Year : 2023 | Volume
: 11 | Issue : 2 | Page : 79--84
Kundalini Shakti: The Psychobiological Arousal a Neuroscientific Perspective
Vinod D Deshmukh
Department of Neurology, University of Florida, Jacksonville Campus, Jacksonville, Florida, USA
prof. Vinod D Deshmukh
University of Florida, Jacksonville Campus, 3600, Rustic LN, Jacksonville 32217, Florida
Kundalini Shakti is an ancient Sanskrit word for the psychobiological energy or arousal. Kundalini means coiled up, spiral, circular, or cyclic. Shakti means energy or arousal. Both Indian and European authors have written extensively on this dormant energy and the seven energy circuits or chakras with their symbolic meanings. After reviewing the literature on Kundalini, and briefly summarizing the modern neuroscience of conscious arousal and awareness, it is hypothesized that the lower two Kundalini Chakras, Muladhara and Swadhisthana, are functionally related to the Medullary Reticular Formation; the middle two Chakras, Manipura and Anahata, are functionally related to the Pontine Reticular Formation, and the upper three Kundalini Chakras, Vishudhi, Ajna, and Sahasrara, are functionally related to the Midbrain Reticular Formation and its ascending-activating and descending-deactivating circuits including the Reticular-Limbic, and the Reticular-Thalamic-Cortical-Striatal circuits. In the final section, a brief review of the current literature on the relatively new scientific field of Neuro-Psychobiology and its recent development is provided. There are five major neural networks in the cerebral cortex. They are the Default Mode Network, the fronto-parietal Executive network, the cingulo-opercular salience network, and the Dorsal and Ventral Attention networks. The Salience network senses and appraises the present situation that an organism is facing, and makes an instantaneous decision whether to engage or disengage from the situation actively. Engagement occurs through the Fronto-Parietal network, and disengagement occurs through the Default Mode Network. The Ventral Attention network processes the object that is present, and the Dorsal Attention network maps the experiential space-time, where the object is in relation to the conscious observer, the witness, or the agent of action. Thus, the main function of the Brain-Mind-Self is to adapt to the ongoing self-situation. It is crucial for survival, growth, and flourishing.
|How to cite this article:|
Deshmukh VD. Kundalini Shakti: The Psychobiological Arousal a Neuroscientific Perspective.J Appl Conscious Stud 2023;11:79-84
|How to cite this URL:|
Deshmukh VD. Kundalini Shakti: The Psychobiological Arousal a Neuroscientific Perspective. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 9 ];11:79-84
Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2023/11/2/79/384456
Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning that which is circular, spiral, winding, cyclic, or coiled-up like a snake. It has been used as a symbol of the holistic life force, energy, or the psychobiological arousal. It is a complex multimodal arousal with four major forms or aspects namely, biochemical, bioelectric, biomechanical, and mental or psychological. These four arousal patterns work together as a unified, synchronous activity in almost every biological process in all living organisms and their environment.
Living organisms are considered as self-organizing systems with emergent functional properties including the subconscious and conscious mental activities and behaviors. Every living organism is embedded in its suitable environmental niche. A group of organisms forms a community, which is also embedded in its natural ecosystem.
The American Psychological Association's Dictionary of Psychology defines Psyche as the mind in its totality, as distinguished from the physical organism. The term also refers to the soul or the very essence of life and derives from Greek mythology, in which Psyche is the personification of the soul.
Psychology is defined as the study of mind and behavior. From the cognitive science perspective, it is an interdisciplinary study of the mind as an energy-information processor. It integrates contributions from at least six different disciplines namely psychology, neuroscience, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and computer science. The specific activity of a functional neural network in an individual has a meaning and a purpose for that individual. It contributes to the organism's fitness for life.
Psychic energy or arousal is the dynamic force behind all mental processes, in psychoanalytic theory. Arousal is defined as a state of alertness and readiness for action. A pervasive state of cortical responsiveness is believed to be associated with sensory stimulation and activation of fibers from the Reticular Activating System. It is also a physiological state of excitement and energy expenditure linked to an emotion.
