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The Kundalini Syndrome

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The Kundalini syndrome is a set of sensory, motor, mental and affective experiences described in the literature of transpersonal psychology, near-death studies and other sources covering transpersonal, spiritual or medical topics. The phenomenon is sometimes called the "Kundalini-syndrome",[1][2][3] the "Physio-Kundalini syndrome",[4][5][6][7] or simply referred to as a "syndrome".[8][9] Other researchers, while not using the term "syndrome",Note a have also begun to address this phenomenon as a clinical category,[10][11] or as a recognizable symptomatology.[12]
The concept of Kundalini comes from Hinduism and is traditionally used to describe a progression of psycho-spiritual potentials, associated with the understanding of the body as a vehicle for spiritual energies. Kundalini syndrome is a term employed by Western researchers, and commentators, to refer to the condition which occurs when experiences traditionally associated with kundalini awakening arise, often unsought, which overwhelm or cause distress to the experiencer. Commentators [13] do, however, note that the physio-kundalini syndrome is connected with the kundalini awakening of Hinduism "only by theory and circumstantial evidence", arguing that a true measure of this phenomenology, interpreted as a state of higher consciousness, is beyond the ability of psychology, and/or psychiatry, to measure.
Kundalini syndrome has been reported predominantly by people who have had a near-death experience,[14][15][16] or by practitioners of Asian spiritual practices.[17][18][19][20] Other factors that may trigger this symptomatology includes a variety of intense personal crises or experiences.[21] [22]
According to writers in the field of transpersonal psychology the process is not always sudden and dramatic, it can also start slowly and increase gradually in activity over time.[23] If the accompanying symptoms unfold in an intense manner that destabilizes the person, the process is usually interpreted as a spiritual emergency.[24][25]


Commentators seem to use different terms when describing the symptomatology. These terms are similar to, but not quite synonymous with, the term "Kundalini syndrome". However, they all seem to describe, more or less, the same phenomenon, or the same main features of the symptomatology.
The terms "Kundalini Syndrome" or "Physio-Kundalini Syndrome", or the references to a "syndrome", are mostly used by writers in the field of Near-Death Studies,[6][26][27] but also by writers in the fields of Transpersonal Psychology,[19] Psychology,[28] and Mental Health/Psychiatry.[22] The terminology of "syndrome" seems to have a closer relationship to the language of medicine and statistics, than the other terminologies. The terminology of "syndrome" is also the main basis for two measuring instruments developed by Near-death researchers: The Kundalini Scale [29] and the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index.[30]
Other terms, such as "Kundalini awakening", is a term used by Transpersonal Psychology,[10][31][32][33] but also by writers representing both the fields of Transpersonal Psychology and Near-Death Studies.[16] This term seems to have a closer relationship to the language of hinduism, and the yogic tradition, than the terminology of "syndrome". Greyson is one of the authors that uses both the terminology of "syndrome",[34] and the terminology of "awakening".[4]
Scotton [35] uses a term called "difficult kundalini experiences", when discussing clinical aspects of the phenomenon. Overall, he seems to prefer the term "Kundalini experience", but he also uses the terminology of "awakening". Other commentators who use the term "Kundalini experience" includes Thalbourne.[36] In his 1993-article Greyson reviews many of the discussions of Kundalini-symptomatology. In this review he cites, and uses, many of the similar terms associated with kundalini symptomatology, such as: "kundalini activation", "kundalini awakening", "kundalini phenomena", "kundalini activity" and "kundalini arousal".[37] Sanches & Daniels,[32] although preferring the term "kundalini awakening", also use the term "kundalini arousal" in their discussion of the phenomenon. Grabovac & Ganesan [38] use the term "Kundalini episodes" in their article on "Spirituality and Religion in Canadian Psychiatric Residency Training".


Researchers affiliated with the fields of transpersonal psychology and near-death studies have suggested some common criteria that describe this condition, of which the most prominent feature is a feeling of energy or heat moving along the spine.[28][32][35] [39]

The Kundalini Scale[edit]

Ring & Rosing developed the Kundalini Scale, a nine-item scale to assess psychophysical changes, and symptoms of kundalini activation, in near-death experiencers.[29]
Table 1: The Kundalini Scale
1. Feelings of energy in the hands.
2. Feeling deep ecstatic sensations.
3. Experiencing severe, or migraine type, headaches.
4. Awareness of energy discharges, or currents, flowing through the body.
5. Sensations of tickling, itching or tingling on, or underneath, the skin.
6. Awareness of internal lights or colors.
7. Hands feeling hot.
8. Sensations of extreme heat or cold moving through the body.
9. The body shakes, vibrates or trembles.
Thalbourne and Fox also developed a measure called The Kundalini Scale, a 32-item true-false questionnaire described elsewhere,[40] but augmented by three items for Thalbourne's 2001 study.[41]

The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index[edit]

