Updated: Nov 8, 2019
This is a question I get asked often at the studio, and it’s one that I find difficult to answer quickly. Kundalini Yoga is like no other yoga practice that I have encountered, and is an experience that truly needs to be felt in order to be understood.
Kundalini: May the Force Be With You Before being able to explain anything about the practice, we first need to discover the meaning of kundalini. The word kundalini means “the curl of the lock of the hair of the beloved”, which is a metaphor for the flow of energy within us. This energy is inherent in every one of us, and is our creative potential. Sometimes called shakti, kundalini lies mostly dormant within us, and its awakening can bring about major shifts in consciousness and an awareness of our infinite Self. It rests at the base of the spine, and when the body has been purified enough and the energy stimulated properly, kundalini rises up the spine to reach the pineal gland. This gland’s secretion allows for a change in consciousness to occur.
All yoga practices, regardless of the style, have the ultimate aim of stimulating the sleeping kundalini energy. For it is only when this energy has risen that we are truly able to experience that union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, which is the very definition of yoga. However, most yoga styles go about this in a very roundabout way. Kundalini Yoga is the superhighway to awakening. Therefore, its practices are much more direct.
What to Expect in Class The first thing that happens in class after settling in is the chanting of two different mantras. These are used to bring us to a neutral and unified space and aim to align ourselves with the Divine teacher within. We then usually spend several minutes doing pranayam, or yogic breathing. This clears the energy channels in the body and opens us up. After this we will often do some warm-ups to get the body ready for the practice. At the core of class is what is called a kriya. A kriya is a series of postures done for a very specific purpose. Along with the postures, a kriya often includes special breathing patterns, mantra, and meditation. The word kriya means action, and it is through our actions that we can create different states of being. This means that we can do a kriya for the purpose of expanding our aura, releasing fear, stimulating the liver, opening our hearts, or relieving a headache, to name just a few. You name it, and there is a kriya for that. Each kriya is very precise; we do the postures each for a certain amount of time, or a set number of repetitions. The way that we move through the postures is usually quite different than a traditional hatha yoga class. Since we are so focused on directly stimulating the kundalini energy in a Kundalini Yoga class, the movements are often done dynamically and powerfully. It tends to be a very invigorating experience, and is often quite challenging. Imagine holding your arms up in the air for minutes on end while doing a powerful breath that incorporates pumping your navel to your spine with every exhale – this is a taste of what class is like. However, each kriya is totally different. While one may be done entirely sitting or lying down, another may incorporate standing postures or even dancing around the room. Some are very physically challenging, and some are more mental. Some kriyas are energetic; some are relaxing and meditative. I always tell new students that it takes coming to several classes before you can really get a feel for what the practice is all about.
Another important aspect of each class is meditation, which is often overlooked in classes of other styles of yoga. We tend to do a kriya first, then savasana (relaxation), and then a meditation. Numerology is important in Kundalini Yoga, so the length of time for the meditations are also very specific. It is traditional to do meditations for 3, 7, 11, 22 or 31 minutes. Sometimes with the meditation we incorporate a particular hand posture, or mudra, and possibly whole arm movements. Sometimes the eyes are closed, or sometimes they are fixed on a certain point. Often (although not always) the meditation includes mantra. Mantras are divinely given sounds, words or phrases that are used to generate a particular vibrational frequency in the mind and body. Most of our mantras in Kundalini Yoga are in Gurmukhi, although some are in Sanskrit. Class always ends with a song and a prayer to carry us out on a high note.
While it is traditional to wear white to a Kundalini Yoga class, it is by no means necessary. White is the color of purity, and this is a practice to purify ourselves on all levels. Wearing white also helps to expand our aura, or the electromagnetic field that surrounds the body. It is also common to see people covering their heads for class, whether with a scarf, hair wrap, or full-on turban. The reason for this is simple – the crown of our head is a very sensitive energy center, and covering it keeps it protected. A head covering helps to contain our own energy as well as protect us from the energy of others. As with wearing white, covering your head is completely and totally optional. Although if you haven’t done it before, it’s worth a try!
Kundalini Yoga is a different type of yoga practice, no doubt. Anyone can do it, and everyone should do it. In the words of Yogi Bhajan himself:
The power of Kundalini Yoga lies in the actual experience. It goes right into your heart and extends your consciousness so that you may have a wider horizon of grace and of knowing the truth. Ultimately you come to understand your existence in relationship to the universe and understand you already are, and this brings you to the practical experience of Infinity. You can then radiate creativity and Infinity in all aspects of your daily life.