Kundalini: A Great Masquerader

© 1997, Dennis Gersten, M.D. Excerpted with permission from ARE YOU GETTING ENLIGHTENED OR LOSING YOUR MIND? A Spiritual Program for Mental Fitness (Harmony, a Division of Crown Books, May 1997) This excerpt may not be reprinted without written permission from Harmony Books.

Mark A., age 36, had a strange experience similar to those of some of the great saints, such as Gopi Krishna and Paramahansa Ramakrishna, and was referred to me by a psychologist who had been working with him. They had not had much progress in therapy so my colleague asked for my opinion. Mark was anxious, panicky and wondering if he were losing his mind. Although he had once been a very social person, full of love for just about everyone, he had become afraid to be around people and preferred just to stay home. He was a restaurant owner, married with two young children and couldn't afford to stay home. Mark was particularly afraid and upset about tremendous energy "surges" inside him. The energy was moving into his head and causing lots of pressure. The intensity of the energy made him shake at night, which made it harder for him to sleep.

These surges had started with a chi fast, a diet of Chinese herbal teas that are intended to increase chi, prana, or life-force energy. The fast worked and Mark began to have so much energy it frightened him. Although he had practiced kung fu for a decade, loved physical activity, and was very powerful physically, Mark began having a hard time with kung fu because it stirs up this energy so much that he just couldn't stand it.

Once all this energy was activated, it became harder for Mark to focus on his work in the restaurant. He "saw" energy streaming out of other people's heads and felt that people just looked different. "People look brighter and more defined." All of his senses were heightened. The world almost looked psychedelic to him. When he listened to music, he would break down and cry because he would start "merging" with the music. He didn't just listen to the music; he became the music. "Music sounds like it's from heaven," he said.

Mark seemed like a regular guy. He was very sweet and expressed a range of emotions and thoughts. Mark had a very angry, dominating father, however, who had put a lot of fear into him in his early years that had carried over into his adult life. When this new energy got stirred up, Mark's fear also became much greater. He was full of fear. He was afraid of this energy and afraid that the energy was making him more distant from his wife. He loved his wife dearly and was afraid of hurting her emotionally, or losing her and the children.

His medical doctor couldn't find anything wrong, but in order to be thorough, I asked Mark questions about his health and ordered some lab tests. I believed that Mark was suffering through a kundalini process but I had to make sure he didn't have a serious physical illness which could have accounted for the anxiety and energy surges.

I evaluated Mark's thyroid. If his thyroid gland had been hyperactive, it would have given Mark lots and lots of energy, and he'd probably feel euphoric as opposed to depressed. However, his thyroid tests were normal. And he didn't have the usual problems you see with hyperthyroidism, such as tremors, weight loss, or intolerance to heat, so I was able to rule that out as a cause of the energy surges.

Much less likely a possibility was a pheochromocytoma, a tumor usually associated with the adrenal gland. It produces either epinephrine or norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline. These are the hormones of the fight-or-flight response, so a person with a pheochromocytoma will have lots of energy, his heart may be racing, even pounding; and his palms will be sweating. He may be anxious or fearful. But Mark didn't have a pheochromocytoma.

Finally, I checked to see if Mark had a drug problem. Use of stimulants, such as amphetamines, could make Mark feel overly-energized. But he didn't use any drugs whatsoever - except for the ones I had prescribed to help calm him down, and he didn't drink a lot of coffee.

After I was confident that we were not dealing with a physical problem, I went through a process that all psychiatrists go through. I examined all the mental illnesses from which Mark might have been suffering.

At the top of my "diagnostic list" was mania. Mark had enormous energy, as does the manic person. But he lacked all the other key symptoms of mania. His thoughts didn't race. He was not staying up all night. He was not spending a lot of money, money that he didn't have. He wasn't traveling a lot. He wasn't on the phone constantly or writing letters to everybody he knew. He was not psychotic or paranoid and he hadn't lost touch with reality.

Although I had ruled out serious physical or mental illness as a cause of Mark's problem, I needed to carefully look at the possibility of an anxiety disorder, a condition much less severe than the other possibilities I had been considering. Mark had all the symptoms of social phobia. He had "A persistent, irrational fear of and compelling desire to avoid a situation in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others, and fears that he or she may act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing." (From DSM-III, the psychiatric guide to diagnosis).

I further had to consider that he had "Significant distress because of the disturbance and recognition by the individual that his or her fear is excessive or unreasonable." And his problem was "Not due to another mental disorder, such as Major Depression or Avoidant Personality Disorder."

Mark clearly met all the standard criteria for social phobia, but I was not satisfied that the diagnosis "social phobia" completely dealt with all of his problems, for it did not explain the energy surges and the paranormal phenomena. His main problem was a kundalini process, which did explain the paranormal phenomena, such as seeing light pouring out of people, and the altered states of consciousness, such as "merging with music." None of these spiritual experiences are caused by social phobia. Rather, the kundalini process was producing the social phobia.

Kundalini energy can act like a magnifying glass. Whatever emotional problems we have become exaggerated during a kundalini process, so the fear that had been part of Mark's personality since childhood became greatly magnified as did the issues with his father. The energy was so intense that he was afraid he was losing his mind.

I wanted to avoid using any medications that would wipe out the kundalini process. Because his suffering was so great, I did prescribe Xanax, a minor tranquilizer, for Mark to take when he was too anxious. When I was on vacation, Mark called the doctor covering for me and was started on low doses of Mellaril, a major tranquilizer. Mellaril really "snowed" Mark, so he used it only on rare occasions.