Greyson developed the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index, a 19-item dichotomous questionnaire Note b, in order to study kundalini and its effects.[30] The Index includes 4 major categories: motor symptoms, somatosensory symptoms, audiovisual symptoms and mental symptoms.
Table 2: The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index
Motor symptoms1. Body assuming and maintaining strange positions for no apparent reason.
2. Body becoming frozen or locked into strange positions and immovable.
3. Breathing spontaneously stopping or becoming rapid, shallow, or deep for no apparent reason.
4. Spontaneous involuntary bodily movements.
Somatosensory Symptoms5. Spontaneous deep ecstatic tickle or orgasmic feeling.
6. Physical sensations starting in the feet, legs or pelvis, and moving up the back and neck to the top of the head, down the forehead, over the face, then to the throat, and ending in the abdomen.
7. Extreme sensations of heat or cold moving through the body.
8. Moving pockets of bodily heat or cold being extreme enough to burn or otherwise affect someone else or an inanimate object.
9. Pains in specific parts of the body that begin and end abruptly.
10. Tingling, vibration, itching or tickling on the skin or inside the body.
Audiovisual symptoms11. Internal noises, such as whistling, hissing, chirping, roaring or flutelike sounds.
12. Internal voices.
13. Internal lights or colors illuminating parts of the body
14. Internal lights bright enough to illuminate a dark room.
Mental symptoms15. Observing oneself, including one's thoughts, as if one were a bystander.
16. Sudden, intense ecstacy, bliss, peace, love, devotion, joy, or cosmic unity.
17. Sudden intense fear, anxiety, depression, hatred or confusion.
18. Thoughts spontaneously speeding up, slowing down, or stopping altogether.
19. Experiencing oneself as physically larger than the body.
Prosnick & Evans developed the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index-7 (PKSI-7), a 7-item short-form drawn from the 19-item Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index.[6] The short-form was found to have positive correlations with NDE-6, a 6-item scale drawn from Greysons 16-item Near Death Experience Scale.[42]

Other Contributions[edit]

Although more anecdotal, and less systematic than the taxonomies listed above, both Kason [43] and Scotton [44] confirm many of the features presented by Ring & Rosing and Greyson. Kason presents her overview under the heading "Symptoms associated with kundalini".
Table 3: Other contributions to the overview of symptoms
Kason (2000)Cranial pressures.
Expansion of consciousness.
Inner sounds.
Energies up the spine.
Vibrating or tickling sensations in the lower back.
Light experiences.
Scotton (1996)Energy rising in the spine.
Experience of hot-cold energy.
Experiencing energy (synesthetically) as light.
Fear and anxiety.
Persistent bradycardia (slow heart rate).
Tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate).
Cool skin.
Flushed skin.
Spontaneous trance states.
Spontaneous assumption of yogic postures.
Sanches and Daniels,[32] addressing possible limitations in the scales developed by Thalbourne & Fox, and by Greyson, developed a pilot psychometric instrument called the Kundalini Awakening Scale (KAS). The scale was composed of 76 questions, based on reports by relevant spiritual and transpersonal literature, and drew strongly upon Yoga theory.
However, Transpersonal literature indicates that the overview of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for amateur-diagnostics. The interpretation of symptoms is not straightforward.[45][46] According to writers in the field, symptoms associated with Kundalini-activity might not always represent such activity, but instead be an indication of other medical conditions, in need of attention. Kason[46] emphasizes that any unusual or marked physical symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical professional:
It is important to remind STE-experiencers,Note c their friends, and their families that all unusual or marked physical symptoms need to be investigated by a qualified medical doctor, even when the experiencer feels certain that the symptom is nothing more than the expression of the transformative energy in the body. One can be experiencing kundalini activity and also have physical problems that need medical attention. [...] It could be a serious, even life threatening, mistake to assume, without medical guidance, that any of the symptoms listed on the following pages do not have a medical cause.

Academic and clinical discussion[edit]

The Kundalini-phenomenon, as a topic for clinical and academic discussion, is mentioned in a few mainstream academic journals, including Psychological Reports, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease and The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. There is also a brief mention in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Other, less mainstream, publications that have published articles on the topic include The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Humanistic Psychologist and The Journal of Near-Death Studies. In addition to this the phenomenon is discussed in several independent books associated with the transpersonal field.
A more marginal publication, but historically significant in relation to the topic at hand, was the early groundwork of commentator Lee Sannella. In the book "The Kundalini Experience" (first published in 1976) he was as able to group symptoms into categories, which Kason picked up with some modification. For Sannella, the indications consist of motor phenomena – auto-movement, unusual breathing, and paralysis; sensory phenomena – tickling, sensations of hot and cold, inner lights or visions, and inner sounds; interpretive phenomena – emotions, distortions of thought, detachment, disassociation, and a sense of oneness; and non-physiological phenomena – out-of-body experiences and psychic perceptions.[48] According to Transpersonal theory the awakening of such energies are "accompanied by alterations in physiology and consciousness understood in terms of the Hindu chakra system".[49] Knowledge of the chakra map may therefore be helpful regarding the interpretation of symptoms.[50]
Commentators mention the dangers, or psychological difficulties, associated with intense or excessive practice of spiritual disciplines.[51][52] According to writers in the field, such practices may, in unfortunate instances, trigger kundalini symptomatology, and lead to states of spiritual emergency. Greyson[53] notes that contemporary western culture is poorly equipped to deal with signs of kundalini activity. Therefore, such activity might lead to major disruptions in the social and psychological functioning of people experiencing kundalini symptoms. According to Greyson, such disruptions are often confused with psychotic disorders.
In the book "The Stormy Search for the Self", Stanislav Grof, whose wife Christina underwent the dramatic shaktipat experience, gave prominence to increased levels of energy, shaking, memories of traumas, extreme emotions, inner sounds, visions, sexual arousal, and difficulty controlling behaviours. They recommended anyone having these experiences have a medical examination by a clinician knowledgeable about kundalini because of the similarity between these symptoms and indications of psychiatric and medical problems.[54] The biological plausibility of meditative practices and Yoga causing acute psychotic illness has been suggested by a psychiatrist as being related to alterations in neurophysiological parameters, such as P300, which may be used to prescribe or proscribe yogic and meditative practices to certain people.[55]
Both Greyson [56] and Scotton[57] underline the importance of differentiating between Kundalini phenomena on the one hand, and mental illness or psychopathology on the other hand. As a consequence of research findings Greyson finds support for the claim that the phenomenon of kundalini can be understood as a non-pathological force. He also implies that kundalini phenomena are not common in mental illness, and that it should be possible to differentiate this phenomenon from mental illness.[58] According to Scotton,[59] Kundalini-symptoms may, or may not, be associated with psychopathology, but are not reducible to any psychopathology. He thinks that it is important to differentiate between the signs of Kundalini and the symptoms of pathology, and not subsume the signs of Kundalini under a pathological diagnosis. He also notes [60] that classical western psychiatric treatment may not be the most appropriate approach towards kundalini symptomatology. He does mention a few circumstances (mainly involving psychotic ideation) where he finds drug treatment to be appropriate, but he prefers to handle Kundalini episodes with as little physiological intervention, and drug intervention, as possible.[61]
On the other hand, Sovatsky believes that it is important to differentiate between Kundalini as a yogic energy term (and as a marker for Kundalini awakening) and the symptoms of different preliminary yogic processes or pranic imbalances.[62] According to this view, many reported Kundalini phenomena may rather be signs of the precursor energetic state of pranotthana.Note d The difference between pranotthana and Kundalini is also noticed by other commentators, such as Bynum.[63] A similar observation is also mentioned by Greyson,[64] who refers to commentators who believe that Kundalini symptomatology is a less profound effect of bioenergy or prana. Sovatsky also notes that: kundalini has become a catch word at this early time in its entry in American culture... and attracts those with unspecified, chronic neurological/psychiatric complaints in search of an explanation for their symptoms; the use in the West of Gopi Krishna's problematic kundalini experiences as a standard giving the awakening a reputation as more dangerous than it is.[65]

