Branded by the Spirit

Chapter 4

SPIRIT DANCE

Thou art the mysterious Electricity of my body, moving the intricate mechanism of flesh, bones, muscles, and nerves. Thy life force is present in my every breath and heartbeat. O Sole Doer in Man and the Universe! may I realize that all power is divine and flows only from Thee. -- Yogananda

Since my Kundalini became activated, I've been living with energetic manifestations twenty-four hours a day. The most constant of these varied symptoms are the kriyas. Kriya is a Sanskrit word that means "action." In the context of the risen Kundalini, kriyas refers to involuntary movements, which result from increased life force -- pranic energy -- in the body. Those who meditate or do yoga, Chi Gong, or similar practices may also experience kriyas during their practice.

The energetic force behind these spontaneous movements is an awesome thing, particularly in the early stages, before one becomes accustomed to being co-inhabited, so to speak. One quite literally feels an overpowering presence that takes command of the nervous system, unexpectedly flinging up an arm or sending the whole body into paroxysms. While these involuntary movements are often most pronounced when the body is resting or when we are drifting into sleep, kriyas are different from what sleep researchers call a "myoclonic jerk" in which the body jumps and awakens us on the brink of sleep. The myoclonic jerk is usually accompanied by a sudden sensation of falling. (Some psychics say this is a reaction to the astral body separating from the physical in preparation for dream travel.)

I've had people tell me that their meditation or yoga teacher doesn't like the automatic movements their arms and body make during practice. Health instructors and spiritual advisors who lack personal experience with the Kundalini process do not understand that these manifestations are often a very positive sign of inner healing and spiritual progress. While some gurus and spiritual teachers strongly recommend surrendering to kriyas, others, like Jack Kornfield and Yogi Bhajan (and, oddly, some devotees of Kriya Yoga) advise suppression of these spontaneous movements.

I believe it is extremely important to honor our own development and not allow others who claim authority to tyrannize us. When the Kundalini is very active, it is nigh impossible to meditate and repress the bodily movements that are triggered by inwardly accelerated energies. I found that any attempt to resist my kriyas simply increased the tension and discomfort in my body. Besides, the strongest kriyas often occur during sleep. Short of keeping all night vigils, which I cannot imagine being healthy, I do not know how one could guard against these.

Kundalini's inner force may inexplicably bend and twist the torso into extreme and weird positions. The natural reaction to such a foreign internal take-over is resistance. Trying to fight an invisible, unknown power for never-before-contested rights of sovereignty over our own anatomy can become a terrifying battle. What changes our predicament, from one of being locked into combat with alien forces, to one of a peaceful witnessing of wonders is our surrender to the apparent whims of this newly assigned central-control operator. We can allow our bodies to sway like palm trees in the blustering winds of Kundalini. Understanding that these non-volitional movements are serving a biological and spiritual purpose does much to release our fear.

What causes kriyas? Most of the literature I've read says that when the prana -- i.e., life-force energy -- is increased in the body, it's crudely analogous to water pressure being increased in a hose. If the pressure is radically increased and the hose is narrow, the force of the water will make the hose whip around furiously. In order for spiritual energy to flow smoothly through our systems, we need to be enlarged and unobstructed. This expansion and clearing takes place on many levels: physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally. The activated Kundalini produces kriyas when it comes up against inner blockage. This blockage may be in the form of stored physical or emotional trauma, limiting beliefs and attitudes, or psychic debris from collective toxins, past lives, astral dimensions, etc.

The externally evident kriyas, visible as uncontrolled movements of the body, signify a great inner healing process. It's unnecessary for us to be consciously aware of the exact nature of our blockages. As the Shakti engages these blockages, it works to dissolve them. While this dissolution is occurring, a flurry of previously frozen, unconscious material becomes available to us. This may arise as thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions. At this stage, we often feel physically sick and emotionally unstable. Without warning or apparent provocation, we plunge into fits of rage or chasms of grief or despair. These erratic and overwhelming feelings are simply ancient energies, which were locked within us. As the Shakti empties us of these trapped energies, we temporarily relive them. This also happens on the physical level. Old injuries and illnesses are temporarily reexperienced. Although it can be painful and difficult to tolerate these physical and emotional states, they are not harmful. To the contrary, they are signs of deep, forgotten, festering wounds, which are at last being opened, drained, and fully healed.