Arousal is closely related to a person's appraisal of the significance of an event or the physical intensity of a stimulus. Arousal can either facilitate or debilitate one's performance. Arousal can lead to Awareness, Alertness, Attention, Affect, Action, Agency, and Awakening. I call them the “The Seven 'A's.” Optimal levels of major neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, histamine, orexin, glutamate, and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid are essential for calm and pristine alertness, attentiveness, and an optimal mental presence.
Psychobiology is a school of thought in the mental health professions, in which the individual is viewed as a holistic unit and both normal and abnormal behaviors are explained in terms of bio-psycho-social variables. Psychological Field is defined as the individual's Life Space or the environment as he or she perceives it at any given moment.
Kundalini Shakti is the psychobiological arousal, and the yogic paths to activate and optimize it, have been described in the Vedic-Upanishadic literature since the seventh to eighth century B. C. They are pre-Buddhistic words of wisdom and advice. Radhakrishnan translated the eighteen principal Upanishads (Radhakrishnan, 2004). Yoga Kundalini Upanishad is currently available (Vishnuswaroop, 2023). It belongs to the Krishna Yajurveda tradition.
Review of Literature on Kundalini Shakti
Many authors from India as well as from Western countries have written books about their understanding and interpretation of the Kundalini Shakti (Arthur, 1974; Gopi, 1994; Jung, 1996; Johari, 2000; Mookerjee, 1982; Rele, 1960; Saraswati, 1996; Satyananda, 1984; Tambe, 2007).
Rele emphasized the role of self-control over the autonomic nervous system. He correlated the Kundalini Chakras with the peripheral autonomic plexi. For instance, Muladhara chakra with the pelvic plexus; Swadhisthana chakra with the hypogastric plexus; Manipura chakra with the solar plexus; Anahata chakra with cardiac plexus; Vishudhi chakra with the pharyngeal plexus; Ajna chakra with the plexus of command; Manas chakra with the Thalamus; and Brahma chakra with the cerebrum. He thought that the two Nadis, Ida and Pingala, corresponded to the gangliated cords of the sympathetic nervous system on either side of the spinal cord. He described “Kundalini” as a lever, by which an individual realizes his oneness with the Absolute. The creative impetus, which emanates from the divine, is communicated through Kundalini, the ”Serpent Power” as it is called colloquially, to the six chakras or plexuses and their neural connections. (Rele, 1960).
Arthur Avalon in his book, translated and illustrated the six chakras in great detail based on the Sanskrit text of Shat-Chakra-Nirupana. The six chakras have a specific number of petals. For instance, Muladhara chakra has four petals; Swadhisthana chakra has six petals; Manipura chakra has ten petals; Anahata chakra has twelve petals; Vishuddhi chakra has 16 petals; Ajna chakra has two halves or hemispheres. In the translation of verses 10 and 11, there is an indication that “Kundalini maintains all the beings of the world by means of inspiration and expiration, and shines in the cavity of the root (Mula) Lotus like a chain of brilliant lights” (Arthur, 1974). This seems to point to the respiratory center in the Medulla Oblongata according to the current neuroscience.
Mookerjee created a highly illustrated book on Kundalini, the inner energy and its arousal. He makes an interesting point that the number of petals in each of the chakras indicates their vibrational frequencies. The frequencies of 4, 6, 10, 12, 16, 2, and 1000 are in the observed electroencephalographic range. They may correspond to the well-known delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma frequencies in human electroencephalogram (EEG). He described four levels of human speech sounds namely, Vaikhari, Madhyama, Pashyanti, and Para. “Kundalini is the origin of the primordial sound, hence Muladhara chakra has been called the 'the birthplace of all sounds.'” Kundalini is the Para or the perfect deep silence. According to current neuroscience, the Periaqueductal region of the Midbrain is the source of emotional sounds, songs, and voice generation for speech (Mookerjee, 1982).
