Awakening kuṇḍalinī is a serious subject and should be done with extreme caution in the presence of a learned Guru. There are two vital parameters to effectively awaken the kuṇḍalinī without any side effects. One is our consciousness and another is our breath. Without dissolving dualities, mind cannot be purified. When the mind is not purified, our consciousness cannot stay focused. Therefore, spiritual advancement is absolutely necessary before attempting to awaken kuṇḍalinī by yogic means. Sometimes, kuṇḍalinī ascends on its own depending upon the intensity of love for the Divine. Love for Divine is far superior to other spiritual practices such as mediation and consequent trance. In fact, Love for Divine automatically leads to higher stages of samādhi, without any serious efforts. Therefore, in order to awaken the kuṇḍalinī, one should have moved away from dualism to non-dualism (dvaita to advaita). When one truly practices non-dualism, distraction of mind and consequent multiple thought processes get annihilated. In order to attain this stage, one’s breathing pattern helps a lot. Nāḍi Śodhana Prāṇāyāma is one of the best breathing practices to purify the mind, and this has been explained in the previous parts. There are more breathing practices for awakening the kuṇḍalinī and move it to higher chakras, without any difficulty. Apart from breathing practices (prāṇāyāma), certain āsana-s, mudra-s and bandha-s need to be practiced and all of them should be synchronised for effective activation of kuṇḍalinī.
Concentrating on the movement of breath both during inhalation and exhalation is one of the effective ways for increasing our level of concentration. By focusing our concentration, the mind also stays focussed on the breath and during this period, mind is disconnected from sensory inputs. Mind by default is prone to sensory inputs and changing the inherent nature of the mind is surely an arduous task. The mode and pattern of breathing is directly related to the nature of our activities. If someone breathes fast, it signifies his agitated mind and on the other hand, if breathing is deep and slow, it signifies the calm state of mind. The first thing that one should learn in breathing, is yogic breathing. In yogic breathing, also known as diaphragm (a muscular partition separating the abdominal and thoracic cavities; functions in respiration) breathing, during inhalation one’s abdomen should be expanded and during exhalation diaphragm should be contracted. When abdomen is expanded during inhalation, diaphragm goes down causing the lungs to expand and the air inhaled enters to the remote parts of lungs, as a result of which more oxygen is generated and passed on to the blood stream.
Under normal circumstances, inhalation enters into the body till heart chakra, which is about six to eight inches from the nostrils (openings of the nose). Similarly, when the air is exhaled, it can be felt till the distance of six to eight inches from the nostrils. Thus, there are two points where inhalation and exhalation end and these points are to be observed keenly. The point where inhalation stops inside the body and the point where the exhalation is felt outside the body can be connected through a straight line. These are the two points to be observed. This is the first step towards transforming into a yogi. Holding breath either inside the body or outside the body is known as kumbhaka (suspending breath). There are certain laid down procedures to practice kumbhaka, which are given at the end of this article, under practice section. When antara kumbhaka (holding breath inside the body) and bāhya kumbhaka (holding breath outside the body) are practiced to perfection, the inhalation gets energised. Perfection means concentrating that point of breath, where it stops during kumbhaka period (measure of time holding the breath without inhalation or exhalation), both antara and bāhya. Kumbhaka is like the resting period of the body. When inhalation is made after bāhya kumbhaka, the breath is highly energised and becomes capable of entering through the citriṇi nāḍi, through which kuṇḍalinī ascends. When kumbhaka is not practiced, breath passes through only iḍa and piṅgala nāḍi-s. But, when the inhalation is energised, the inhaled breath attains potency to enter into suṣumna (spinal cord). This can be explained as the dissolution of duality, the commencement of spiritual life. This is also explained in Haṭhayoga Pradīpaka (II.4 - 6) which says, “When the nāḍi-s are disrupted by impurities, the breath does not enter suṣumna. The yogi becomes fit to control his prāṇa only when all his nāḍi-s become pure. It is important to practice prāṇāyama only with sattvic mind.” Sattva not only refers to one of the guṇa-s, but also means prāṇa, life, consciousness, etc. As long as breath flows through iḍa and piṅgala nāḍi-s, ones perception is always towards dualism. Unless, dualism paves way for non-dualism, no worthwhile spiritual life can be pursued. Frequent and proper energisation of breath works in two ways. In the initial stages, it cleanses all the nāḍi-s and after cleaning other nāḍi-s, it begins to cleanse the path of kuṇḍalinī, which is citriṇi nāḍi placed inside suṣumna. Secondly, after cleansing citriṇi nāḍi, gradually it awakens the dormant kuṇḍalinī at the perineum. Therefore, properly practicing prāṇāyama is very important in kuṇḍalinī meditation. Unless proper breathing exercises are practiced, iḍa and piṅgala are not properly balanced, and suṣumna cannot be opened at the bottom to enable kuṇḍalinī to ascend. Ascension of kuṇḍalinī should be a slow and gradual process and if any other stimulating methods are used, it could lead to severe nervous problems.
