Kundalini, Chakras, Prana and Two Real Intertwining Snakes

Figure 1: (a) Top: Chakras and how to activate them; 
Bottom Left: (b) Intertwining snake snakes in my house; 
Bottom Right: (c) Nadis and cakras from http://edgeba.webs.com/thekundaliniserpent.htm
(Please click on the photo to get full enlarged version)

by Simon Borg-Olivier

In this blog I want to discuss some points about Kundalini energy and Chakras. Much of the information available on the subject of Kundalini is esoteric and so not easy to justify with rational conventional science. I think the best explanation of the science of kundalini comes from Jana Dixon and her excellent book ‘The Biology of Kundalini”. The main purpose of this blog is to elucidate a few simple points that relate to the physical locations of the chakras and how controlling these can help you to improve the health of your spine, your internal organs and your circulation.

In Figure 1b and the in the attached video below are two beautiful 3 metre pythons that live in our house (mostly in the roof). My herpetologist mentor Professor Rick Shine says that they are either making love or wrestling for dominance for mating. Actually seeing them do this is very rare and special and so reminds me of many amazing things including the double stranded helix of the DNA molecule that holds the blueprints of our genetics. They also remind me of the mystery of kundalini, the coiled serpent-like energy lying mostly dormant at the base of our spines.

The inter-coiling of two snakes is such a common symbol in our mythology that is represented most obviously in the Caduceus, which is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. One myth suggests that Hermes saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. He separated them with a wand and thus brought about peace between them. As a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of love and peace. This is related to the seemingly combatant sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems coiling up the spinal cord. Mostly the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are seen to have opposing functions, the sympathetic is for ‘flight, fight or freeze’ while the parasympathetic is for ‘relaxation, recovery and rejuvenation’. In many situations one will dominate and subdue the other, but in some situations such as in heightened sexual arousal both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together in harmony to hopefully create love and peace.

In hatha yoga the two spiralling snakes are referred to as the nadis (subtle channels) Ida and Pingala and the spinal cord contains the sushumna nadi. When viewed from above the head the spiralling of these channels looks like the yin yang symbol or even the ancient swastika symbol . The places where the snake-like spiral nadis crossover up the trunk is the supposed location of the main chakras (energy centres) of the body. Each of these main chakras corresponds to and seemingly has relationships with main endocrine glands and also major nerve plexi. The ‘opening’ or ‘unlocking’ of, and the voluntary control of the chakras is a major aim in hatha yoga and can in fact be the tool that allows yoga and yoga therapy to be effective. In order to heal any part of the body especially the internal organs or body systems the only thing we can actually control is our mind, which can control muscles, which can affect posture movement and breathing.

A common belief in yoga circles is that a key step to allowing the kundalini energy to rise up the spine is to open up or unblock the chakras. The question is …‘What does this mean on a scientific level? In this blog I want to describe prana (energy or life energy) and, what can be thought of as its more subtle form, chitta (information or consciousness), then describe a few key points related to the regions associated with the main spinal chakras and their associated nerves plexi and endocrine glands. These are the points that the mind can focus on while regulating posture, movement and breathing. These points can make any physical yoga practice as well as any physical exercise or therapy safer and more effective to give health and longevity as the main aim and strength, flexibility and endurance as by-products.

What is Prana
Prana (aka Chi, Qi, Ki) in the body includes energy in the form of:

  • Electrical energy
  • Heat energy
  • Glucose and other energy carrying molecules
  • ATP (and other energy carrying molecules
  • Electromagnetic radiation

What is Chitta (Citta):

Citta (consciousness) in the body includes information in the form of:

  • Neurotransmitters
  • Immunotransmitters
  • Hormones
  • Electric signals
  • Electronic signals
  • Electrochemical signals
  • Electric fields
  • Magnetic fields
  • Electromagnetic fields

General Instructions to help you open or unblock chakras:

For the modern body (i.e. a body that lives mainly in chairs and doesn’t move much) it is suggested that the main focus should always be move actively into poses without the help of external forces such as gravity, momentum or the force on part of the body on another (e.g. using your hands to pull you into a posture). Then the best long term results come from allowing main emphasis after moving actively into a pose to be to lengthen and relax.

