According to ancient Hindu philosophy, kundalini is a coil of energy, or shakti, located at the base of the spine. This energy can be awakened through the process of spiritual development, causing it to rise along the spine and activate energy centers known as chakras. This is said to bring about physical effects as well as spiritual enlightenment. When exactly the concept of the kundalini developed is not known, but passages in the 8th century Siva Sutras assume the reader's familiarity with it. The energy is described in more detail in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a Hindu text written between the 12th and 15th centuries that elaborates on the physical exercise the Western world most often associates with yoga.
In the early 20th century, Sir John Woodroffe referred to kundalini as "Serpent Power" in his translation of two Hindu texts, leading to a longstanding image of this energy as a snake in the West. In reality, the word means "coiled up." Western thinkers C. W. Leadbeater and Carl Jung also discussed the kundalini in their writings, but critics complain that they did not do the idea justice by taking it out of its cultural context.
Many people who wish to explore the idea practice Kundalini Yoga, a combination of physical postures, chanting, and meditation designed to awaken kundalini power in the body. Chakra work may also include contemplating certain images, eating certain foods, and engaging in breathing exercises. For many, this is the ultimate form of body-mind exercise, as it emphasizes the physical benefits of spiritual health and vice versa. Recently, this form of yoga has even gained some adherents in the medical profession in the West.
Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga warn that this energy is very powerful and that one should not seek to awaken it without professional guidance. As kundalini rises through the chakras, it can become an increasingly intense experience both physically and emotionally, and some believe that it can be harmful if not done correctly and with caution. Kundalini awakening is also said to be a lengthy, often lifelong, process.
Some attested side effects to Kundalini awakening include tingling sensations, gastrointestinal problems, headache, depression, mood swings, and anxiety, among others. It is important for people seeking this awakening to secure both a spiritual leader and a medical professional that they trust before seriously embarking on this work, as diagnosing any medical problems possibly related to the practice is a delicate issue by nature. Practitioners of kundalini awakening claim that it can have amazing benefits in every area of a person's life, but it is always advised to consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any new physical activity.