Bentov's "Physio-kundalini syndrome"[edit]

Itzhak Bentov devoted an appendix of his 1977 book Stalking the Wild Pendulum: The Mechanics of Consciousness to what he called "Physio-kundalini Syndrome".[66] Bentov's colleague Lee Sannella subsequently also used the term to describe the incidence of physiological phenomena found to be coexistent with experiences of kundalini.[67] Both Bentov and Sannella, concurred with Gopi Krishna's view that kundalini is a symptom of an evolution toward higher states of consciousness.[68][69][70]
These researchers were especially interested in kundalini problems – unusual physiological occurrences that tended to happen in situations where subjects practiced long periods of meditation without proper guidance or supervision. Many of Bentov and Sannella's case studies were mostly practitioners of Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[71][72]
Bentov and Sannella held positive views of meditation as a means of releasing stresses in the body.[73][74] Their main concern however was that unusual bodily reactions, or mental states related to kundalini arousal, might lead to inappropriate and potentially harmful medical interventions. Sannella thought that it was possible to recognize the symptomatology, the physio-kundalini process, and to differentiate it from psychosis.[75]
Bentov noted that "strong and unusual bodily reactions and unusual psychological states" might develop as a consequence of latent capacities in the human nervous system. According to his view this sequence of events could happen as a result of meditation, or it could occur spontaneously in unsuspecting individuals. Bentov suspected that western medicine was unequipped to handle this phenomenology.[76] Bentov also made other speculations. In his view, the psychological symptoms tended to mimic schizophrenia. Thus there was a danger that individuals experiencing kundalini-symptoms could receive an unfortunate diagnosis, and thereby be institutionalized and treated as schizophrenics.[77]

Spiritual Emergence and Spiritual Emergency[edit]

Transpersonal Psychology[edit]

In their 1990 book, transpersonal psychologists Grof and Grof coin the term "spiritual emergency" to describe "critical and experientially difficult stages of a profound psychological transformation that involves one's entire being."[78] They contrast it with the more gradual process of "spiritual emergence."[79] They describe the awakening of Kundalini as one of ten varieties of spiritual emergencies.[80] These terms are subsequently also used by kundalini writers Sovatsky[81] and Yvonne Kason.[82]
The field of Transpersonal Psychology describe several phenomena that can be understood as a spiritual emergence,Note e or as a spiritual emergency.[24] In addition to mystical experiences, near-death experience, "shamanistic initiatory crisis", and "psychic opening", the authors mention kundalini awakening: "a complex physio-psycho-spiritual transformative process described in the Yogic tradition".[83] If there is an uncontrolled emergence of spiritual phenomena, causing a significant disruption in a persons daily life and daily functioning, then we may speak of a spiritual problem. Spiritual problems have been discussed in relation to the DSM-IV diagnostic category "Religious or Spiritual Problem".[84][85][86]
According to Turner and his associates, religious and spiritual experiences, when deemed as problems "need to be subjected to more research to better understand their prevalence, clinical presentation, predisposing intrapsychic and interpersonal factors, outcome, relationship to the life cycle, and ethnic factors. Although there is a wealth of clinical literature on these problems, the clinical research on religious and spiritual problems is minimal, with the exception of the many well-designed studies on NDE (Near-Death Experiences)[87] They indicate in the article their hope that increasing research and an openness to alternative cultural narratives, among the authors of DSM-IV, "will help reverse the predicaments surrounding psychiatry's treatment of religious and spiritual issues, i.e. "occasional, devastating misdiagnosis; not infrequent mistreatment; an increasingly poor reputation; inadequate research and theory; and a limitation of psychiatrists' own personal development".[87][88]
However, there are indications that psychiatry is adapting to some of these ideas. For example, in an article from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, authors Grabovac & Ganesan [38] use the term "Kundalini episodes" to describe a category to be used in a proposed academic lecture series on religion and spirituality in Canadian Psychiatric Residency Training.


