What is Kundalini Yoga & what can it do for me?

Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of awareness.

Long shrouded in secrecy in India, reserved for an elite few, Kundalini Yoga Master Yogi Bhajan broke with this tradition in 1969 when he brought this powerful, sacred technology to the West, making the wealth of these teachings available to all.

Kundalini Yoga is often considered the most comprehensive yogic tradition, consciously combining physical postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayam), meditation, mantra (sound current), hand positions (mudra), eye-focus (dhrist), body locks (bandhas) and relaxation. It is a Raj Yoga, encompassing the eight limbs of yoga into a singular practice of excellence and ecstasy.

“Kundalini” literally means “the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved.” This poetic metaphor alludes to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each of us and enables us to merge with the universal Self, fusing individual and universal consciousness to create a divine union called “yoga.”

The benefits of Kundalini Yoga are manifold. Dynamic asanas strengthen and balance the muscular, glandular, circulatory and nervous systems. Pranayam expands lung capacity and purifies the blood. Meditation and mantra develop mastery over the mind, allowing us to better manage our emotions and experiences, leading ultimately to liberation from ego and the experience our own infinity.

Essentially, Kundalini Yoga helps you to achieve a state of harmony between body, mind and spirit that genuinely facilitates:

  • developing a strong and reliable sense of intuition
  • accrued inner strength and serenity during times of distress, allowing us to cope with the pressures of everyday life calmly and with greater mental clarity
  • learning to master our minds and emotions, enabling us to act with grace rather than simply re-act on impulse
  • increased vital energy and improved flow and management of this energy
  • slowing down and rushing less, feeling more balanced and relaxed
  • the development of deeper, more meaningful relationships
  • the capacity to give love and the aptitude to receive it
  • looking and feeling younger, more vibrant and alive
  • feeling more energetic, creative and with a deep sense of inner-peace
  • positive, self-empowering ways of thinking to fulfill our highest potential
  • an overall sense of optimism and “joie de vivre”

How is Kundalini Yoga different from Hatha Yoga and its various offshoots (Bikram, Iyengar, Vinyasa,  Anusara, etc…)?

First, let’s consider how they are similar. Both Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga make use of asana and breath. They both aim to increase flexibility and awareness, decrease stress, and help you to achieve union of body, mind, and spirit. Despite these fundamental similarities, Kundalini Yoga is considerably different in many ways. Let’s explore a few…

10 things that make Kundalini Yoga different:

  1. YOGI BHAJAN: The man who brought Kundalini Yoga (KY) to the West from India in 1969, teaching and inspiring so many.
  2. KUNDALINI ENERGY: In KY, there is a belief that each individual possesses a reserve of dormant energy at the base of the spine. The aim of many KY exercises is to awaken and stimulate this source of  energy, awakening you to your highest consciousness.
  3. KRIYA: Kriya literally translates as “completed action.” Each KY class features at least one kriya (or series of exercises), very precisely designed to elicit a particular effect. There are literally thousands of kriyas and there effects are as varied as their number. A few examples are: Kriya for Elevation, Navel Adjustment Kriya, Kriya for Conquering Sleep, Kriya to Release Inner Anger, etc… The vastness of possibilities truly allows the instructor to tailor programs that support the individual and their goals.
  4. FAST & EFFECTIVE: KY is sometimes referred to as the superhighway to consciousness. It gives you positive realization and awareness in a very short time. Yogi Bhajan stated that raising the kundalini with Hatha “takes about 22 years, even with perfect practice.” KY is a very comprehensive technology, yet ideally suited to  individuals living active lives in today’s modern world. Its rapid effectiveness is attributed to the complete, balanced and energy-focused nature of the practice.
  5. MANTRA: Mantra and chanting are integral parts of the practice of KY. The science of mantra is based on the knowledge that sound is a form of energy that has a powerful and definite predictable effect on the chakras and the human psyche. There are mantras for anything and everything : for protection, for inner peace, for courage, for intuition, for happiness, to conquer self-animosity, etc… KY mantras, unlike  other yogic traditions, are chanted in Gurmukhi, a script originating from northern India.
  6. DYNAMIC POSTURES: Many asanas in KY involve vigorous movement as opposed to static postures.
  7. MEDITATION: There are thousands of meditations in the KY tradition, each with a specific purpose. Classes typically include at least one meditation, as cultivation of the meditative, neutral mind is paramount in the practice of KY.
  8. NOT ALIGNMENT BASED: In many Hatha classes, a great deal of emphasis is placed on alignment. KY focuses less on alignment and more on the internal energy, including but not limited to circulation, glandular secretions, and raising the Kundalini energy.
  9. TUNING-IN: From the moment class begins, KY distinguishes itself with the tune-in mantra. Instead of “Om,” we tune-in with the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.”
  10.  MUSIC: The music of KY features Gurmukhi and English mantras, and it’s an inspiring and integral part of most classes.

