More about Kundalini and KRN

Kundalini is one "brand name" for the generic Energy that can be found in many if not all religions. Other brand names include: The Holy Spirit, Great Spirit, and Ruach ha Kadosh.

The ancient
yogic texts described a life energy present in all living beings called prana; corollary energies have been identified in many other cultures, such as huo and chi of Tibetan yogis, quaumaneq of Eskimo shamans, incendium amoris and photismos of Christian mystics, Henri Bergson’s élan vital, and the more recent terms ‘bioenergy,’ ‘bioplasma,’ and ‘orgone energy.’ So there are many brand names for this generic energy that is in all living things. One of the main objectives of our research network is to learn from each other and educate the medical community on how this fits in to our process of optimum health.

This blog contains articles and thoughts from the experiences and research of our board and other members. It is an opportunity for you to keep up with our most current thought and events.

You can COMMENT on posts from our board members, and SHARE them with others. You can also keep up with the KRN CALENDAR of events.


Kundalini 101: The Energy and How It Works

Barbara Harris Whitfield

Kundalini 101:
The Energy and How It Works
Barbara Harris Whitfield
From her book
Spiritual Awakenings

WHAT CHANGES US IN A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING? One thing to consider is that we may have had a powerful energy force activated within us. One name that has been given to that energy is Kundalini. Scientists from the Kundalini Research Network (KRN) have begun to define Kundalini as "the evolutionary energy/consciousness force. . . . [Its] awakening effects a transformative process in the psycho-physiological and spiritual realms and results, ultimately, in the realization of the oneness of the individual and universal consciousness."

Transpersonal psychotherapist Bonnie Greenwell, physicist Paul Pond and others of KRN[i] hypothesize that Kundalini is associated with and may be the cause of mystical experiences, psychic ability, creativity and genius. Some observers note that Kundalini may be linked to some forms of mental illness. One of KRN's goals to is make Kundalini known to the Western world, especially the scientific and medical communities, therapists, health care workers and those who have had Kundalini experiences but may not realize it.

Phenomena associated with the rising or arousal of Kundalini energy is occurring with increasing frequency to Westerners who have never heard of it and have done nothing consciously to arouse it. The term "rising" is often used in this way to describe the arousal of the Kundalini energy to an undetermined level that may or may not complete itself as a sustained evolution of consciousness. Felt as vast rushes of energy through the body, Kundalini-rising can create profound changes in the structure of people's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives.

Western Research

Bonnie Greenwell addressed some of the problems and joys of Kundalini-rising in her doctoral dissertation, which she has published as Energies of Transformation: A Guide to the Kundalini Process. This book summarizes her six years of research and experience working with individuals who have awakened Kundalini.
After centuries of hiding in nearly every culture on the globe under the guise of a secret esoteric truth, the Kundalini experience is reported more and more frequently among modern spiritual seekers, and it appears to be occurring even among people who are not pursuing disciplined or esoteric spiritual practices. When this happens to those who have no understanding of the profound correlations between the physical and mystical experiences, it can leave them bewildered and frightened, even psychologically fragmented. When they turn to traditional physicians, psychotherapists or church advisors, their anxiety is compounded by the general lack of understanding in Western culture regarding the potentiality in the human psyche for profound spiritual emergence and its relationship to energy.[ii]
How Kundalini manifests itself in experiencers is called the physio-Kundalini syndrome.[iii] Researcher Bruce Greyson did a scientific study of the physio-Kundalini hypothesis. He reported those results at the 1992 KRN conference.
As a group, near-death experiencers reported experiencing almost twice as many physio-Kundalini items as did people who had close brushes with death but no NDE, and people who had never come close to death. As a check on whether the physio-Kundalini questionnaire might be measuring nonspecific strange experiences, I threw into the analysis the responses of a group of hospitalized psychiatric patients. They reported the same number of physio-Kundalini [index] items as did the non-NDE control group. There were two unexpected and ambiguous "control" groups in my studies: people who claimed to have had NDEs but described experiences with virtually no typical NDE features; and people who denied having had NDEs but then went on to describe prototypical near-death experiences. In their responses to the physio-Kundalini questionnaire, the group that made unsupported claims of NDEs were comparable to the non-NDE control group, while the group that denied having NDEs (but according to their responses on the NDE scale, did) were comparable to the group of NDErs. In regard to awakening Kundalini, then, having an experience mattered, but thinking you had one didn't.