In their seminal works, Gopi Krishna and Bentov both noted resemblance between kundalini awakening in its early or undirected state and the state of psychosis.[89] Some years later, Kason set about creating criteria to distinguish between some undergoing a spiritual emergency and someone experiencing psychosis.[90] In a spiritual emergency, for example, a person is challenged by experiences, while in psychosis they are overwhelmed by them.[91]



In the ages-long Kundalini Yoga tradition, a student is only initiated into the practices that awaken the kundalini after a master accepts them as worthy of instruction.[92] The aspirant then takes up their practice, following a strict regimen under the watchful eyes of the master, who for all intents and purposes serves as their counselor and priest.[93][94]
Sannella advises that the doubts and fears that might arise during the kundalini process be handled in a supportive environment like a spiritual hermitage or monastery. Anyone encountering difficulties should consult with someone with experience in this area. He also cautions that breathing exercises are hazardous unless practiced under the guidance of a competent spiritual teacher.[95]


Bentov defined kundalini difficulties as the release of blockages in the body-mind system, best treated by a gentle program of meditation, yoga and breathing exercises:
...the stresses in the system are actually energy patterns, and they have to be converted and eliminated from the body. One of the most common forms into which these stresses are converted is body movement. It is not unusual to see people who are meditating go through different involuntary body movements, such as moving the arms, head, shaking of the whole body, etc. The heavier the stresses that are given off, the stronger the movements may become. There are other ways in which these stresses may come out. These are a direct release of emotions, which may take the form of depressions, crying, and general emotionalism. Other ways may manifest simply as temporary pain in different areas of the body. All considered, meditation combined with light body-toning exercises, such as some hatha yoga postures and mild breathing exercises, can be the most effective, inexpensive, and fastest system for the removal of stresses from the body. I don't want to give you the impression that anyone who meditates will have the symptoms described above. On the contrary, by far the largest majority of people who practice meditation have very pleasurable or even blissful sensations, and those who have any of the stress symptoms will eventually outgrow them as the level of stress in their bodies diminishes. They then begin to enjoy a feeling of growing inner peace and tranquillity, which is not obtainable by any other means.
Scotton offers a program of "grounding" interventions, including a prohibition of any consciousness-altering activity – especially the practices that triggered the episode, regular meals – even in the absence of appetite, hot baths to relax and draw the person back to their body, and immersion in routine tasks such as cleaning, mild exercise, laundry, and routine interaction with others.[97]
Scotton continues:
Concerning what may be psychotic symptoms, the best course is to assess for level of functioning and "spread" of the seemingly psychotic symptoms. If the dysfunction seems circumscribed to the kundalini content and experience and the previous psychiatric history is negative for psychosis, the best course is probably supportive with as little drug intervention as possible. If the dysfunction is pervasive and includes psychotic ideation in unrelated areas, appropriate neuroleptic treatment is indicated, with later working through of the spiritual aspect of the experience.
In Farther Shores, Yvonne Kason devotes a large part of the book to understanding and intervening in Spiritually Transformative Experiences.[98] She covers a number of factors, including who has spiritual emergencies and why.[99] Kason offers up a number of strategies for living with spiritual transformation. Central to these is a balanced lifestyle. Kason also offers up a long list (26 items) of grounding strategies, including, "1. Stop meditating. 2. Decrease all forms of concentration... 22. Visualize your energies withdrawing from your head region, moving down the base of your spine, and staying there..."[100]

Psycho-spiritual Evolution[edit]

Several theorists discuss the phenomenon of Kundalini in the context of psycho-spiritual evolution. Even though the symptoms, at times, may be dramatic and disturbing, several theorists tend to interpret the kundalini phenomenon, and the related symptomatology, as largely non-pathological,[101] even maturational.[102] Sovatsky, representing the hermeneutic of kundalini yoga, tend to interpret the energetic manifestations of Kundalini awakening as a "spinal puberty", a spiritual and somatic maturation of body and soul.[103]
Other writers also interpret the phenomenon as a psycho-spiritual and transformative process. Kason,[104] for example, tend to view the symptoms as part of a spiritually transformative experience, a "psycho-spiritual house-cleaning". Several commentators seem to imply that the phenomenon has a developmental and evolutionary significance for humanity, signifying both biological and spiritual evolution.[102][105][106]
Sannella observed: "Today kundalini awakenings occur more frequently, with and without training." He suggested a significant cause. "People experience kundalini phenomena more frequently because they are actually more involved in disciplines and lifestyles conducive to psychospiritual transformation."[107] Sannella contrasted this situation with Carl Jung's observation in 1932 during a seminar on the kundalini that the awakening of this force had rarely, if ever, been witnessed in the West.[108] Stanislav Grof considers Jung's view that the awakening of Kundalini was exclusively an Eastern phenomenon and that it would take at least a thousand years before this energy could be set in motion as "probably the most remarkable error of his entire career."[109] Both Bentov and Sovatsky has compared the awakening of Kundalini with the onset of puberty in the sense that the nervous system can start functioning on ever higher levels of consciousness.[110] Sovatsky describes it as a "post-genital puberty" as spiritually matured identities become embodied and empowered.[111] Bentov, on the other hand, claimed to have seen "many cases of spontaneous and systematic evolution of the nervous system" during his involvement with the phenomenology [112]
Kason called for research to validate what she called "the kundalini model" to prove a biological basis for Spiritually Transformative Experiences.[113] A few years later Bruce Greyson at the University of Virginia set out to provide the beginnings of such evidence. As a result of his study on neuropsychological correlates,Note f Greyson was able to conclude that kundalini arousal is accompanied by a distinctive neuropsychological profile, as his subjects who reported physio-kundalini symptoms also tended to score themselves highly on measures of fantasy-proneness, disassociation, absorption, and temporal-limbic hyperconnection.[114] Greyson admitted it was impossible to say whether kundalini experiences cause or facilitate these neuropsychological traits or whether persons with this distinct neuropsychological profile are more vulnerable to kundalini arousal. Nonetheless, he concluded that his findings supported Gopi Krishna's claim that kundalini is the force behind biological and spiritual evolution since kundalini arousal appears to be accompanied by specific neurobiological distinctions, as must any engine of biological evolution.[115]

Research and Case-studies[edit]