Swami Satyananda Saraswati points to the neurophysiology of arousal through the reticular activating system. “The reticular formation and related areas have an inherent rhythm, which is responsible for our sleeping-waking cycle, but it is also largely activated by sensations from outside-by light, sound, and touch and from inside via the autonomic nervous system. It is the latter which seems to account for the more general arousal caused by the Kundalini practices and other powerful yoga practices such as kumbhaka or breath retention” (Satyananda, 1984).
Carl Jung gave four seminars on “The Psychology of Kundalini” to the Psychological Club in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1932. He interpreted the six Chakras from the psychoanalytic perspective. He looked at the Chakras as a psychobiological spectrum with Muladhar as the most concrete to Sahasrara as the most abstract. He also connected the Chakras to the natural elements namely, Muladhara with Earth, Swadhisthana with Water, Manipura with Fire, Anahata with Air, Vishudhi with Speech, Ajna with action-perception-action cycles, and Sahasrara with deliverance from the egoistic limitations and thus, realizing the realm of the formless and timeless nonego field. He called this process Individuation. He elaborated on it as follows:
”The process of individuation. Which begins with the self-serving itself as unique from the objects and the ego, It is as if consciousness separated from the objects and the ego and emigrated to the nonego-to the other center, to the foreign yet originally own. The detachment of consciousness is the freeing from the tamas (hypoactivity) and rajas (hyperactivity), a freeing from the passions and the entanglement with the realm of objects. It is a psychical experience of (self) deliverance.” (Jung, 1996).
Dr. Hauer explained the Anahata Nada as the spontaneous, verbal silence, motor stillness, and emotional serenity. “In the very center of the psychic organism, which is in the very center of the cosmic organism, there is a subconscious sound force that regulates life unconsciously, and one should realize the meaning of that sound power by meditation. It must come up into the conscious, and if one can let it work in consciousness, it becomes stronger” (Jung, 1996).
Johari and Tambe have provided colorful illustrations of the seven Chakras with detailed symbolic images and their meanings (Johari, 2000).
Shannahoff-Khalsa attributed the seven Chakras to more broad functional states and purposes. The first Chakra is concerned primarily with survival. The second Chakra is for sexual activity and reproduction. The third Chakra is the center of power, territory, and ego. The fourth Chakra is for compassion. The fifth Chakra is for creative communication. The sixth Chakra mediates the dual nature of life. The seventh Chakra is for pure thoughts and saintly intelligence (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2006).
Cultivating inner silence is the key to the development and optimization of the psychobiological arousal and a blissful presence. Here is a meaningful quote by Kapali Sastry based on Shri Aurobindo's writings (Salmon and Maslow, 2007).
”There is a background for everything. Every movement moves upon something. And that something is a Silence, which upholds everything including your own mental activity. All the thoughts and mental movements come and go, against a base that is ever stable. That is Silence… Suspend for a moment your thought activity and you will become conscious of this presence. Think of this Silence again and again and try to become aware of it. By a steady digging in this idea in your consciousness, this fact will become a reality for you-not merely for the mind but for the rest of the being. Into this Silence you must learn to relax yourself. Instead of trying to get at it, simply relax, call and let yourself lie in the folds of the Silence. That will slowly come over you and claim you.”
Kundalini Shakti: The Psychobiological Arousal: A Neuroscientific Explanation
The preferred term for behavioral energy in psychobiology is arousal. Behavior is what an organism does. Arousal is a nonspecific activation of an organism and it depends on complex physiological changes, especially in the brainstem Reticular Activating System.