Because Western medicine does not acknowledge the East's physio-Kundalini model, symptoms of Kundalini arousal are often diagnosed as physical and/or psychological problems that fit within the Western allopathic diagnostic categories. For example, the shaking, twisting and vibrating so well known to experiencers could be diagnosed as a neurological disorder. It is also hard to recognize the energy presence because it manifests itself in so many different patterns. Because its symptoms mimic so many disorders of the mind and body, even people familiar with the Kundalini concept are unsure whether they are witnessing rising Kundalini energy or distresses of the mind and body. The danger is in accepting prescriptions for drugs that Western physicians give to alleviate symptoms and possibly stopping the continuation of this natural healing mechanism. Any symptoms that can be alleviated by using the Kundalini model should not be treated and suppressed with drugs.

In studying the manifestations that Kundalini arousal may take, Greyson compiled a questionnaire entitled The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index, containing 19 manifestations in three categories:

Motor manifestations
  • Spontaneous body movements
  • Strange posturing
  • Breath changes
  • Body locking in certain positions
Sensory manifestations
  • Spontaneous tingling or vibrations
  • Orgasmic sensations
  • Progression of physical sensations up the legs and back and over the head
  • Extreme heat or cold (in isolated areas of the body)
  • Pain that comes and goes abruptly
  • Internal lights or colors that light up the body (or are seen internally)
  • Internal voices (and internal whistling, hissing or roaring noises)
Psychological manifestations
  • Sudden bliss or ecstasy for no reason
  • Sudden anxiety or depression for no reason
  • Speeding or slowing of thoughts
  • Expanding beyond the body
  • Watching the body from a distance
Kenneth Ring and Christopher Rosing reported almost identical results as Greyson's in their latest research, The Omega Project: "Near-death experiencers reported experiencing almost twice as many physio-Kundalini items as did people who had close brushes with death but no NDE, and people who had never come close to death."[iv]

The Concept of Energy

Kundalini is a natural phenomenon with intense psychological and physical effects that can catapult a person into a higher state of consciousness. This analysis is based on the reality that we are extensive fields of consciousness as well as biological beings. As fields of consciousness, we have a spirit-body made of various energy systems. Various experiences can manifest in the energy or spirit body. These can be highly emotional and are usually connected to activities in the autonomic nervous system and the hormonal and muscular systems of the physical body. These experiences can be repressed in our memories but are manifested as stress in our energy/spirit/biological body. Felt as "blocks in our energy," they can be released emotionally and physically.[v] Thus, Kundalini is fueled by emotion and helps us to release a lifetime of buried stress, resulting in a physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually more healthy person.

Whether this energy is called Chi, Ki, prana, Kundalini, bioenergy, Holy Spirit, vitalforce or simply energy, the assumptions about it are similar. Several healing aids use a concept of releasing this stored energy: Shiatsu, polarity, acupuncture, acupressure, Reikian body work, bioenergy integration, holotropicintegration, T'ai Chi and some forms of massage. In discussing an energy model, there is a common limitation set up by the tendency to concretize the energy, to make it tangible, to view it as physical stuff with physical properties. The concept of energy in the human body, and any form of life, is best understood as dynamic, a verb not a noun. There is no such thing as energy in physical form. Rather, there is activity described in energetic terms.

So when we speak of life energy, we characterize activity, not a measurable physical entity. According to the Chinese explanation, energy is like the wind, invisible but with visible effects such as waves on a pond stirred by a breeze. The concept of energy is a useful way of describing the deeper hidden patterns and processes that underlie the more visible effects. The results of the energy, the visible waves on the pond, can be seen in the lives that we lead, the love that we share and the selfless service that we extend. Or as the Bible puts it, "By their fruits you shall know them." (Matthew 7:20.)

This invisible energy appears to be a deep, hidden pattern or process of integration that unifies all of our dimensions, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We could also call it the creative intelligence that is working to make us whole.[vi]

My first encounters with Kundalini energy were intense. Over the years they have tapered off to gentle, subtle and infrequent. Here's an example of a joyful experience:
I'd take my daily four-mile walk in the hot Florida sunshine. Often, I came back feeling euphoric and swam or showered and then meditated. Sometimes I perceived tingling sensations moving up my back and feel myself surrounded in Light. I became acutely aware of the love that connects and is all living things. Sometimes, I felt sweet currents like honey flowing downward in my head, behind my face. I felt my hands expand and then my very being went out into It. I chuckled inside over my feeling of bliss and I heard the chuckle echo and rebound through the Universe. On the days that happened, I perceived the energy fields around everything.

Chakras - Energy Centers of Transformation

Chakra is Sanskrit for wheel and describes energy centers or transducers that convey energy from one dimension into another. In this case the energy is conveyed from our environment to our energy body to our physical body, or in reverse-from our inner life to our awareness (if we are awake or conscious of our inner life) and then out to our environment. There are seven major chakras, and many more minor ones, contained in our subtle energy body that interact with our physical body. Each can be visualized as a center where many of the streams of energy-nadis or meridians-come together through the human body. Each chakra mediates a different level of consciousness with the outer environment.

