A Collection of Articles on Kundalini
Kundalini and Sahaja (Spontaneous )Yoga
A Next Step for Yoga in the West
by Stuart Sovatsky.
Kundalini/pranic awakening and its cross-tradition similars—the spontaneous spinal rockings known in Judaism as davening and in Sufisim as zikr; the "taken-over" gyrations of gospel "holy ghost" shaking and dancing and charismatic/pentacostal "mani-festations"; the Dionysian "revel"; Quakerism’s and Shakerism's autonomic quaking and shaking; Tai Chi guided by chi itself; the shamanic trance-dance; Buddhism’s and Raja-Yoga’s effortless "straight back" (uju-kaya) meditation; the yogically derived ecstatic belly-dance and Flamenco; and even the full-bodied, spontaneous Reichian "reflex"—literally embody the spiritual path.
The "path" is the cerebrospinal tract (and its neuro-endocrinal radiance outward to every cell of the body). To "move" forward on this path in the most maturing way, the most "dharmic" way, is to move the body from the energetic dimension that I hope is conveyed by the above-listed spiritual phenomena. In such moving, the volitional will and the mind remain meditatively spellbound. The intelligence of kundalini/prana—or could we say—DNA, moves the body, or something even more subtle within DNA: the Mother Herself.
There is a joyous sense of being in an otherwise, totally unknown world where the flowing movements from one asana to another happen effortlessly, yet with a wide range of passionate longings and even tearful or laughing-out-loud ecstasies. Such spontaneous, energy-based Yoga is like finding a well-worn path that is hidden from entry by the ways of moving or doing Yoga that are willful and, literally "premeditative." But with self-permission, one can leap onto this path where Hatha-Yoga merges seamlessly with Bhakti-Yoga and Raja-Yoga.
In this abbreviated excerpt from my book, Words From the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality and Psychotherapeutic Narrative (New York: SUNY Press, 1998), I will explore how the current focus on Hatha-Yoga as a set of volitional practices or statically imitated asanas and pranayama can miss the deeper pranic roots of all Yoga as kriya, or spontaneous developmental actions.
It is my hope that by recovering the energetic origins of Hatha-Yoga and meditation—which trace back in this era at least to the Pashupata spontaneous movement rituals (100-700 C.E.)—contemporary Yoga teachers will be able to pass on to their students more of Yoga's deep potential for spiritual/evolutionary maturation.
According to the Pashupata-Sutra and the Gana-Karika, the Pashupata sect practiced an ecstatic ritual including "wild laughter... dancing consisting of [all possible] motions of the hands and feet: upward, downward, inward, outward and shaking motion," a sacred "sound produced by the contact of the tongue-tip with the palate... after the dance when the devotee has again sat down and is still meditating on Shiva, an "inner worship" and prayer.
In this yogic ritual we encounter the unity of the emotionally ecstatic and physically expressive with the serenely meditative. Instead of postural forms (static asanas, immobile seating positions) taking preeminence in the bodily worship, it is the individual animating spirit that takes preeminence—as in the above-mentioned cross-tradition examples. Meditative oneness is easy. It is the spontaneous results of having "danced before God with all of one’s might."
If the body "holds" a posture for long, it’s because the body has become ("yogically") transfixed: "To render motionless as with terror, amazement or awe" (American Heritage Dictionary). It is not because one is merely following instructions. It is because something profoundly awesome is happening.
Think of energetically guided Yoga as a slipping into the tawny currents of "the wild"?as in "wild" flowers, or sahaja, innately arising, but not as an "anything goes" chaos. This natural "wildness" is what "adult worldliness" domesticates, if not represses. Thus, kundalini has always been an idealistically revolutionary force, just as the vitality of adolescence is idealistically revolutionary.