Donald Pfaff defined arousal as Generalized arousal, which is higher in an animal or a human being who is: more alert to stimuli of any sort (Sensory), more motorically active (Motor), and more reactive emotionally (Emotional). It is the most fundamental force in the nervous system. The generalized arousal gets specified into specific arousal for sex, fear, hunger, thirst, and pain. “Arousal system is universal, natural, and permanent. It underlies the first responses to all stimuli and therefore influences everything that happens thereafter. The system is exciting to study because its phenomena occur fast and they are important for all aspects of human mental and emotional life” (Pfaff, 2006). Arousal may be followed by awareness, alertness, attention, affect, action, agency, and awakening. I call them the “The Seven 'A's.”
The Reticular Formation and the Limbic system are intimately involved in the generation and maintenance of conscious and subconscious mental arousal. The Reticular Formation is a diffuse central neural network that interconnects with both the spinal cord and the cerebral cortex. It receives and integrates the multisensory information from the whole body, which influences the ongoing level of arousal. The intensity of arousal defines the state of conscious awareness, responsiveness, and psycho-physical performance. The conscious arousal and the psychophysical performance have an inverted U-shaped curve relationship.
The Reticular Formation also has input–output connections through the 12 cranial nerves. The brainstem Reticular Formation contains several integrating neural networks for complex and automatic behaviors such as breathing, swallowing, coughing, eating, drinking, singing, and voicing. These behaviors are modulated by the limbic emotional system and the cortical cognitive and voluntary systems. The limbic system is involved in the regulation of autonomic, endocrine, and emotional behaviors. Further details can be found in the three well-known textbooks of Neuroscience Noback et al. (2015); Brodal (2004); Kandel (2013).
Although the Reticular Formation looks diffuse, nonspecific, and chaotic, its effector mechanisms can be highly specific and precise. Its main function is to adapt to the changing circumstances. They can be as varied as a change in blood pH, Oxygen or CO2 levels, or the amount of physical exertion one undertakes or anticipates to undertake from moment to moment Noback et al. (2015).
Anatomically, Reticular Formation can be divided into three major levels namely, Medullary, Pontine and Midbrain. Each of these levels is not only interconnected with each other, but also connected to the spinal cord, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex including the thalamo-cortico-striatal networks. Therefore, the Reticular Formation regulates the organism as a whole.
Reticular Formation integrates several complex functions including multisensory perception, movements, locomotion, monitoring, and responding to instantaneously changing situations, ascending and descending activating systems, voluntary and automatic control of posture and movements, control of respiration and circulation, coughing, sneezing, crying, laughing, genito-urinary activity, sexual activity, walking, phonation, voice and speech production, and even homeostasis at multiple levels of animal's life's self-organization.
Reticular formation seems to connect the bodily and mental processes of the organism as a whole. It can both arouse as well as calm down the nervous system and the mental activity through its complex electrochemical and biomechanical networks (Brodal, 2004; Kandel, 2013; Noback et al., 2015).
In brief, it is hypothesized that the lower two Kundalini Chakras, Muladhara and Swadhisthana, are functionally related to the Medullary Reticular Formation; the middle two Chakras, Manipura and Anahata, are functionally related to the Pontine Reticular Formation, and the upper three Kundalini Chakras, Vishuddhi, Ajna, and Sahasrara, are functionally related to the Midbrain Reticular Formation and its ascending and descending Reticular-Thalamic-Cortical-Striatal networks.
The New Field of Neuro-psychobiology
The relatively new scientific field of Neuro-Psychobiology has been advanced by a few selective neuroscientists Deshmukh, 2019; Deshmukh, 2021, Deshmukh, 2022; Deshmukh, 2023; Panksepp, 1998; Panksepp and Biven 2012; Kandel (2012); Buzsáki (2019); Solms (2021); Damasio (2021).
