Many people think Kundalini Yoga and Kundalini Meditation are the same; those who don't think so don't understand the difference. Because of this confusion, what should be a controversial subject isn't. We should be up in arms because these two radically different practices employ the same word in terms with different means and ends. In fact, the terms Kundalini Yoga and Kundalini Meditation are used interchangeably. Interchangeability is not only misleading, it's confusing. We need to distinguish between the two terms.
Kundalini (2010) by Ashely Foreman
To that extent, the means and ends of Yoga are still largely misunderstood, especially Kundalini. In Chapter Seven of his masterwork Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man, Gopi Krishna addressed the issue head on: "BEFORE proceeding to narrate the incidents that followed, it is necessary to say a few words about the long known but rarely found reservoir of life energy in man known as Kundalini. Many informed students of Yoga hear or read about it one time or another, but the accounts given in modern writings are too meagre and vague to serve as helpful sources of authentic information. The ancient treatises exclusively dealing with the subject of Kundalini Yoga abound in cryptic passages and contain details of fantastic, sometimes even obscene ritual allusions to innumerable deities, extremely difficult and often dangerous mental and physical exercises, incantations and formulas technically known as mantras; bodily postures called asanas, and detailed instructions for the control and regulation of breath, all couched in a language difficult to understand, with a mass of mythical verbiage which instead of attracting is likely to repel the modern student. Truly speaking, no illustrative material is available either in the modern or ancient expositions to convey lucidly what the objective reality of the methods advocated is and what mental and organic changes one may expect at the end.
"The result is that instead of becoming illuminative and pragmatic, this strictly empirical science is falling into abuse and disrepute. Some of its practices, forming integral parts of a combined whole and serving as a means to a definite end, such as the asanas and breathing exercises, are now being regarded as laudable ulterior ends in themselves to the neglect of the ultimate object for which the exercises were devised. The real object of this system of Yoga is to develop a type of consciousness which crosses over the boundaries confining the sense-bound mind, carrying the embodied consciousness to supersensory regions. Distracted by the tyrannical demands of modern civilization and discouraged by the generally incredulous attitude towards the possibility of such a development in man, the present-day aspirants often content themselves with a few postures and breathing exercises in the fond belief that they are practising Yoga for spiritual uplift.
"The descriptions of Chakras and lotuses, of supernatural signs and omens accompanying success in the practice, of the miraculous powers attainable, the genesis of the system and the origin of the various methods are so overdone and full of exaggeration that to the uninitiated the whole conception embodied in the ancient literature on the subject appears incredible if not preposterous. From such material it is extremely difficult for the modern seeker to gain plain knowledge of the subject divested of supernatural and mythological lore or to find clarification for his doubts and difficulties. Judged from the fantastic accounts contained in the writings not only in the original ancient treatises but also in some of the modern books, Kundalini for an intelligent, matter-of-fact man can be no more than a myth, a chimera born of the innate desire in men to find an easy way of escape from the rigours imposed by a rigidly governed world of cause and effect, like the philosopher's stone invented to satisfy the same desire in a different form by providing a short cut for the acquirement of wealth needed to achieve the same end. In India no other topic has such a mass of literature woven around it as Yoga and the supernatural, and yet in no book on the subject is a penetrating light thrown on Kundalini, nor has any expert provided more information than is furnished in the ancient works. The result is that except for perhaps a few almost inaccessible masters, as scarce now as the alchemists of yore, there is no one in the whole of India, the home of the science, to whom one can look for authoritative knowledge of the subject."
There's a lot to digest here. For starters, I suggest going to the source and finish reading the passage; Gopi Krishna's books can be purchased here. Okay, that said, how does the above passage relate to the topic at hand? Can a westerner such as myself hope to distinguish between the two? Yes, because I've tried them both. In a nutshell, what is hailed in strip malls across the country as Kundalini Yoga is a violent form of aerobics that leads to hyperventilating, but does not permanently activate Kundalini. Kundalini meditation, on the other hand, correctly implemented, leads to a permanent Kundalini awakening. What's the difference? Kundalini meditation, such as GFM, is based on achieving stillness, the exact opposite quality one stimulates during Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini Yoga seems to be an offshoot, meant to garner fame and fortune for its purveyors, rather than a straight line continuum of true Yogic principles.
I'm not saying that it's without benefits; it probably has some, but does its practice merit an association with the term Kundalini? Does it permanently awaken Kundalini? Gopi Krishna goes on to say: "They succeeded admirably as the main exercise, concentration, which is the corner-stone of every system of Yoga, fits in with the methods prescribed by nature also for expediting human evolution. They found that on acquiring a certain degree of proficiency in mind control and concentration, they could, in favourable cases, draw up through the hollow backbone a vividly bright, fast-moving, powerful radiance into the brain for short periods of time in the beginning, extending the duration with practice, which had a most amazing effect on the mind, enabling it to soar to regions of surpassing glory, beyond anything experienced in the crude material world."
Notice Gopi Krishna uses the term concentration, a term most often applied to meditation, a process whose goal is absolute stillness. Stillness is the most powerful force in the universe, more powerful than noise and excessive movement. In fact, the whole point of Kundalini meditation breathing exercises is to QUIET the breath in order to control heart rate. Slowing down the heart rate, as opposed to speeding it up through violent exercise, ushers the practitioner into a realm of stillness where, should he/she choose to, he/she can trigger the sexual sublimation process, the all-important Step 3 of GFM — The Backward-Flowing Method.
I practiced GFM and permanently awakened Kundalini. I also practiced Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga for over a year. The Kundalini Yoga exercises I did left me with a certain lighthearted buoyancy, but had no effect on my Kundalini. I still practice Hatha Yoga and have always understood it to be an empirical science, an integral part of a system, each phase of which I could verify in the laboratory of my body — the purpose of the system as a whole being the awakening of Kundalini. The Golden Flower Meditation (GFM) method I employed to raise Kundalini draws its lineage directly from its Hatha Yoga and Chinese antecedents.
Hopefully, these distinctions will generate discussion. I may have to eat my words. No matter — if readers pay more attention to the true aims of Yoga, both its means and its ends. For more on this topic, see the Kundalini Yoga and Kundalini Meditation thread on the Golden Flower Forum.
One positive outcome of this discussion has been my friendship with Anna Tzanova, an experienced, gifted Kundalini Yoga teacher. She showed me how the practice of Kundalini Yoga has evolved over the last twenty-five years. I'll be publishing our discussions here soon. In the meantime, I just finished producing a Kundalini Yoga video program, featuring Anna as instructor.
"One thing has to be remembered about meditation; it is a long journey and there is no shortcut. Anyone who says there is a shortcut is befooling you." ~Osho