However, it must be said that the unconscious contents, which flood awareness when Kundalini is aroused can be dangerous if they are willfully repressed or denied. Charles Breaux warns that when this happens, the spiritual energy "may become trapped or its circulation distorted in the channels of the subtle bodies. Severe physical or psychological imbalances could then occur."

Some of the Kundalini texts refer to inner blockages as "resistance." Unfortunately, this word has been misinterpreted to mean that kriyas occur if one has a resentful or resistant attitude toward the transformational process. Some "experts" insist that those who maintain a positive attitude toward their Kundalini awakening have very few and mild kriyas. From my own case, I feel this to be untrue. As I have already said, since I became aware that I was having a Kundalini awakening, I have accepted this process as a great gift. I can't imagine how I could have been more surrendered to it than I have been.

For me, the kriyas began with a palsy-like shaking motion of my head. At the time, I didn't realize I was having a Kundalini awakening and this uncontrollable movement worried me. I thought it might indicate a serious neurological problem, although the many medical tests I'd had in the previous weeks revealed no abnormalities. I was also experiencing little muscle twitches all over my body. These were painless but worrisome to me. They occurred sporadically throughout the day and night. Shortly after this development, the twitches progressed to outright muscle contractions. These were deep and achy. For a while, they occurred randomly, mostly in my arms and legs. Then they took over my entire body. As this progressed, I was pulled into an ever intensifying state of exalted consciousness.

Next came the most wild of the kriyas. They continued day and night, but were most vigorous when I was lying down at rest. I hardly slept at all during this period. My body would jerk around in radical, spasmodic movements. These often involved very specific muscle groups, such as those in my feet, hands, stomach, back and so forth. The kriyas would involve only one of these bodily areas at a time. It felt as if I were being intensely rolfed by an invisible force. The soles of my feet would tighten and my toes clenched and relaxed over and over. Then the energy would move into my ankles, flexing my feet up and down for long periods of time. Later it would reach into my calves, rigorously kneading and contracting the muscles there.

After some days of this, the "calisthenics" began. The joints of my body were more pinpointed in this phase. My limbs would begin to twist and turn in wrenching, repetitive movements that at times were so violent it felt as if the joints were being dislocated. As these kriyas continued, my body seemed to be slowly loosening up and each phase was less painful than the preceding one. I entered a period of "piano exercises" in which my fingers would one at a time bend and straighten, very rapidly and rhythmically. Sometimes each finger would flex a set number of times -- one-two-three-four -- before the next would begin to move. These movements were far more rapid and agile than anything I could have done intentionally.

The movements progressed into my limbs: my arms would fly up and down in a fast and rhythmic motion. My legs would kick up and down in the same way. These movements were hard and martial, as if I were practicing military marching while lying in bed. With my body going through these gymnastics, I felt like a marionette whose strings were being controlled by a hyperactive child. By this time, the only discomfort I was feeling from the kriyas was a moderate electric shock that preceded each physical movement. (Eventually, the shocks came less often, though I could usually feel a telltale tension in my body -- similar to the way it feels before a sneeze -- when a Kriya was coming.) Also, the longs bouts of kicking and arm flailing (which would sometimes continue unabated for hours) were tiring to my body and made my muscles ache.

When the muscles of my back became involved, I would be abruptly arched forward and back, so that I bounced on the bed. If I was standing or sitting, these movements were like greatly exaggerated hiccups. No part of my anatomy was spared in these strange exercises. My head would go through its own workout, twisting sharply left and right, or vigorously nodding forward and back. These movements were so swift they made me dizzy, and so powerful that I feared my neck would snap. My facial muscles moved also. My jaw would "lock" or slide back and forth; my nose would wriggle like a rabbit's; my face would contort into weird expressions. My scalp muscles moved too. My forehead would crease up, then stretch so tight I thought the skin would rip.

