Fire in the Head

Exploring the interconnectedness of Shamanism and Kundalini Yoga

“Fire in the head” is a quote from the mystical Irish poet William Butler Yeats where he refers to the fire in the head as that which characherises the visionary experience,   

For me, as a shamanic practitioner, many of my most potent and profound visionary experiences have arrived whilst I have been on my mat practicing kundalini yoga. 

A visionary experience is a mystical experience and it is a feeling – and that feeling, that exquisite feeling, the one I felt after my first kundalni yoga experience, for me personally is one and the same as the feeling I experience when I work, as I do, with non ordinary reality. 

A visionary experience occurs when we enter into altered states of consciousness and quoting Aldous Huxley who says “one of the strange facts is that, by inducing certain changes in body chemistry, we do appear to open the door—so to say—which separates our ordinary, everyday selves from this remote, visionary area of the mind.  

It has taken me 12 years to look at this alignment of both experiences and I am excited to share my research with you here regarding the spaces where shamanism and kundalini yoga fold over each other.   And they do! 

Firstly, let us look at what is Shamanism? 

Shamanism is a way of life, it is NOT a religion but rather a spiritual practice that honours the earth as a physical consciousness and the sacred energy of creation that carries the life force. 

Everything has a vibration and we can communicate with everything.  We can communicate with spiritual realms, a parallel universe and what we would call in shamanic terms non-ordinary reality. 

Shamanism is the most ancient mind / body healing practice which dates back 40,000 years. 

Shamanic cultures existed around the world and Shamanism was the most widespread spiritual practice worldwide in Africa, in north and south America, the Aborigines in Asia, the Druids and Witches in the Celtic lands, the Inuit people in Lapland, Sweden and Russia, indeed all over the world shamanic cultures existed in a parallel way working in extremely similar ways, using the same methods for healing in many cases.   

Furthermore, the same ancient symbols have been discovered the world over proving the parallel functioning of so many cultures. 

The word Shaman comes from Siberia and was first recorded in 1672 by explorers who discovered the Tungas Tribe and the literal translation of the word means he or she who sees in the dark 




The shamanic journey is the heartbeat of shamanism and shamans work with the drum to produce altered states to travel between the worlds.  We commune with the upperworld, the lowerworld and we are here manifest in flesh in what we would call the middle world. 

Anthropologists observed that all over the world there were tribes who apparently had the same methods and practices, without any telephones but rather communicating telepathically or cosmically. 

In the 1960s Shamanism was somewhat revived for the most part by 2 main individuals Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner. 

Michael Harner was an anthropologist and philosopher and studied deeply with indigenous tribes in the amazon in the 50s and he went on to found the THE FOUNDATION FOR SHAMANIC STUDIES. 

Carlos Castaneda was also an anthropologist and shaman and a much revered writer, indeed Castaneda is often considered a father of the New Age movement for his series of books based on the mystical secrets of a Yaqui Indian shaman. 

The Intentions  

Here I would like to look at the shared focus of the shaman and the kundalini yoga teacher … both are primarily interested in delivering an experience, of gifting their client back to themselves, of opening up the doorway to the visionary experience. The primary motivation for both is the wellbeing of the SOUL.  

The commonalities of both practices work in transforming and enriching people’s lives physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Let me go further to state that the main aim is HEALING. 

In her book on Shamanism, writer Shirley Nicholson discusses the yoga and shamanic overlaps as she says, “to a large extent, yoga has “somaticized” the symbolism and rites of shamanism”, she further discusses the embodiment of the gods which is the point here in both practices. 

The Symbology – The Serpent and The Spiral

Kundalini is often depicted as a coiled serpent and kundalini is the Sanskrit word for ‘spiral’ 

The spiral is indeed recognised as one of the oldest geometric shapes found in the ancient world. Some found date back to the Neolithic period and they are from all over the planet.   

The spiral is said to represent spiritual development and our identity with the universe and is reflected in shamanism, magic and mysticism.  

Carl Jung said that the spiral is an archetypal symbol that represents the cosmic force and of course it is always the cosmic force with which we dance in the kundalini yoga practice, always the cosmic force we journey with in the shamanic experience. 

We work with the cosmic force rising through the chakras and this ascent is the route to illumination in both traditions. 

The spiral represents the energy rising through the body the aim being to activate this spiritual and psychic energy by using various yogic techniques, and raise it from the lowest, the root chakra to the highest chakra at the crown. 

One of the central ideas in the book, Spirals: the Pattern of Existence, by Geoff Ward is that the earth is arranged in spirals, detected by dowsers giving provenance to all the serpent symbolism, and its relationship to the earth energies which outline the significance of the spiral form in nature as presented by the adepts, magicians or shamans of ancient times. 

Effectively, the coils of the snake were superimposed on the spiral pattern and I believe this is how the serpent came to be a symbol of inexpressible cosmic forces and a metaphor for rebirth and spiritual renewal.  

Carl Jung also said the upward spiralling of the kundalini serpent symbolised ‘the urge of realisation (which) naturally pushes man on to be himself’. For Jung, this involved the full realisation of the Self, through the natural and universal process of individuation, by which a person is existentially formed and differentiated.  

How many times do you hear the “Be Yourself” mantra in kundalini yoga, how many classes have you delved beneath the mortal coil to find YOURSELF, YOUR TRUE SELF and this can be such a powerful moment in all our evolutions as we connect to the power of infinity which is the cosmic energy. 

Kundalini as we know is a cosmic energy that rises in the spine and the main goal in all shamanic and kundalini yoga practice is to balance the chakras by rising the energy up the spine and out through the top of the head 

Mircea Eliade, writer, philosopher and a leading interpreter of religious experiences says that “yoga itself developed out of shamanism and as an internalized version of much older shamanic techniques”. 

