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The Kundalini Syndrome is a set of sensory, motor, mental and affective symptoms reported predominantly (according to certain writers on the subject) among people who have had a near-death experience[1][2]; it has also been attributed to practitioners of meditation or yoga[3][4][5].

Researchers in the fields of psychiatry[6], transpersonal psychology[7][8], and near-death studies[1][2] describe a complex pattern of sensory, motor, mental and affective symptoms associated with the concept of Kundalini, sometimes called the Kundalini syndrome[2]. This psycho-spiritual and transformative process may, according to different sources, occur in connection with a near-death experience[1][2], or with prolonged and intensive spiritual/contemplative practice, as practiced within a few sub-disciplines of meditation or yoga[1][9] [10]. Other factors that may trigger this symptomatology includes a variety of intense personal crises or experiences[11].

With relation to Yoga and Kundalini Yoga, these problems could, in some instances, be the result of wrong or unfortunate practice. Kason [12] emphasizes the risk associated with certain intensive Yoga- or meditation-techniques, especially in circumstances where the practitioner is not mentally and/or physically prepared. Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, notes that awakening of kundalini (Kundalini yoga) shows itself as "awakening of inner knowledge". Like every form of energy one must also learn to understand spiritual energy. In order to be able to integrate this spiritual energy, careful purification and strengthening of the body and nervous system are required beforehand. By trying to force results considerable psychic disturbances and at times even permanent mental damage can occur. According to Hindu tradition a spiritual master who walked this path before is required to guide the aspirant. Often, it will be found that negative experiences occur only when acting without appropriate guidance or ignoring advice[13].



Researchers affiliated with the fields of transpersonal psychology and near-death studies (see references below) have suggested some common criteria that describe Kundalini problems, of which the most prominent feature is a feeling of energy or heat rushing up the spine[14][15].

  • Other sensory, motor and physiological symptoms may include: the feeling of cranial pressures[16], the perception of inner sounds[14], experiences of inner lights[14][17], vibrating or tickling sensations in the lower back[14], vibrations and itching under the skin[17], cool or flushed skin[18], tachycardia (rapid heart rate)[19], persistent bradycardia[20], changes in breathing[21], spontaneous bodily movements[21], spontaneous assumption of yogic postures[22], sensations of heat or cold moving through the body[17], localized bodily pain that starts and stops abruptly[17], and unusual, or intense, sexual sensations[23].
  • Mental and affective symptoms include: fear[24], anxiety[24], depersonalization[17], intense positive or negative emotions[17], psychotic symptoms or psychotic ideation[25], spontaneous slowing or speeding of thoughts[17], spontaneous trance states[24], experiencing oneself as larger than the physical body[17], and experiences of paranormal consciousness[23].

Summary of known problems: Death, pseudo death, pseudo psychosis, confusion, panic attacks, depression, sadness, suicidal thoughts, urges to self-mutilate, homicidal urges, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), exacerbation of prior or current mental illness, insomnia, inability to hold a job, inability to talk, inability to drive, sexual pains, temporary blindness, urticaria or rash, and headaches[26][27][28][29][30].

A few theorists within the transpersonal field, such as Greyson[21], refers to this symptomatology as the "Physio-Kundalini syndrome", while other Western academics use the description Kundalini-experience/awakening[31][32]. The process is not always sudden and dramatic, it can also start slowly and increase gradually in activity over time[33]. If the accompanying symptoms unfold in an intense manner that destabilizes the person, then the situation is usually interpreted as a "spiritual emergency"[34].

Transpersonal literature indicates that the overview of symptoms is not meant to be used as a tool for amateur-diagnostics. According to writers in the field, the interpretation of symptoms is not straightforward[35][36]. Symptoms associated with Kundalini-activity may not always represent such activity, but instead be an indication of other medical conditions, in need of attention. Kason[37] emphasizes that any unusual or marked physical symptom needs to be investigated by a qualified medical professional. For more on this, see note [38].

Reference in academic literature

A few writers, within the fields of psychiatry and psychology, have suggested a clinical approach to Kundalini-symptomatology. Possible improvements in the diagnostic system, that are meant to differentiate Kundalini syndrome from other disorders, have been suggested[6][7][39][40]. In an article from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease theorists Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse & Lu[41] discuss Kundalini-symptomatology in relation to the DSM-IV diagnostic category "Religious or Spiritual Problem"[42].

Discussion of Kundalini-symptomatology has also appeared in a few mainstream academic journals, including Psychological Reports, where M. Thalbourne operates with a 35 item "Kundalini Scale"[43]. The concept also appears, very briefly, in an article from the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine where Le Fanu[44] discusses a small detail regarding Kundalini symptomatology in connection with the interpretation of so-called medical "mystery syndromes".