Figure 1a shows how work in a simple posture such as sitting cross-legged in order to open or unblock the energy moving through the chakras.
Below is a more general set of instructions that can be adapted and applied to most postures.

Chakra 1: Muladhara  (base or earth) chakra (Sound ‘Lam’)

  • Push the sitting bones towards the feet (or at least in the direction of the thigh bones) (if the hips are flexed then also try to turn the thighs outwards and if the hips are extended then try to turn the thighs inwards).
  • Manipura chakra can be manipulated by most people in the rear from the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities).
  • Muladhara chakra can be manipulated by most people in the front of the body from the base of the pubic bone.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the rear of muladhara chakra for most postures is push the sitting bones apart and relax the urethra and the genitals.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the front of muladhara chakra for most postures is to push the base of the pubic bone away from the navel, i.e. towards the floor if you are sitting.
  • Relax the pelvic floor especially around the urethra  (but best for most people to relax urethra, genitals and anus).
  • Lengthen the toes but check they can move if you were to ask to move them.

Chakra 2: Svadisthana (reproductive, hormonal water) chakra (Sound ‘Vam’)

  • Always master lengthening the spine before learning later to shorten it (which is hard to do effectively and safely, but is what most people do).
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the rear of svadisthana chakra for most postures is to move the tail-bone away from the top of the hips (towards the floor if you are sitting or standing) in order to lengthen the spine.
  • Simplest instruction for control and activation of the front of svadisthana chakra for most postures is to push the top of the pubic bone away from the navel.
  • Relax the pelvic floor especially around the genitals and anus.

Chakra 3: Manipura (energy, digestive, fire) chakra (Sound ‘Ram’)

  • Lengthen the lower back and the lumbar spine especially moving around L5-S1 (lumbo-sacral junction)
  • Move L5 away from the top of sacrum and the sides of the top of the hips (iliac crests)
  • Relax the muscles of abdominal exhalation so you are able to breathe with your diaphragm.
  • Generally for forward bends move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5)  forward and down (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5)  forward and up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) closer to the right hip.
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L4-L5) closer to the left hip but away from the sacrum.

Chakra 4: Anahata (heart or air) chakra (Sound ‘Yam’)

  •  Lengthen the thoracic spine first then lengthen the chest without shortening the spine especially moving around T12-L1 (lumbo-thoracic junction)
  • Move T12-L1 junction away from the hips. Make efforts to actually move all the vertebrae in this region.
  • Generally for forward bends move the  ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) forward and down (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) forward and up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) closer to the right hip.
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the ‘heart centre’ (front of the chest) and the ‘heart spine’ (T12-L1) closer to the left hip but away from the sacrum.
  • Expand the chest with or without breathing.
  • Once you have breathed into the abdomen then breathe into the chest.
  • Check the fingers are lengthened but they are free to move if they need to.

Chakra 5: Vishudhi (communication or ether) chakra (Sound ‘Ham’)

  • Lengthen the neck and the cervical spine especially moving around C7-T1 (cervico-thoracic junction).
  • Move the shoulders (left and right shoulder joint complexes) apart.
  • Generally for forward bends move the head down and the neck backwards (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for backward bends move the throat forward and the chin upwards (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for twist to the right rotate the head to the right but lift the right ear up (relative to the standing posture).
  • Generally for side bend to the right move the neck to the left side and up in order to lengthen the left side of your neck with out shortening the left side (relative to the standing posture).
  • Relax the throat, tongue, jaw and lips (i.e. check your neck could move, your tongue is free, your jaw could move and your lips could move if asked to).

