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The experiences of some people practicing kundalini yoga has created the impression that it is dangerous. While it is true that students should approach this method of raising kundalini energy with caution, this type of yoga is only risky if the student advances too quickly beyond his physical and emotional capacity to handle the energy. Finding a well-qualified teacher is advised if you want to practice in a safe environment.
What Is Kundalini Yoga?
Kundalini yoga uses a combination of postures, breathing and meditation with the goal of releasing kundalini energy. This vital force -- the equivalent of chi or qi in Chinese tai chi or qigong -- is coiled in a serpent shape at the base of the spine, according to yoga texts. Raising kundalini energy is supposed to lead to spirtual enlightenment or an experience of blissful union with the divine. Ideally, the method should release the energy slowly, working up through the chakras until it reaches the crown chakra on the head. This could take months or years. Excessive use of kundalini yoga's meditation techniques in particlular have been known to encourage the energy to rise too quickly, leading to a variety of physical and mental health issues. What happens is that the body and mind don't have time to integrate the energy, and the student is unable to cope with the sudden expansion of consciousness.
The typical symptoms a student might experience if kundalini energy rises too rapidly include shaking, nausea, diarrhea and intense body heat that is not like a fever. More disturbing, perhaps, are a tendency to cry or laugh without reason, as well as confusion and anxiety. Experiences of telepathy or having visions are also known. Some people report knowledge of yoga postures they haven't been taught, but which they perform correctly, and some people have mystical revelations.
Health issues connected to working with kundalini or chi are sufficiently well recognized as one cause of a psychotic episode that the American Medical Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (fourth edition) has included a description of the symptoms in relation to qigong. However, the American psychiatric community recognizes that this may be what is called a "culture-bound" syndrome, which means that the symptoms are usually seen only within a specific culture -- Chinese in the case of qigong -- and not in the wider population. But transpersonal therapist Bonnie Greenwell, who has studied the phenomena of health problems with raising kundalini, suggests that she sees it in patients who meditate excessively and practice yoga and martial arts. This may give the unfair impression that all these practices are unsafe; this is not true, but some people are susceptible to problems when working with energy. Often the people who suffer are those who don't have the patience for a practice to develop at a safer pace.
Avoiding an Emergency
The symptoms and possible mental health issues associated with raising kundalini are sometimes referred to as a spiritual emergency by people with experience of the various health issues that can arise in the pursuit of spirituality. A responsible kundalini yoga teacher, and any teacher who works with energy, whether it is reiki, qigong or a martial art, knows that it affects individuals differently. Students who steer clear of kundalini yoga through fear of a kundalini awakening should chat with a recommended teacher and find out what she advises her students to do, as this is a beneficial form of yoga when practiced correctly. Furthermore, "Yoga Journal" points out that kundalini awakenings are relatively rare, and reports that those who do often have existing life problems.