What's A Kundalini Awakening, And Other Weird Things I've Learned In Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini energy is "conceptualized as a coiled serpent" at the base of the spine that, when released, travels up your Chakras, leading to a transcendent experience. New agey and ouroborous-related? Sold!
When I was a kid I legitimately thought I might turn out to be a serial killer. I’d sneak a peek at my mom’s true crime books, compiling a list of characteristics I shared with famous sociopaths.
In retrospect, and unsurprisingly, serial killers and I actually had very little in common. I’m pretty sure the only criterion I met was being a somewhat late bed-wetter. Setting paper towels on fire, while sitting beneath our family home (with no actual intention of catching the house on fire) was the closest I ever came to anything violent. But in my neurotic 10 year old mind, that was enough.
It didn’t help that on our annual summer trips to Seattle to visit my father’s family, every time we passed over the Green River, I could hear my mom whisper to my dad in the front seat, “They still haven’t caught him”. “Him” being the Green River Killer who dumped strangled prostitutes’ bodies in the river below. Thanks, Mom. I’m never sleeping again.
Of course, the very fact that I had enough conscience to fear becoming a mass-murderer indicated that I probably was not, in fact, a sadistic sociopath.
Needless to say, I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with my own psychology and this mostly comes from anxiety. I’ve never had any debilitating psychiatric issues; mostly preferring to dabble in a little depression and anxiety, with occasional hypochondria to spice things up.
In an attempt to finally address my persistent anxiety, I took up Iyengar Yoga (a type of Hatha Yoga), eight years ago, and by my third or fourth class, I realized that it could work for me. I could learn to control my breath and body in such a way that I could avoid being constantly tormented by outside forces.
While yoga and meditation, along with cognitive therapy, have been blessings in combatting my anxiety and depression, I have occasionally experienced a disconcerting sense of dissociation after a yoga and meditation session. So it was probably best that I knew nothing of Kundalini Crisis when I agreed to attended my first Kundalini Yoga class a few weeks ago with my friend Nora.
We began class with chanting, then moved on to several minutes of “fire breathing” which is essentially panting like a dog, but with your mouth closed. Sustaining this type of breathing is surprisingly challenging, and I felt a bit light-headed in sweltering New Orleans heat and humidity.
Much of the class was spent engaging in rhythmic movements, coordinated with our breath—in on one, out on the other that mimic the internal body processes, for example, moving intertwined fingers in and out from the chest, similar to a beating heart. This rhythmic breathing induces an almost immediate meditative state and is one reason Kunalindi Yoga is particularly appealing—it efficiently, produces desired effects much more quickly than other disciplines.
As in many Hatha Yoga classes, we ended our Kundalini practice in “corpse pose”, which is, as the name indicates, lying flat on your back, limbs limp, and all other parts of the body relaxed. As we lay silently, observing our breath, the instructor hit a large gong, first softly, and gradually deafeningly. It seemed counter-intuitive to me. If you want us to relax, why the fuck are you banging a gong in our ears?
What I learned later was that when the gong is loud enough, it is impossible to think, and the mind is quieted for meditation. Cool, huh?
A former addict who attended his first Kundalini class with me described feeling the gong’s vibrations as waves of pleasure coursing through his body. I found this especially interesting considering that when Harbhajan Singh first popularized Kundalini Yoga in the United States during the 1960’s with the California counter-culture, he had a particular interest in drug addiction, and eventually opened up a substance abuse treatment center in Tucson.
Kundalini also had an immediate appeal to hippies at the time for its ability to one could attain an altered state of consciousness without drugs. That’s how they should market it: “Yoga gets you high.” Their attendance would grow ten-fold.
“I feel like it’s the type of yoga the Manson Family would do,” Nora said over dinner after class.
You know, minus the horrific violence. But I sort of got what she meant.
And then, I realized something. Nora had sent me an article a few months back about a woman who attended a tantric sex workshop, and during one of the exercises experienced a Kundalini Awakening. It started as a frighteningly intense full-body orgasm that left her screaming and crying and led to about ten years of spontaneous Kundalini orgasms and self-imposed celibacy. Well, shit.
Apparently, a Kundalini Awakening is desirable because energy is released and enlightenment can be achieved, it can also be experienced as a Kundalini Crisis or Kundalini Syndrome, which is a serious psycho-spiritual and emotional breakdown.
But I kept coming back. When I tell people I’ve been going to Kundalini Yoga, the universal response has been “Cunnilingus?” Yes, we totally just sit around and eat each other out and call it yoga.
In one class, the teacher, this time wearing a white top with no bra, through which I could clearly see both the shape and color of her nipples (not a judgment, showing your nipples in public is one of the most radical things a lady can do), instructed us to open and close our mouths repeatedly for a few minutes. She told us to keep a rhythm we felt we could maintain. It was more challenging than it sounds. She was right. When I finished I felt like I’d been licking vagina for days. Maybe this was a warm-up.
During my most recent class, after jumping up and down for several minutes on my hands and feet, I started feeling an unusual tingling in the tips of my fingers. Then I started feeling heat in isolated parts of my body. Then my face started itching. Finally, as I sat chanting with my legs crossed at the end of class, my body began vibrating. Not extremely or uncomfortably, but noticeably.
Apparently the strange sensations I had just experienced in class were consistent with those observed in individuals experiencing a Kundalini Awakening—feelings of energy in the hands, tingling or itching on or underneath the skin, extreme hot or cold feelings in different body parts, and trembling.
Now, let me be clear, I don’t think I experienced a Kundalini Awakening. I do, however, believe that my limited practice of Kundalini Yoga has accessed certain energy in my body, causing me to have these sensations. I don’t think enlightenment is imminent, but I do believe that experiencing this energy is beneficial, and I plan to continue in this practice.
Many Kundalini classes end with the song “Long Time Sunshine”, once for oneself and once for others:
“May the long time sun shine upon you.
All love surround you.
And the pure light within you.
Guide your way on…
Guide your way on…”