Kundalini yoga is often passed over by the beginner (and even the average) yoga student.
It is commonly perceived as a super-spiritual practice, that is only for the die-hard yogis. Almost like an exclusive spiritual club.
And with the turbans, chanting, and celebrity endorsements, it is no surprise that many new people new to yoga think it is a little ‘far out’, and not for them.
I was one of those! I have tried many different types of yoga. But Kundalini always felt ‘too much’ for me.
After doing some research into Kundalini Yoga, I discovered that it is actually a very well-rounded practice that can greatly benefit your day-to-day life.
What Does “Kundalini” Mean?
Before diving in to understand what Kundalini Yoga is all about, we need to have an understanding of the meaning of “Kundalini”.
Kundalini is a sanskrit word, meaning “coil”. The concept of Kundalini is that of a coiled snake at the base of of the spine.
This coiled snake is seen as energy, the primal life force that lies dormant in individuals.
When the Kundalini energy “awakens”’, it rises up to the crown through the chakras (energy centers).
The rising of the energy is associated with spiritual enlightenment. As the energy rises, the individual breaks down personal limitations and unlocks abilities that were previously unknown.
What Is Kundalini Yoga?
Kundalini Yoga was kept secret for many thousands of years. It was only taught to royalty and nobility, rather than being taught in the open – as with other forms of yoga.
Kundalini Yoga was brought over to the west in the late 1960’s by a man named Yogi Bhajan. He emigrated from Pakistan to Canada. He noticed the spiritual suffering that was rampat in North America, and decided to introduce Kundalini Yoga to the public to help people heal.
It targets the mind, body, soul, and energy centres. Whereas other forms of yoga target the physical body. It combines all the yogic tools available – mantra (sacred sound), asana (posture), pranayama (breathing technique), meditation (mindful focus), mudra (hand position), and bandha (body lock).
The practice also incorporates a lot of rituals, in addition to these elements.
Kundalini Yoga is known as the “yoga of awareness” because the aim of the practice is to increase your awareness of your physical, emotional and mental state, and helps you reestablish your relations with yourself.
How To Start Your Kundalini Yoga Practice?
When you go to your first Kundalini Yoga class, there is going to be a lot going on, that you don’t yet know how to do.
Do not stress.
Kundalini Yoga will meet you where you are.
Don’t worry about not knowing the words to the chants. Or not being able to tie the perfect turban. Or not being able to get into the positions correctly.
Follow along with the class as best you can. If you get confused or make a mistake – don’t see it as a failure.
Feel the experience. Focus on your breath. Keep it simple.
If you feel that a class will be too overwhelming to start with, then you can find a video online and start following with that.
What To Expect From A Kundalini Class
Kundalini Yoga classes are very structured, and tend to last between 60 and 90 minutes.
You will notice that your instructor – and possibly some of the students – will be in all white, and some sort of head covering like a white scarf or turban. The idea behind this is that wearing white creates a shield against negativity and illness, and the head covering contains the energy within your body.
Don’t feel pressured to wear the same clothes or head coverings. But if you want to experiment with wearing white – then go ahead.
You instructor guides you through a set of exercises that are designed to either bring about a specific change, or to target a particular problem.
Each class will include the following elements:
Mantra (Sacred Sound)
A Mantra is a phrase that is chanted in the class. Mantras are used both for their meaning of the words, as well as for the vibration of sound created in the body.
Each Mantra has a specific intention, and you will use different ones throughout the class.
If the thought of chanting makes you think of dark practices and casting spells you’ll be relieved to know it isn’t like that at all. The chanting isn’t to connect to, or invoke, anything external. It is connected to your practice, and to you.
There are two standard Mantras used in a class – an opening one and a closing one. Throughout the class other mantras will be used, according to what the instructor has planned for the class.
The mantras will either be chanted out loud, or used mentally.
The opening mantra is Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. It means “I bow to the creative consciousness. I bow to the divine wisdom within.”
It is used for two reasons – firstly, it acknowledges the lineage of Kundalini Yoga teachers.
And secondly, it is also meditation on its own. The aim is to establish a connection to a higher state of consciousness that goes beyond the ego.
The closing mantra is Sat Nam. It means “Truth is my identity”.
It is intended to awake the soul, and is also used in conversation as a greeting instead of hello or goodbye.
Pranayama (Breathing Technique)
There is a lot of focus on the breath in Kundalini Yoga. It makes a point of using your breath to deepen your experience of the practice.
The breath is the bridge that connects your body and your mind – according to yogic philosophy. The idea is that the more you learn to focus on your breath, the more you are able to quiet your busy mind.
The word “Kriya” means “action”. A Kriya is a sequence of postures, mantras, and breath. It is designed to target a particular theme.
Your instructor will take you through a Kriya after the warm-up.
Interestingly – the Sanskrit names for the poses are rarely used by the instructors. Instead, they will guide you into the pose with very specific directions and demonstrations (if required).
You will move in and out of the postures with your breath. Occasionally, you will hold the postures for longer to build endurance.
Meditation (Mindful Focus)
Kundalini Yoga has more of a meditative focus than other styles of yoga, due to its emphasis on the breath as well as the inward focus between the postures.
For those new to meditation, this can actually be a more accessible way to get into meditation.
Once you have completed the Kriya, you will then lie on your back or stomach. This pose, and time of quiet and stillness, gives your body time to integrate the effects of Kriya you just performed.
Following this, your instructor will then guide you through a meditation.
Yogi Bhajan passed on hundreds of meditations. Each meditation was designed to target a specific need (such as alleviating stress, increasing energy levels, or even healing a broken heart).
Each meditation is different both in terms of structure and length.
Some meditations will only be 3 minutes long, while some can be longer than an hour, but on average you will find the meditation is around 11 minutes long.
The meditations will include some combination of mudras (hand positions), arm positions, and specific breathing patterns.
The Closing Song
Each class closes the same way – with the Blessing song.
The words are “May the long time sun shine upon you”. It is believed that reciting these words will help ground your mind, and you prepare you to return to your everyday activities.
Following the closing song, “Sat Naam” is chanted three times.