VOLUME 7 ISSUE 2 FALL 2021

S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 7 - 2 Fa l l 2 0 2 1 1 9 Mark Westmoquette 4.2 Kundalinī Qi Let’s turn our attention to what might be happening when we experience convulsive movements in the spine – often together with feelings of electrical shocks and/or waves of pleasure. In yoga, this is called Kundalinī (Sivananda 1991) – the rising of the snake-like coiled up potential energy that’s seen to reside at the base of the spine. In another yogic metaphor, it’s the energy of the earth or feminine rising up to meet the energy of the heaven or masculine (Narayanananda 1960; Sivananda 1991). In Zen, this rising energy is called sho-ten-ki –“heavenly piercing energy”. Since our nervous system is based entirely on electrical im- pulses generated and triggered by our cells, it’s not a huge leap to think that the body could produce large-scale align- ments or patterns of electromagnetic energy that could be felt as tactile sensations. In my mind, it seems reasonable to see these electric shock-like convulsions as arising when the body-wide electric field comes into some sort of phase correlation or resonance. In physics, phase correlation means there is a relationship between the phases of different waves (even if they aren’t precisely in phase), and the level of that correlation is described by the coherence. A so-called state of “coherence” occurs when two wave sources take on identical frequency and waveform. Having said this, various teachers through the years have also told me that these convulsions arise only because the energy pathways in the body aren’t yet clear enough of ob- structions or blockages to handle that level of power. The idea is that as energy courses through our channels, it will bounce off these blockages and cause the jerky movements. At first reading, this sounds very unscientific and metaphori - cal. What kind of energy do they mean, which pathways is it traveling in, and what are these so-called blockages? Starting from a purely empirical point-of-view, my experience would support this explanation – even without understand - ing what’s happening. As my practice has progressed, those jerky convulsions have reduced and now hardly ever hap- pen – even though I still feel the waves of pleasure. My body, it seems, has adapted to be able to handle the increased flow of energy. To understand what might be happening, let’s explore what we mean by yoga and meditation practice and what pro- gresses. Yoga and meditation are about encountering our- selves, either through movement or stillness, and doing our best to allow whatever is noticed to be acknowledged and let go of as we settle into the present-moment reality of things. The stuck parts of ourselves (i.e. , the blockages) can occur on the physical, emotional or psychological levels, and can impede the movement of all types of energy: blocked ar- teries impede the movement of blood; a tight lower back re - stricts our posture; a desire to stop feeling grief and sadness takes us away from the reality of how things are; a strong be - lief that Qi doesn’t exist closes our mind to new possibilities; and a fear of commitment might hold us back from forming deep relationships. These are all blockages to different forms of energy. Through our practice of exploration, acknowledg- ment and welcoming encouragement, these different kinds of blockages gradually unwind, unbind, and free up. We get more physically flexible, aligned, and coordinated, less blown around by emotions and less caught up in the dramas of our own self-centered preoccupations. In one Zen metaphor, we unfreeze and start flowing more naturally. If it’s true that certain practices can bring the body-wide electromagnetic field into some sort of coherence, and then we have blockages in the system, then it’s no wonder that a physical reaction happens (as in convulsions or jiggles). From my limited experience, I get the sense there’s a wide diversity in the types of reactions people experience to this kind of energy, depending on the types and strengths of blockages they have.

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