Kundalini yoga belongs to the tantra tradition. Through the tantric scriptures, we are taught ways to relate to the universe in the form of shakti, or the feminine power or energy. This shakti, or energy, that exists outside our bodies also exists within ourselves in the form of the goddess, and is called kundalini. Kundalini can be thought of as the inner manifestation of the divine mother. Within our bodies, the dormant kundalini sits at the base of the spine in the muladhara chakra.
Hatha yoga is a branch of kundalini yoga. The main hatha yogic scripture is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which explains that the highest purpose of life is to become one with God, to achieve self-realization, samadhi, moksha, or whichever word you want to call it. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains that the main technique to achieve this union with God is through meditation. But, since most people are unable to meditate, we use other hatha yoga techniques such as asanas and pranayamas to purify the body and learn to control the mind and prana first. There are many overlapping techniques of kundalini and hatha yoga.
- There are three bodies that comprise an individual:
- Physical body
- Astral body
- Causal body
Everyone is aware of their physical body. Most people know about the various bodily systems such as the nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system, and so on. The physical body is very dense, made of muscle and bone, blood and other fibers. It can be touched, and is visible to the eyes.
Each person also has an astral body. It is of a more subtle nature than the physical body. It exists within the physical body and is a few inches bigger then the physical body all around. It cannot be seen or touched, but you can sense its presence when you stand very close to someone and you have the feeling of being in sync with them or not.
Everyone also has a causal body. The causal body exists within the astral and physical bodies, but is still larger and more subtle than the astral body. It carries the seed state of the individual from one reincarnation to the next.
In kundalini yoga and hatha yoga we are mainly concerned with working on the physical and astral bodies.
Nadis are located in the astral body and carry the prana. Sometimes they are referred to as astral tubes. There are 72,000 nadis in the astral body and generally they correspond with the nerves of the physical body. However, there are three main nadis that correspond with the spine and which concern us in the practices of kundalini and hatha yoga.
- The three main nadis located within the spine are called:
The Ida is generally associated with the left side of the body, and with the mind, cold, passivity, apana and the moon. Pingala, on the right side, is associated with prana, heat, activity, and the sun. The sushumna is in the middle between the ida and pingala, and it is through the sushumna that the kundalini eventually rises when the state of purification of the nadis and chakras has progressed far enough.
The goal of many of the hatha yoga practices is to purify the nadis, and then to cause the prana and apana to meet and rise up through the sushumna.
Chakras are intersections of two or more nadis. Because there are so many nadis, there are literally uncounted numbers of chakras in the astral body. The chakras are the mechanisms by which the prana is able to permeate the physical body from the astral body, and basically then, it is the prana that keeps the physical body alive. Purification of nadis is critical to good health so that a balanced level of prana can flow throughout the nadis and chakra systems. Impure nadis cause blockages of the prana and this is what leads to disease in the physical body.
Within the astral body are 7 main chakras associated with kundalini awakening.
- These main chakras are called:
For more information on these chakras please visit our Chakra Introduction page.
Two Phases of Kundalini Awakening
- There are two phases of kundalini awakening. They are:
The purification phase is more lengthy and very important. Generally for the purification phase we practice several techniques of hatha yoga such as pranayama, asanas and kriyas. For the awakening phase we practice more advanced pranayamas, mudras and bandhas, which move the kundalini from its seat in the base of the spine, ever progressively upwards through the sushumna and the chakras, until she reaches the sahasrara chakra at the top of the head. Sometimes this is also called the union of Siva and Shakti.
Only by purifying the nadis and awakening these 7 main chakras is the kundalini able to rise up through the spine. As the kundalini ascends through the various chakras, various siddhis, or yogic powers will manifest. Many yogis, not as pure as they should be, have been ruined by the manifestation of these unchecked powers when they tried to awaken kundalini before they were ready. It is because of this that the groundwork of purification and practice of the yamas and niyamas must be well established prior to kundalini awakening.
There are many techniques aimed at purifying the nadis as well as opening the chakras. For best results you should have a qualified teacher for using any of these techniques.
One Last Word About Tantra
In the west, tantra has acquired many connotations and beliefs that it is a sexual practice. Traditionally, there is a tantric sect which utilizes sexual union as well as a few other things such as wine and meat in order to cause kundalini awakening and achieve self-realization. These types of practices are called left-handed tantra and are a significant minority in the grand scope of tantric practices. In their purest form they are reserved for a very few highly-qualified aspirants, and the techniques must be taught by a tantric master. Many people in the west are attracted to this type of tantra, but unfortunately are practicing tamasic techniques which have nothing to do with the real quest for self-realization.