I WROTE THIS ARTICLE sixteen years ago. For most of those years the article was prefixed by a note that warned people not to imitate my example. I said I thought this yoga was a waste of time and could be dangerous.
During the summer of 2015, seventeen years after the experiment described in this article, events occurred which changed my mind. I still think the technique I describe here might be dangerous — there are probably better ways to wake the kundalini — but I no longer think the exercise was pointless. I now believe that many people would probably benefit from taking steps to wake their kundalini.
As I explain in the article, I was unable to find detailed instructions for this yoga and was forced to proceed by intuition and trial and error. Not until ten years later did I run across a precise description of this yoga by another author, Tommaso Palamidessi. I was intrigued to see that his description matches my own extremely closely. I have reprinted Palamidessi’s description here.
In retrospect it seems impossible that I was able to figure this out without instructions, and yet it happened. I think God must have been guiding me.
I see now that the first part of this article has a snarky, disrespectful tone. I was a different person back then. I regret the tone but for the record I’ll leave the article as it was written.
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I became fascinated by the Kundalini explosion that Gopi Krishna describes in his famous book, Living With Kundalini, and decided to try to induce the same experience in myself.
He was meditating one morning in a cross-legged posture, visualizing a shining flower in his head, when a stream of light entered his skull and expanded into an ocean of consciousness. He was never the same again.
This article explains how I made a similar experience happen to me. It also describes the elevated spiritual state that followed.
You can probably use this article as a how-to manual, but before you do, you should know that Gopi Krishna suffered terribly for a long time after his Kundalini woke up. As you are about to see, my experience was milder and much more pleasant than Gopi’s, but yours may resemble his, so think carefully before you leap.
Some people say this experiment should never be performed without the guidance of a competent yogi. They are probably right, but in a world without board certification of yogis, this advice is not always practical.
Wisely or not, I went ahead on my own. At first I tried concentrating on a visualized light in my head like Gopi did. This didn’t work for me, so I searched the web for alternative instructions and found a paragraph like the following written by an Indian swami (I paraphrase from memory):
Waking the Kundalini is simple. Just move the prana down and the apana up until they meet and combine.
I had to look up prana and apana. The first word has both generic and specific meanings in yogic physiology. It refers generally to the energy that animates a human being, but in this context it means a particular type of energy, the “upward-moving” one associated with breathing. Apana is another type, the “downward-moving” one associated with defecation.
Yogis have standard techniques for mixing prana and apana — ways of breathing, contracting muscles, and applying pressure to parts of the body — but as you’ve probably guessed by now, I knew nothing about them.
If I were a rational person I would have learned these techniques from somebody who knows them, but since I’m the kind of guy who never asks for directions, but instead drives around for hours until his destination appears by accident, I decided it would be fun to try to figure out a method on my own.
My first step was to find prana and apana. I was an agnostic on the question of whether they exist objectively, but I thought it likely that they exist phenomenologically; in other words, I expected to find sensations that correspond to those words. (Whether those sensations occur only when they are induced by expectations is an interesting question.)
To locate these sensations, I focused my attention intently and continuously on the places where I expected to find them. Because of my previous meditation experience, my mind was usually free from other thoughts while I did this, and when other thoughts did interrupt, they didn’t break my concentration.
Apana is associated with defecation, so I looked for sensations in my rectum and anus. Prana is associated with breathing, so I looked for sensations in my chest.
If the emphasis on the rectum and anus seems strange or funny — and of course it does — remember that I was merely trying to follow the directions to move my apana. Given other things that yogis say about the Kundalini, these directions made a kind of sense. The sleeping Kundalini is said to coil around the coccyx, the vestigial tailbone that curves downward and inward from the bottom of the spine. The tip of the coccyx is very close to the anus. Moreover, the bundle of nerves that exits from it, the coccygeal plexus, innervates the skin around the anus. The nearest plexus above it, the sacral plexus, innervates the anal sphincter muscles. One or both of these plexuses are the likeliest anatomical analogues to the first and second chakras of yogic physiology, the muladhara and svadhisthana. If yogis can feel these plexuses, then very likely they can also feel the places innervated by their afferent fibers.
To facilitate my search for these sensations, I sat and stood in various positions (not yoga asanas, since I didn’t know any). I also stretched, contracted, and relaxed my muscles in various ways.
After several hours of experimentation, I decided to mainly lie on my back with my knees bent and my head, neck, and sacrum propped up with hard pillows to reduce and even reverse the cervical and lumbar curvatures of my spine. In this position, the dorsal ligaments of my cervical and lumbar vertebrae were under tension from my weight. I made this decision partly because the yogic literature stresses the importance of straightening the spine, partly because this posture created a feeling of hollowness in my spine, and partly because I felt intuitively that it would help. As it turned out, I was in this position when my Kundalini erupted.