These are a few of the major points that differentiate Kundalini from Hatha, but perhaps what sets it apart most distinctively, is that Kundalini Yoga is truly a comprehensive technology, precisely and consciously combining all of these tools (posture, breath, mudra, eye-focus, movement, mantra, meditation and more), making Kundalini Yoga uniquely Kundalini. 

What does a typical Kundalini Yoga class structure look like?

Typical Kundalini Yoga Class Structure

Who is Yogi Bhajan?

Yogi Bhajan is an Indian Master of Kundalini Yoga who immigrated to America in 1969, in order to realize his vision of bringing Kundalini Yoga to the West. He recognized that the rampant experimentation with drugs to achieve “altered states of consciousness” during the epoch expressed a deeper desire for heightened awareness and a profound longing  for connection, within and with others. He knew that, at the dawn of the Aquarian Age, people in the West would need a fast, effective system, powerful and practical enough that any householder could practice it to improve quality of life in the face of the challenges of modern living. He sparked a movement that has since firmly planted its roots in our culture. Thanks to his work, yoga and meditation have gained widespread acceptance in the West as a holistic approach to a happy, healthier, more spiritual lifestyle.

Is Kundalini Yoga a religion?

No, Kundalini Yoga is not a religion. It is universal and nondenominational. Yogi Bhajan spoke of a G.O.D. concept: a universal force that Generates, Organizes and Delivers or Destroys. The fact is, you can call that force whatever you want. Call it Spirit, the Infinite, the Divine, the Universe, the Cosmos…you can call it “Bob” if that suits you, or nothing at all, it doesn’t really matter. What is important, is to recognize that this very same creative force exists within each one of us. It’s that permanent part of yourself, the Divine within, “that which breathes within you,” to which the practice of Kundalini Yoga seeks to deliver you…to your own infinity.

What is sadhana?

Sadhana is your personal, conscious daily  practice.  It is a self-discipline that allows you to tame the mind and body to serve the soul, so that you may experience the Infinite within yourself. Sadhana consists of the practice of yoga and meditation, but in reality, it can be whatever you choose to do consistently to clear your own consciousness and attune to your highest self.

What is prana and pranayam?

Prana is our life energy. It is the subtle essence of the breath, carried to us by the air. Yogic breathing exercises are known as Pranayam. Kundalini Yoga makes ample use of this science of breath, recognizing that  rate of breath and state of mind are inseparable and that the slower the breath, the more control you have over the mind.

“The tie between us and the Infinite is the ray of light called Prana. That’s why the human is called the Pranee – the one who lives by the grace of Prana.” – Yogi Bhajan

Why do Kundalini yogis chant?

We exist in a sea of energy and energy vibrates. Everything in manifest creation is constantly vibrating, from an inanimate object, to the sound of our spoken words. Even our silent thoughts have an electromagnetic vibration. The frequency at which we vibrate determines the scenario played out by our mind, defining how we feel and what we project to others. Chanting invokes the positive power of mantra and raises our vibrational frequency. One of the first signs of the awakening of the kundalini is a heightened awareness of the power of our words. You begin to meditate on and develop inner sounds using mantra and sound, a practice which is very effective in attaining two particular goals of Kundalini Yoga—expansion of the Self and elevation of the spirit. Mantra also supports those new to meditation, who sometimes find silence and absolute stillness very challenging. In this way, it is a ‘beginner’s practice’ and can be used by anyone to attain serenity, clarity and balance.

What are chakras and what is their significance in Kundalini Yoga?

The word chakra is Sanskrit for “wheel.” Chakras are energy centers that exist along the spine. To understand the chakras is to understand how energy is processed by the human body. Yogic anatomy takes a more holistic approach, recognizing that everything works in unison, as opposed to the Western approach, which tends to analyze and separate.  Essentially, chakras are energetic centers of consciousness and their balance or imbalance has a profound impact on our daily lives, greatly affecting our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and choices. Much like a musical instrument, if one string is out of tune, so shall be the entire piece of music.

In Kundalini Yoga, we focus on the eight major chakras. The first three chakras make up the lower triangle, which corresponds to the more earthly issues of basic survival,  elimination, sexuality, creativity, and willpower. The fourth chakra, or heart chakra, is the point of balance between the upper and lower triangles. It informs the earthly efforts through love and compassion, allowing our experience to shift from “me” to “we.” The fifth, sixth and seventh chakras make up the upper triangle, which corresponds to the more transcendent nature of the human being and the infinte qualities of the soul– truth, wisdom, intuition and humility. The eighth chakra, known as the aura, is essentially an electromagnetic field that surrounds the body, acting as a protective casing that maintains the swirling energy of the chakras in place.

Prana, the subtle life energy of the breath, powers the chakras by clearing any blocks that prevent the free, natural flow of energy. The practice of Kundalini Yoga facilities this process by opening and balancing the chakras, thereby maximizing the functioning of body, mind and spirit. When the chakras are balanced and working together effectively, the result is a an empowered, compassionate, conscious, capable human being.