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Krishnamacharya on Kundalini

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Krishnamacharya on Kuṇḍalinī explores a distinctive teaching of ‘the father of modern yoga’, T. Krishnamacharya. Whereas most yoga traditions teach that kuṇḍalinī is a serpentine energy that rises, Krishnamacharya defined it as a serpentine blockage that represents avidyā (spiritual ignorance) and prevents prāṇa (breath or life-force) from rising. In this book, Simon Atkinson draws on over 20 years of study and practice under teachers following Krishnamacharya, and combines the analysis of quotations from yoga workshops with a detailed study of traditional Sanskrit texts. He traces the textual origins of Krishnamacharya’s position to two sects of Viṣṇu-worshiping temple priests, and shows how it is compatible with a stream of South Asian thought where snakes represent something to be overcome. Atkinson challenges claims that Krishnamacharya’s position can be found in his religious tradition of Śrīvaiṣṇavism. He questions the tradition’s reliance on textual sources, showing how the coherence of Krishnamacharya’s position can only be maintained by employing elaborate arguments and rejecting texts that teach otherwise. He also explores how Krishnamacharya’s teaching on kuṇḍalinī influences how yoga is practised. He argues that Krishnamacharya’s position is best viewed as a model for experience that guides practice.

Published: May 24, 2022

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
List of Tables, Figures and Plates Simon Atkinson
Acknowledgements Simon Atkinson
Preface Simon Atkinson
Chapter 1
Introduction Simon Atkinson
Chapter 2
The Yogayājñavalkya – Krishnamacharya’s Main Source on Kuṇḍalinī Simon Atkinson
Chapter 3
Kuṇḍalinī in Other Vaiṣṇava Texts Simon Atkinson
Chapter 4
A Union of Yoga-s – Linking Haṭhayoga and Patañjali via Kuṇḍalinī Simon Atkinson
Chapter 5
The Symbolism of Serpents Simon Atkinson
Chapter 6
Kuṇḍalinī in Śrīvaiṣṇavism Simon Atkinson
Chapter 7
Discussion and Conclusion Simon Atkinson
Dating the Yogayājñavalkya and Related Texts Simon Atkinson
End Matter
Glossary Simon Atkinson
Bibliography Simon Atkinson
Index Simon Atkinson


Utilising considerable experience as both a student and practitioner of yoga, Simon Atkinson takes a deep dive into some of the more esoteric aspects of Krishnamacharya’s teachings. Using primary sources, interviews and original research, his explorations reveal some fascinating inconsistencies, and he shines a light on both where and why these inconsistencies appear. Important reading for scholars and practitioners alike, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of kuṇḍalinī from both textual and personal perspectives.
Ranju Roy, yoga teacher in the tradition of Krishnamacharya and co author of Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support, Direction and Space

Drawing on meticulous philological and ethnographic research, this study identifies and analyses the distinctive role of kuṇḍalinī in the Krishnamacharya yoga tradition, situating it in its complex historical and contemporary contexts. Essential reading for scholars and dedicated practitioners of yoga alike.
Dr James Mallinson, Reader in Indology and Yoga Studies, SOAS, University of London

This scholarly text by Simon (SA) takes an exemplary approach, combining Western critical thinking with an Indian respect for traditional sources. It is good to see an approach that is, on the one hand, respectful and sympathetic yet, on the other, exhaustive and unsparing. SA’s work is supported by many years of painstaking personal research at home and in India and shows an adherence, while looking from inside our tradition, to strict neutrality as regards to which authorities are most sound and credible.
This book holds many revelations.
Who should be reading this book? Certainly, anyone who wants to take a broad and well-informed view of the subject of kuṇḍalinī from the perspective of their own practice and definitely anyone who presumes to teach about it from a non-Shaiva standpoint. It isn’t, however, just about kuṇḍalinī. An appreciation of the way K was able to unite Haṭha and Rāja Yoga, which SA describes in Chapter 4, should be in the mind of everyone who teaches in this tradition. This understanding is really part of our foundations and something that makes us a unique force within the world of Yoga.
The Society of Yoga Practitioners

The book is scholarly, but accessibly written and helpfully structured – the introduction and conclusion are clear and insightful, with supporting evidence presented logically throughout other chapters.
Spectrum, the British Wheel of Yoga magazine