History Of Kundalini Yoga
The practice of Kundalini Yoga developed over 500,000 years ago in India and Tibet. Rishi’s (a.k.a. ancient poets or sages) tested the Kundalini system, elements of which activate respective parts of the brain.
Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji, also known as Yogi Bhajan, brought Kundalini yoga over to the west. Born in 1929, Yogi Bhajan was declared a Kundalini and Meditation master at the age of sixteen. He studied comparative religion and Vedic philosophy as an undergrad, and he received his Master’s Degree his Masters in Economics with honors from Punjab University.
In 1969, Yogi Bhajan had recently immigrated to the United States when he gave his first public lecture in Los Angeles. He said, “I’ve come to train teachers, not to get disciples. He made it his mission to show westerners the powers of Kundalini yoga, and prior to his time in America, residents of the West had not heard of or practiced this powerful yoga. Also, for the first time, Yogi Bhajan taught Kundalini yoga in public, as teachers were to teach it in secrecy prior to his methods.
In July of the same year, Yogi Bhajan established the 3HO Foundation, which stands for “healthy, happy, holy organization.” This organization is part of the United Nations group of Non-Government Organizations, and it seeks to promote wellness through Kundalini yoga. Although Yogi Bhajan died in 2004, his legacy lives on, especially as 3HO continues to operate.
Philosophy Of Kundalini Yoga
The objective of Kundalini Yoga is to bring about individual awareness in each human, refine the awareness, and expand it so that each human can access his or her unlimited Self. The main focus of Kundalini is finding awareness and the personal human experience, both which are achieved through practicing kriya (complete action) and naad (the yoga of sound).
Kundalini, as a term, can be related to similar concepts in other languages and/or traditions such as “Qi” in Chinese and “The Holy Spirit” in Christianity. Kundalini is Shakti, which by one definition means empowerment. Thus, it represents the power of the self. Kundalini also incorporates the traditional eight limbs of yoga. The word “Kundalini” literally means “coiled,” and relates to the belief that Shakti exists in the base of the spine. The practice of Kundalini yoga seeks to awaken this energy.
In addition to the obvious physical benefits, Kundalini is important as it awakens the nervous and glandular systems as well as aligning charkas. Practitioners of Kundalini believe that asana is not separate from meditation. In fact, meditation is vital to the practice, and the poses seek to yield a meditative state during practice. Yogi Bhajan says, “The process of self-healing is the privilege of every human being. Self-healing is not a miracle, nor is it a question of being able to do something that most people can’t. Self-healing is a process that occurs through the relationship between the physical and the infinite power of the soul. It is a contract, a union – that is the science of Kundalini Yoga.”
Kundalini Yoga Practice
Kundalini is different from other types of yoga because it promotes life changes quickly. The vast techniques available through poses and meditations allow the teacher to develop a program that suits the individual student, thus allowing him or her to reach goals more rapidly.
A Kundalini class begins with the chanting of the Adi mantra. This practice is also known as tuning-in, and it is important to do as an awakening of consciousness. The mantra goes, “Ong Na Mo, Guru Dev Na Mo.” Next there is a warm-up for warming the muscles, increasing flexibility, and obviously, warming up the muscles.
Kundalini uses many asanas that are present in a Hatha yoga class, fore example, downward dog, forward bending, and seated poses. Unlike many Hatha classes, a Kundalini teacher will not use Sanskrit to call out an asana. The asanas are usually described in detail and often demonstrated. There are also asanas that aren’t typical to a Hatha class that might involve movement within a pose such as spinal flex, life nerve stretch, and spinal twist.
Another highly important element to Kundalini is the practice of kriya. As previously mentioned, kriya means “complete action,” but it is more involved than a short definition. Kriya is a series of poses and/or exercises that are combined with pranayama, bandhas, chanting, and more. Different kriyas can be used for specific purposes such as kriya for a clean liver, kriya for spinal flexibility, etc. Kriyas can be practiced at home as well as in class, and they are meant to be a whole unit.
Kundalini uses many breathing techniques that you would see in other yoga classes such as alternate-nostril breathing, breath of fire, and other pranayama that help to achieve energy control. What makes these techniques different is how they are applied in the kriyas to achieve various effects. Breath is also important to meditation.
There are several other elements of kriya. Focus is important, and if there is not a directive as to where the focus goes, the eyes are usually shut. Mudras, or hand gestures, are often present in different kriyas. The combination of different fingers is believed to create energy pathways, and each set combination allows for a specific effect.
Relaxation and meditation come after kriya. Many meditations in Kundalini involve mantras. These mantras produce vibrations that stimulate different parts of the body, especially the chakras. Some mantras are chanted out loud, and many are direct parts of various kriyas. However, many Kundalini meditations are done in silence. There are scientific connections to the length of time a person spends in different phases of meditation; therefore kriyas will incorporate meditations for different amounts of time.
Kundalini yoga offers many of the traditional yoga benefits such as reduced stress, body awareness, etc. However, the most important benefit of Kundalini is unique to the practitioner. It is the individual student’s experience that matters most, and the best way to comprehend Kundalini is to practice.
By: Alex Zaglin