Research on kundalini-symptomatology has been presented by researchers in the areas of Transpersonal Psychology and Near-death studies, but also by researchers associated with other areas of Psychology and Mental health. Among the first studies to comment upon symptoms of kundalini was Ring and Rosing's Omega Project, published in 1990.[8] Note g In this study the researchers found that Near-death experiencers reported several psychophysical changes in the wake of their near-death experience, including symptoms that could be interpreted as kundalini-activity.
Another study from the early nineties was conducted by NDE-researcher Bruce Greyson.[116] Co-operating with the inpatient psychiatric unit of the University of Connecticut Health Center, Greyson administered the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index, a 19-item questionnaire, to patients admitted to the unit. He found that psychiatric patients reported physio-kundalini symptoms, but to a lesser degree than a group of near-death experiencers described in a previous study. Greyson followed up his previous interest in the subject with a new study in 2000, published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology under the title “Some Neuropsychological Correlates Of The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome”.[117] In this study a group of 321 volunteers, from the International Association for Near-Death Studies, responded to the Physio-kundalini syndrome index, as well as standardized tests designed to measure neuropsychological traits. Using statistical regression analysis the author found that kundalini arousal was significantly related to measures of fantasy proneness, dissociation, absorption, and temporal-limbic hyperconnection, but not to right-brain dominance or to demographic variables.
Thalbourne,[118] using the terminology of "experience", administered a battery of pencil-and-paper tests, including an instrument called The Kundalini Scale Note h to 125 first-year psychology students at Adelaide University. He found that scores on the Kundalini scale was correlated with several other scales measuring belief in the paranormal.
Prosnick & Evans [119] developed the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index-7 (PKSI-7). A 7-item short-form drawn from the 19-item Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index. They found that this instrument showed positive correlation with NDE-6, a shortened version of Greysons 16-item NDE-scale.
Sanches and Daniels,[120] using the terminology of "awakening", distributed a pilot psychometric instrument called the Kundalini Awakening Scale (KAS) to four different groups: Yoga teachers, Yoga students, people following other spiritual traditions, and people from a general population. They found that kundalini experience was highest, but also most problematic, in the group of people following other spiritual traditions.
Scotton [121] presented two case-examples in an article on the phenomenology of Kundalini, published in "Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology". Valanciute and Thampy [122] presented one Case-review in a discussion of Physio Kundalini syndrome and mental health, published in Mental Health, Religion & Culture.

Gopi Krishna[edit]

The case of Gopi Krishna [123] is often used by commentators, among others Kason,[124] to illustrate certain features of the kundalini-phenomenon.[125] His ideas are also cited by other commentators.[126][127] The interpretation of the phenomenon as presented by Krishna, in biographic detail, is a story of Kundalini energy in disarray. On his own, Krishna had practised an arduous routine of pre-dawn meditation from the age of seventeen years.[128] In 1937, at the age of thirty-four, he began to experience dramatic and distressing changes in his body and consciousness. Knowing very little about kundalini, he began to read as much as he could with his altered consciousness. Gradually, with the little helpful information he was able to obtain, and with the passage of twelve years, Gopi Krishna's kundalini awakening led to the development of new, inspired creativity. He founded the Kundalini Research Institute and set out to learn more, and to teach others, about kundalini. He is the author of several books.
Based on his traumatic experiences, Gopi Krishna conveyed a twofold message of immense dread and great hopefulness around the awakening of Kundalini. On the one hand he believed that the energy, if it was aroused in a body that was not attuned to it, could lead to a variety of psychological and physiological problems. [129] On the other hand he believed that the phenomenon of Kundalini could have positive implications for the life-span, and the intellectual faculties, of humans.[130]
Gopi Krishna described the symptoms of what he thought was kundalini awakening based on his own experiences. From his early years of turmoil, he described a stream of light and a roaring sound in his head, a rocking sensation, a sense of slipping out of his body,[131] followed by a sense of detachment and disinterest, weakness in his arms and legs, fatigue and uneasiness.[132] After many years of effort to understand and master the mysterious kundalini, Krishna was at last able to report a happier condition. It was a condition which, in his view, included a form of heightened awareness, and a refinement his faculties.[133] Gopi Krishna was influential as the first widely published author on the subject of kundalini. He attracted Yvonne Kason, a transpersonal psychologist who helped to further popularize his story and integrated his lessons into her practice. Together with a few collaborators, she established the Kundalini Research Network.[134] According to Stuart Sovatsky: "the use in the West of Gopi Krishna's problematic kundalini experiences as a standard gives the awakening a reputation as more dangerous than it is." [135]

DSM-IV: Related categories[edit]

While kundalini problems are not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, through the efforts of David Lukoff, Francis G. Lu and Robert P. Turner, a new diagnostic category called "Religious or Spiritual Problem"[84] was included in the fourth edition, DSM-IV published in 1994. This category was proposed to offset the tendency of mental health professionals to ignore or pathologize religious and spiritual issues brought into treatment.[136] While acknowledging the consensus within transpersonal psychology that kundalini awakening is a form of spiritual emergence, or emergency, and should not be diagnosed or treated as a mental disorder, some psychologists note it could precipitate forms of mental disorders or exacerbate preexisting conditions.[137]
DSM-IV does include in its "Glossary of culture-bound syndromes" the diagnostic category "Qi-gong Psychotic Reaction", described as "an acute, time-limited episode characterized by disassociative, paranoid or other psychotic or non-psychotic symptoms[...] Especially vulnerable are individuals who become overly involved in the practice."[138] As such, some practitioners believe it to be a case of kundalini energy in disarray. Over-zealous practitioners of Kundalini, Qigong or Buddhist meditation, without proper guidance or restraint, were observed to lose touch with reality.[139]
Sovatsky has commented upon the apparent similarities between kundalini syndrome, or "pranotthana manifestation" as he prefers to call it, and Qi-gong Psychotic Reaction. He acknowledges the qi-gong psychotic reaction as an experience of nonordinary consciousness not unlike what Americans involved in qi-gong, meditation or yoga have experienced. He cautions those who would pathologize this kind of emergency: "That some problems arise as a result of the most auspicious of spiritual experiences, long documented in diverse religions, must, in such cases, also be considered."[140]


