0-00-638624-5. Greyson, Bruce (2000) Some Neuropsychological Correlates Of The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol.32, No. 2. Scotton, Bruce (1996) The phenomenology and treatment of kundalini, in Chinen, Scotton and Battista (Editors) (1996) Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry and psychology. (pp. 261–270). New York: Basic Books, Inc. 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.
^Venkatesh S, Raju TR, Shivani Y, Tompkins G, Meti BL. (1997) A Study of Structure of Phenomenology of Consciousness in Meditative and Non-Meditative States. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, Apr 1997; 41(2): 149 - 53. PubMed Abstract PMID 9142560.
^* Lazar, Sara W.; Bush, George; Gollub, Randy L.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Khalsa, Gurucharan; Benson, Herbert (2000) Functional Brain Mapping of the Relaxation Response and Meditation, [Autonomic Nervous System] NeuroReport, Vol. 11(7) May 15, 2000, p 1581 - 1585, PubMed Abstract PMID 10841380
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. Religionswissenschaftliche Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan, Münster: LIT, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0140-3 [in German]
medical and psychiatric literature
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, Jun 2001; 26(2): 147 - 53, PubMed Abstract PMID 11480165.
Cromie, William J. (2002) Research: Meditation Changes Temperatures: Mind Controls Body in Extreme Experiments. Harvard University Gazette, April 18, 2002
Narayan R, Kamat A, Khanolkar M, Kamat S, Desai SR, Dhume RA. (1990) Quantitative Evaluation of Muscle Relaxation Induced by Kundalini Yoga with the Help of EMG Integrator. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. Oct 1990; 34(4): 279 - 81, PubMed Abstract PMID 2100290.
Peng CK, Mietus JE, Liu Y, Khalsa G, Douglas PS, Benson H, Goldberger AL. (1999) Exaggerated Heart Rate Oscillations During Two Meditation Techniques. Int J Cardiol, Jul 31, 1999; 70(2): 101 - 7, PubMed Abstract PMID 10454297.
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,Vol.183, No. 7 435-444