This system works for our growth and healing potential. Chakras modulate discrete frequencies that represent every variety of human experience on the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual levels. A pain in our hearts, a bright idea, a gut feeling, a tingling up our spines are all feelings originating in the vortex of a chakra energy center. So are experiences of oneness, sexual desire, self-pity, a beautiful singing voice and even addictions.[vii] A lump in our throat, butterflies in our stomach, pressure in our heads-all originate from a chakra picking up our inner life or perceiving the outer environment, then broadcasting it to us through our physical system until we feel it can focus on it.
The Human Chakras

After a spiritual awakening, many of us want to stay in the higher chakras, the higher spiritual levels, and not deal with the lower three. However, we need the balance of all seven.

Beginning at the bottom, the first chakra is located at the base of the spine and opens down toward the ground. It keeps us alive in the body and draws sustenance from the soul or True Self. It is our sense of grounding, our work of survival on the planet. When working properly it is our sense of security. An imbalance brings on fear.

When we talk about getting grounded we mean staying with issues of this reality, coming back to practical issues and common sense. Experiencers and spiritual seekers in general have a tendency to intellectualize and fantasize, or go into their heads and indulge in wishful or magical thinking. A great many New Age concerns can turn into escapist delusions. This danger can be averted by solid grounding-getting down to basics, or first chakra issues.

The problem of staying grounded comes up over and over again at support group meetings and research conferences. If you need grounding, it's advisable to stop reading books on Kundalini for a while.[viii] Put yourself with safe friends who are grounded, take a barefoot walk outdoors - if possible, hug a tree or lie down on the earth. Adjust your diet to foods that are grounding, like meats, root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots-and the favorite standard among researchers and experiencers, fast-food french fries! The salt and grease will bring you down immediately. We also agree that during these periods you should meditate and practice yoga less.
Grounding requires the willingness, honesty and courage to face ourselves as we are and our world as it is - no distance, no exclusions, no avoidances, no anesthesia. When we are solidly grounded our heart chakra can function openly because our first chakra is balancing it.

The second chakra is approximately two inches below the navel. If it is healthy and well-balanced, the second chakra is responsible for fluid actions and nurturing, being able to accept our own feelings and tolerate others. We feel at home in the world. If damage was done to this chakra in childhood or if it is out of balance now for some other reason, there is a sense of separation, abandonment, rejection, anger, rage, fear of loss, etc. Many teachers believe that this is the chakra of emotional healing, going back to very early childhood development. The second chakra is also the seat of our sexuality.

The third chakra is called the solar plexus and is at the level of the diaphragm. It includes the realms of social interaction, education, mental development and career. It equips us to interact effectively with the fundamentals of the external world. The virtues of justice, fairness and equality, and the institutions of law, politics and education develop from the third chakra. Feeling hungry or empty is also a third chakra expression.[ix]

As I said above, avoiding these first three chakras is another way of attempting spiritual bypass or high-level denial. Since we need to live in the physical world, we will achieve harmony and balance only by embracing these three levels of consciousness defined by chakra one, two and three. Not to embrace them invites dis-ease and disharmony and imbalance.

During a spiritual awakening, our partially dormant and often totally shut down upper four chakras may be aroused or opened. Anyone pursuing psychospiritual growth will, over time, open these chakras. If we are aware of this and encourage these openings by doing our emotional work-dealing with our unfinished business-we will know when our consciousness level is shifting from one chakra to another.

The fourth chakra is located at heart level and relates to our capacity to love, to open up our hearts and to give. When this chakra is blocked a person may appear to be cold or inhibited, or may exhibit passivity in his or her life. This chakra governs joyfulness and is the master control center for regulating the emotions. Many, if not most, NDErs that Bruce Greyson, Ken Ring and I interviewed appeared to have had a heart chakra opening. You can tell by a vivid description of love-what we thought it was before and especially what we know it is now. In the classic A Christmas Carol, Scrooge's transformation at the end of the story is an excellent example of a heart chakra opening.

We have heard of a few cases where relatives have taken experiencers to court because of the after effects of a sudden heart chakra opening. Like Scrooge, these new experiencers want to give away their possessions. I will discuss more about caution in the next chapter under the sub-heading "Romantic Projection" (p. 83). I don't mean to be a wet blanket on expressions of the heart; expressing my heart and extending myself on the heart level is my reason for living. It is the way I live, but I need to caution that heart openings without healthy grounding can backfire and we can hurt ourselves, our families and unsuspecting others.

The fifth chakra is located in the throat and is a synthesis of head and heart energy. Those who have opened this center are able to express their heart experience of being alive. We are standing in the Light of our own soul. We are truly in a relationship with ourselves and the Universe.

