Lots of people have been sharing first-hand reports of their personal experience of the so-called "Kundalini awakening". The following are a few illustrative anecdotes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, taken from YouTube and the subreddit on Kundalini.

Marjorie Woollacott, PhD and professor of Neuroscience and Human Physiology at the University of Oregon, has devoted part of her time to the research of the "Kundalini awakening" phenomenon. In her recent paper titled Investigation of the phenomenology, physiology and impact of spiritually transformative experiences - kundalini awakening (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32753262/), she makes the following claim:

The rationale for this study was that though there are many scientific articles published on stress reduction and increased mental function related to meditation, yoga and other tools that come from spiritual traditions, peer-reviewed research on energetic or kundalini awakenings is rare. This may be due to the phenomenology of this awakening, which does not easily fit into the current materialist scientific paradigm. Nor is it easily amenable to traditional means of scientific experimentation and measurement.

To understand why Woollacott claims this, let's look at the typical symptoms of the "Kundalini awakening" syndrome.

The most frequent and distinctive one appears to be the feeling of an "energy" or "electric current" moving up the spine toward the crown of the head. Here is a quote about this from Woollacott's paper:

Energetic awakenings are often accompanied by physiological experiences. Historical texts [6,7] and modern research [22] concur that as part of the awakening and transformative process, many individuals feel energy moving up the spine toward the crown of the head, or centered in the heart. This is frequently associated with inner sounds or an experience of radiant light, a sense of joy, or a sense of deep interconnectedness with others.

The Wikipedia article on Kundalini seconds this:

The Kuṇḍalinī experience is frequently reported to be a distinct feeling of electric current running along the spine.[8][9][10]

Other symptoms and results of the "Kundalini awakening" syndrome are summarized in the following tables and figures from the paper:


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Other people holding reputable credentials who acknowledge the "Kundalini awakening" as a real phenomenon are Bonnie Greenwell (PhD) and Lawrence Edwards (PhD). Here are a couple of interviews with them: 1, 2.

Also, here is an interview Marjorie Woollacott gave to Jeffrey Mishlove, in which they discuss different aspects of the Kundalini awakening and the main conclusions of Woollacott's paper.

Bonnie Greenwell wrote a PhD dissertation titled "KUNDALINI: A STUDY OF EASTERN AND WESTERN PERSPECTIVES AND EXPERIENCES AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR TRANSPERSONAL PSYCHOTHERAPISTS" (available here). She describes the phenomenon as follows:

This dissertation explores in depth the experience of kundalini awakening, a complex spiritual, psychic and physiological phenomenon which may occur in individuals spontaneously or as a result of certain spiritual practices or therapeutic processes, and discusses theories and methods which may be useful to transpersonal psychotherapists who have clients involved in this experience. People are commonly misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated by therapists and physicians when having this experience.

The dissertation identifies seven major ways in which kundalini phenomena is manifest, usually over a period of years---samadhi experiences; pranic activity which includes a wide range of body movements, vibrations, and temperature changes; spontaneous production of yogic postures or hand movements, yogic breaths, mantras or other sounds and symbols; sudden apparent physical illnesses, pains and eating difficulties; emotional upheavals, often accompanied by fear of death or insanity; seeing visions or hearing inner voices and sounds; and acquiring of psychic abilities or other occult powers.

The study reviews classical yogic literature on kundalini, and presents facts and commentaries on 23 case histories, 14 from Eastern and Western literature and 9 obtained from in-depth interviews with Western people who appeared to experience kundalini awakening.

QUESTION: What is a scientific explanation for the symptoms of the "Kundalini awakening" syndrome, such as the feeling of an "energy" moving up along the spine, vibrations, electric currents, heat, euphoria / bliss, spontaneous yogic postures, among others?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I am not the downvoter, but I fear that even with well sourced questions, the research you study is going to attract a lot of downvotes in a scientific stack like this. Pretty much most of the "spirit realm" is considered pseudoscientific. There may be real phenomena which cannot be explained by science as of yet, but the hard scientific minds of some here will dismiss any possibility of it being real until it is able to be observed scientifically. As Kundalini has its roots in Hinduism, maybe Hinduism.SE is the best site for this question? $\endgroup$ Nov 7 '20 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ Having said that, looking into the issue, questions under the tag spirituality are on-topic as the tag is for questions relating to spirituality within the fields of Cognitive Science of Religion and Neurotheology/Spiritual Neuroscience $\endgroup$ Nov 7 '20 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds a bit like non-epileptic pseudo seizures (PNES). $\endgroup$ Dec 2 '20 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure that some of these sensations like vibrations, euphoria / bliss are the same ones experienced by meditators attaining altered states of consciousness (Jhanas in Buddhist terminology). Here is some info on what happens in the brain during such experiences hindawi.com/journals/np/2013/653572 BTW, I'm also surprised why is this question being downvoted. $\endgroup$ Dec 25 '20 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ Here a study behind the light visions ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879457 $\endgroup$ Dec 25 '20 at 9:01

As suggested by @TonyMobbs in the comments (thanks for the idea!), I sent an email to Bonnie Greenwell via this form. Surprisingly, I received a very prompt reply:

Dear SRI,

There is no comprehensive science at this time of kundalini activation in the west, although an ancient science exists in India and the study of QiGong in China also has comprehensive understanding of energy in the body. Joan Harrigan Ph.D., a psychologist and yogi, has written a book called Kundalini Vidya (available on amazon) that explains in great detail a yogic science gained from a yogic master in India. Dr. Vasant Lad who has a school of Ayurveda medicine also has a yogic medical perspective of kundalini. I am not familiar with all the science of Qigong, but kundalini is called the Qigong Crisis in that tradition. Modern research in kundalini is primarily the collected experiences of thousands who have experienced it, and the fact that the experience does not fit any known medical model that would account for the symptoms. My book "The Kundalini Guide" describes some of these phenomena and Dr. Yvonne Kason's new book "Touched by the Light" describes this and many other kinds of spiritual emergence. Dr. Stan Grof has written at length about spiritual emergence, including kundalini. His wife Christina wrote a biography of her own experience with it. My doctoral research included many biographies describing similar experiences and my subsequent book "Energies of Transformation: A Guide to the Kundalini Process," published in 1990, has an extensive bibliography. There has not traditionally been respect in western medicine for eastern perspectives based on thousands of years of practice and observation, and even though a person in a kundalini process demonstrates great releases of energy there is no western scientific measurement as far as I know to validate this or determine its source. Dr. Andrew Newberg has done neurological research with people who report the shifts of consciousness that can occur in or following kundalini activation, and you can find his research through his website. An organization that has studied energy in the USA is ISSSEAM although I do not know if they specifically call it kundalini, but rather bioenergy. You can see this is a vast subject without a definitive western model to explain it at this time. A man named JJ Semple has started a Kundalini Consortium and has written about kundalini extensively from a Qigong point of view, after awakening his energy years ago doing Qigong practice. He is hoping to establish research using these techniques with students. You can listen to him on youtube. I hope this gives you an entry into the research needed to explore your question, even if it offers no definitive conclusion acceptable to western medicine at this time. Dr. Harrigan's book is the best one I know of that offers a model for this experience.

Blessings, Bonnie

  • $\begingroup$ To whoever downvoted this: would you mind suggesting improvements? Or even better, teach us the way by posting your own answer ;-) $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ Perplexing! It is a fallacy to talk about Eastern v Western science. Science is universal, that is, it applies equally everywhere. My skepticism has increased further ... if that was possible. PS, I'm not the downvoter. $\endgroup$
    – Tony Mobbs
    Jan 3 at 19:43

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