The yoga of spirituality, Kundalini Yoga.
There are a lot of strange new age practices and philosophies out there that you may have heard of, and Kundalini yoga is probably one of them. For a yoga class, this one breaks the mould and gets right into the transcendence part of the yoga practice through meditation, chanting and repetitive, rhythmic movements. If you have heard of Kundalini yoga it is probably in reference to being a little wierd and very spiritual, where the teacher wears a turban and makes you bark like a dog, dance with your eyes closed or even flop like a fish on your yoga mat. You’ve probably also heard of how amazingly transformative this practice can be at developing greater awareness and balance within one’s life. If you haven’t heard of it at all, it is definitely a practice to be considered if you would like to span into the more spiritually focussed and meditative aspects of the yoga lineage.
Even though this style of yoga has been adopted by a lot of new age spirituals, it is an ancient practice discussed within the ancient scriptures of the Upanishads and alluded to in the Rig-veda. It is an energetic yoga that seeks to access the Kundalini energy within the body. The kundalini is defined as a snake coiled at the base of the spine, or a goddess type of energy which is being adopted more internationally as we grow collectively into the Age of Aquarius. It is a popular style of yoga in Germany, across Europe and South America.
The pioneer of Kundalini yoga for North America is the late Yogi Bhajan who came overseas along with B.K.S. Iyengar, Bikram Choudhury and Sri Patthabi Jois. Yogi Bhajan travelled to the land of opportunity to teach Kundalini yoga. Originally he was invited by the University of Toronto to teach and eventually moved to Los Angeles to cultivate his following. Like his yoga counterparts he had a very ‘tough love’ approach in his teachings. Yogi Bhajan lectured extensively and his works are still being catalogued by the Kundalini Research Institute. You can access his teachings for free online through the Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings. He developed an NGO and named it Healthy Happy Holy Organization, or 3HO, this is a literal description of what he believed to be the goal for every human being to discover within themselves while alive on this earth. Yogi Bhajan’s work with 3HO on peacefulness has even been reviewed and supported at the United Nations. A proponent of interreligious dialogue, he introduced the International Peace Prayer Day in 1985 which has become quite celebrated annually in New Mexico.
The practice of Kundalini yoga can be described as a combination of all of the yogas but more specifically Raj and Tantra Yoga. As the Hatha yoga language comes from Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism; Kundalini yoga language comes from Gurmukhi, the classical language of Sikhism. Both yogas however precede all religion. Kundalini yoga is known to have been practiced over 500 years before religion and has evolved through the teachers and schools of education in Punjab of Pakistan and India. Originally Kundalini yoga was taught in secret, practiced by only elite royals and spirituals. As Sikhism was adopted as a faith beyond the caste system, Kundalini yoga opened up to the public.
How Kundalini Yoga Works
Using breath, mantra and yogic postures, Kundalini yoga strengthens the nervous and glandular systems. It is told to awaken the energetic body through the chakras and that the energy is accessed through the base of the spine. Each class is taught with a ‘kriya’, which is a set of unique postures and chants to bring about a specific outcome such as increased love, prosperity, flexibility, etc. There are over thousands of kriyas available and each help to access and combine the mind, body and spirit.
Kundalini yoga is for those who wish to seek a deeper experience of themselves. The rhythmic, repetitive movements help one in better understanding of how their mind works. I’d like to call it the yoga of the multitasking mind. It requires so much focus to breath, chant, and perform the postures that there is no availability for the brain to loose itself in thought. Sometimes your eyes need to be closed, looking up into your third eye as you say a mantra accessing your second chakra while you hold a mildly complex mudra with your hands and move your body in and out of a posture for an unknown length of time. This can be maddening to some individuals, but if you keep with the class and let go of your limitations, the self-discovery in perserverance and strength is immediate and effective.
When practiced regularly it gives you the ability to put aside your thoughts and to focus more clearly on the truth of the experience of life. Devinder Kaur, a Kundalini Yoga teacher and owner of Pranashanti Yoga studio in Ottawa, Canada explains
“It has helped me make better, quicker decisions, to think more clearly and also gain more physical stamina and endurance.”
Others have said they feel healthier and more energized, their eyes are clearer and their moods more balanced.
Most of the chanting in Kundalini yoga is in Sanskrit or Gurmukhi and sometimes they are simple sounds to access different areas of the body, chakras, mouth and skull. This sound component helps to create better communication. When practicing in such deep focus, and speaking out loud as you meditate, you are able to become conscious of your own sound. Dr. Sat Bir Singh author of “Your Brain on Yoga” and an avid Kundalini practitioner discusses continuously how beneficial yoga, chanting and meditation is to the body and mind. The mantras in Kundalini yoga help to vibrate the internal body, clearing passageways for greater healing and physical awareness.
What to Expect in Class
The classes range in difficulty, some are more dynamic classes and others are more meditative. The teacher is dressed all in white and you are encouraged to do the same. White maintains the internal energy while reflecting external energy. Teachers generally cover their hair or even wear a turban which is believed to maintain meditative focus on the third eye as well as hold energy as the Crown Chakra may become sensitive after prolonged periods of meditation. The turban also relates closely to the Sikh tradition though you do not need to be Sikh to teach Kundalini yoga.
The teachers will most likely hold a spiritual name that seems foreign to the tongue. Names that end in the word ‘Singh’ are male and ‘Kaur’ are female. These spiritual names can be easily obtained through the 3HO website and are hand-picked through the use of numerology by one of Yogi Bhajan’s dedicated followers.
Kundalini yoga is a yoga class with intention.There is a physical and energetic explanation to every posture, even if it is simply meant to make you laugh. Sometimes you find yourself doing the most ridiculous things that might even have been created just to get you to loosen up and have some fun. Once I found myself walking around the room with my hands grasping my ankles where I was to pretend that I was a heavy elephant, greeting my friends as we pass each other in the classroom. In absolute hilarity, it gets my spirit excited, it loosens my body and my mind and helps me to centre into meditation more effectively.
The beauty of Kundalini yoga, that makes it stand out from other styles of yoga is the sound vibration that is used within the classes. Interacting with the external environment is stimulating, rather than practicing silently with one teacher speaking, the use of music and sounds help to engage the student to go deeper. Sometimes they sing the mantras with music which helps to keep the pace and more devotion of the students within the class.
It became popular in the 60s to end every Kundalini yoga class with a song by a Scottish group named the Incredible String Band “May the Longtime Sun Shine Upon You” which has now become a world prayer. If you’re lucky your teacher has chimes or even a gong to elevate your experience. There is nothing so incredible than lying, exhausted and peacefully in Savasana as a teacher lightly taps a large gong, getting louder and louder, engulfing your body and the entire room in full vibration.
Finishing a Kundalini yoga class, it is appropriate to say ‘Sat Nam’ instead of ‘Namaste’. It is traditionally repeated three times all together. ‘Sat Nam’ generally means “in truth” and when repeated three times I have heard that the first time, is in truth to yourself, the second time is for truth of your family and your friends, and the third is in truth to the universe and beyond.
In Kundalini yoga you can learn to heal yourself physically, mentally and spiritually through meditation and prostration. A higher consciousness and the discovery of the sacred purpose of your life is the overall goal. When relaxing into the rhythmic motions, the chanting and focussed meditation, a deeper level of consciousness is obtained. The resistance and mental blockages in your life dissolve completely into your practice. As you open to Kundalini yoga, you are able to drop away self-limiting ideals and absorb into a space of peace, tranquility and internal strength that shines bright within you throughout your day.