The sixth chakra is between our eyebrows and often is called the third eye. Its opening is a direct result of spiritual practice. Meditation, selfless service and compassion are its prerequisite. From this opening there is a realization of unity, a marriage of opposites, the blending of male and female, mind and emotion, resistance and flow. In our inner life we discover our soul flame's identity and fall madly in love with our self.(10) It used to be that the closer we got to God, the more paradox there was in our lives. Now we move closer to God and at the same time confusion and paradox dissolves. In more grounded terms, this means a synthesis between both sides of our brain (see chapter 7), which then births a higher wisdom and creativity.

The seventh chakra at the top of the head funnels unlimited spiritual energy in and draws energy up from the lower centers in the process we know as enlightenment. We do not pray; we are prayer. We are no longer doing, just being. We have become our Higher Self.[x]

A Word of Caution
This map of consciousness mediated through our energy body has been studied in great depth by ancient scholars and scientists in the East. There have been no easy translations yet to give Westerners a clear grasp of how Kundalini energy and the chakra system can work in our lives when we are so embedded in Western culture. Our best guide to all of this is our personal inner voice. As we travel our individual journeys, our inner life will become clearer and that subtle voice stronger. Read and learn from all available teachers and guides, but keep only the knowledge and information that rings true for you. Throw away the rest (see chapter 8).

Ego Inflation 
The experiencers with Kundalini symptoms who contacted Bruce Greyson and me often were scared, concerned, and wanted to know more. Some wanted to help with the research and occasionally claimed to be authorities. Some claimed that their Kundalini arousal had transformed them into gurus.

Probably the biggest problem at this early stage of understanding is ego inflation. Many who have read the Eastern literature identify strongly with the gurus. Eventually we pass through this stage, realizing that we are Westerners and that it's hard to translate these Eastern metaphors when our cultural roots are so completely different. Our reward for getting through ego inflation is humility, which is the solid foundation of a truly spiritual, healthy and whole human being. Some don't experience ego inflation and others get stuck in it.

Humilityis the willingness to continue learning our whole lives. Being humble is that state of being open to experiencing and learning about self, others and God.[xi] In this openness we are free to avoid the pitfalls of ego inflation and to connect with God again here in this reality. In this state of humility and second innocence, we can experience whatever comes.

Spiritual Bypass

If we try to ignore our pain and achieve the higher levels of our consciousness, something, usually our false self/negative ego or shadow self, will hold us back until we work through our particular unfinished business. Trying to bypass the work that needs to be done on our negative ego/shadow backfires. This is called spiritual bypass, premature transcendence or high-level denial.[xii] Spiritual bypass can be seen in any number of situations, from being born again in the fundamentalist sense, to focusing only on the Light, to becoming attached to a guru or technique. The consequences often are denial of the richness and healthy spontaneity of our inner life: trying to control oneself or others; all-or-nonethinking and behaving; feelings of fear, shame and confusion; high tolerance for inappropriate behavior; frustration, addictions and compulsions; and unnecessary pain and suffering.[xiii]

Recently I heard two glaring examples of spiritual bypass. First, a prison counselor complained of inmates who carried Bibles everywhere and refused rehabilitation because they had been so-called "born again." They are classic examples of high-level denial. Second, a family therapist had been treating a severely dysfunctional family in which the father was an alcoholic and sexual offender

He had molested all of his daughters and, as soon as that was revealed, claimed instant healing in a spiritual experience. He joined a fundamentalist church whose minister did the family a terrible disservice by supporting the "spiritual awakening" of this charming and persuasive talker, claiming the father no longer needed to feel guilt or remorse.

While at first glance these seem to be extreme examples, many of us know someone who has never done any inner work and is making everyone around them crazy with constant Bible quoting or by extolling some definitive path. When I see someone pushing an exclusive, restrictive system, I become cautious. Spiritual awakenings are universal, include everyone and exclude no one. They include all beliefs, are anti nothing, require no allegiance and embrace all.