The most frightening of all these movements were in my eyes. They would roll around furiously, feeling as if they would burst out of their sockets. Sometimes the movements were rapidly back and forth. Or my eyes would rotate cross-eyed, or up into my head so I couldn't see. (Much later I learned that the cross-eyed gaze is one of the most highly regarded practices in yoga, called the shambhavi mudra. It is considered to be a powerful technique for awakening the ajna chakra -- the "third eye.")

These severe eye movements were painful. I could feel and hear tissue popping and tearing around my eyeballs when these sessions occurred. I had read that such violent eye kriyas sometimes caused temporary blindness. This was less than reassuring, although at the time, I was so awed by what was transpiring within me that I was not unduly concerned. Luckily, I suffered no visual damage during this period.

After about two months of this, the mudras began. Mudras are sacred bodily movements -- usually of the hands, fingers or arms -- described in some yogic texts. They can be seen in classic statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities. They are also the basis for hand movements in ancient dances such as temple dancing, belly dancing and the hula. Author Walt Anderson has accurately noted that "A mudra is understood to be functionally related to a certain state of consciousness; the cause-and-effect sequence is not clear, so it would not be exactly right to say that it either expresses a state or creates it; it is a sign that that state exists." During the period of her spontaneous visions, while she apparently had no concept of mudras, Janet Adler said she frequently experienced such finger movements: "They are very specific, each finger placed in exact relationship to the other fingers. Sometimes both hands move identically in this regard."

For me, the mudras began with significant finger movements. My thumb would be drawn flat across the palm of my hand, or extended outward at a right angle from my palm. Each finger would be pressed and held down at certain points on the palm. I would often feel corresponding sensations in my body when these points were pressed. Whenever the thumb pushed at the base of the ring finger, there was a simultaneous, ecstatic little ripple in my chest. I called these sensations "heart orgasms" and was sure this mudra had a positive effect on the heart chakra. (The Egyptians apparently had this experience also; they believed that a love pathway traced directly from the fourth finger to the heart.)

The most frequent mudra I experienced was my thumb and index finger of the same hand being drawn together as if by a powerful magnet. I would actually feel a streaming electrical current flowing through this mysterious circuit. It seemed to be regulating and balancing the energy in my body. This specific mudra often would be held for a long time, once over sixteen hours straight. Although I didn't know it then, I have since learned that the index finger is symbolic of the individual soul (jivatma) and the thumb represents the Supreme Being (paramatma). Hiroshi Motoyama, a scientist, religious scholar, and luminary in both the Shinto and Yoga traditions says that this position of the finger and thumb "symbolizes the ultimate goal of yoga -- the union of the individual soul and the Supreme Consciousness."

I learned quickly to be very protective of these joined together thumb/finger mudras, which would often occur in both hands at once. If I accidentally jarred them apart -- usually when turning in my sleep or trying to use my hands to do something -- I would immediately go into a seizure and shriek with a sensation of being electrocuted. Deliberately playing around with the finger mudras proved not such a hot idea either. When I experimented with this, I found that when I tried to imitate the mudras, there were none of the sensations I felt when they came automatically. Worse, sometimes I would get stabbing little electric shocks when I tried to put my fingers in these positions myself.

Then came the most astonishing spontaneous movements yet. One afternoon, the kriyas began to come on hard and strong. I had by this time learned it was better to relax into these movements and let them take me over. Otherwise, if I stiffened or resisted, I felt pain in my body. I had also become accustomed to the rhythmic jerking of my arms, which sometimes caused them to swing to and fro like pendulums or flap like bird's wings. But now something different was happening. The arm movements were becoming more sinuous and complex. As these arm motions became more fast and furious, I went to a full-length mirror to witness what was happening. All at once I had the most eerie feeling, as if my body was remembering something. My hips, knees and legs had begun to sway and undulate as the intricate arm motions continued. These arm movements were dynamic, but unmistakably graceful and choreographed. I stared at the mirror in awe. My body was performing some kind of exotic dance, which went on for five minutes or so. Then my arms came forward and my hands met, palms pressed together in a prayer-like pose, and drew up to the center of my chest. A force pulled me over into a bow and held me there an instant. Without warning, my knees buckled, and I found myself kneeling prostrate on the floor. The thought hit me: "I'm worshipping something." But worshipping what? Then I knew: I had just performed a sacred temple dance.

