What is Kuṇḍalinī? It is a difficult question to answer. Though kuṇḍalinī itself is the power of prāṇa, the life sustaining force, it is typically a spiritual alchemy. Alchemy can be interpreted to mean the way two individuals relate to each other. Two individuals referred here are the Self and the self. In other words, it hastens the process of spiritual evolution and ultimate realization. There are three types of spiritual evolution. The normal type is related to external worship accompanied with rituals, where connectivity between God and the practitioner is established in stages, which is comparatively a slow process. However, this practice lays a strong foundation for a perfect spiritual path. The first transformation towards spiritual life happens during this state, where one’s ego begins to get depleted. The second type is meditating on Parāśakti’s kāmakalā form, which can be broadly defined as the innermost triangle of Śri Cakra and the bindu within. On the grosser side, kāmakalā can be described as Her mantra form, but subtly this conveys much more. . Kāma refers to the object of adoration, the object that is desired. Here, Śiva becomes the most desired of all, as He is the Supreme Reality or Paramārtha. Śiva being the Supreme Ruler, He is addressed as Kāmeśvara. By addressing Him thus, He not only becomes the object of desire (Kāma), but also becomes the Supreme Ruler (Īśvara). This is how He becomes Kāma + Īśvara = Kāmeśvara. Kalā refers to vimarśa form of Śiva, Mahātripurasundarī. Śiva alone is Self-illuminating and Śaktī illuminates the universe with the brilliance of Śiva. Their conjoined form is Kāmakalā. There are two triangles in kāmakalā, one upper and one lower. The lower triangle is in inverted position. Her Pañcadaśī manta is placed on the three sides of the triangle, from where the material world originates.
Her subtlest form is Kuṇḍalinī. Though it is Her subtlest form, yet it is Her most potent form. Under normal circumstances, kuṇḍalinī is posited at the lower tip of the spine. When this energy is awakened, She begins Her journey towards top of the head, where Śiva awaits Her arrival and their union takes place at sahasrāra, which technically is not one among the six psychic chakras. This type of worship is also known as samayācāra (established procedure or proven method, a terminology often used in Tantra Scriptures). This type of worship is considered as the most secretive worship, where no external objects, whatsoever are involved. For this type of worship only two things are needed, one’s mind and one’s consciousness. This is called kuṇḍalinī meditation. It is not simply one of the meditative techniques, but being with Her during this meditation.
Other terms that are generally used to refer kuṇḍalinī are vital force, life energy, prāṇa, chi (or chee), etc. But none of these terms can exactly describe kuṇḍalinī, because it really means only the subtle form of Parāśakti. There are two ways of activating kuṇḍalinī. One is the natural way and solely depends upon one’s purity of devotion. When one’s devotion to Her transforms into love for Her, kuṇḍalinī gets awakened automatically and depending upon one’s depth of love, it activates different psychic centres (chakras). Alternatively, on Guru’s initiation, Śaktipāta (descent of Her Grace) descends on the aspirant. Guru, who is referred here should be a Self-realized person and should be capable of initiation by working on the psychic body (energy body) of the aspirant. This Guru on initiation kindles the kuṇḍalinī of the aspirant and makes it active. The disciple on instructions from his Guru works on his kuṇḍalinī through higher level of inner contemplation takes Her upwards till ājñācakra, which is the chakra (the word chakra is used both as cakra and chakra; the former is in IAST font) of the Guru. Only in this chakra, the disciple receives his Guru’s commands, even from a distance. Mantras are imparted by a Guru through this chakra, which is considered as the best of initiation. But it is important that Guru should have the ability to initiate this way.
Vijñānabhairava Tantra (verse 67) speaks about Kuṇḍalinī. “By closing the sensory organs, prāṇa begins to ascend through the central canal of the spinal cord and this can be realized through tingling sensations at different chakras in the spinal cord. At the time of feeling the tingling sensation, one can realize Bhairava. Prāṇa is used for all actions of the body. For example, for seeing, hearing, walking, etc prāṇa is required. If the organs of perceptions are closed, there is no work for prāṇa. Prāṇa cannot remain idly. Since there is no work for prāṇa, it begins to ascend through suṣumna (spinal cord) from mūlādhāra to brahmarandhra at sahasrāra. Brahmarandhra is an orifice at the top of the head in sahasrāra, through which gross body draws prāṇa from the cosmos.” Therefore, a proper kuṇḍalinī meditation needs an appropriate control of sensory organs. For example, while practicing kuṇḍalinī yoga, there should be no distractions whatsoever, as this could cause panic attack in the practitioner. Thus, it is clear that capacity to control and modify prāṇa is the most important factor in kuṇḍalinī activation. Śiva tells His Consort Bhairavi (Vijñānabhairava Tantra verse 154 till the end), “Inhalation and exhalation happen on its own, thereby awakening the Kuṇḍalinī energy, which goes up the spine and She (Parāśakti) is to be worshiped in suṣumna, the central canal of the spinal cord. This is true kṣetra (pilgrimage centre). She is the experience that happens in the mind and She is also beyond human experience (immanent and transcendent). Dualism gradually gets dissolved along with the gaining of potency by Kuṇḍalinī. It is like the growth of a girl to womanhood. Kuṇḍalinī does not become potent in the initial stages, but attains potency over a period of time. The increase in potency is directly related to the depth of contemplation, nature of life, food habits and above all practice. The one, who perpetually stays connected with Parāśakti, the Goddess Kuṇḍalinī (Parāśakti and Goddess Kuṇḍalinī are the same) enters the state of supreme bliss, and in this state he attains Bhairava. Śiva can never be attained directly. It is only through Parāśakti, the Supreme Śiva can be attained. Once Śiva is attained, there is nothing left for him and he is never born again. The knowledge about Śiva is sovereign in nature and none can impart that knowledge except Parāśakti and thus, She becomes his Guru. In reality there is nothing in that Supreme Knowledge and this is known as void. When one becomes Śiva due to realization, he does nothing and becomes like a moving object, unconcerned and unattached with the material world. In a day (day and night consisting of 24 hours), a person inhales and exhales 21,600 times and this is the true mantra (ha at the time inhalation and sa at the time of exhalation. The continuous concentration on these subtle sounds gives rise to the inherent mantra ‘soham’ and this is known as a-japa, which means no japa. When the japa is happening inwardly and perpetually, where is the necessity of other mantra japas? 21600 breaths are meant for normal human beings. If one attempts to reduce this number – by slow breathing and by holding the breath both internally and externally – it not only increases the life span, but also helps in concentration during meditative sessions.)