Since my search for these sensations developed seamlessly into the method that woke my Kundalini, let me be very specific about what I did. My search was mainly a matter of focusing my attention in the following ways:
With regard to the interior of my head, I alternately tried to visualize some sort of light and looked for a light.
With regard to my spine, I stretched it physically and tried to induce a feeling of hollowness in it by relaxation and expectation.
With regard to my trachea and lungs, I tried to perceive and induce a feeling that some sort of energy was moving downward as I breathed. This naturally made me contract muscles in my neck and chest.
With regard to my abdomen, I contracted and relaxed muscles and tried to induce a feeling of accumulating energy.
With regard to the lowest part of my spine, I tried to perceive and induce a feeling that something in it or near it was moving toward my head. This naturally made me contract muscles in my lower abdomen, as if it were a toothpaste tube that I was squeezing to move its contents toward the top.
With regard to my anus, I looked for any sensation that fit the description, “downward-moving energy.” I looked here, of course, because of what the directions said about apana.
Thus there were two kinds of attention: attempts to induce particular perceptions and a looking for with imprecise expectations. I also made voluntary movements of various kinds.
It should be stressed that my mind was quiet during this exercise (in other words, I wasn’t thinking thoughts) and my attention was focused continuously and exclusively in the ways I just described. When thoughts did interrupt, I maintained my concentration despite them.
I conducted this experiment for approximately three or four hours on each of three consecutive days. By the second day, I was noticing six striking phenomena:
First, the light in my head was increasingly bright and dense. It seemed to be a a vaguely delimited cloud in the middle of my head, usually white but perhaps also occasionally blue (my memory of the color is uncertain). I also think my head felt hot but I’m not sure about this either.
Second, there was a sense of something like a voltage potential building up between my head and the area near my anus, as if a spark was getting ready to jump between them.
Third, the sphincter muscles around my anus quivered.
Fourth, there was an intuitive sense that I could help bring about the Kundalini explosion by making deliberate isometric contractions of the muscles of my anus, buttocks, perineum, and thighs. I gave into this urge and eventually found myself contracting these muscles so strenuously that my legs shook violently. Sometimes my thighs pressed together, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes I intertwined my lower legs with my ankles locked. These contractions were so tiring that I frequently stopped them to rest.
Fifth, there was an apparent link between the sensations in my head and anus. When I focused on one, the other intensified, and so did the feeling of an imminent spark.
Sixth, there was a cold sensation in my abdomen below the navel. It was like cold liquid filling the cavity, but without a feeling of pressure or distention. It was similar to (and perhaps the same as) the icy “sinking feeling” that often accompanies dread. (I noticed later that this cold-liquid feeling is often present during defecation.) It seemed probable to me that this feeling is what the yogis mean by apana.
The first five phenomena happened more or less continuously while I meditated, though they varied in intensity, but the cold-liquid feeling occurred only intermittently. Each time it happened I became frightened because I sensed that my Kundalini was about to erupt (if you’ve read Gopi Krishna’s book, you know why I was scared), so I deliberately aborted the process by relaxing my attention.
On the second day I approached the brink this way several times and chickened out. On the third day I resolved to see the thing through.
It took several hours of meditation on the third day to work my way up to the explosion, applying my attention as described above.
If there was a key to the whole thing, it was splitting my attention so it focused simultaneously on my anus and the light in my head. This seemed to increase the feeling that a spark was getting ready to jump between them.
Hour after hour, my mind became quieter as the sensations grew more pronounced — the glowing cloud in the skull, the spasming perineum, the straining leg muscles. Always a dim determination remained on the horizon of thought that I must not think, because thought would abort the process. Eventually the feeling of cold fear reappeared in my belly, and with it an increasing sense of polarization between the two ends of the spine. I focused fiercely and simultaneously on the head and anus, driving the polarization to the breaking point, creating a weird certainty that the explosion was about to occur. To steel my nerves as the brink approached, I fixed part of my attention on the conviction that the event would be benevolent. I was clutching that bit of faith like a lucky charm when it happened.
Suddenly there was light and noise, brilliant and deafening. One moment the world was dark, the next a huge jet of energy, fat and solid as my neck, was emanating at my collar bone and rushing upward in an incandescent torrent, white and frothing like a column of water leaving a hydrant under enormous pressure. It looked like the beam of a floodlight shining up into a clear plastic statue of somebody’s neck and head, except that the light was boiling and roaring like Niagara Falls. The light, which may have been slightly yellowish (again, my memory is uncertain), filled my neck and head completely. It wasn’t confined to my spine or anything like a nadi, and, as I said, it originated at the level of my collar bone, not the coccyx.