For, in energetically based Yoga, the teenager’s vibrancy blooms on and on in what I have termed the "postgenital puberties" of the spine and the rest of the body (via spontaneous asanas, bandhas, and khecari, shambhavi, unmani, and other esoteric mudras). Kundalini’s spinal awakening is just the first to become known in the West.
From this energetic level of "doing Yoga," even the yamas and niyamas emerge as innate expressions, far beyond mere external rule-obedience. Like its Christian contemporaries, the Pashupatis’s bliss saw through the distinctions of caste and a love-energy spread wildly throughout Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina India for some 600 years, inaugurating the yogic lineage of Gorakshanatha, Matsyendranatha and all modern hatha-yogis. Visualize a kind of yogic Woodstock: peace, love and satsanga shared by millions of whirling souls.
Ecstatic tremors and quiverings moved by deep joy and longings for Goddess/God could become the basis for a new—but very old—type of Yoga class, one that no doubt predates the Pashupatis by many thousands of years. The mystery of the stilled mind in the organically moving body must be rediscovered: Asana as the original, nonchoreographed, ecstatic Dance of Shiva.
Recovering the Dionysian-Endogenous YogaIn order to view physical Yoga and meditation as just endogenous to our development (and as awesome) as gestation once was, as taking one’s first post-umbilical breath, as adolescent puberty, we must deconstruct the over-formalized pedagogical edifices that have grown around it.
Both indigenously over the ages and in their translation and importation into the West, the "innately arising" (sahaja), panentheistic, Dionysian origins of Yoga and meditation have been shaped and over-shaped into apollonian pedagogical constructs and otherwise tamed and over-tamed to avoid real or imagined dangers.
The moral sentiments (yama and niyama) and their mercies became mere rules of the rigid-mandatory, or lip-service varieties. The grace of sequence and consequence of karma was "mechanicalized" into an arch-law, in contrast to the Dionysian teachings that the Divine Power is independent of "karmic laws." The mysterious flow of lineage stiffened into the rigidities of caste, also in contrast to the Dionysian rejection of caste prejudice and the "crazy wisdoms" that ridicule it.
The reverentially ecstatic "Dance of Shiva, Lord of Yogis," became stylized in public rituals, "classical" music and dance, and in the overly formalized yogic asanas themselves, or withered in the severe asceticisms of the fakir. By the second century C.E., Patanjali’s dualistic, "classical" Yoga-Sutra had formalized an over-separation between Nature (prakriti) and ultimate Subjectivity (purusha), thus "rejecting the idea that the world is an aspect of the Divine" (Georg Feuerstein, Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy, p. 412).
Imitating others’ endogenously originated movements, heartfelt utterances, righteous actions or rapt concentrations, one can go through the back door (literally via a ventral ["front door"] or "Eastern" bodily channel) into the similar depths of wonder, wisdom, and delight. And, by motionless meditation, too, one can enter. Thus, we have numerous helpful yogic texts, new and ancient, and a proliferation of Yoga and still-meditation classes.
But when kundalini is reintroduced (via the "Western" and more body-involving spinal channel) to our involvement with physical Yoga and meditation, something deep and primordial ripples through the viscera and physical Yoga or meditation practices can no more be considered "teachable techniques" than gestation or puberty can be.
For Kundalini-Yoga surfaces from the same bodily depths as gestation, the first breath, adolescent puberty, and now, beyond. Hope and human development converge as the scent, sound, feel, or taste of future possibilities fructifying in the radiant juices and humming in the quivering tissues of the body and in the dazzling effulgence of consciousness. Moving with that is Yoga.
Energy-based, spontaneous Yoga is also vividly apparent in the developmental movements and perpetual stretchings of infants. As the thirteenth-century attainer of final maturation, Shri Jnaneshvara stated:
That is called [yogic-developmental] action of the body in which reason takes no part and which does not originate as an idea springing in the mind. (51)
To speak simply, yogis perform actions with their bodies, like the movements of children. . . (52)
© 1999 by Stuart Sovatsky
(printed here with permission by the author)