About Barbara:

Barbara Harris Whitfield, RT, CMT is a researcher, therapist and author. She shares a private practice in Atlanta, with her husband Charles Whitfield, MD helping adults who were traumatized as children. She presents workshops on near-death experiences, thanatology (the study of death and dying), and spirituality. Find more about Barbara, her research and work as a therapist at:

[i] Including physicians Evon Kason, Bruce Greyson, Robert Turner and Lee Sannella.
[ii] From Energies of Transformation: A Guide to the Kundalini Process.
[iii] Bentov, Sannella, and Greyson 1992.
[iv] Ring and Rosing. "The Omega Project," The Journal of Near-Death Studies, 1990.
[v] Working with Kundalini energy and specifically by balancing the chakra system, alternative therapies suggested in this book can do more to alleviate these unwanted sensations than Western allopathic medicine has shown.
[vi] This information comes from an editorial I wrote for The Journal of Near-Death Studies (13:2, Winter 94) entitled "Kundalini and Healing in the West."
[vii] From a workshop and unpublished book by Gloria St. John, A Journey Throughout the Chakras. For further information see bibliography.
[viii] I caution against reading Kundalini literature during emotional turbulence because it can promote more energy flow, or awareness of energy flow into your body. Your false self and True Self struggle for control, and focusing on Kundalini energy, or using it to distract can lead to ego inflation. Stay grounded. The waters are rough enough without making them rougher for yourself.
[ix] From Gloria St. John's workshop.
[x] St. John. op. cit.
[xi] Whitfield, Spirituality and Recovery, 1985.
[xii] Whitfield, Co-Dependence, 1991. Small, Awakening in Time, 1991.
[xiii] This is a compilation of C. Whitfield's ideas.


Article: Near-Death Experiences and the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome

Near-Death Experiences 
and the 
Physio-Kundalini Syndrome
Bruce Greyson, MD

Abstract: Near-death experiences (NDEs), transcendental experiences on the threshold of death with profound implications for both patient care and religious belief, have been hypothesized to be related to a biological process known in the Eastern traditions as kundalini arousal. In a test of this proposed association between kundalini and NDEs, a sample of near-death experiencers acknowledged significantly more symptoms of a physio-kundalini syndrome than did comparison groups, including a sample of hospitalized psychiatric patients.
 Near-Death Experiences
            Near-death experiences (NDEs) are profound spiritual or mystical experiences that many people report as they approach or start to cross the threshold of death.[1] The contents and after-effects of NDEs suggest that they are more than just hallucinations.[2] The contents do not appear to be influenced by past religious beliefs, but do have a profound effect on religious or spiritual beliefs after the experience.[3] Near-death experiencers (NDErs) also report a consistent positive change in attitude toward the transition from life to death.[4]

            There is still no accepted scientific cause for NDEs. As complex a phenomenon as the near-death experience does not lend itself to a simplistic mechanistic explanation. Despite the psychological or physiological interpretations of the NDE proposed by some authors,[5] the experience is almost universally regarded by those who report it as spiritually authentic. This not necessarily paradoxical, as the measure of an experience’s authenticity is not the nature of its trigger, but rather its ability to promote authentic spiritual growth.[6] One of the most consistently documented features of the near-death experience is its profound range of after-effects, including decreased fear of death, decreased competitiveness, decreased interest in personal gain, and increased joy of life, altruism, and interest in spirituality.[7]

            Some investigators in the field of consciousness and near-death studies have suggested that the significance of the near-death experience may be its role as a catalyst for human evolution.[8] They view the reported mental, physical, and spiritual after-effects of NDEs as indications of an accelerated development in near-death experiencers of intuitive functioning on a different order, and as similar to changes traditionally reported by people awakening to a higher-order state of consciousness. But if evolution of consciousness implies the continuing biological evolution of humanity, then personality transformations should be accompanied by signs of biological transformation.

            In Eastern spiritual traditions, the biological mechanism of both individual enlightenment and evolution of the species toward higher consciousness is called kundalini, a potential force that once awakened can produce a variety of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual effects. The ancient yogic texts described a life energy present in all living beings called prana; corollary energies have been identified in many other cultures, such as huo and chi of Tibetan yogis, quaumaneq of Eskimo shamans, incendium amoris and photismos of Christian mystics, Henri Bergson’s élan vital, and the more recent terms “bioenergy,” “bioplasma,” and “orgone energy.” Kundalini was described as a normally dormant mechanism or organizing principle that could be activated or aroused under certain conditions, to strengthen or purify an individual’s prana, transforming its effects upon the individual. Comparable potential forces or organizing principles also have been described in other traditions, for example, as shakti, the Odic force, the Holy Spirit, the Pearl of Great Price, the Serpent Power, the Rod of Aaron, the Sacred Fire, Osiris, and the Sun Behind the Sun.[9]

            Kundalini has been held responsible for life itself, [10] the sexual drive, creativity, genius, longevity, and vigor,[11] and our evolution toward an ultimate, magnificent state of consciousness[12] The dormant kundalini is said to be situated at the base of the spine, and when aroused can travel upwards along the spinal cord to the brain, where it can stimulate a dormant chamber of the brain (the brahma randhra), leading to biological transformation and immensely expanded perception.[13]