Jaak Panksepp led the way by publishing two landmark books, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions,” and “The Archeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions.” He proposed that the nonspecific conscious and subconscious arousal from the brainstem Reticular Activating System gets modulated into several primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions. The primary emotions with affective neural circuits include “Seeking, Lust, Care, Rage, Fear, Panic and Play.” The secondary emotions are mediated by the limbic and basal ganglia circuits, and they include “Empathy, Trust, Blame, Pride, Shame and Guilt.” The tertiary mental phenomena are mediated by the major neural networks in the cerebral cortex, which include “Distancing skills, Mindfulness, Containment, Mentalization, and the Names of Feelings” (Panksepp, 1998; Panksepp and Biven, 2012). Kandel elaborated on the biology of the beholder's emotional response to art. He described the brain structures and the circuits involved in the mirror neurons, attention, conscious and unconscious perceptions, creativity and knowing oneself (Kandel, 2012).
Buzsaki classified the neuro-biological oscillatory activities into frequencies ranging from 0.02 Hz to 600 Hz on a log scale with an e = 2.718-the base for natural logarithm (Buzsáki, 2019). He also recommended an Inside-Out approach to brain-mind function with a primacy of action and movement followed by sensory feedback and the next predictive action.
Mark Solms, in his book, “The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness,” emphasized the importance of the extended, Brainstem Reticular Activating system and its role in generating and maintaining conscious arousal, awareness, and mentation. To explain the subjective aspect of consciousness, the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness, Solms suggested that Science needs to discern the laws governing the mental function of “feeling.” He also provided an excellent summary of “Arousal and Information” in the appendix (Solms, 2021).
Antonio Damasio has published a lot in the field of psychobiology. In his latest book, “Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious,” he takes a very broad perspective on the evolutionary development of the human mind. In describing the three stages of human and life's evolution, he states, “The history of living organisms began four billion years ago and has taken several paths. In the branch of life history that led to us, I like to imagine three distinct and consecutive evolutionary stages. A first stage is hallmarked by being; a second is dominated by feeling; and a third is defined by knowing in a general sense of the term.” (Damasio, 2021).
Recently, I have published four articles, which hopefully will contribute to our understanding of psychobiology and the psychobiological arousal or Kundalini.
”One of the most exciting new ideas in the neuroscience of cognition is the concept of embodiment and embeddedness of living organisms in their environments. This perspective takes a middle ground of life or living organisms between the two extreme neuro-philosophical positions of realism (all-is-matter view) and idealism (all-is-mind view). A living organism's brain is embodied, and its body is embedded in living nature.” In the same article. I also alluded to the concept of an “Infinite Holistic Mind,” which has been expressed extensively in the Vedic-Upanishadic literature (Deshmukh, 2019).
Since there is a lot of confusion between the use of the terms consciousness and awareness, I proposed a clear distinction between the two. Consciousness is local with subject–object duality and experiential contents, whereas, Awareness is nonlocal and nondual with no specific enduring content (Deshmukh, 2022).
My other two articles are devoted to the subject of homeostatic bio-oscillations and their relationships with our actions, perceptions, memory, experiences, and behavior. In those articles, I had proposed that our objective and subjective experiences of self and surroundings are highly correlated with the underlying bio-oscillatory energy or activity and its patterns. “We are what we are now in existence. There is an intrinsic unity or wholeness in ourselves and the natural world that we are in. We are an integral part of existence. Nirvana, Samadhi, Turiya, and Transcendence are the actual states of self-actualization of this truth” (Deshmukh, 2021).
In my latest article (in print), it was hypothesized that there is a close correlation between the mindful meditation, dual consciousness, and nondual awareness with the sevenfold family of brain's EEG alpha rhythm, and its synchronization or desynchronization. The presence or absence of our mental activity depends on the presence or absence of alpha desynchronization. In deep silent meditation, there is a global synchrony of the family of alpha rhythms (Deshmukh, 2023).