This was the first time that I seriously questioned my sanity. I wondered, with alarm, if I had become schizophrenic. This suspicion was short-lived. My rational mind laughed: schizophrenics don't suddenly break out into beautiful, exotic dances and then realize they've gone crazy!

It took me another four years to fully realize who I had been dancing for: the Great Mother/Goddess! The last part of my sacred dance, where I prostrated myself on the floor, is misunderstood in religious practice to be only an act of abasement before the magnificence of God. My body/soul understood it to be much more than this. As the Jungian analyst Marion Woodman has so well expressed it, "prayer is putting your head on the earth, bringing your head down to the ground," in the realization that one can "never surrender to the beauty of the translucent light without the grounding of the body." Bowing prostrate is simultaneously acknowledging one's smallness in the presence of God and embracing in adoration the firmament of the Goddess.

The temple dancing continued to occur for the rest of that day, and by evening there were also episodes of what seemed to be some sort of tribal dancing as well. This went on for hours, even though I was in a state of physical exhaustion. Although the temple dancing recurred daily for several weeks after this, it never again pushed me to my physical and mental limits.

I later learned of other women who began spontaneous dancing during their awakening. One referred to these sinuous movements as her "snake dancing." Korean mudang (shaman) Hi-ah Park told of her shamanic illness in which her body "started uncontrollably swaying in a circular motion." Another time, she "danced serpentine, slow movements, as if lifted by an invisible force. The dance vibrated with dynamic fire, evoking pathos, the spiraling energy."

Psychology Professor Bradford Keeney, whose shamanic calling began with a spontaneous Kundalini awakening at the age of nineteen, had a similar experience while in Africa. While participating in a healing ceremony with the Kalahari bushmen tribe, he says that his legs began wildly trembling and vibrating: "They were in synch with the polyrhythms and sounds of the dance... And then it happened: without any effort, the dance danced me. I cannot fully explain this, but the power got into my hips, energizing my feet and legs to have a life of their own."

Cut off from the Spirit, dancing is either recreational or representational -- something done for entertainment or to convey a story of some sort. But initially dance arose spontaneously when the Spirit and body were unified as one living flame. The exultant life force animates the body just as it beats the drum of the heart. To be alive is its own majesty, which needs no further embellishment.

Clearly, there is something about certain levels of consciousness that invoke the whole of the body; we are danced by primal energies. Havelock Ellis, the English social scientist and writer, has commented that "You cannot find a single ancient mystery in which there is no dancing..."

It was during this time that I also began being thrust into spontaneous asanas (yoga positions). These would happen at night, sometimes in my sleep, or when I meditated. I would awaken to find my body contorted in unusual postures. When sitting in meditation, my body would suddenly be thrown forward into a cobra pose, or other unexpected positions. This is not uncommon for those experiencing the awakened Kundalini. Yoga, like mudras and pranayama (altered breathing patterns) was originally shamanistic. In other words, they were spirit-taught; they arose spontaneously through the body when the psyche was in a certain state of heightened consciousness. Eventually, whenever I arose in the morning, my body would be pushed into a series of exercises, which would go on for about an hour. These were everything from toe touches to hatha yoga postures to T'ai Chi movements. I realized that I was becoming more flexible than I had been in over fifteen years.

By the time the kriyas had been going for a year, they began to be enjoyable. In and of themselves, the spontaneous jerking movements caused neither pleasure nor pain. But they would be immediately followed by waves of sensual energy surging through my body. For me, the kriyas intensify when Kundalini is amplifying the energy in my body. Every night when I first lie down, streams of energy flash up from my feet into my spine. These energy rushes start my body jerking and my legs kicking and thrashing, and sometimes make me shake all over. Depending on how strong the energy is, and how much blockage it comes up against, these nocturnal kriyas can last anywhere from a few minutes to half the night. Sometimes they go on so long and so vigorously that sleep is impossible. Other times, they subside, then became active again and awaken me from sleep.