Kundalini and Near-Death Experiences
            Eastern traditions have developed elaborate lifelong practices and lifestyles with the intent of awakening kundalini; this is, in fact, the implicit purpose of yoga.[14] However, the same ancient Eastern traditions have also recognized that when the brain is deprived of oxygen, kundalini as the life force in rare circumstances may actually rush to the brain in an effort to sustain life. In fact, one unorthodox yoga sect practices suffocation by tongue-swallowing in the hope that kundalini would rush to their brains and produce enlightenment,[15] a practice that may have a Western counterpart in la petite mort, in which a considerable number of adolescents die each year seeking orgasmic initiation by asphyxiation.[16]

            This theoretical arousal of kundalini by life-threatening crisis has traditionally been regarded by most Eastern philosophers as dangerous.[17] In Eastern traditions, kundalini would ideally be activated at the appropriate time by a guru who can properly guide the development of that energy. If awakened without proper guidance, as Kenneth Ring believes happens in a near-death experience,[18] kundalini can be raw, destructive power loosed on the individual’s body and psyche.

            Though the vocabulary of the kundalini hypothesis is foreign to Westerners, the process bears some resemblance to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. The process of kundalini awakening is essentially a spiritual one, outside the domain of science. However, its traditional roles as the vehicle of evolution, if guided, or of psychosomatic havoc, if spontaneous, should be accompanied by observable physical and psychological effects.

The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome
            Because Western medicine does not acknowledge the Eastern concept of kundalini or even the Westernized physio-kundalini model, symptoms of kundalini arousal are often diagnosed as physical and/or psychological problems that fit within the Western allopathic diagnostic categories. For example, the shaking, twisting and vibrating so well known to experiencers could be diagnosed as a neurological disorder. It is also hard to recognize the energy presence because it manifests itself in so many different patterns. Because its symptoms mimic so many disorders of the mind and body, even people familiar with the kundalini concept are unsure whether they are witnessing rising kundalini energy or disorders of the mind and body.  However, taking psychotropic medications to alleviate symptoms, on the assumption that these represent a psychiatric disorder, may disrupt the natural healing mechanism of kundalini activation.[19]

            Three decades ago, biomedical engineer Itzhak Bentov formulated a scientifically verifiable version of the kundalini concept, which he called the physio-kundalini hypothesis; psychiatrist and ophthalmologist Lee Sannella developed the physio-kundalini model further, collecting cases, experimenting with ways to help channel it, and outlining research strategies.[20]  While both scientists acknowledged that the physio-kundalini concept is less comprehensive than the classical kundalini model, they argued that its simplified, mechanistic description made it more accessible to scientific study.

The Study
            Following up on Kenneth Ring’s suggestion that NDEs can arouse kundalini, I measured features of NDEs and features of kundalini arousal in people who had had near-death experiences and in two comparison groups.  The participants in this research included 153 people who had had NDEs, 55 who had come close to death but did not have NDEs, and 133 people who had never come close to death.

            I gave all 321 participants the NDE scale to identify the presence of a near-death experience and quantify its depth.  The NDE Scale, with a range of 0 to 32, has high internal consistency and correlation with other measures of NDE, reliably differentiates near-death experiences from other reactions to a brush with death, and produces scores that do not change over decades.21   The 153 participants identified as NDErs had a mean score of 16.7 on the NDE scale, whereas the 55 participants classified as not having an NDE had a mean score of 2 on the NDE scale.  The third group of 113 participants had never come close to death.

            I analyzed responses of NDErs and control subjects on a nineteen-item questionnaire that I based on the Bentov-Sannella physio-kundalini model.22  This questionnaire includes motor “symptoms,” such as spontaneous body movements, strange posturing, breath changes, and the body getting locked in to certain positions; somatosensory symptoms, such as spontaneous tingling or vibrations, orgasmic sensations, progression of physical sensations up the legs and back and over the head, extreme heat or cold, pain that comes and goes abruptly; audiovisual symptoms, such as internal lights or colors that light up the body, internal voices, and internal whistling, hissing, or roaring noises; and psychological symptoms, such as sudden bliss or ecstasy for no reason, and speeding or slowing of thoughts; and expanding beyond the body and watching the body from a distance.

            As a group, near-death experiencers reported experiencing almost twice as many physio-kundalini items as did either people who had had close brushes with death but no NDEs, or people who had never come close to death.  As a check on whether the physio-kundalini questionnaire might be measuring nonspecific unusual experiences, I also analyzed the responses of a group of hospitalized psychiatric patients; they reported the same number of physic-kundalini items as did the non-NDEr comparison groups.

            There were two additional unexpected comparison groups in my studies, as shown below: people who claimed to have had NDEs but described experiences with virtually no typical NDE features; and people who denied having had NDEs but then went on to describe prototypical near-death experiences.  In their responses to the physio-kundalini questionnaire, the group that made unsupported claims of NDEs were comparable to the non-NDEr comparison group, while the group that undeservedly denied having NDEs were comparable to the group of NDErs.  In regard to kundalini arousal, then, having a near-death experience mattered, but thinking you had one didn’t.

