The term Kundalini , also called Kundalini Shakti comes from the Tantric Yoga texts of India. Kundalini is a derivative of the word kundala, which means coiled. The image of a coiled serpent is often used to represent Kundalini. The word shakti means power. So the Kundalini Shakti is a coiled up or potential power. According to the ancient Tantric texts, the entire universe is a manifestation of pure consciousness, which appears to be divided into two poles or aspects. One aspect represented by the god Shiva, refers to unmanifest consciousness, formless bliss, being and awareness. It is masculine in nature and although has the power to be, has no power to manifest or act. Shakti, the consort of Shiva, also depicted as a god and the other part of the polarity, is the dynamic energetic or creative aspect, which manifests herself as the entire universe. Shakti comes out of Shiva and neither can exist without the other.
These two principles are actually one, however in the manifest world an illusion of distinction is created. This illusion has been called involution or Maya and is the result of Shakti veiling herself as she projects out of Shiva. When pure consciousness manifests itself as Shakti, the dynamic or action principle, she in turn polarizes herself into two forms of energy, which we know from physics as active and potential. When Shakti manifests herself as the universe, part of the energy becomes involved in the manifestation and another greater part, remains dormant, supporting the universe. The potential energy in human beings, ie. the energy not being used to maintain the functioning of the human organism, is said to rest at the base of the spinal cord in the root chakra and is called the Kundalini Shakti. Kundalini has been referred to as the Divine Cosmic Energy in the body.
Prana is an energy form, more subtle than electrical energy and is mostly unknown and undetectable by modern science. Prana flows like an electric current through an intricate pathways of subtle nerves, called nadis, connecting the body and the mind, keeping the whole organism working. The prana is specifically organized around centers in the energy body called chakras.
These chakras or energy centers, are not actual physical centers, although they do correspond to various physical centers in the body. The chakras help to organize and govern the physical body in their corresponding regions. Energy follows thought, and when it is primarily located in a specific center it also produces a particular view or frame of reference through which the individual experiences the world. For example: when the mind is in the sacral area or sex chakra one may be focused on sensual pleasure or when in the heart chakra one may become more compassionate and caring of others. The seven main chakras (energy centers) and their corresponding states of consciousness account for the different ways in which individuals perceive and experience the world.
Traditionally, shakti contains latent energy but also latent memories, personal and transpersonal. The field of psychology refers to this vast unknown, latent power as the unconscious. Those individuals who have conscious access to the unconscious, experience tremendous energy, insight and creativity. The transformation of this latent energy into action , the unconscious into consciousness is called the awakening of the kundalini. This can be a tremendously profound life changing experience or a gradual change in which small pieces of unconscious are brought gradually into conscious awareness.
The arousal of kundalini can be very dramatic. It is traditionally viewed as an intense process of purification that leads to transcendence of the body and mind, culminating in the unification of subject and object or oneness with God. As the kundalini moves throughout the energy body it encounters blockages or imbalance caused by the remaining latent energies, the memories and experiences, personal and transpersonal mentioned above. These latent energies are the accumulation of unskillful thought, speech and action motivated by the egoic mind. These blockages create resistance to the flow of the energy. When the shakti energy encounters resistance in the energy body it can cause spontaneous physical, mental and or emotional reactions called kriyas, until the blockage is cleared or the channel is widened. A commonly used analogy is that of an intense flow of water through a small hose, causing it to whip around. The same amount of water however through a larger hose or channel, has very little resistance or effect upon the hose. Many of the symptoms associated with kundalini awakening are also common to the resistance of the flow of prana outside the sushumna, in the chakras and nadis (energy meridians). It is very common for people who experience these symptoms to mistakenly believe that their kundalini is awakened. In some traditions, the awakened kundalini has been made into a spiritual status symbol, and people actually fake kriyas or kundalini symptoms, or hold onto them, out of a need for recognition or acceptance by the group. This of course is a distinct contradiction to the purpose of raising the kundalini ie. freedom from the illusions of the ego, and union with God, Self, Buddha Nature etc.
The Hindu Tantric practice of Kundalini Yoga entails awakening the kundalini shakti (energy) and leading it up the central channel (sushumna) through the chakras, to the crown chakra at the top of the head. Yoga means union and Kundalini Yoga refers to the union of the Kundalini Shakti (our latent unconscious energy and memories) with Shiva, (pure consciousness). When this fully occurs, which is very rare, the individual becomes fully awake, conscious or enlightened.
The Kundalini Yoga, Siddha Yoga and some other Guru Yoga approaches to awaken the kundalini shakti (energy) is through an initiation called shaktipat by the Guru. The disciples are then taught Tantric practices for the willful cultivation and manipulation of the inner energy, with the intention to make it rise up the sushumna (central channel). This is very dangerous without expert guidance and even then there can be serious problems. Many or perhaps most people are unaware of the "protective webs" between the chakras, along the sushumna. These "webs" are there for a reason, to protect the individual from awakening the energies in the different centers and their corresponding levels of consciousness, before the necessary physical, emotional, and mental purification has been completed so that the shakti energy can naturally and safely pass through. The willful type of practices for forcing the kundalini up the sushumna can tear these webs and "all hell can break loose," before one is safely able to handle it, and they are difficult and sometimes impossible to repair. It is very important to fully acknowledge and understand the power and the effects of the kundalini shakti energy and most importantly the latent energies of our physical., mental and emotional experiences which manifest when it is awakened.
As a past member of an international Kundalini yoga center, I knew one person to be bedridden for weeks after receiving shaktipat initiation by a highly respected and well intentioned Indian Guru. I have known others physically, emotionally or mentally so overwhelmed that they have lost their jobs, been hospitalized, or have experienced a wide range of psychosis.
The world renowned Guru's of these organizations, however good intentioned, were not able to help their disciples. I discussed the issue of kundalini and suffering with one of these Guru's and explained to them that I could "see" the energy blockages and imbalances in the chakra system that were at the source of some of the suffering. I then told them, without any doubt in my mind, that I could help some of their disciples, ( my friends) and relieve them of their suffering. My help was refused and I was asked to not heal anyone at their retreats or programs. They believed that the Goddess Kundalini would take care of the problems and that I shouldn't interfere. I felt that the Goddess Kundalini is in all beings and manifests in various ways for our benefit, through different types of healers, therapists, herbs, etc. The traditional view of letting the kundalini take care of itself, sounded too much like Christian Science, where people have been allowed to suffer and in some cases die because they didn't believe in accepting help from doctors. They feel that prayer and surrender to God should be enough, and yet they fail to realize that God is in everyone and help is constantly being offered, if you can recognize it. It was apparent to me by the end of the conversation that this Guru was a teacher and not a healer and didn't understand or have the skills for helping their disciples, so we agreed to disagree, and eventually parted ways. I offered healing outside the retreat settings for over 50 of the disciples in this tradition before I finally left the organization.
An additional problem with kundalini yoga practices today is that traditionally, the Indian Tantric practice of awakening the kundalini was only taught after a long process of self-purification to first strengthen and prepare for the unleashing of these vast latent unconscious forces and memories. Today one can find Guru's who will awaken the kundalini without any preparation and there are many others teaching kundalini practices who don't give any warnings as to the many potential dangers. I have also found that in the Indian Tantric tradition, once the kundalini has been awakened, there is very little teaching and support given on how to safely, skillfully and effectively work with the physical, mental and emotional energies which will eventually manifest. Many people continue to benefit from these Kundalini Yogas, without any severe disorder, however the ones who do have difficulty are basically on their own because generally speaking the Guru's are spiritual teachers, not therapists and healers.