Most of us don't spend much time thinking about the nature of consciousness. We live on auto-pilot, unaware of how our perceptions, thoughts, memories, emotions and even daydreams impact the quality of our life.
Unveiling the mystery of the mind, or consciousness, is at the heart of yogic philosophy and practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the bible of Yoga, state in sutra 1:2, "Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is Yoga". In other words, the practice of yoga begins once we gain some control over our thoughts and emotions.
Why did the ancients put such emphasis on the mind? Because thoughts and emotions shape our reality. We want to remain calm, but become upset instead. We do not want to drown in remorse, yet we cannot let go of self-incrimination. We know fear and insecurity are crippling, but we cannot quiet these feelings. You see, the mind is not so easy to control.
In the field of neuroscience research, understanding consciousness, or the essence of awareness, is the "Big Question", the new frontier. What does science tell us about consciousness? The human brain contains one hundred billion interacting neurons. Neuroscientists know how the network of neurons can compute information, but cannot explain how the brain becomes aware of the information, the nature of sentience itself.
Interesting theories abound, theories that provide a scientific basis to yogic teachings. Dr. Robert Sheldrake, a former biochemist at Cambridge University, proposes the theory of the extended mind. He suggests that the mind is field-like. It spreads out beyond the brain in similar ways that magnetic fields spread out beyond magnets, or cell phone fields beyond cell phones. Dr. Bruce Greyson, University of Virginia, proposes that consciousness is independent of the brain. Greyson theorizes that thoughts, perceptions and memories could take place in a consciousness separate from the brain, and are then received and processed by the different areas of the brain. The brain performs in similar capacity as a cell phone or television set. The signal is created somewhere else, but the cell phone or television set is necessary to process the signal.
Being in an expanded state of consciousness, over prolonged periods of time, with a quiet mind, is the essence of Yoga. There exist over 22 major forms of the practice of yoga. Each form emphasizes some facet of the totality of yoga. Kundalini Yoga is known as the Yoga of Awareness. It is an ancient energy management system developed tens of thousands of years ago by the Rishis (seers) in India and Tibet. The primary objective of Kundalini Yoga is to awaken the full potential of human consciousness by stimulating the kundalini energy.
Kundalini is the name of the sleeping dormant energy in the human body, often depicted as a coiled snake situated at the root of the spinal column. This area is known as muladhara chakra, and it is actually a small gland in the perineum. The kundalini awakens through yogic techniques--practices such as physical kriyas, pranayama, mantra and meditation. Once awake, the kundalini energy travels up the spinal column, the central nervous canal, to the brain. As kundalini ascends, it passes through each of the chakras (energy vortex centers), which are interconnected with different areas of the brain.
The awakened kundalini empowers us with Shakti, the primordial goddess energy. We become filled with vigor, enthusiasm, willpower, and the self-confidence we need to shake off the negative impressions hidden deep in our mind. Our mind becomes settled. Issue and concerns that previously kept our attention, now appear insignificant. We are free of the forces of logic and reason that normally bind us with an unending chain of doubt, fear and confusion. Intuition becomes our guide. Its discerning power is unfailing.
It is interesting to see the yogic symbolization of the kundalini through the ancient Greek myth of Tiresias. When Tiresias, the ancient Greek seer found two copulating snakes, he separated them by sticking his staff between them. Immediately, he was turned into a woman, and remained so until he was able to repeat his action and change back into a male. The transformation power of the story, strong enough to completely reverse even physical polarities of male and female, comes from the two serpents, passed on by the wand (the awakened kundalini energy around the spine). Tiresias' staff, with the serpents, was later passed on to Hermes. Today, many medical organizations use the ancient Greek symbol of Caduceus of Hermes.
With an awakened kundalini, a new consciousness dawns. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."