Kundalini syndrome, also known as physio-kundalini syndrome, refers to a complex pattern of sensory, motor, mental and affective symptoms which, according to certain writers on the subject and some researchers in the fields of psychiatry, transpersonal psychology, and near-death studies are associated with the awakening of the kundalini. This psycho-spiritual and transformative process may, according to different sources, occur in connection with a near-death experience, or with prolonged and intensive spiritual/contemplative practice, as practiced within a few sub-disciplines of meditation or yoga. Other factors that may trigger this symptomatology includes a variety of intense personal crises or experiences. Psychiatric literature notes that “Since the influx of eastern spiritual practices and the rising popularity of meditation starting in the 1960’s, many people have experienced a variety of psychological difficulties, either while engaged in intensive spiritual practice or spontaneously“.
With relation to intense spiritual practice, these problems could, in some instances, be the result of wrong or unfortunate practice. Kason emphasizes the risk associated with certain intensive spiritual practices, especially in circumstances where the practitioner is not mentally and/or physically prepared. Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, notes that awakening of kundalini shows itself as “awakening of inner knowledge” and cites his own guru: “Kundalini is the divine mother. A true mother never causes harm or does anything bad to her children.”. According to this view true kundalini awakening has no side effects other than pure joy, pure knowledge and pure love. Like every form of energy one must also learn to understand spiritual energy — the implication being that spiritual practices, such as Qi Gong or traditional yoga are designed to open or increase this innate energy, while the philosophy behind certain martial implies that these energies can be developed and focused. In order to be able to integrate this spiritual energy, careful purification and strengthening of the body and nervous system are recommended beforehand. According to Maheshwarananada, it will often be found that negative experiences occur only when acting without appropriate guidance.
Researchers affiliated with the fields of transpersonal psychology and near-death studies (see references below) have suggested some common criteria that describe kundalini problems, of which the most prominent feature is a feeling of energy or heat rushing up the spine.
- Other sensory, motor and physiological symptoms may include: the feeling of cranial pressures, the perception of inner sounds, experiences of inner lights, vibrating ortickling sensations in the lower back, vibrations and itching under the skin, cool or flushed skin, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), persistent bradycardia, changes inbreathing, spontaneous bodily movements, spontaneous assumption of yogic postures, sensations of heat or cold moving through the body, localized bodily pain that starts and stops abruptly, and unusual, or intense, sexual sensations.
- Mental and affective symptoms include: fear, anxiety, depersonalization, intense positive or negative emotions[, psychotic symptoms or psychotic ideation, spontaneous slowing or speeding of thoughts, spontaneous trance states, experiencing oneself as larger than the physical body, and experiences of paranormal consciousness.
Summary of known problems: Death, pseudo death, pseudo psychosis, confusion, panic attacks, depression, sadness, suicidal thoughts, urges to self-mutilate, homicidal urges,arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), exacerbation of prior or current mental illness, insomnia, inability to hold a job, inability to talk, inability to drive, sexual pains, temporary blindness, urticariaor rash, and headaches.
A few theorists within the transpersonal field, such as Greyson, refers to this symptomatology as the “Physio-Kundalini syndrome”, while other Western academics use the description Kundalini-experience/awakening. The process is not always sudden and dramatic, it can also start slowly and increase gradually in activity over time. If the accompanying symptoms unfold in an intense manner that destabilizes the person, then the situation is usually interpreted as a “spiritual emergency”.
Transpersonal literature indicates that the overview of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for amateur-diagnostics. According to writers in the field, the interpretation of symptoms is not straightforward. Symptoms associated with Kundalini-activity may not always represent such activity, but instead be an indication of other medical conditions, in need of attention. Kason emphasizes that any unusual or marked physical symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical professional. For more on this, see note.
