Kundalini yoga is a style of yoga known for its ability to awaken energy in the body and bring about positive and often dramatic life changes. It is centered around the idea that we have dormant kundalini energy at the base of our spine that can be drawn up and out through the chakras as we practice.
Kundalini means coiled snake in Sanskrit, and the practice is often depicted as a snake uncoiling and making its way up the body through each chakra. Kundalini yoga has distinct sequences to help guide people as they strive to move their bodies and minds to a higher place.
Where Does Kundalini Yoga Come From?
There have been many stories over the years telling how exactly kundalini yoga came to be. It has been said that kundalini yoga is an ancient practice kept secret for centuries, passed down only from teacher to student until it was made public in the 1960s by a man commonly known as Yogi Bhajan. Other sources assert that kundalini yoga is a style created by Yogi Bhajan as he wove together parts of his early teachers’ guidance to form his own style.
The story told by Yogi Bhajan developed over his years in the U.S. before his death in 2004. After his death, accusations of abuse were made against him, causing some to forsake the practice entirely, while others continue to practice as he taught or in a similar manner, seeking the benefits that a kundalini practice offers.
What is Kundalini Yoga Practice?
A typical Kundalini yoga practice looks much different than a hatha or vinyasa style class you may see in a studio or local gym. Because it is a spiritual practice as much (if not more) than a physical practice, it has elements that help the practitioner move through their body but also invites people to awaken the energy that lies within.
Sequences are set, each with a focus on an anatomical or energetic concept. A typical practice has a focus and three parts with various elements woven throughout. A Kundalini practice may look like the following:
• Opening chant or mantra – Mantras or chanting are used to open and set the tone for the practice. Mantras invite the user to increase awareness and bring their attention to the practice. They vary depending on the focus of the class and may be in Sanskrit, English, or other languages. Some of the most common mantras used in kundalini yoga include:
Adi Mantra – recited as “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” (I bow to the Creative Wisdom. I bow to the Divine Teacher Within.)
Panj Shabad – recited as “Sa Ta Na Ma” (Infinity Life Death Rebirth)
Seed Mantra – recited as “Sat Nam” (Truth is my Identity or I am Truth)
• Kriya – Kriya translates to actions, and makes up much of a kundalini practice. Kriyas have different goals, some improve bodily functions while others invite compassion or clarity. They may include asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork), mantra (word or sound), mudra (hand gesture), bandha (lock), and drishti (point of focus).
The physical asana practice is often challenging and repetitive, teaching practitioners that just as they can overcome the difficulties of the sequence, they can overcome challenges in life. In Kundalini yoga, the number of breaths and repetitions is exact, leading to a highly structured practice, unlike other styles that offer more room for creativity.
As a practitioner moves through the practice, great emphasis is placed on the breath. Kundalini yoga uses many breathing techniques in its practices, with two of the most common being the breath of fire and long, deep breathing.
The use of mudra and drishti in kundalini helps focus the attention and move energy throughout the body. In many kriyas, the eyes are to remain closed or just slightly open, so as to withdraw from that sense and bring your vision inward.
• Meditation or vocalization through a chant, mantra, or song – As the practice nears its end, there is time for relaxation and meditation. There may be singing, chanting, or reciting mantras, all intended to help conclude the practice and leave having retained the benefits sought after.
What differentiates Kundalini yoga from other types of yoga?
Kundalini yoga is often thought to be one of the most powerful and transformative types of yoga. It requires much of its practitioners, but gives much in return. If you’ve never attended a kundalini class, you might find some differences between it and a more mainstream hatha class.
One of the most noticeable differences is the clothing worn. In kundalini yoga, practitioners often wear white and may have a head covering. It is believed that the color white helps protect against negative energy and increases your aura.
Kundalini also offers a more distinct spiritual practice, whereas many other types of yoga have stepped away from the spiritual side of the discipline. Kundalini encourages control of your breath, tuning into yourself, and awakening energy from within.
Some practitioners have been said to have a kundalini awakening, or the uncoiling of kundalini energy and its release into the body. It is often encouraged to be done under the guidance of a trained Kundalini teacher, while others may find it on their own, or not at all. It is said to be something that is invited by the practice but cannot be forced.
Who is this practice for?
Anyone may benefit from a kundalini yoga practice. Many people make their way to kundalini yoga after finding that they enjoy a yoga practice but want a more spiritual aspect or well-rounded discipline.
If you are someone who enjoys the more spiritual side of yoga, including mantra, chanting, and meditation, kundalini might be a good fit for you. Those with interests in the chakras, their energy, and alignment may also find that kundalini yoga helps them tune into their esoteric body.
Kundalini can provide energy, awakening, and improved life experience to those willing to try its practice.
About the Author
Sara Jackson loves helping others live and move in a way that empowers and uplifts them. She encourages people connect to their bodies and the world around them through fitness, nutrition, and mind-body work. She provides workshops, training, and consulting to individuals and businesses to foster growth and improve wellbeing. Jackson collects education like raindrops, to include a B.S. in Exercise Science, 200-Hr CYT, and CPT among many others. When she’s not in the studio teaching, she’s probably outside somewhere finding her soul up in the mountains or out in the desert. Connect with her at email@example.com.