From the book Sky Shamans Of Mongolia we get a certain confirmation of this “The serpent which represents the kundalini energy lies coiled a the base of the tree which represents the spine, the caduceus of Hermes shows 2 serpents (ida and pingala) are separated, clearing the way for ascension of the kundalin iup the shushumna, the central channel of the spnine to reach the uppermost chakras, the peaks of consciousness, Hermetic and alchemical diagrams also display symbols of serpents and tree ascension”. 

Again, of course the tree is another powerful symbol of both traditions and the way the energy is intended to rise. 

Kundalini yoga focuses on the energy centered in the spine, an internalized version of the axis mundi, the world tree or central pole of the world. 

Celtic Shaman 

We see here an ancient drawing of the Celtic shaman, in the ritual posture, the half lotus holding the serpent. 

The Systems 

I would like to take a moment here to compare where both shamanism and kundalini yoga meet in terms of the energetic systems and similar techniques that both employ to hold space for and affect healing. 

Both are led by the desire to galvanize the body soul connection, both are concerned with empowering the individual to heal themselves and also empowering the community to do the same. 

Through the kundalini yoga sequences we practice to really connect to the soul essence, the REAL SELF and in the shamanic practices we do the exact same thing, we work to bring the soul parts back to the person, to allow them to remember that magic that is THEIR TRUE SELF 

We work of course with the elements, the Tatvas, the elements in the body, we work with the turning of the year, the solstices, the phases of the moon, we work to intend on the new moons and release on the full moons and choose appropriate series of kundalini yoga to imbue the practices with these intentions. 

As kundalini yoga teachers we facilitate the creation of altered states, of mystical experiences,   

“Spiritual Ecology is not just for healing individuals, we are part of a web of life and within that web of life is where the mystery resides,” says Michael Harner, and in each and every deep experience of the soul we do indeed step deeply into the mystery, which is of course the mystery of life itself. 




Again, quoting Mercia Eliade who references Shamanism as the technique of ecstasy and I would absolutely like to add that kundalin yoga is also absolutely a technique of ecstasy and to say the experience is the same. 

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Gunderstrup Cauldron 

Here we have a particularly interesting conundrum as we discuss the interconnectedness between shamanism and kundalini yoga. 

The Gundestrup cauldron, perhaps the world’s most famous silver bowl, was found just over a hundred years ago in a peat bog in Jutland in Denmark. It has been dated to around the middle of the 2nd century BC. T 

The sides are decorated with various scenes of war and sacrifice: deities wrestling beasts, a goddess flanked by elephants and a meditating figure wearing stag’s antlers. That the iconography must be Indic is suggested by the elephants (totally out of context in Europe) and the yogic figure in cross-legged, again so similar to the Celtic shaman above. 

Some historians have suggested that craftsmen of Indian origin in Thrace made it. However, exactly where it was made is still open to question.  

According to the art historian Timothy Taylor writing in the Scientific American: “A shared pictorial and technical tradition stretched from India to Thrace, where the cauldron was made, and thence to Denmark. Yogic rituals, for example, can be inferred from the poses of an antler-bearing man on the cauldron and of an ox-headed figure on a seal impress from the Indian city of Mohenjo-Daro. 

Here again we see the serpent, here again we see the spiral, the three circles so often found in Druidic philosophy seem also to imply a spiral progression: the great cauldron or creative void, gives rise to the material or human world which, in turn, leads to the plane of the fully developed spirit.  

On the first plane, matter is created, on the second, it takes physical form, and on the third, it attains perfection.  

From here we must also not the role of the feminine, the goddess across both traditions.  In the Celtic convention we honour the great goddess of nature. Arianrhod, the Welsh goddess of time, karma and reincarnation, was said to dwell in a citadel at the centre of a spiral path. 

In shaman, healer, sage the renowned shamanic teacher Alberto Viloldo discusses the kundalini energy “kundalini is seen as the active power of the great goddess Shakti, the force that animates all creation.  For the shaman this is the primordial serpent who swales its own tail, Ouroboros, and portrays an unconscious state of self-absorbtion. As we clear the imprints within the first chakra, the kundalini energy is awakened. The primal serpent uncoils and its female energy moves up through the chakras”. 

Shamans in the Americas, India and Tibet have long believed that it is through the power of the primal feminine that all creatures move, live procreate and flourish.  Its energy, which lies dormant within each of us, is the energy of the earth and the heartbeat of life itself. 

Beautifully put here in his Shamanic Dimensions of Psychotherapy Robin Van Loben Sels mentions “The object of the practice of kundalini yoga was to around the goddess by introverted concentration in order that the prana would be released, and by penetrating successive spinal centres or chakras, eventually gain union with Shiva, The Lord Of Light, OR consciousness itself”.   

It would appear to me that what I feel, what I experience of the divine, what I experience of the formless, the mystery as it were, what happens in these altered states of consciousness as I dance across the shamanic and kundalini yoga territories is the essentially the same. 

The feeling is the same 

the experience is very similar and the healing is always profound. 

Soul Adventures is a lifestyle, healing and yoga retreat company set up in 2006 by Trish Whelan. Trish is a renowned Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Shamanic Healer, Reiki Master Teacher and Sound Healing Therapist. I welcome you to find out more about what Trish offers on her website by clicking here.  

This content is provided free of charge for general information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.  It is from the personal experience or views of the author who does not hold herself out as being medically trained or qualified in any way.  The content does not give rise to a practitioner/patient/professional relationship with the reader and specialist medical advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances.

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