There are five major neural networks in the cerebral cortex. They are the Default Mode Network, the fronto-parietal Executive network, the Cingulo-Opercular Salience network, and the Dorsal and Ventral Attention networks. The Salience network senses and appraises the present situation that an organism is facing, and makes an instantaneous decision whether to engage or disengage from the situation actively. Engagement occurs through the Fronto-Parietal network, and disengagement occurs through the Default Mode Network. The Ventral Attention network processes the object that is present, and the Dorsal Attention network maps the experiential space-time, where the object is in relation to the conscious observer, the witness, or the agent of action. Thus, the main function of the Brain-Mind-Self is to adapt to the ongoing self-situation. It is crucial for survival, growth, and flourishing.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
|1||Arthur, A. (1974). The Serpent Power being the Shat-Chakra Nirupana and Paduka Panchaka: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga. New York, USA: Dover Publications, Inc.|
|2||Buzsáki, G. (2019). The Brain from Inside Out. United States: Oxford University Press.|
|3||Brodal, P. (2004). The Central Nervous System: Structure and Function. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, USA.|
|4||Damasio, A. (2021). Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious. New York, NY. USA: Pantheon Books.|
|5||Deshmukh, V. D. (2019). The embodied brain, mind, and self: Neuroscience and intuitive wisdom. Journal of Alternative Medicine Research, 11(1), 27-43.|
|6||Deshmukh, V. D. (2021). Homeodynamic bio-oscillations and the conscious self. International Journal of Yoga-Philosophy, Psychology and Parapsychology, 9(2), 47.|
|7||Deshmukh, V. D. (2022). Consciousness, awareness, and presence: A neurobiological perspective. International Journal of Yoga, 15(2), 144.|
|8||Deshmukh, V. (2023). The electroencephalographic brainwave spectrum, mindful meditation, and awareness: Hypothesis. International Journal of Yoga, 16(1), 42.|
|9||Gopi, K. (1994). Three Perspectives on Kundalini. New Delhi: UBS Publishers Ltd.|
|10||Jung, C. G. (1996). The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.|
|11||Johari, H. (2000). Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation. United States: Inner Traditions/Bear.|
|12||Kandel, E. R. (2012). The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. United Kingdom: Random House Publishing Group.|
|13||Kandel, E. R. (2013). Principles of Neural Science. New York, USA: McGraw Hill.|
|14||Mookerjee, A. (1982). Kundalini: The Arousal of the Inner Energy. New York, USA: Destiny Books.|
|15||Noback CR, Strominger NL, Demarest RJ, Ruggiero DA. The Nervous System: Structure and Function, 6th Edition. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey, USA. 2015.|
|16||Panksepp J. Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 1998.|
|17||Panksepp, J., & Biven, L. (2012). The Archaeology of Mind: Neural Origins of Human Emotion. United Kingdom: W. W. Norton.|
|18||Pfaff, D. W. (2006). Brain Arousal and Information Theory: Neural and Genetic Mechanisms. United Kingdom: Harvard University Press.|
|19||Radhakrishnan, S. (2004). The Principal Upanishads. New Delhi, India: Harper Collins Publishers.|
|20||Rele, V. G. (1960). The Mysterious Kundalini: The physical basis of Kundalini Yoga in terms of Western Anatomy and Physiology. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Company.|
|21||Salmon, D., & Maslow, J. (2007). Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity. United Kingdom: Paragon House.|
|22||Saraswati, S. S. (1996). Kundalini Tantra. India: Bihar School of Yoga.|
|23||Shannahoff-Khalsa, D. (2006). Sacred Therapies: The Kundalini Yoga Meditation Handbook for Mental Health. United Kingdom: W. W. Norton & Company.|
|24||Solms, M. (2021). The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness. United Kingdom: W. W. Norton & Company.|
|25||Satyananda, S. (1984). Kundalini Tantra. Munger: Yoga Publications Trust.|
|26||Tambe, B. (2007). Chakra Sudarshan. Pune, Maharashtra, India: Balaji Tambe Foundation.|
|27||Vishnuswaroop, S. (2023). Yoga Kundalini Upanishad: Vedantic View on Kundalini Yoga: Divine Yoga Institute: Kathmandu, Nepal.|