“Like lions, elephants and tigers are tamed, so vital energy (prana) must be tamed. Otherwise, it can kill the practitioner.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (chapter 2, verse 15)
Much has been said over the years about Kundalini energy, one of the most striking: out of control, this energy can “burn” the nervous system and produce imbalances that could lead to schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
Looking for information about the effect of this energy on the Internet is to get yourself into a black hole … so before you enter it, I suggest you read this article to the end 🙂
What is Kundalini?
You probably have heard this word in different contexts, and it really has different meanings.
It usually refers to the energy that resides at the base of your spine, where you also find the first Chakra, or energy center. The word Kundalini comes from the word “Kundal”, which means in Sanskrit “rolled up like a spring”, and has to do with the image of an energy, which like a serpent, is rolled up and ready to rise forcefully towards the head.
This energy is also related to the sexual energy, which some teachers teach as a feminine energy that must be transmuted by going through each of the chakras in the central canal (in the column), until reaching the head, where it meets with a masculine energy.
Although this metaphysics can be difficult to digest for some modern yoga practitioners, you may be surprised to learn that this is one of the most important principles of classic Hatha Yoga.
Is it dangerous?
It depends on who you ask. Nowadays, millions of people practice techniques that could be considered “Kundalini Yoga”. There are a number of people who have had adverse results, and the truth is that the percentage is very difficult to know, because there are no studies that have investigated this relationship.
Even so, there is a vast history of many teachers of breathing techniques and meditation who have noticed the dangers of them. And there are people who have had severe psychosis experiences, which they believe have been a consequence of their meditation and / or breathing practices.
If you search, on the Internet you will find many people who describe this phenomenon with a metaphor the same or similar to the following: if you have a cable that can withstand 10 units of energy, and you pass 20 units of energy through it, you will burn it. In that same way, Kundalini is a very powerful energy, and you must prepare your energy system and nervous system to be able to resist its strength.
An example case:
A few years ago, during one of the teacher trainings I taught, a student (let’s call her “Gabriela”) commented that her breathing practice made her angry. His teacher in another school told her to continue practicing, because eventually that anger would leave her system.
Even so, after about 3 or 4 years without the effect changing much, Gabriela asked me for advice. I told her that not all practices were for everyone, and that perhaps she needed a different practice. Once she switched to a calmer practice, she could finally find the effect she was really looking for: inner peace..
Our physical and mental differences make us assimilate different yoga practices differently. It is not a bad idea to try out different practices, in order to determine which ones best suit each one of us.
What do you recommend?
What I have not mentioned so far are the incredible benefits of meditative, breathing, and energy management practices, and how incredibly safe they can be.
Millions of women practice “kegel” exercises (related to stimulating Kundalini energy), and I do not think there are mental problems as a consequence.
Millions of people meditate every day as a way to calm stress, find themselves, or grow spiritually, and you rarely hear from someone who tells you that meditation affected them negatively (although there are certainly cases, like Gabriela’s) . This can usually be easily remedied by stopping or changing the type of practice.
And possibly millions of people practice breathing and energy management exercises, which leave them feeling much more awake, and in some cases help them transform their lives completely for the better.
Like everything in life … even the most benign practices have risks. In general, any meditative or breathing practice has inherent risks, particularly for people with a history of mental illness of any kind, but in particular psychoses, schizophrenias, or syndromes that disassociate from reality.
If you have these types history, then you may want to avoid or be extra careful when you practice intense breathing techniques, or involve internal energy management.
Otherwise, assume that the risk of the practices is tiny compared to their potential, and that testing how they feel can bring a lot of self-knowledge. This way you can act according to your own awareness as you are informed of the benefits and risks of each practice.