Chakra 6: Ajna chakra (third eye) (Sound ‘Ksham’):

  • Relax the throat, tongue, jaw, lips, and especially relax the outer eyes (muscles that allow you to blink) and the inner eyes (muscles that move the eye balls).
  • Allow the eye balls to roll back in order to passively gaze at the third eye centre.
These instructions can be adapted and applied to any posture or movement and will help to reduce back pain, encourage circulation, improve internal organ health, and, although I am speaking outside of the fringe of most Western science, probably increase your chances of awakening your kundalini.

Figure 2: Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss in Natarajasana:
* Push the sitting bones apart and relax the pelvic floor
* Push the tailbone down and the top of the hips backward to lengthen the lower back
* Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) forwards and upwards
* Push the front of the lower ribs backwards and lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
* Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
* Breathe into the abdomen and breathe out from the chest (Please click on the photo to get enlarged version)

Figure 2 shows how the same instructions can be adapted for us in any posture. In this case Natarajasana can be enhanced with the following instructions:

  • Push the sitting bones apart and relax the pelvic floor
  • Push the tailbone down and the top of the hips backward to lengthen the lower back
  • Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) forwards and upwards
  • Push the front of the lower ribs backwards and lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
  • Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
  • Breathe into the abdomen and breathe out from the chest
Figure 3: 'Downward Facing Dog' Posture (Adho mukha svanasana)

Figure 3: ‘Downward Facing Dog’ Posture (Adho mukha svanasana)

Instructions to Enhance the ‘Downward Facing Dog’ posture (Adho mukha svanasana) based on Chakra Location points:

Figure 3 shows how the same instructions can be adapted for use in the ‘Downward Facing Dog’ posture (Adho mukha svanasana). In this case the ‘Downward Facing Dog’ posture can be enhanced with the following instructions:

  • Muladhara Chakra:
    • Push the sitting bones down
    • Have your outer feet parallel but try to turn your thighs outward
    • Relax your pelvic floor (with the combination of all these instructions most healthy people will be naturally activating the lower transverse abdominus fibres and this will cause co-activation of the muscles of perineum)
  • Svadisthana Chakra:
    • Move the tailbone as far away from the hands as possible and lengthen the rear of the trunk and spine
      • Press the front of the feet into the floor as if you raise the heels but the downward pressure of the ‘sitting bones’ won’t let you (this will activate the ankle plantar flexors, which will move the thighs further away from the hands and further lengthen the spine)
    • Move the tailbone as far away from the hands as possible and lengthen the front of the trunk and spine
  • Manipura Chakra:
    • Move the top of the hips away from the floor
    • Move the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) towards the floor
    • Breathe into your abdomen
  • Anahata Chakra:
    • Push the front of the lower ribs away from the floor
    • Lift and lengthen the upper back and the chest
    • Breathe out from the chest
  • Vishudhi Chakra:
    • Push the shoulders apart and relax the throat
    • Bring the head towards the floor and the neck away from the floor
    • Relax your throat, tongue, jaw and lips
  • Ajna Chakra:
    • Gaze at your navel centre
    • Relax your the muscles of outer eye that allow you to blink
    • Relax your inner eye muscles

 

Instructions to Help you Lift up into a Handstand (Adho mukha vrksasana) based on Chakra Location points:

I have already discussed this at length in previous blogs but in this short video, taken at one of my workshops by Regi Clarence, you can see how to apply these instructions to help you to lift rather than jump up into a handstand.
Essentially they are the same basic instructions as for the ‘downward facing dog’ pose except you begin with all the weight on your palm, with your fingers gripping the floor and the shoulders above the fingers if possible. In order to lift up by your self you need to also be able to c0-activate the shoulder flexors with the underarm muscles (latissimus dorsi and pectorals major in order to create a shoulder stabilising amsa bandha. Come to the tip of your toes and then apply the following instructions almost the same as those for dog pose:
  • push your sitting bones down
  • lift the top of the hips up to lengthen your lower back
  • lift the ribs away from the floor and lengthen your upper back
  • push the navel and the ‘navel spine’ (L5-S1) towards the floor
  • breathe into the abdomen while you are lifting up (it is also possible to do an inhalation retention as you lift but this can cause dangerous increases to the pressure in the head)

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