“O! My dear Bhairavi! The Supreme Goddess! I have explained to you (upper case y is not used because She is now addressed by Śiva) the most precious and sacred teaching which leads to immortal state (liberation) and this should not be revealed to someone who is not worthy of this sacred teaching. This should be taught only through a Guru (not guru). One should learn from this teaching that all material things are impermanent and this sacred and secretive knowledge alone is permanent. One can even choose to die but the quest for final liberation should never be given up.”
Though there are several well known and authentic texts on kuṇḍalinī, certain portions of activation and certain attainments at the highest spiritual levels are always withheld.
Prāṇāyāma (breathing techniques) is one of the basic necessities of kuṇḍalinī activation. Different types of prāṇāyāma-s, āsana-s (sitting postures), bandha (arresting) and mudrā-s are used either independently or jointly during kuṇḍalinī meditation. In this part of this series, nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma, which is used for the purpose of cleansing the nervous system, is explained for the purpose of practice. At the end of each article of this series, practicing methods will be provided, which will ensure proper practice of kuṇḍalinī meditation.
Nāḍi Śodhana Prāṇāyāma: (based on Haṭhayoga Pradīpaka and Yoga CūḍāmaṇiUpaniṣad):
Haṭhayoga Pradīpaka has allotted an entire chapter (chapter 2 consisting of 78 verses) for prāṇāyāma. This chapter begins by saying, “After mastering āsana-s, attaining self-control and diet control, one should practice prāṇāyāma. When the breath is not steady, mind is also not steady. When nāḍi-s are impure, prāṇa does not enter suṣumna. Nāḍi-s’ impurities can be removed by inhaling through left nostril and after holding as long as possible, exhale through the right nostril. Again inhale slowly through the right nostril (through which exhalation was made) and again holding for a specified time, should exhale through the left nostril. This should be practiced for three months and all the nāḍi-s will be purified.” Yoga Cūḍāmaṇi Upaniṣad also conveys the same meaning, except that it says that complete purity of nāḍi-s can be attained in two months of practice.
There are twelve stages in nāḍi śodhana prāṇāyāma. Stages depend upon the duration of inhalation (pūraka), holding of breath within (kumbhaka) and exhalation (rechaka). For practicing the first three stages, no particular sitting postures have been suggested. However, it would be ideal to sit in padmāsana (lotus posture) or (ardhapadmāsana) half lotus posture. These postures will be discussed in later parts of this series.
To begin with, one can take any comfortable posture to sit. While sitting, there should be no tension in any parts of the body. Little finger and the ring fingers should be used to close the left nostril. Middle and index fingers should either be folded or extended outwards. These two fingers should not be placed at ājñācakra, as this could cause varying degrees of pressure on both the nostrils. Thumb should be used to close the right nostril. While closing the nostrils, very moderate pressure is to be applied on the nostrils. Similarly, instead of closing the tip of the nostrils, an inch above the tip of nose can be used to block the breath.
Before we proceed to actual breathing practice, it is important to understand and practice diaphragm breathing, also known as yogic breathing. In many of us, when we inhale, our abdomen contracts and when we exhale our abdomen expands. If this is the trend of breathing, it should be modified in such a way that when we inhale, our abdomen should expand and when we exhale, our abdomen should be contracted to the extent possible.
I stage: Inhalation as slowly and as deep as possible – no holding of breath – exhalation as slowly and deeply as possible.
II stage: Same as above, but duration of exhalation should be equal to inhalation. No holding of breath in this stage also.
III stage: Same as II. But holding of breath is introduced for the first time here. After inhalation, hold the breath for about three seconds and exhale for the same duration as that of inhalation. For example it could be like this. 5 – 2 – 5 seconds for inhalation, holding and exhalation.
Further practice will be discussed in the next part of this series.