In therapy, I helped Mark identify his fears and work through the issues with his father. I also taught him breath techniques that helped bring the energy down when he felt it to be too intense or threatening. I also referred Mark to an acupuncturist who helped him gain more emotional control, and helped re-direct the overwhelming and often chaotic flow of the kundalini energy. The acupuncturist (who is a surgeon) confirmed the diagnosis of a kundalini process.

Mark kept wanting to return to the old Mark, the way he used to be. He had a hard time accepting that the kundalini energy wouldn't quickly disappear. Several things made the process easier for him. I taught him a technique to help him embrace fear, rather than run from it, and I led him through imagery techniques in which he pictured and felt the presence of God right next to him. This was a critical and important part of therapy. To go through the kundalini process without a clear spiritual focus is quite difficult. Mark imagined that God was with him through his suffering, guiding and protecting him. By making a deeper spiritual connection, through the imagery technique, Mark's fears diminished.

I directed Mark in some imagery and meditation exercises to let go of the energy surging within him, instead of trying to contain it. I asked him to "hold" God's hand and just let the energy flow out of his head. This imagery helped him feel much better.

Mark also responded particularly well to "mindfulness meditation," which helped him focus more on the moment, the here-and-now - to get into the moment of cutting the meat, rolling the tortillas, serving the customers in his restaurant - to experience the present, live the moment and not focus so much on the kundalini energy.

Through using these mental techniques, Mark became better able to allow the kundalini energy to unfold. Because he was able to bring a spiritual perspective to his problem, Mark has been able to get past the initial traditional medical diagnosis of social phobia and deal with the deep-seated emotional and psychological issues in his life. Had he accepted that first diagnosis and the usual medications prescribed for it, he would not have confronted and grown past his fears. Although this spiritual work of self-reflection and analysis is difficult and slow, Mark is glad that he is following this approach rather than medicating away his anxiety. Although he will never be the old Mark, he is becoming a better, happier person. He is regaining his equanimity, has begun to get closer to his family again, and is overcoming his fears. He is getting stronger, healthier, and happier as the kundalini process works itself out. When the kundalini energy has completely run its course, the probability is that Mark will be a transformed person, more full of love and peace than the old Mark.

The kundalini experience can be a one- or two-time altered state of consciousness or a process that unfolds over time, as it did with Gopi Krishna, Paramahansa Ramakrishna, and Mark A. Kundalini does pass. The uncomfortable symptoms do go away, and are replaced by qualities which had previously been missing, such as serenity, love, and forbearance.

Once the kundalini process has started, people should be encouraged to go through the process, look at the fear, allow the energy to flow, and move into higher states of consciousness. Once the experience has passed, one generally has an improved perspective on self, life, and spirit.

Here are some general guidelines for managing kundalini energy, once it has surged, or begun to stir:


Human value fostered by this guideline: Peace

1. Practice a one-minute-imagery ritual for anxiety four times a day.

2. Practice breathing deeply and slowly throughout the day. This will help stabilize your energy without stirring it up more. Practice the breath technique which lowers energy and is calming: inhale to the count of 4, hold your breath to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 8.

3. Avoid fasting.

4. Get plenty of rest. Avoid sleep deprivation. Fasting and sleep deprivation are likely to cause kundalini energy to surge even more.

5. Avoid any martial art that stirs up chi, prana, or energy.

6. Balance your energy with therapeutic touch, reiki, huna, acupuncture, or yoga. Make sure you find a good practitioner. Yoga postures can increase or decrease kundalini energy, so you'll want to find a yoga instructor who comes highly recommended.

7. Make dietary changes. If your diet has been "light vegetarian," consider adding cheese, other dairy products, then poultry, fish, and beef - in that order. Honey can also lower energy.

8. Find ways to "ground" the energy. Physical exercise, especially when one is in direct contact with the earth, is helpful. Gardening is a good way to "ground" the energy.

9. Use the following imagery technique to see where the energy may be obstructed:

Redirecting Obstructed Energy

Close your eyes and relax. Slowly become aware of the flow of energy within your body. The energy may be a powerful current. At other times, it may be almost imperceptible. The energy may seem to flow from toe to head, head to toe, or from the center on out.

Identify the flow of energy. Let's say, for example, that you feel energy moving from your toes up to your head. In your mind, follow the flow of energy. If you perceive any blockage in the energy, imagine that there is a door at that point. Open the door and explore the room that lies behind it. Make whatever adjustments that are necessary in order to allow the energy to flow through the room, and then allow it to continue on its upward course.

An infinite array of graphics may appear in the blocked rooms. People from the past, who have been our tormentors, often appear in the blocked rooms. Perhaps a room will be filled with memories. If you don't know how to handle the people, places, things, or symbols that appear in the blocked room, invite your chosen form of God to appear in that room with you. Ask God for advice as to how to deal with the obstruction.

10. Assume the attitude of "going with the flow." While you don't want to try to stir up kundalini, if it is stirred up, don't fight it. Rather, realize that the kundalini process is an incredible opportunity for transformation. See where the energy is blocked. Practice "surrender" in whatever way works for you, remembering that "surrendering" is an active process, and does not mean "giving up."

One of the great challenges of our time is to learn to distinguish genuine spiritual experience from mental illness. However, we most go further, not only diagnosing conditions such as kundalini, but also beginning to work with them in a helpful, healing way...

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