Table: Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index

            Here is a breakdown of all the items on the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index in four categories of motor symptoms, somatosensory symptoms, audiovisual symptoms, and mental symptoms.  Three of the four motor physio-kundalini symptoms were acknowledged significantly more often by NDErs than by the two comparison groups:

Table: Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index: Motor Symptoms

            While some somatosensory physio-kundalini symptoms, such as spontaneous orgasmic sensations, ascending anatomic progression of sensations, and unexplained isolated temperature changes, are more commonly reported by NDErs than by the comparison groups, the differences were not statistically significant, possibly because they are either too infrequent in any group, as with temperature changes so extreme as to burn other people, or too common in all groups, as with spontaneous unexplained pains and tingling or vibratory sensations:
Table: Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index: Somatosensory Symptoms

            With the exception of unexplained internal noises, which were reported significantly more often by NDErs than participants in the comparison groups, audiovisual physio-kundalini symptoms were acknowledged either so commonly by all groups, as with internal voices, or so rarely, as with internal lights or colors, that differences between groups were not significant:

Table: Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index: Audiovisual Symptoms
         Finally, with regard to psychological physio-kundalini symptoms, sudden unexplained positive emotions, changes in thought processes for no apparent reason, and watching oneself from a distance or “witness consciousness” were reported significantly more often by NDErs than by either comparison group; whereas sudden unexplained negative emotions and the “greater body” experience were not reported with significantly different frequency by the different groups:

Table: Physio-Kundalini Syndrome Index: Psychological Symptoms
In summary, 10 of the 19 symptoms on the physio-kundalini syndrome index, most notably the motor and mental symptoms, were significantly more common among the NDErs than among the comparison groups: assuming strange positions, becoming locked into position, changes in breathing, spontaneous orgasmic sensations, ascending progression of sensations, unexplained heat or cold moving through the body, internal noises, sudden positive emotions for no reason, watching oneself as if from a distance, and unexplained changes in thought processes. These ten items then may be useful indicators of kundalini arousal.

            Also of note, among the 153 near-death experiencers, there was a significant positive correlation between NDE Scale score and number of physio-kundalini symptoms reported.  That is, those with deeper NDEs reported more physio-kundalini symptoms.

            Social psychologist Kenneth Ring and his student Christopher Rosing reported almost identical results in their Omega Project: near-death experiencers reported experiencing almost twice as many physio-kundalini items as did people who had close brushes with death, but no NDE, and people who had never come close to death.23

            Here then we have near-death experiencers reporting precisely the kind of physiological changes that are associated in Eastern traditions with the bioenergy that drives evolution.  From verbal reports of such evidence as patterns of physiological functioning and disease history, as well as physio-kundalini manifestations, we can identify which items best differentiate NDErs from comparison groups.

            The data from this study22 demonstrate that a number of physio-kundalini symptoms derived from classical descriptions of kundalini arousal are reported more often by NDErs than by comparison populations. This finding corroborates the anecdotal evidence of previous investigators that NDEs are associated with kundalini. It must be borne in mind that the physio-kundalini syndrome, this consistent pattern of physiological and psychological symptoms, is connected with the classical kundalini arousal of Eastern spiritual traditions only by theory and circumstantial evidence. A true measure of kundalini awakening, such as an enduring state of higher consciousness, is beyond our current ability to measure.

            Although in theory the physio-kundalini syndrome may imply spiritual evolution, in practice it often denotes a crisis requiring adjustment. While there has been little scientific literature on kundalini, there has been even less from a clinical perspective. What has been written by physicians and therapists suggests that common physio-kundalini symptoms and individuals’ responses to those symptoms are often mistaken for physical and mental illnesses, with tragic results.24  Given that the increasing frequency of near-death experiencers was estimated by a Gallup Poll more than a quarter century ago to be 5% of the adult American population,25 this study suggests that the physio-kundalini syndrome may be far more common in Western society than previously imagined.

            This documentation of the frequency of kundalini and of its association with events such as the near-death experience may foster greater awareness of kundalini among the scientific and medical professions. Studies of kundalini phenomena should be enlarged to encompass other populations at risk, such as combat veterans, heart transplant patients and those with terminal illnesses, and individuals following spiritual paths. Further research and dialogue among scientists and clinicians may help individuals experiencing kundalini arousal to cope with the psychophysiological rises and fulfill the promise of spiritual growth.