Yoga, kundalini and side effects - Different views

According to transpersonal and spiritual literature, problems have been known to occasionally arise from awakening of Kundalini-energies. Different views exist, in the literature, regarding the nature of these problems.

One view is that awakening of Kundalini has no negative side effects. Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda cites his own guru: "Kundalini is the divine mother. A true mother never causes harm or does anything bad to her children."[45]. According to this view true kundalini awakening has no side effects other than pure joy, pure knowledge and pure love. Other types of side effects are only an indication of unbalance in the nervous system due to practice without a living and self-realized Spiritual Master or due to ignoring his advice.

A different view is that awakening of Kundalini-energies does have side effects[46][47], and that such an awakening, in some instances, may be conceptualized as a spiritual problem[48]. According to Transpersonal theory, and traditional hindu philosophy, 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]. Consultation with a meditation teacher who is not trained in Kundalini techniques, or with a psychiatrist, medical doctor or therapist who is not knowledgeable about this process, often leads to confusion and misunderstanding[51]. Teachers of Yoga familiar enough to guide students through the completion of Kundalini karmic release are so rare that the likeliness of having side effects solved smoothly is slim[52].

Even though the symptoms, at times, may be dramatic and disturbing, theorists such as Sovatsky[53] and Greyson[54] tend to interpret the unfolding symptomatology as largely non-pathological, maturational, and of evolutionary significance for humanity. According to Scotton[55] Kundalini-symptoms may, or may not, be associated with psychopathology, but are not reducible to any psychopathology. He also 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. Other writers, such as Kason[56], tend to view the broad scope of the process, with the accompanying symptoms, as resulting in a "psycho-spiritual house-cleaning".

However, Sovatsky believes that it is important to differentiate between the symptoms of a possible Kundalini awakening, and the symptoms of different preliminary yogic processes or pranic imbalances.[57] According to this view, many reported Kundalini problems may rather be signs of the precursor energetic state of pranotthana (see note [58] for definition). The difference between pranotthana and Kundalini itself, is also mentioned by other commentators, such as Bynum[59]. 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[60].

Some clinicians, such as Scotton[61], notes 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[62].

Cross-cultural observations

Qigong, from China, is very similar to Kundalini Yoga (Hatha yoga or Maha yoga, 拙火瑜珈, 無上瑜伽) from India. The goal is to improve the qi (prana) flow in the body to achieve health benefits. Chinese have long been aware that qigong practice may lead to mental disorders and call it 走火入魔( walk into fire and devil), which, according to some commentators, is essentially Kundalini syndrome or qigong psychosis[63].

The Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV) includes the diagnostic category "qi-gong psychotic reaction" in its "Glossary of culture-bound syndromes"[64].


