#4: Awakening the Kundalini energy: After one is well established in the ability to balance the Prana between Ida and Pingala (section #2), and causing it to flow in Sushumna (section #3), the resulting sense of peace and joy is the foundation for the next step, which is awakening the Kundalini itself.
Kundalini Awakening is for all: Regardless of what religious, spiritual, or meditation tradition one follows, the awakening of this Kundalini energy, by whatever name you call it, is a most innate and essential part of spiritual advancement, unfoldment, or realization. It may seem different when colored by different cultures, but the fundamental experience of the energy is there nonetheless.
Preparation is imperative: It is easy to read the descriptions in the books about Kundalini Awakening and the union of Shiva and Shakti, and to want to have this immediately. This seems to be a natural desire, that is useful if properly channeled into the motivation to do the practices. However, it is imperative that one be prepared for the energy that may be released in such an experience. If one is not ready, it can be like putting too much electricity through a small wire or fuse, and that is not useful in the long rung. It is far better to be prepared, to make the body a healthy vehicle, the breath a balanced channel of energy, and the mind an intellectually and emotionally stable conduit for the experience. This involves diet, exercise, and cleansing practices, including systematic introspection and the various breathing practices.
Mediate and immediate methods: When one questions how to awaken Kundalini, the question usually refers to the specific technique that is used. However, Kundalini Awakening may ultimately occur with all methods, even those that do not seem to be directly related to Kundalini. Thus, we have two general approaches with the various practices, those that are more immediate and those that are more mediate. The specific practices may overlap, or be part of both approaches.
Methods of awakening Kundalini: For the intentional, immediate or direct awakening of Kundalini, there are several categories of practices, and these are generally chosen in alignment with one's particular teacher and tradition:
Hatha Yoga leads to Raja Yoga: It has been mentioned in section #2 that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is balancing Ida and Pingala. In addition, as is stated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Hatha Yoga is preparation for Raja Yoga, which is the science of self exploration and meditation. Raja Yoga is succinctly summarized in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. (See also the List of 196 Yoga Sutras)
Kriyas are signposts: Sometimes there might be bursts of energy, called Kriyas, which cause a jolt throughout the spine (meru danda) and the body. They may be sharp, quick, and mild, or they may come as a powerful jolt that causes the body to jump. Such a jolt may come from time to time in meditation, experienced as a single burst of energy. These often bring varying degrees of fear, as they may seem to be a threat to our existence. Gradually, as the energy is understood and assimilated, the Kriyas come more like a quick wave of reassuring warmth, which brings a wave of peace. They serve as gentle reminders of progress on the spiritual journey.
Kriyas are neither seizures nor Kundalini: When not understood, these Kriyas can be confused with seizures because of the way they cause a jolt in the nervous and muscular systems. Because of the warmth or peaceful feeling that can come with, or after the Kriyas, they can be confused with Kundalini Awakening, which they are not. Once again, they may be pleasant experiences that serve as inspiration along the journey.
Reversing Prana and Apana Vayu: The five Vayus have been explained in section section #1. Of particular importance are Prana Vayu, which is an upward flowing energy, and Apana Vayu, which is a downward flowing energy. To repeat from that section: One of the ways of describing the process of intentional Kundalini Awakening is that these two energies are intentionally reversed through a variety of practices. Reversing the energy causes the Kundalini at the base of the subtle spine to awaken, and to begin to arise. Although this is not necessarily an easy thing to do, it is very useful to know that there is a basic simplicity to this process, that of reversing these two energy flows.
Three paths of Tantra: Of the three paths of Tantra, Kaula Tantra begins with practices in the first chakra, muladhara chakra, and emphasizes external practices. Mishra Tantra works more with the middle chakras, dealing both with the external and internal, while Samaya Tantra works with the upper chakras, dealing solely with the internal practices.
Shaktipata: Along the way, some of the obstacles may be removed, as well as glimpses of Kundalini Awakening be given through Shaktipata, the gift of consciousness called grace (kripa) or guru, whereby a transference of energy happens, somewhat like a magnet affects some metal objects. It may come in a single, large burst, though more often it comes in smaller experiences along the way. As described in section #6, Shaktipata may come after all of the preparation and practices, as means of removing the final barrier.
Signs of Kundalini Awakening: There are various signs and symptoms of Kundalini Awakening, and these may be of varying duration and intensity. Some of the experiences may seem similar to those of Prana flowing in Sushumna, though the intensity is quite different. The specific experiences may also vary from person to person, and the words used to describe the experiences may be different. The nature of the experience is also affected by the degree to which the individual chakras are involved in the energy increase. However, there are some general signs and symptoms that are commonly reported:
As was noted in section #3, it is useful to be aware of the difference between Sushumna Awakening and Kundalini Awakening, as these are different degrees of the flow of energy.
Integrating the experiences: The more thoroughly one has prepared for the experience of Kundalini Awakening (as described above), the more naturally it can be assimilated and integrated. As with preparation, it is important to continue to work with stabilizing body, breath, and mind. It means eating good food, having daily exercise, and getting regular sleep. Continuing with life activities, and being with other people and guides is an important part of the process. The integration of Kundalini Awakening brings about a positive reorganizing or transformation of the physical, subtle, mental and emotional aspects of a person. It does not mean that one is enlightened, but it is an important step along the way.
Describing the experience: The results of Kundalini Awakening can defy description, or may be described in many different ways, using the language and inflections of the individual person. Following is one description of Kundalini Awakening from Gopi Krishna, as described in his book entitled Kundalini: Path to Higher Consciousness. Notice that this description involves Kundalini Awakening, but falls short of merging with the Absolute reality, the completion of the experience of oneness (Saying this falls short is not meant as a criticism. Rather, his words well describe a certain stage of practice. He may describe the further stages elsewhere in his writings. The later stages are captured in quotes at the end of the section on Kundalini rising to Sahasrara). There still remains a here and a there, a me and the other objects. There is still an observer, the process of observing, and the objects being observed. In any case, reading of such an experience, or better still, experiencing such an experience, can be very inspiring.