            Finally, based on those findings, it is possible that future work in this area could lead to vital new insights into the evolution of humanity toward a different order of consciousness, echoing a major theme in many books written about the near-death experience: that the importance of the near-death experience is not its association with death, but its implications for life.26
[1] Greyson, B. “Near-Death Experiences and Spirituality,” Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion, Vol. 41, No. 2, June 2006, 393-414.
[2] Kelly, E. W., Greyson, B., and Kelly, E. F., “Unusual Experiences Near Death and Related Phenomena,”  in Kelly, E. F., Kelly, E. W., Crabtree, A., Gauld, A., Grosso, M., and Greyson, B., Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, 367-421.
[3] Greyson, B., op. cit.
[4] Ring, K., Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
[5] Blackmore, S.J., Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences. Buffalo: Prometheus, 1993; Woerlee, G.M., Mortal Minds: The Biology of Near-Death Experience, Buffalo: Prometheus, 2005.
[6] Helminiak, D., “Neurology, Psychology, and Extraordinary Religious Experiences,” Journal of Religion and Health, 1984, Vol. 23, No. 1, March 1984, 33-46.
[7] Ring, K., op.cit.; Ring, K., and Valarino, E.E., Lessons From the Light: What We Can Learn From the Near-Death Experience. New York: Plenum/Insight, 1998.
[8] Grey, M., Return from Death: An Exploration of the Near-Death Experience. London: Arkana, 1985;  Grosso, M., The Final Choice: Playing the Survival Game. Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint Press, 1985; Ring, op.cit.
[9] Kason, Y., Bradford, M., Pond, P., and Greenwell, B., “Spiritual Emergence Syndrome and Kundalini Awakening: How Are They Related?” Proceedings of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research Annual Conference, 1992, 85-118; Kieffer, G., “Murphy’s ‘Impossible Dream’ of a Great Evolutionary Leap,” Ascent, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1992, 1-8; Murphy, M., The Future of the Human Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1992; Sannella, L., The Kundalini Experience: Psychosis or Transcendence? Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987.
[10] Krishna, G., The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
[11] _______, The Awakening of Kundalini, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975.
[12] _______, What is and What Is Not Higher Consciousness. New York: Julian Press, 1974.
[13] _______, The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius, op.cit.; Krishna, G., The Awakening of Kundalini, op.cit.
[14] _______, The Secret of Yoga. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
[15] Dippong, J., “Dawn of Perception: A True Rebirth,” Chimo, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1982, 31-37.
[16] Kieffer, G., “Kundalini and the Near-Death Experience,” Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 12, No. 3, Spring 1994, 159-176.
[17] Krishna, The Awakening of Kundalini, op.cit.
[18] Ring, K., Heading Toward Omega, op cit.
[19] Whitfield B.H., Spiritual Awakenings: Insights of the NDE and Other Doorways to our Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 1995.
[20] Bentov, I., Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1977; Sannella, L., The Kundalini Experience. Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987.
21 Greyson, B., “The Near-death Experience Scale: Construction, Reliability, and Validity,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol. 171, No. 6, June 1983, 369-375; Greyson, B., “Near-Death Encounters With and Without Near-Death Experiences: Comparative NDE Scale Profiles,” Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, Spring 1990, 151-161; Greyson, B., “Consistency of Near-Death Experience Accounts Over Two Decades: Are Reports Embellished Over Time?”, Resuscitation, Vol. 73, No. 3, June 2007, 407-411; Lange, R., Greyson, B., and Houran, J., “A Rasch Scaling Validation of a ‘Core’ Near-Death Experience,” British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 95, No. 2, May 2004, 161-177.
22 For data analysis, see Greyson, B., “Near-Death Experiences and the Physio-Kundalini Syndrome,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter 1993, 277-290; and Greyson, B., “The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome and Mental Illness,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1993, 43-58.
23 Ring, K., and Rosing, C., “The Omega Project: An Empirical Study of the NDE-Prone Personality,” Journal of Near-Death Studies, Vol. 8, No. 4, Summer 1990, 211-239.
24 Greenwell, op. cit.; Grey, op. cit.; Sannella, op. cit.
25Gallup, G,, Jr., with Proctor, W., Adventures in Immortality: A Look Beyond the Threshold of Death. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.
26 Whitfield, B., Full Circle: The Near-Death Experience and Beyond. New York: Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, 1990; Whitfield, B., Spiritual Awakenings: Insights of the NDE and Other Doorways to our Soul, op. cit.;  Whitfield, B., The Natural Soul. Pittsburgh: Sterling House, 2009; Ring, K., Heading Toward Omega, op. cit.; Grosso, M.,  op. cit; Grey, op. cit.  

Bruce Greyson, MD is Professor of Psychiatric Medicine,Carlson Professor of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences, Director, Division of Perceptual Studies Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at University of Virginia Health System

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