“Kundalini” is a Sanskrit term meaning “coiled,” and it refers to a specific type of meditation that’s believed to have the ability to fully awaken your potential for awareness.
According to the theory behind Kundalini meditation, life energy lies at the base of your spine (root chakra), coiled like a snake — and that’s where its name comes from.
In Kundalini meditation, you can work to awaken this energy and achieve enlightenment through a combination of techniques, including:
- deep breathing
- mudras (hand movements)
- mantras (phrases)
- physical movements
These exercises are said to rouse dormant energy in your body and move it along your chakras (energy centers) until it reaches the point of release at the seventh (crown) chakra, your head.
This release of energy promotes internal balance, awakening, and enlightenment.
Kundalini practices are at least a few thousand years old, though scholars don’t have an exact date of origin.
Kundalini teachings first appeared in The Upanishads, a collection of Hindu religious texts. Estimates suggest composition of these sacred writings began somewhere around 800 to 500 B.C.
This is the first known record of Kundalini meditation, but it’s widely believed oral descriptions of Kundalini meditation and yoga predate these written ones.
In its early stages, Kundalini was a private philosophy. Only students who had spent years studying meditation and spirituality were given the opportunity to learn from Kundalini teachers.
Even when Kundalini evolved from meditative teachings to include physical practices (yoga), it remained unknown outside of these select teachers and students.
This was the case for thousands of years, until Yogi Bhajan began teaching Kundalini yoga, which involves Kundalini meditation, in the United States.
Introduction in the West
In 1968, Yogi Bhajan ended the secrecy around Kundalini by introducing Kundalini yoga — of which Kundalini meditation is a big component — to the Western world.
He believed this would help people see improvements to their life and overall well-being by giving them the opportunity to experience a different type of consciousness.
Over a period of more than 30 years, he taught thousands of meditation and yoga techniques and founded the Kundalini Research Institute, where he trained other students to become teachers of the practice.
In the news
In 2020, several people who’d previously practiced under Bhajan or worked closely with him came forward with allegations of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse against him. While many practitioners still believe in the benefits of Kundalini yoga, there are questions about what the future of Kundalini yoga should look like.
People who practice Kundalini meditation report experiencing a range of benefits. These include:
- increased mindfulness and compassion
- improved communication with self and others
- a clear mind
- a more developed sense of self
- greater purpose and intent in your actions
Some of these benefits are supported by research that looked at Kundalini yoga, which typically involves Kundalini meditation:
- Reduced stress. A small study in 2017 suggests that Kundalini yoga may offer immediate stress relief. The authors add that Kundalini meditation might be helpful for conditions linked to high stress, including cardiovascular disease and insomnia.
- Reduced anxiety. A 2018 study suggests that Kundalini yoga may reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
- Improved cognitive function. A 2017 study compared Kundalini yoga and memory enhancement training as potential treatments for cognitive impairment in 81 older adults. Results suggest that while both interventions appeared to help improve memory, Kundalini yoga seemed to help improve executive functioning as well.
With thousands of techniques to choose from, Kundalini meditation can get a bit complicated. If you’d like to use it to address a certain concern, a teacher can offer guidance on specific techniques.
Kundalini meditation is a comprehensive approach, so if you’re new to meditation, it may help to try it first with a practitioner or follow along with a guided meditation.
Still, you can try the basics on your own:
- Dress for comfort. Wearing light, loose clothing can help you feel most comfortable while you meditate. Kundalini practitioners often use shawls or other cloth to cover their heads, since this is believed to protect and promote energy flow.
- Begin by tuning in to get into a meditative frame of mind. Sit upright in your chair or on the floor, keeping your spine straight. Position your hands in a prayer pose by pressing your palms together at your chest. Close your eyes but not completely — let in just a crack of light.
- Focus on the third eye chakra. Many practitioners find it helps to focus on their third eye while tuning in. Keeping your eyes closed, turn your gaze to the space in the center of your forehead between your eyebrows.
- Use a mantra. Mantras, which help direct your focus, are an important component of Kundalini meditation. It typically involves mantras in Gurmukhi, a sacred Indian language. But don’t worry too much about choosing the right mantra on your first try. You’ll likely see the best results with a mantra that feels right to you. Say it aloud or repeat it silently, whatever works best for you.
- Begin focusing on your breath. Inhale and exhale through your nose only, focusing on the sensation of breathing. Then, begin to slow your breath. Each inhale and exhale should last 3 to 4 seconds, so each breath should last about 8 seconds. Pay attention to how your breath flows through and energizes your body.
- Add mudras. Kundalini techniques typically involve the use of mudras, or hand positions. For example, if you want to promote wisdom, openness, and calm, try the Gyan mudra by touching your first finger to your thumb. To promote patience and commitment, try the Shuni mudra by touching your middle finger to your thumb.
- Divide your breathing into equal segments. Instead of taking one long inhale for 4 seconds followed by a long exhale, divide each inhale and exhale into four parts. In other words, breathe in 4 times, without exhaling in between. Then breathe out in the same way. With each inhale and exhale, draw your navel (belly button) toward your spine.
- Return your attention to your breath when it wanders. Even long-term meditators don’t stay focused all the time. Whenever you notice a loss of focus, turn your thoughts back to your breath. If any wandering thoughts come up, acknowledge them and then let them drift away.
- Continue for 3 to 5 minutes. If you’re new to meditation, there’s no need to jump right into a lengthy practice. It’s generally recommended to start with a shorter session and increase the length of your meditation as you get more comfortable.
- End your session. Complete your meditation with a deep complete breath (inhale and exhale). Breathe in once again as you raise your arms to their full length. Relax as you breathe out.
Meditation beginner? These tips can help make any meditation practice more successful.
People often practice Kundalini meditation specifically to experience the release of energy known as a Kundalini awakening. Many people find this somewhat of a spiritual experience, but it might sound a little overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect.
During a Kundalini awakening, people report physical sensations, such as warmth or tingling, disorientation, and some temporary discomfort.
If a person isn’t fully prepared for the experience, some people claim they may experience long-term negative effects. While meditation can certainly be a powerful experience, there’s no evidence to support such long-term negative effects.
All that aside, Kundalini meditation does involve deep breathing exercises and slowed breathing. If you aren’t used to this, you may feel dizzy or lightheaded.
Take breaks when you need to, and drink plenty of water before and after meditation.
Kundalini meditation can have benefits, even when it doesn’t lead to a full-blown awakening. In fact, some practitioners consider it one of the most powerful forms of meditation.
You may notice some improvements in wellness right away, but patience and dedicated practice can help you achieve the most benefits.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.