I still have kriyas in the day as well, but never as racking or as relentless as they were in the early stages of my Kundalini awakening. Now, the daytime kriyas are generally concentrated in areas of my body where the energy is working through blockages. For instance, for many months, the Kundalini was most active in my chest and neck area. I had all kinds of physical symptoms in this part of my body: coughing, throat problems, chest congestion, deep muscle pain in my neck and upper back, sharp, shooting pains in my chest, arthritic stiffness and soreness in my cervical spine area, and much more. During this same time, my shoulders would automatically hunch up and down for long periods of the day. These shoulder kriyas released bursts of soothing energy that circulated the afflicted area.

While the kriyas may involve any part of my body, the mudras occur primarily in my hands, fingers and arms. The kriyas are spasmodic and jerky, but the mudras are always very graceful and precise. The mudras still occur for me, but they've gone through various permutations. Now, I rarely have the finger mudras, though the arm and hand movements that began with the temple dancing continue. In contrast to the finger mudras, which were generally held in certain positions for long periods of time, the arm and hand mudras are usually rapid and continuously in motion. This may be part of what is being represented in the Hindu statues of many-armed deities.

While I hesitate to classify the mudras by category, they do seem to serve several purposes. At points, I was given to understand the meanings of specific mudras. For example, when both arms extend outward with palms parallel to each other and facing upwards, non-attachment is symbolized. Specifically, I was inwardly told that this mudra means: "I come to God empty-handed."

Another mudra is one or both hands suddenly flying up over my head, with hands open and stretched back, palms upward. This would occur frequently during the day, and always when I sat down for a meal. Another woman had this same spontaneous mudra occur when she went to a restaurant with her friends. The friends, embarrassed, told her to stop it. She felt humiliated and "out of control", with no idea why her arms had shot up like this. When I told her that I'd experienced the same thing, she felt relieved. And she was deeply touched when I told her that this mudra signifies gratitude. "Your body was saying grace," I assured her. Specifically, this mudra means: "Everything belongs to God." (A year later, I found this mudra described by feng shui consultant Sarah Rossbach as central to a meditation ritual called "The Great Sunshine Buddha." )

Other mudras have a distinct effect on my system. I can physically feel these movements smoothing and stabilizing my energy. These are the aura-balancing mudras. The arms and hands move in involuntary, graceful and often rapid configurations. The chakra areas are particularly influenced by these mudras. Conversely, whenever one of my chakras is unbalanced, my hands will fly into motion to redistribute the energy there. This happens often when I am in the presence of someone (even through telephone contact) in mental or emotional distress. People who are angry or worried (even if they are not outwardly expressing these feelings) generally have third chakra (solar plexus) disturbances. If I am with them, my own third chakra resonates discord. This is felt as "butterflies" in the stomach, or as nausea and sharp pains in this area, or even as a sudden sensation of being punched in the stomach. In the presence of someone sad, a heavy feeling will weigh on my chest. This automatically triggers the mudras. There is a mudra, which seems specific to calming the heart chakra. One hand, held vertically, fingers pressed together, is brought up and held with the thumb side against the center of the chest.

There have been occasions when my hands would move spontaneously to cleanse my aura. My fingers would appear to be grasping a length of something and extricating it from my body. From my previous study of metaphysics, I knew the "something" was psychic cords. Sometimes these would be short, and quickly removed from my body as if my fingers were plucking out porcupine quills. Other cords were so long my hands would turn round and round as though twirling a long strand of spaghetti. Though I could always feel a sensation when this happened, rarely was it unpleasant. Once, a cord was pulled from inside my mouth that seemed to be rooted somewhere in my abdomen. I gagged several times during this operation.

A woman with a risen Kundalini, who knew nothing about auras or mudras, told me that at times her hands would seem to be gathering something up from around her body and then forcefully throwing something away. This throwing away motion is familiar to body workers and psychics, who are taught this as a means of eliminating foreign and undesirable energies. My own hands would also do these expelling motions on occasion.