Reference in academic literature
A few writers, within the fields of psychiatry and psychology, have suggested a clinical approach to Kundalini-symptomatology. Possible improvements in the diagnostic system, that are meant to differentiate Kundalini syndrome from other disorders, have been suggested. In an article from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease theorists Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse & Lu discuss Kundalini-symptomatology in relation to the DSM-IV diagnostic category “Religious or Spiritual Problem”.
Discussion of Kundalini-symptomatology has also appeared in a few mainstream academic journals, including Psychological Reports, where M. Thalbourne operates with a 35 item “Kundalini Scale”. The concept also appears, very briefly, in an article from the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine where Le Fanu discusses a small detail regarding Kundalini symptomatology in connection with the interpretation of so-called medical “mystery syndromes”.
Kundalini and side effects – Different views
According to transpersonal and spiritual literature, problems have been known to occasionally arise from awakening of Kundalini-energies. Different views exist, in the literature, regarding the nature of these problems.
One view is that awakening of Kundalini has no negative side effects. Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda cites his own guru: “Kundalini is the divine mother. A true mother never causes harm or does anything bad to her children.”. According to this view true kundalini awakening has no side effects other than pure joy, pure knowledge and pure love. Other types of side effects are only an indication of unbalance in the nervous system due to practice without a living and self-realized Spiritual Master or due to ignoring his advice.
A different view is that awakening of Kundalini-energies does have side effects, and that such an awakening, in some instances, may be conceptualized as a spiritual problem. According to Transpersonal theory, and traditional hindu philosophy, the awakening of such energies are “accompanied by alterations in physiology and consciousness understood in terms of the Hindu chakra system”. Knowledge of the chakra map may therefore be helpful regarding the interpretation of symptoms. Consultation with a meditation teacher who is not trained in Kundalini techniques, or with a psychiatrist, medical doctor or therapist who is not knowledgeable about this process, often leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Teachers of Yoga familiar enough to guide students through the completion of Kundalini karmic release are so rare that the likeliness of having side effects solved smoothly is slim.
Even though the symptoms, at times, may be dramatic and disturbing, theorists such as Sovatsky and Greyson tend to interpret the unfolding symptomatology as largely non-pathological, maturational, and of evolutionary significance for humanity. According to Scotton Kundalini-symptoms may, or may not, be associated with psychopathology, but are not reducible to any psychopathology. He also thinks that it is important to differentiate between the signs of Kundalini and the symptoms of pathology, and not subsume the signs of Kundalini under a pathological diagnosis. Other writers, such as Kason, tend to view the broad scope of the process, with the accompanying symptoms, as resulting in a “psycho-spiritual house-cleaning”.
However, Sovatsky believes that it is important to differentiate between the symptoms of a possible Kundalini awakening, and the symptoms of different preliminary yogic processes orpranic imbalances. According to this view, many reported Kundalini problems may rather be signs of the precursor energetic state of pranotthana (see note for definition). The difference between pranotthana and Kundalini itself, is also mentioned by other commentators, such as Bynum. Sovatsky also notes that: kundalini has become a catch word at this early time in its entry in American culture… and attracts those with unspecified, chronic neurological/psychiatric complaints in search of an explanation for their symptoms; the use in the West of Gopi Krishna’s problematic kundalini experiences as a standard giving the awakening a reputation as more dangerous than it is.
Some clinicians, such as Scotton, notes that classical western psychiatric treatment may not be the most appropriate approach towards kundalini symptomatology. He does mention a few circumstances (mainly involving psychotic ideation) where he finds drug treatment to be appropriate, but he prefers to handle Kundalini episodes with as little physiological intervention, and drug intervention, as possible.
Qigong, the Chinese-born practice of improving the qi flow in the body to achieve health benefits, has recorded that occasionally qigong practice may lead to mental disorders and call it 走火入魔(walk into fire and devil). This is according to some commentators essentially describing Kundalini syndrome or qigong psychosis.
The Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV) includes the diagnostic category “qi-gong psychotic reaction” in its “Glossary of culture-bound syndromes”.