Prāṇāyama is one of the instruments used to awaken kuṇḍalinī. Sage Patañjali speaks about the importance of prāṇāyama in the second chapter of his Yoga Sūtra-s (II. 50 to 53). These aphorisms are explained here in a nutshell. “Prāṇāyama means either exhalation or inhalation or holding (kumbhaka). It depends upon the place in which it is practiced, timing, number of counts and long or short breathing. By focusing prāṇa, one is able to focus his mind on a particular object. Which object is to be contemplated? The concentration should be on the Light, which is known as Prakāśa or Śiva, as Śiva is Self-illuminating. When the mind affirms that it is Light, and if this affirmation becomes perpetual, the mind becomes fit for concentration.” Patañjali clearly establishes the importance of prāṇāyama in purifying mind and without purified mind, awakening kuṇḍalinī is not feasible. Kuṇḍalinī awakening is directly related to one’s ability to synchronise breath, mind and consciousness. For example, if a Guru asks his disciple to fix his prāṇa at a particular point, let us say mūlādhāra chakra, he does not mean to say that he should breathe from mūlādhāra chakra, which is not possible. It means that he should fix his mind and consciousness at that point. The disciple should visualize as if he fixes his prāṇa at mūlādhāra chakra. By controlling and regulating prāṇa, proper visualization, calmness of mind and purity of consciousness can be attained.
By practicing proper prāṇāyama (proper prāṇāyama refers to duration of inhalation, antara kumbhaka, duration of exhalation and bāhya kumbhaka as these durations vary from person to person), subtle heat is generated within the body, which is not reflected in body temperature (normal temperature 98.6 o F). Heat generated by prāṇāyama first works on ājñā cakra and activates it, which in turn makes the passive kuṇḍalinī at mūlādhāra, active. Ājñā cakra is related to mind and if the mind is purified and becomes devoid of anomalous material pleasures, ājñācakra automatically gets activated. But this is not the case with other impetuous practices. Without properly practicing prāṇāyama, which is discussed in the previous part, trying to activate kuṇḍalinī through extraneous forces, will cause irreparable damage both to body and mind and hence should be totally avoided. Further when ājñācakra is active, by will it is possible to make the kuṇḍalinī ascend through citriṇi nāḍi, thereby totally eliminating any possible signs of kuṇḍalinī syndrome. If kuṇḍalinī syndrome manifests, it is difficult to cure, as nobody will be able to diagnose the cause of the problem. Though there are practices available to cure kuṇḍalinī syndrome, cure cannot be assured.
Further, when ājñācakra is activated, subtle light is generated at ājñācakra which works like a torch light and is focused on mūlādhāra. The heat and light thus generated awakens the kuṇḍalinī at mūlādhāra with Guru’s Grace (Guru can be interpreted to mean both Lord Śiva as well as the Guru who imparts kuṇḍalinī meditation). If we are able to focus our consciousness on mūlādhāra, through suṣumna by using our mind, eye balls and prāṇa, the sleeping kuṇḍalinī at mūlādhāra gets up from its deep slumber and begins to ascend through citriṇi nāḍi, leaving no scope for any type of kuṇḍalinī syndrome. When we focus our attention on mūlādhāra from ājñācakra, all the chakras between mūlādhāra and ājñācakra get well balanced. When these psychic centers are well balanced and purified, ascension of kuṇḍalinī through citriṇi nāḍi, which is within suṣumna becomes perfect without any blockades.
While sitting for prāṇāyama, it is important to take a proper posture. There are two types of āsana-s recommended. One is padmāsana and another is ardha-padmāsana.
Salient features to be noted while practicing padmāsana. Soles of the feet should be facing up and the heels should be pressing the pubic bone. The placement of heels will work on the anal muscles and produce intense heat that makes the dormant kuṇḍalinī to become active. When padmāsana is practiced for the purpose of kuṇḍalinī meditation, it would be ideal to place the palms on the thighs, so that there is a minimum of 45o gap between the trunk of the body and the arms. If this gap is not given in the arm pit area, the central auxiliary lymph nodes in the arm pits get compressed and blocked, thereby obstructing the drainage of lymphatic fluids (lymphatic system is the main source of immunity and also drains fluids from the cells and distributes into the blood stream). Further, by practicing this posture, stiff shoulders can be avoided.
In ardha-padmāsana, one foot alone is placed under the perineum and the other foot is placed on the thigh. But for this, all other parameters are the same as per padmāsana. This is comparatively an easy posture.
Further prāṇāyama practices should be done by choosing either of the above postures. In case, these postures are not possible, any other posture that is convenient to the practitioner can be followed. But for the sitting position, other parameters remain the same.