My spontaneous aura-cleansing movements ceased after several months. Five years later, I began having episodes or extreme heaviness in my body as I had at the beginning of my awakening. At first I thought this might be the onset of chronic fatigue-like muscle weakness that many people report during their process. This is sometimes attributed to adrenal exhaustion. Yet in my case it was caused by an overload of Shakti due to the energies I was absorbing from the many other people I was interacting with who also had active Kundalini.

I found that ordinary exercising worsened my condition (as is true with chronic fatigue victims). But when I allowed my arms to move slightly, so that Kundalini could take over and guide them, the autonomous aura cleansing motions returned, clearing my subtle body of energy excesses. Immediately thereafter, the heaviness and weakness (some experience this as becoming very slow in their movements) dissipated.
In the beginning, I was able to do some healings on others by working on their auras. I say that "I" was able to do this, but in truth, I have no idea what I did. It was Kundalini moving through me and automatically moving my hands and arms that brought about these healings. Likewise, I have no formula for detecting cords or doing anything else to balance my own or anyone else's energy. How Kundalini directs my hands to do this remains a great mystery to me.

Many people with awakened Kundalini discover they can do healings for others and sometimes they feel almost compelled to do so. While at a party, a woman began telling an elderly gentleman she had just met about some of her Kundalini experiences. He immediately suggested that she lay her hands on him to try to heal him. She demurred, protesting that she was unqualified and had no business attempting healing, but the man was so persistent she finally agreed to give it a brief try. Although he had not mentioned the nature of his illness, she felt drawn to place her hands on his neck. No sooner had she touched him than a terrific bolt of electricity literally blasted from her fingertips, knocking the man out of his chair and startling everyone else in the house with the explosive noise.

Aghast, she hurriedly helped her "patient" up from the floor. Not only was he unhurt; to her amazement, he was very eager for her to do it again. It was at this time that he informed her of his advanced cancer of the throat. I do not know if she heard from him again, or if the explosive-energy healed him of his cancer. I do know of other cases where rapid healing was witnessed. One man was inexorably drawn to approach and aggressively heal a stranger who was blind. Within minutes, she regained her sight! Less dramatic healings of cuts, bruises, sprains, nosebleeds and such have also been reported by people whose healing abilities became evident during their Kundalini process.

As for my mudras and kriyas, Charles and I have become so accustomed to them that we think nothing of them. But other people, having no exposure to or understanding of these phenomena, are very uncomfortable around anyone manifesting kriyas or mudras. The kriyas resemble neurological problems, and are less likely to be criticized than the mudras. People have trouble believing that these are spontaneous, uncontrolled movements since they are so graceful and seemingly deliberate. For this reason, my ongoing kriyas and mudras make me feel very self-conscious in public or in the presence of others.

While spontaneous dancing and mudras may seem a peculiar embodiment of Spirit, it is this process of not-doing -- of being "lived" by a Greater Presence -- that is essential in many traditions and mystery schools. Learning to be a hollow vessel, to be a willing and surrendered vehicle of supernal power, is a central facet of Zen practice, particularly in Zen archery and painting. When the Kundalini is extremely active, the experience of self-as-vessel becomes an immediate experiential reality.

While not everyone undergoing a Kundalini awakening experiences kriyas or mudras, most do, to some extent. Even mild kriyas and mudras can be frightening when we do not realize that they are a natural response to greatly heightened energies in the body. Psychics or other healers who are unfamiliar with Kundalini may interpret these energies in a negative and sometimes terrifying way -- for instance, suggesting that some evil force is causing these uncontrollable body movements. Doctors who are ignorant of these phenomena may regard it in pathological terms, as signs of neurological dysfunction or somatized psychological disturbance. Addictive drugs, such as the benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan, Restoril, Serax, Klonopin, etc.) are sometimes prescribed. While these medications may be needed during the most physically painful part of the process, withdrawal after extended use will dramatically intensify the kriyas.

Those who haven't had personal experience with mudras and kriyas may find my case fantastic and stretching credibility, but I haven't written this to thrill my readers with a strange tale of phantasmagoric adventure. I'm telling my story for the sake of others who are experiencing similar things, and who may find reassurance in learning that these manifestations are not a sign of insanity, brain damage or demonic possession. They are simply part of an amazing and mysterious transformation of consciousness.