A Collection of Articles on Kundalini
Maturation of the Ensouled Body: Kundalini Yoga and the Far Reaches of Human Development
Excerpt from Words From the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality and Psychotherapeutic Narrative (pgs. 141-143) by Stuart Sovatsky
Thus far our soul psychotherapy has drawn from universal spiritual principles of gratitude, forgiveness, poignant impermanence, and the like, while remaining largely within the precincts of conventional developmental theory. In this chapter I broaden our scope more toward the body by delving into the farther reaches of human development as is becoming known in the West under the heading of kundalini ("coiled Creatress," "human ultimacy in potentia" emanating from the spine's sacral base) yoga.
What we will find is a well-mapped developmental continuum beginning with the most ordinary of the soteriological sentiments and then accelerating into degrees of awe and gratitude which mature the ensouled body to an untold depth. And, it will be in the context of this unaccounted-for bodily depth that the entire range of human functioning-normal, psychotic, or saintly can be seen as an ongoing spiritual development.
We will be considering developmental phenomena at the nexus of soma and soul associated with kundalini "awakening" largely unknown to conventional psychology or Western religions (yet echoing there too) and little discussed, except in the most esoteric interpretations of yogic praxis and texts. We look to this yoga because its energetics have nourished human hopefulness for at least five thousand years, since the hoary origins of shamanism. And, as we shall see, kundalini yoga sheds a most interesting light on our topics of temporality, the constraints of narrative truth, and spiritually informed psychotherapy and psychopathology, so-called spiritual emergence.
That thousands of bodily postures, expressive movements and utterances, characterological cultivations, breathing patterns, and degrees of concentration could constitute a "spirituality" clearly leaves kundalini yoga and its cognates (e.g., taoist yoga and sacred dance) unique among spiritual traditions. Yes, various traditions speak of the body as the temple of the soul and that the "kingdom is within." But yoga goes on to assert how the body's very movements, sensations, and breath can become deeper and deeper prayers within this temple. As prayer, as hungers to know the eternal, the ensouled body stretches in numerous ways and comes to embody perhaps the greatest of all human hopes.
Thus, kundalini yoga, as do the origins of Christianity, reminds us that truth is an incarnation, a logos become flesh, and not a text. It is just that in kundalini yoga (particularly in the subdivision of hatha yoga), more attention has been devoted to the nerve, gland, and cellular level of such physical-spiritual aphorisms. According to this yoga, the body bows itself into greater maturation in eighty-four thousand movements, none of which should be considered mere stretching exercises.
The vastness of our subject, however, must not obscure how nearby-as close as certain inmost sensations-the beginning of the path of yoga is. Certainly, whenever great admiration, reverence, contrition, forgiveness, or the poignancy of discerned impermanence (the yamas and niyamas, the yogic correlates to the soteriological sentiments) course through us, some measure of this soul-embodying maturation quickens, giving our character spiritual-physical "backbone," giving our awareness a greater feel for things.
But how much further this quickening fructifies throughout the body via the neuroendocrinal maturations of bodily poses and "delight gestures" (asanas and mudras), the vital spiritus spark (breath cultivations of pranayama), and the mind (maturations of attentiveness of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi stages of meditation) is the unique concern of this yoga. And this further developmental expanse proves to be both consistent with and radically transformative of conventional psychological theories.
For, via adult developmental processes described in this yoga and almost grasped, yet with obvious condescension, in Freud's notion of "sublimation," spiritually matured identities can become as embodied, challenging, and empowering as teenaged puberty is for the twelve to eighteen year old. Thus, I am proposing that kundalini yoga (and its cross-tradition similars), traces a series of endogenous, overlapping (for growth does not emerge in discrete stages, thus many a rub), developmental maturations that each deserve to be termed an "awakening," the shivering spinal quickening merely being the first to enter Western parlance. Indeed, in their practical and metaphoric associations with sexual transformations via the range of tantric ("spirit-matter weaving" that minces differences and thus deals with many a rub), bhakti ("ecstatic devotion," whose soteriological warmth loves one through the rubs), and other psychophysical manifestations, I am willing to go substantially further in bringing these profundities into more words.
Given the radical degree of change in identity sense, and newly emergent body/mind arousals and internal secretions consequent to kundalini awakening, we must consider whether we are encountering what deserves to be termed not merely awakenings, but full-fledged puberties, unaccounted-for postgenital puberties. For such are the constituent transformations of the body and psyche that define the maturations of a puberty-any puberty-and far exceeding what the less comprehensive term awakening entails.
And as we shall see, viewing yogic awakenings as puberties helps resolve various dilemmas in transpersonal developmental theory, particularly regarding the relationships between sexuality and spirituality, and between the ego (what Freud explicitly called the "genital primacy" ego) and the Self (or Buddhist no-self or soteriological soul). For, in the long and challenging "prepubescence" that follows genital puberty, and particularly in midlife-with its wonderments about a true identity and any purpose to life beyond personal survival, wealth, and sexual pleasure-spirituality deepens or, for some, is born for the first time. Thus, the concerns of the adolescent of sex, career, affiliation, and identity are often replicated at another level of sophistication, from midlife on.
Simply stated, my perspective is that all manner of religions, spiritualities, shamanisms, and mystical paths constitute the splendorous phenomenology of unnamed-as-such postgenital puberties and the long, daunting arc of their prepubescences. The view of spirituality as the emergence of historical saints or saviors and their teachings must be put into this bodily developmental context, if we are to get beneath the diversity of sectarian "faiths" to some ontologically common transpersonal and body-inclusive ground.