a.^ See section below, called "Terminology".
b.^ According to the author (Greyson, 1993b:282) documentation of the validity and reliability of the physio-kundalini syndrome questionnaire was not available at the time of publication in 1993.
c.^ STE: Short for "Spiritually Transformative Experience".
d.^ Definition of the term "pranotthana": "Intensified, uplifted life energy" (Sovatsky, 1998:153), "The perception of energy movement" (Bynum, 1996: 260).
e.^ Spiritual Emergence: a gradual unfolding of spiritual potential with no disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning (Turner, Lukoff ,Barnhouse & Lu, 1995).
f.^ Also mentioned below, under the heading "Research and Case-studies".
g.^ For a critical view on the instrument section of "The Omega Project", see "Letters to The Editor", Journal of Near-Death Studies Summer 1991, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 259-264
h.^ A separate instrument, not to be confused with Ring & Rosing's Kundalini Scale (1990) mentioned earlier.


  1. Jump up ^ Ring & Rosing, 1990:226
  2. Jump up ^ Sovatsky,1998, p. 180.
  3. Jump up ^ Grof & Grof: 1989:15
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b Greyson, 1993
  5. Jump up ^ Greyson, 2000
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b c Prosnick & Evans, 2003:138
  7. Jump up ^ Valanciute & Thampy, 2011: Title
  8. ^ Jump up to: a b Ring & Rosing, 1990
  9. Jump up ^ Thalbourne, 2001
  10. ^ Jump up to: a b Turner,1995:440
  11. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996
  12. Jump up ^ Kason, 2000:222
  13. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993b:288
  14. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:45,55-56
  15. Jump up ^ Ring & Rosing, 1990:226,237
  16. ^ Jump up to: a b Kason, 2000
  17. Jump up ^ Kason, 2000:259-60
  18. Jump up ^ Scotton 1996: 262,269
  19. ^ Jump up to: a b Sovatsky, 1998:180
  20. Jump up ^ Psychiatric literature notes that:
    Since the influx of eastern spiritual practices and the rising popularity of meditation starting in the 1960s, research has expanded on those who practice them, and has shown that some people experience psychological distress, either while engaged in intensive spiritual practice or spontaneously.
    —Turner et al., Page 440
  21. Jump up ^ Kason, pg.163; Table 4.
  22. ^ Jump up to: a b Valanciute & L.A. Thampy, 2011
  23. Jump up ^ Kason, pg. 51
  24. ^ Jump up to: a b
    "spiritual emergency" (i.e., an uncontrolled emergence of spiritual phenomena with significant disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning)
    —Turner et al, pg. 440
  25. Jump up ^ Vernon-Johnson, 2004:19
  26. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993; 2000
  27. Jump up ^ Ring & Rosing, 1990: 225,226
  28. ^ Jump up to: a b Thalbourne, 2001: 341
  29. ^ Jump up to: a b Ring & Rosing 1990: 225, 227: Table 5
  30. ^ Jump up to: a b Greyson, 1993:49; 2000: 124
  31. Jump up ^ Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1995:477
  32. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Sanches and Daniels, 2008 (Preprint version, original page numbers not available)
  33. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996: 262, 263
  34. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993, 2000
  35. ^ Jump up to: a b Scotton 1996: 261
  36. Jump up ^ Thalbourne, 2001: 347
  37. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:44-48
  38. ^ Jump up to: a b Grabovac & Ganesan, 2003:Table 3
  39. Jump up ^ Kason 2000: 223,
  40. Jump up ^ Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Jan, 1999
  41. Jump up ^ Thalbourne, 2001: 343
  42. Jump up ^ Prosnick & Evans, 2003:134,140,141
  43. Jump up ^ Kason 2000: 222-23
  44. Jump up ^ Scotton 1996: 261-64
  45. Jump up ^ Sovatsky, p. 161.
  46. ^ Jump up to: a b Kason, pg. 178-79
  47. Jump up ^ Kason, pg. 178–79
  48. Jump up ^ Sannella, pp. 94-103; Kason, pp. 169-240
  49. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996: 262
  50. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996:265
  51. Jump up ^ Kason,(2000), pg. 259-60; 271.
  52. Jump up ^ Turner et al., 1995: 440
  53. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:46
  54. Jump up ^ Grof (1990), p. 80
  55. Jump up ^ Bharadwaj B., 2012
  56. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:57
  57. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996:269
  58. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:54,57
  59. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996: 269.
  60. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996: 261
  61. Jump up ^
    Western clinicians who have become aware of the kundalini phenomenona have begun to see it clinically. My colleagues and I have treated more than a half dozen cases of difficult kundalini experiences and have found that supportive treatment is best, with the least invasive physiological measures possible.
    —Scotton, 1996. Page 263-64
  62. Jump up ^ Sovatsky (1998), p. 161, 180
  63. Jump up ^
    In Kundalini Yoga for example, the teacher clarifies the internal, empirical and experiential difference between the perception of energy movement or pranotthana and Kundalini itself.
    —Bynum, 1996. Page 260
  64. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:44
  65. Jump up ^ Sovatsky, p. 161"
  66. Jump up ^
    This model, which we may call the "physio-kundalini" since it deals only with the physiological part of the kundalini, describes the kundalini as a stimulus spreading along the sensory cortex of the two hemispheres, starting at the cleft between the two hemispheres of the brain.
    —Bentov pp. 212-13
  67. Jump up ^
    I propose to apply the term physio-kundalini to those aspects of the kundalini process which can accounted for in purely physiological terms. The physio-kundalini is, then, the slow progression of energy sensation originating in the lower part of the body and rising through it into the head and proceeding down through the throat into the abdomen where this stimulus reaches its culmination point. I will also refer to this complex phenomenon as the physio-kundalini process or cycle or mechanism.
