Yoga has become so popular today that it seems almost ubiquitous. The tight pants, the yoga bars – it’s almost impossible to drive down any street in any large city without seeing someone carrying a mat. But lost amid all the new age-iness of it all is the realization that yoga is almost as old as time itself. People have been stretching for thousands of years. And whenever something has been around that long, we tend to pay attention.
Over those thousands of years, yoga has taken on different forms. Practice has given way to branches. Branches have split. And voila! You’ve got fancy yoga studios and a world of terminology. But today we’re going to focus on Kundalini Yoga – both a form and philosophy that’s gaining popularity among experienced yogis and beginners alike – and for good reason, too.
What is Kundalini Yoga?
We’re glad you asked. Kundalini Yoga is growing in leaps and bounds, especially in New York City and Los Angeles, but there’s a fascinating history behind the practice. The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga isn’t known. However, it’s considered to be one of the oldest forms of Yoga practice. It first appears in texts around 1,000 B.C.
Kundalini survived in relative obscurity for centuries. Practitioners had to travel to learn it, and it took years and years of intensive training before they were given access to the spiritual Kundalini masters. The very act of sharing Kundalini outside of the immediate community was strictly forbidden. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Kundalini Yoga made its way to the United States via Sikh Yogi Bhajan. In 1968, he launched the Kundalini Research Institute in LA. Since then, the practice has grown steadily.
The word Kundalini itself comes from the Sanskrit word that means “coiled up.” Way back when, the common belief in Eastern religious practice was that everyone possessed a divine energy that resides coiled, like a serpent, at the base of the spine. Even though we’re each born with this energy, uncoiling it is the idea. And that’s where Kundalini Yoga comes in. It is a yoga of awareness. And in today’s era of hyper-distracted, ultra-connected living, we can all use a little awareness and introspective healing.
Ok fine, but WHAT is Kundalini Yoga??
Kundalini yoga is part physical process and part spiritual practice. In Yogi Bhajan’s own words, “Kundalini Yoga is not a religion. Religions come out of it. Kundalini Yoga is not a fad, and it’s not a cult. It’s a practice of experience of a person’s own excellence, which is dormant and which is awakened.” Because Kundalini Yoga wasn’t born out of a strict dogma, it has grown organically over time and allowed its practitioners to adapt the practice to their own spirituality.
Unlike traditional hatha or vinyasa classes that weave in poses or salutations, kundalini is focused on the little things that lead to a deeper awakening by combining breath, mudra (hand postures), eye focus, mantra, body locks and postures to balance the glandular system, strengthen the nervous system, expand the lung capacity and purify the blood.
The combined practice is then called a ‘kriya’ (think similar to a ‘sequence’). A kriya will include postures, breathing techniques, mantras, meditations and deep relaxation all put together strategically to achieve a specific result, such as—balancing digestion and healing emotional fears.
Many of the Kundalini Yoga positions and practices look easy on the surface. However, it is the repetition that challenges us and consequently changes our brain patterns, brain waves, and chemical makeup of our blood and bodies. Pushing the body and mind can bring out deeply-rooted emotions and trauma, so be patient and allow yourself to experience the journey.
The Pros and the Myths of Kundalini.
Kundalini energy – the breathing techniques that unleash it, and the spiritual practice that cultivates it – lead to a lot of benefits. There are also some myths attached to Kundalini Yoga that we’ll dispel here. But first, let’s talk about what’s in it for us.
Because Kundalini Yoga is such an intense spiritual practice, it helps us activate our own internal intuition by putting us more in touch with ourselves. Think that’s a bunch of hippie woo woo nonsense? Think about how often we go through the day on autopilot without actually being present or alive. Quite a bit.
Kundalini Yoga also protects us from negativity – the thoughts and emotions that can tie us down, hold us back, and keep us from accomplishing our goals. With this protection from negativity also comes more inner strength, resilience, and self worth. The ego loves to have us constantly chase our own tails – running on a treadmill of doubt and dissatisfaction. Kundalini, on the other hand, helps us establish a connection to our authentic selves by commanding the mind, trusting our inner authority, and truly knowing ourselves. Sounds kinda nice, right?
There are also several myths about Kundalini that can keep people from trying it. First, they think it’s a religion. Kundalini might be spiritual in nature, it’s mantras are universal and it’s free from dogma. Anyone from any religion is free (and encouraged) to practice it.
Many people believe that awakening the Kundalini energy is frightening. While anything new can be perceived as scary at first, the sensations most people experience with Kundalini are described very positively. Of course with any spiritual practice, working through old feelings of fear and resentment can be frightening at first, but that might be the key to clearing your past and being able to move forward.
There’s also a myth that Kundalini is all about sex. While some of the feelings attained during Kundalini Yoga may result in a feeling of warmth, interconnectedness, and even arousal, this energy can be drawn inward and converted into personal energy that activates new awareness. The same energy that activates sexuality can be used to enhance healing, intuition, and universal loving consciousness.
Getting Started with Kundalini Yoga.
It might help to think about Kundalini Yoga as a physical self-help book for your soul. The best part about it is that it doesn’t take a membership, a set length of time, or a dedicated studio to practice it. In fact, sometimes it only takes five minutes to begin incorporating a simple Kundalini meditation into your life.
1. Begin by sitting comfortably with your legs crossed and your spine straight. Put your palms together (like a prayer) at the center of your chest with your fingers pointing up.
2. Close your eyes and focus your gaze on your brow just in between and above your eyebrows.
3. Think about dividing your breath into four equal parts. After this, hold your breath and exhale, breaking the outgoing breath again into four equal parts and then hold out for a few seconds.
4. Every time you inhale and exhale, gradually pull your navel point toward your spine.
This can be done comfortably in any room you like, but we recommend preparing your environment with relaxing music and keeping it clean and free of distractions. As with any new spiritual practice, pace yourself. Don’t try to master it all at once. Remember to take one metaphysical baby step after another and you’ll be well on your way to incorporating a spiritual practice into your life that can pay huge dividends for years to come.
For more information on Kundalini, visit www.3ho.org.
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