Demystifying Kundalini Yoga
Donna Amrita Davidge dispels the myths behind the most misunderstood yoga practice of all.
Kundalini Yoga is not the same as other forms of yoga. The practice first arrived in the United States in 1969. Yogi Bhajan brought it to the West, having realized that more and more young people were coming to India looking for enlightenment and trying to find it through drugs. He made it his mission to get the peace and love hippie generation high on something that was free and healthy – the breath. The early students were assigned hours of breathing and chanting to purify and cleanse their body and mind. Asana and movement are also a part of the practice but Yogi Bhajan put the emphasis on meditations using mantra, mudra and breath.
As a way to further their devotional path, many of his students took on Yogi Bhajan’s Sikh religion, which is synonymous with the turbans and white robes you often see Kundalini Yoga teachers wearing. Kundalini Yoga is not a religion, though the chants are a mixture of words from the Gurmukhi language used for Sikh chants as well as Sanskrit terms. Some modern teachers don’t cover their heads, although it is common practice in most Kundalini Yoga studios and a suggestion in most teacher trainings.
Yogi Bhajan’s intention was to create teachers, not disciples, so he did not initiate people into this ancient tradition in the same way that they had been historically taught in India. He passed away in 2004, though his legacy lives on and continues to grow. During the 1970s, he spoke a lot of the Aquarian Age – the astrological age we are currently in – predicting it would be fast-paced, full of change and that we would suffer information overload in a way we had never had to handle before. He offered Kundalini Yoga as a way to deal with the stresses and strains of the times. Today, thousands of people teach and practice Kundalini Yoga worldwide.Kundalini Yoga – common myths
Kundalini Yoga is not physical
While Kundalini isn’t physical in the same way Ashtanga or other forms of yoga are, it can be very physical. The difference is, as with the changes we wake up to each day, you never know what to expect. Kundalini’s traditional class format is to start the class with the Adi Mantra (Kundalini invocation) and warm-ups, which often consist of Spine flex – a movement of the spine similar to cat cow done in a seated position, and a spine twist – a rhythmic movement twisting side to side also done while seated.
Instead of using Sanskrit names for poses, descriptions like Life Nerve Stretch are used for poses like paschimottanasana. Many of the moves in Kundalini are unique to the practice, because its focus is to wake up energy along the spine and bring it upward. This is achieved using bandhas (energy locks using muscular contractions), sound, movement (including dancing sometimes) and static poses held for challenging periods of time (the Kundalini mantra is ‘Keep Up’).
After the warm-up, the class follows a “set”, a series of poses set by Yogi Bhajan to be done in a certain order and for a specific amount of time. The themes vary from chakra to chakra, like the navel or heart to emotional issues like fear and opening to opportunity and prosperity. The class concludes with a meditation from three to thirty-one minutes long, based on numerology, with eleven (the number of enlightenment) being a favorite. The class winds down with relaxation, which can also be done at any time during the practice, The Long Time Sun Son is sung and then the group chants Sat Nam to end (Sat Nam is also the bij or seed mantra focused on during practice as one gazes inwardly to the third eye).
Kundalini Yoga is a sexual form of yoga
All yoga works with Kundalini energy – the creative potential of the second chakra. This is sexual energy, but is also the energy that underlies our feelings, passions and connection with one another. The Kundalini is often depicted using the image of a serpent curled up at the base of our spine, which when awakened moves up the spine in a three and a half turn spiral (like the medical symbol). Once awake, Kundalini energy allows us to access and express our creativity and passion to its full potential.
In Kundalini Yoga, all you do is breathe – Kundalini Yoga is ‘breath’ yoga
While Kundalini places a strong emphasis on breathing, it isn’t only about the breath. Unlike other forms of yoga, the physical side of Kundalini yoga builds strength and flexibility in ways that are more likely to affect consciousness (awareness) and create subtle bodily changes (affected by the prana of the breath). Breath of fire, Bhastrika, and breath retention, Kumbhaka, are introduced right away to create a good foundation of long deep yoga breathing. If these breaths prove challenging, adjustments may be made the same way they would be with an asana you cannot yet do. Yoga is the union of mind-body-breath, therefore having a good instructor to guide you and watch your practice is important.
Kundalini Yoga is a cult
Kundalini Yoga is based on the same principles as any other kind of yoga. Truth is one. Paths are many. Some have labeled Kundalini the, “most advanced” or “most spiritual,” form of yoga. This is due to the enhanced inner experience created when closing the eyes, which retains energy and allows a deeper focus on the breath. Every yoga style has its rituals. While the white clothing and head covering may seem like a cult, it is merely part of the ritual. White is thought to be pure and be capable of expanding the energy field, also known as the aura.
The only thing you need in a Kundalini Yoga class or workshop is an open mind. All levels can practice this form of yoga. If you resonate with those things, Kundalini Yoga can offer from its comprehensive rich menu. It can be used as a healing practice that can be pursued as your sole form of yoga or, as many practitioners often choose, it can be used to complement the other forms of yoga you practice or teach.
Practice with Donna Amrita Davidge during Seek Retreat’s exclusive trips:
Sewall House 7 Day Retreat
Yoga and Writing at the Sewall House
Teacher Training at the Sewall House
Tuscany, Italy Fall Retreat