    —Sannella, p. 34
  68. Jump up ^ Bentov, p.11
  69. Jump up ^ Sannella p. 20
  70. Jump up ^ Krishna, p. 124
  71. Jump up ^ Bentov cited 13 detailed case studies who were TM practitioners. Bentov, pp. 228-35 On p. 177 he included a quote from the Maharishi. It would appear that he also engaged in the practice.
  72. Jump up ^ Sannella gave 17 case histories, 7 of which were TM practitioners, and 2 devotees of Siddha Yoga. Sannella, pp. 57-82
  73. Jump up ^
    All considered, meditation combined with light body-toning exercises, such as some hatha yoga postures and mild breathing exercises, can be the most effective, inexpensive, and fastest system for the removal of stresses from the body.
    —Bentov, p. 211
  74. Jump up ^
    Several of my kundalini cases are especially interesting because they serve as support for my contention that the kundalini process can be looked upon as inherently therapeutic.
    —Sannella, p. 113
    He goes on to caution:
    I must, however, sound a word of caution here. I firmly believe that methods designed specifically to hasten kundalini arousal, such as the breath control exercises known as pranayama, are hazardous, unless practiced directly under the guidance of a competent spiritual teacher, or guru, who should have gone through the whole kundalini process himself or herself.
    —Sannella, p. 116
  75. Jump up ^
    In my discussion of diagnosis, I will show that it is possible to recognize the physio-kundalini process and to distinguish it from psychosis, even when these two conditions are temporarily co-present in a particular individual. This distinction will help make it possible for clinicians to avoid the serious mistakes that have been made in the past. A faulty diagnosis can not only further complicate a case, but also deprive the person who has all the symptoms of an awakening or awakened kundalini of the great transformative and spiritual potential this signals.
    —Sannella, p. 12
  76. Jump up ^
    As has been mentioned before, the human nervous system has a tremendous latent capacity for evolution. This evolution can be accelerated either by meditative techniques, or it can occur spontaneously in an unsuspecting individual. In both cases, a sequence of events is triggered, causing sometimes strong and unusual bodily reactions and unusual psychological states. Some of those people who meditate may suspect that these reactions are somehow connected with meditation. Others, however, who develop these symptoms spontaneously, may panic and seek medical advice. (Sometimes individuals of both groups may seek medical advice.) Unfortunately, however, Western medicine is presently not equipped to handle these problems. Strangely, in spite of the intensity of the symptoms, little or no physical pathology can be found.
    —Bentov, p. 213
  77. Jump up ^
    The psychological symptoms tend to mimic schizophrenia. It is very likely, therefore, that such individuals may be diagnosed as schizophrenics and be either institutionalized or given very drastic and unwarranted treatment. It is ironic that persons in whom the evolutionary processes of Nature have begun to operate more rapidly, and who can be considered as advanced mutants of the human race, are institutionalized as subnormal by their normal peers. I dare to guess, on the basis of discussions with my psychiatrist-friends, that this process is not as exotic and rare as one would like to believe, and possibly 25 to 30 percent of all institutionalized schizophenics belong to this category – a tremendous waste of human potential. It is my hope that as the material presented here gradually reaches the more open-minded physicians and psychotherapists, and as the syndrome described becomes more widely known, nontraumatic methods of dealing with these symptoms will be developed, methods that will not stop but slow down and control the rate at which the evolutionary process is progressing, thus allowing the patients to develop at a safe, acceptable rate and to function normally in everyday environment.
    —Bentov, p. 213
  78. Jump up ^ Grof (1990), p. 31
  79. Jump up ^ Grof (1990), p. 37
  80. Jump up ^ Grof (1990), p. 73; Grof (2000), pp. 137-77
  81. Jump up ^ Sovatsky (1998), pp. 183-86
  82. Jump up ^ Kason, pp. 243-75
  83. Jump up ^ Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, Lu. 1995:440
  84. ^ Jump up to: a b American Psychiatric Association (1994) DSM-IV, Code V62.89: Religious or Spiritual Problem
  85. Jump up ^ Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, Lu. 1995
  86. Jump up ^ Vernon-Johnson, 2004:6
  87. ^ Jump up to: a b Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, Lu, 1995
  88. Jump up ^ Peck S, 1993
  89. Jump up ^ Krishna (1971), pp. 49-61; Bentov, p. 213
  90. Jump up ^ Kason, pp. 247-53
  91. Jump up ^ Kason, p. 248
  92. Jump up ^
    ...the ancient teachers of Kundalini Yoga, taught by an experience extending for thousands of years, insisted on an exceptionally robust and hardy constitution, mastery over appetites and desires, voluntarily acquired control over vital functions and organs, and, above all, the possession of an inflexible will as the essentially needed qualifications in those offering themselves for the supreme undertaking of rousing the Shakti.
    —Krishna (1971), p. 164
  93. Jump up ^ Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, 1998
  94. Jump up ^ Swami Sivananda Radha,1978, 2004, p. 29
  95. Jump up ^ Sannella, pp. 115-16
  96. Jump up ^ Bentov, pp. 210-11
  97. ^ Jump up to: a b Scotton (1996), p. 264
  98. Jump up ^
    This is one of the reasons why labeling Spiritually Transformative Experiences can be so useful. Giving an unusual experience a non-pathological name – and learning that it has parallels in many cultural and spiritual traditions – helps us integrate it into our lives.
    —(Kason, p. 56)
  99. Jump up ^ Kason, pp. 258-75
  100. Jump up ^ Kason, pp. 280-82
  101. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:54