The noise was a brassy metallic roar like a huge waterfall mixed with cymbals. It was so loud that if people had been physically present in the room with me, shouting in my ears, I don’t think I would have heard them.
This roar seemed like a real sound in every way — it seemed to come through my ears. The light seemed to be perceived normally as well — that is to say, I was apparently seeing it through my eyes, not knowing its existence in some other way — except that my point of view was at the center of my head and my field of view covered all directions in three dimensions. This seemed less strange than it sounds because normally when I close my eyes, I perceive the darkness as if it’s inside my skull. Now I seemed to have the same view, except the darkness was filled with light.
I panicked. A sort of primitive mental alarm went off, warning that something this intense might cause physical damage. I wondered fearfully if I could stop the phenomenon (Gopi Krishna could not), and that thought ended my thoughtless concentration, and the light and noise vanished. There was no climax or sense of ending; with impossible suddenness, the room was dark and quiet again, as if the light and noise had never been present. Irrationally I expected to hear people yelling and screaming in reaction to the commotion (although of course I knew the light and noise were subjective phenomena), but everything was silent. It had lasted only a few seconds. Surely there had to be some aftermath to such intense violence, but there was nothing, just the memory. My ears should be ringing, but there was no ringing. I put my hand on my heart, expecting to find it pounding like it does after a near collision in a car, but it was pumping slowly. This almost seemed weirder than anything else. I was afraid to move for a while, but eventually I stood up and moved around. I felt perfectly normal, and this also seemed odd.
Except I wasn’t normal. It soon became apparent that I was in an elevated spiritual state. When I went outside and passed people on the street, they seemed divine to me, especially children. By this I mean that I was aware of their essential goodness and their infinite importance and the casual mundaneness of that infinite importance and the jovial benevolence of the world we all inhabit together. This awareness was so overwhelming that tears of joy came to my eyes.
This condition lasted three days. The most striking thing about it was the conviction that the world is not only benevolent but also good-humored, almost as if it’s a friendly joke that all of us are in on; all of us should be winking at each other. But this description is misleading, because it seemed as if we are the joke. And that doesn’t express it correctly either, because calling it a joke makes it seem trivial, and this insight wasn’t trivial. It was profound and beautiful and important; it was what people mean when they say God; it was love; and for three days it was tangible to me, to the point that I kept crying tears of joy intermittently.
Or maybe the most striking thing was that pedestrians on the sidewalks of New York City, where paranoia is an artform and children learn before they are weaned to avoid eye contact with strangers, kept looking into my eyes and smiling at me.
But why shouldn’t they? I loved them — not in a soppy way, but as if we were such old friends that we didn’t have to bother saying hello.
Or maybe the most striking thing was that I was happy. Or that I was fearless.
After three days, the spiritual awareness subsided. Luckily, it didn’t subside completely; an attenuated trace of it remains to this day, and I’m extremely grateful for it.
I hope this final paragraph will be read carefully because I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am an ordinary person, no better or worse than anybody else. But this experience was a taste of sainthood. If you stayed permanently in this state which I merely visited for three days, you would be a saint. And so I conclude that yoga is a technology for turning people into saints. Should this be a surprise? Indian scriptures have said so for over a thousand years.
This is the first article in a two-part series. The second part is here.
Text copyright © 1999 Freddie Yam.
Freddie Yam has been a contributor to this website since 1999. He asked us to note that the event he describes took place on March 6, 1998.
By Gopi Krishna
This book is a greatly expanded (two-thirds more material) version of Gopi Krishna’s autobiography. It contains the most famous published account of a Kundalini explosion, a dramatic event that sometimes occurs to people who practice certain kinds of Yoga. Gopi Krishna was a government bureaucrat who, while meditating in 1937 at the age of 34, suddenly perceived a roaring stream of light rising into his head from his spine. For months afterward he suffered a variety of painful physical and mental symptoms including some that seem akin to psychosis. These symptoms gradually subsided into a condition which he regarded as higher consciousness. The work is particularly fascinating because Gopi Krishna was a modern, skeptical, secular man who described his experiences with the skill of a novelist and without mysticism. For a first-person account of a similar experience which was inspired by this book, see this article by one of our contributing editors; he explains how he made it happen.
This page was published on December 5, 1999 and last revised on December 24, 2019.