  1. ^ a b c d Kason (2000)
  2. ^ a b c d Greyson (2000)
  3. ^ Kason, 2000
  4. ^ Scotton, 1996
  5. ^ Sovatsky, p. 180
  6. ^ a b Turner et al. (1995)
  7. ^ a b Scotton (1996)
  8. ^ Kason 2000
  9. ^ Psychiatric literature notes that "Since the influx of eastern spiritual practices and the rising popularity of meditation starting in the 1960's, many people have experienced a variety of psychological difficulties, either while engaged in intensive spiritual practice or spontaneously". Turner et al., Page 440
  10. ^ Scotton, pg. 269
  11. ^ Kason, pg.163; Table 4.
  12. ^ Kason, pg. 177,253, 259-60, 270
  13. ^ Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, pages 47, 48, 49.
  14. ^ a b c d Kason (2000), p. 223.
  15. ^ Scotton (1996), p. 261.
  16. ^ Kason (2000), p. 222.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Greyson (2000), p. 125.
  18. ^ Scotton, 1996: 264
  19. ^ Scotton (1996), p. 264.
  20. ^ Scotton, 1996: 264
  21. ^ a b c Greyson (2000), p. 124.
  22. ^ Scotton, 1996: 264
  23. ^ a b Kason, pg. 50
  24. ^ a b c Scotton (1996) p. 264.
  25. ^ Scotton, 1996: 264
  26. ^ Grof, 1990. Complete reference is missing
  27. ^ Sannella, 1976. Complete reference is missing.
  28. ^ Grof, 1986
  29. ^ Goel, unknown publication date
  30. ^ Tweedie, 1995
  31. ^ Turner et al., pg. 440
  32. ^ Scotton (1996) p. 261
  33. ^ Kason, pg. 51
  34. ^ Turner et al., pg. 440: "spiritual emergency" (i.e., an uncontrolled emergence of spiritual phenomena with significant disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning).
  35. ^ Sovatsky, p. 161
  36. ^ Kason, pg. 178-79
  37. ^ Kason, pg. 178-79
  38. ^ Kason, pg. 178-79: "It is important to remind STE experiencers, 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." STE: Short for "Spiritually Transformative Experience" (Editors note).
  39. ^ Grabovac & Ganesan, 2003; Table 3: Selected elements of a proposed academic lecture series on religion and spirituality in psychiatry.
  40. ^ Herrick, 1996. This reference is not from an academic journal, but from a manuscript presented at an academic conference.
  41. ^ Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse & Lu (1995)
  42. ^ See American Psychiatric Association (1994) DSM-IV, Code V62.89: Religious or Spiritual Problem
  43. ^ Thalbourne (2001)
  44. ^ Le Fanu, p. 118-119
  45. ^ Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda , page 49
  46. ^ Kason, 2000
  47. ^ Greyson, 2000:132
  48. ^ Turner et al., pg. 440
  49. ^ Scotton, 1996: 262
  50. ^ Scotton, 1996:265
  51. ^ citation needed.
  52. ^ citation needed.
  53. ^ Sovatsky (1998)
  54. ^ Greyson (2000), p. 132.
  55. ^ Scotton (1996), p. 269.
  56. ^ Kason (2000), pg. 292-95.
  57. ^ Sovatsky (1998), p. 161, 180
  58. ^ Explanations of the term "pranotthana": "Intensified, uplifted life energy" (Sovatsky, 1998), "The perception of energy movement" (Bynum, 1996)
  59. ^ Bynum, 1996. Page 260: 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.
  60. ^ Sovatsky, p. 161
  61. ^ Scotton, 1996: 261
  62. ^ Scotton, 1996. Page 263-64: 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.
  63. ^ "Kundalini And Qiqong Psychosis" article, Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo
  64. ^ American Psychiatric Association, 1994


  • American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association
  • Bynum, Edward Bruce. "Research Methods in Clinical Psychospirituality". The Humanistic Psychologist 1996, Vol. 24, No. 2, 257-61
  • Grabovac, Andrea & Ganesan, Soma. Spirituality and Religion in Canadian Psychiatric Residency Training. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry, Vol 48, No 3, April 2003
  • Greyson, Bruce (2000) Some Neuropsychological Correlates Of The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol.32, No. 2
  • Grof, Stanislav, (1986) Beyond the Brain: Birth Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, State University of New York Press
  • Goel, B.S., Third Eye and Kundalini: an Experimental Account of Journey From Dust to Divinity, Vol II, Eye Foundation of India
  • Herrick, Karen, Finding Our Own Substance: New DSM-IV Code 62.89, Religious or Spiritual Problem. Poster Presentation Abstract. Manuscript presented at "Toward a Science of Consciousness" 1996, sponsored by the University of Arizona 8 April–13, 1996, Tucson Convention Center.
  • Kason, Yvonne (2000) Farther Shores: Exploring How Near-Death, Kundalini and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Ordinary Lives. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers, Revised edition, ISBN 0-00-638624-5
  • Le Fanu, James (2002) A clutch of new syndromes? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; Vol. 95:118-125, March 2002
  • Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag. ISBN 3-85052-197-4
  • Scotton, Bruce (1996) The phenomenology and treatment of kundalini, in Scotton, Chinen, and Battista (Editors) (1996) Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry and psychology. (pp. 261–270). New York: Basic Books, Inc
  • Sovatsky, Stuart (1998). Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-3950-X. Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology
  • Thalbourne, Michael A. (2001) Measures of the Sheep-Goat variable, Transliminality, and Their Correlates. Psychological Reports, 88: 339-50
  • Turner, Robert P.; Lukoff, David; Barnhouse, Ruth Tiffany & Lu Francis G. (1995) Religious or Spiritual Problem. A Culturally Sensitive Diagnostic Category in the DSM-IV. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,Vol.183, No. 7 435-444
  • Tweedie, I., Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master, 1995, The Golden Sufi Center, ISBN 0-9634574-5-4

Further reading

  • Thomas, Kate. The Kundalini Phenomenon - the need for insight and spiritual authenticity (New Media Books, 2000).
  • Whitfield, Barbara Harris (1995) Spiritual Awakenings: Insights of the near-death experience and other doorways to our soul (Health Communications, 1995).

External links



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