  102. ^ Jump up to: a b Sovatsky, 1998
  103. Jump up ^ Sovatsky, 1998:6, 153
  104. Jump up ^ Kason (2000), pg. 292-95.
  105. Jump up ^ Greyson, 2000:132
  106. Jump up ^ Ring & Rosing, 1990:237
  107. Jump up ^ Sannella, p. 18
  108. Jump up ^ Sannella, p. 17
  109. Jump up ^ Grof (2000), p. 156
  110. Jump up ^ Bentov, p. 221; Sovatsky, pp. 152-77
  111. Jump up ^ Sovatsky, p. 142
  112. Jump up ^
    Over the years of my involvement with this area, I have seen many cases of spontaneous and systematic evolution of the nervous system. There are some physiological changes occurring in the body associated with the attainment of these different levels of evolution. These changes may come about slowly, over a period of years, and go unnoticed, or they may occur suddenly. Some of the symptoms resulting from these changes may be very mild and some very powerful, depending on the amount of stress accumulated in the body. ...the stresses in the system are actually energy patterns, and they have to be converted and eliminated from the body. One of the most common forms into which these stresses are converted is body movement. It is not unusual to see people who are meditating go through different involuntary body movements, such as moving the arms, head, shaking of the whole body, etc. The heavier the stresses that are given off, the stronger the movements may become. There are other ways in which these stresses may come out. These are a direct release of emotions, which may take the form of depressions, crying, and general emotionalism. Other ways may manifest simply as temporary pain in different areas of the body.
    —Bentov, pp. 209-10; See also p. 212
  113. Jump up ^ Kason, p. 153
  114. Jump up ^ Greyson, pp. 125-28
  115. Jump up ^ Greyson (2000), p. 132
  116. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993
  117. Jump up ^ Greyson (2000)
  118. Jump up ^ Thalbourne, 2001
  119. Jump up ^ Prosnick & Evans, 2003
  120. Jump up ^ Sanches and Daniels, 2008
  121. Jump up ^ Scotton, 1996
  122. Jump up ^ Valanciute and Thampy, 2011
  123. Jump up ^ New York Times. August 3, 1984
  124. Jump up ^ Kason, 2000
  125. Jump up ^ Krishna, 1971;1975
  126. Jump up ^ Greyson, 1993:43;46;47
  127. Jump up ^ Ring & Rosing, 1990: 225
  128. Jump up ^ Krishna, pp. 23,34
  129. Jump up ^
    "The power, when aroused in a body not attuned to it with the help of various disciplines or not genetically mature for it, can lead to awful mental states, to almost every form of mental disorder, from hardly noticeable aberrations to the most horrible forms of insanity, to neurotic and paranoid states, to megalomania and, by causing tormenting pressure on reproductive organs, to an all-consuming thirst that is never assuaged".
    —Krishna (1975) p. 14
  130. Jump up ^
    "I am confident that when the laws about Kundalini are known, the life span of man will increase to as much as 150 years, out of which the greater part will be for his enjoyment and for the exercise of all his faculties. These supermen will be prodigies of the highest order. They will have command of all the premier languages of the world and will be able to write in prose and verse in all of them. They will have command of all the sciences, and in that condition will be able to guide even the highest specialists."
    —Krishna (1975) p. 128
  131. Jump up ^ Krishna (1971) pp. 12-3
  132. Jump up ^ Krishna (1971) pp. 14-5
  133. Jump up ^
    " the place of a roaring noise in my ears, there was now a cadence like the humming of a swarm of bees, enchanting and melodious, and the encircling glow was replaced by a penetrating silvery radiance, already a feature of my being within and without. The marvellous aspect of the condition, lay in the sudden realization that although linked to the body and surroundings I had expanded in an indescribable manner into a titanic personality, conscious from within of an immediate and direct contact with and intensely conscious universe, a wonderful inexpressible immanence all around me."
    —Krishna (1971), p. 207
  134. Jump up ^ Kason (1994) pp. 146-52
  135. Jump up ^ Sovatsky (1998) p. 161
  136. Jump up ^ Turner et al, p. 435
  137. Jump up ^
    [it] may precipitate forms of mental disorders or exacerbate preexisting conditions, requiring that an axis I or II disorder be coded along with religious or spiritual problem.
    —Turner et al, p. 440
  138. Jump up ^ American Psychiatric Association, Appendix I: Glossary of Culture-Bound Syndromes, p. 847
  139. Jump up ^ Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo, "Kundalini And Qiqong Psychosis", Singapour
  140. Jump up ^ Sovatsky, p. 180


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  • Greyson, Bruce. Some Neuropsychological Correlates Of The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2000, Vol.32, No. 2
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  • Khalsa, Gurucharan Singh, "Kundalini Yoga and Meditation as Taught by Yogi Bhajan," Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening, Boulder, Colorado, Sounds True, Inc., 2009
  • Khalsa, Shakti Parwha Kaur, Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power, New York, Perigree Books (division of Penguin Putnam Inc.), 1998.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Andrew Newberg, Sivananda Radha, Ken Wilber, John White, Stuart Sovatsky, Gopi Krishna, Barbara Harris Whitfield, Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, et al., Boulder, Colorado, Sounds True, Inc., 2009 ISBN 978-1-59179-728-9
  • Whitfield, Barbara Harris (1995) Spiritual Awakenings: Insights of the near-death experience and other doorways to our soul (Health Communications, 1995).
  • Yogi Bhajan with Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, The Mind: Its Projections and Multiple Facets, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 1998 ISBN 0-9639991-6-8
  • Rabyor, Mary E., Our Light Body: A Kundalini Awakening Testimonial, April 2012, 494 pages, ISBN 978-0985466305

External links[edit]

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