As we flow through our first week of another Yoga90 Challenge, I’m called to write about a style of yoga I stumbled upon in my first 90-days a few months back. It’s kundalini—the oldest form of yoga, and the foundation upon which all forms and styles were built.
Living in Boulder, Colorado, “the yoga capitol of the west”, I’ve had some excellent classes and teachers. But my first kundalini class did something to me that the other yoga classes just didn’t do. It was challenging, but I left with a sense of upliftment, energy, clarity and focus that I hadn’t experienced in any yoga class that I had ever done before.
Developed to have very specific effects on the body and mind, kundalini yoga performs three broad functions:
1) Develops the innate, human sense of happiness
2) Triggers the body’s natural ability to obtain and maintain health
3) Creates the internal environment needed to realize our own eternal holiness
Known as the “Happy-Healthy-Holy” lifestyle in many kundalini circles, these positive effects are the birthright of all… not for just mystics, sages and saints of the East.
Kundalini yoga uses “sound current” as a tool to generate certain states of being, particularly a sense of peace, happiness and inspiration. Music is played all throughout the class. And not just any music: The melodies, chants, songs and chords are designed as a tool to aid a deeper connection to the self, the practice and the spirit within.
Sometimes the students participate in singing and chanting while doing the postures. This helps break old limitations and patterns of feeling stuck, stiff or helpless while doing the poses.
Another thing that personally makes me happy about kundalini yoga is that there is a minimal level of competition in the classroom. This is the intention with most forms of yoga, but it is unfortunately not always the case. There are people of all shapes and sizes in the classes and most students wear lose-fitting white clothes. The “competition factor” is minimized even more as students are encouraged to have their eyes closed during class.
Kundalini Yoga is different from other forms in that there are 4000 series of postures, called kriyas. In other words, there are 4000 completely different classes a teacher can facilitate! As a student, this makes it pretty interesting: I personally have never had the same class twice and have no idea what’s in store for me as I walk into the room. My husband and I figured that I could go eleven years before having to repeat a class!
The most important thing to note about the kriyas is what they were designed for. Each of the 4000 kriyas was developed to have a very specific effect on the body, with notable attention on the glandular system. Modern medicine places a lot of emphasis on organs and organ systems, but we have to realize that it’s theglands that actually control the organs. Without a properly functioning glandular system, all systems “go south”.
Since starting this yoga, I personally can say that this is hands-down the best form of exercise I’ve tried for strengthening and balancing the glandular system. It also works beautifully on the organ and chakra systems.
All yoga was originally designed for one ultimate purpose: deep meditation. Kundalini Yoga places a clear emphasis on stabilizing and energizing the physical, mental and emotional capacities so that the practitioner can get into a deep, meditative state. Included in the kriya, a meditation technique is offered so that each student can experience the subtle effects of the practice. An average class might allot anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to sit or lie down to feel deep into the body.
Everyone can experience their own holiness.
“Holy” for one person might be a connection to God, Goddess or a universal guidance. It may also be an atonement to a higher self or a sense that we’re limitless, infinite beings who expand far beyond our current appearances. Holiness might simply be a deeper connection into the physical body—the discovery that wecan indeed sense very subtle sensations like glandular secretions or our emotional responses to certain stimuli.
A Face Behind the Name
Even though kundalini yoga has been practiced in the West for over 40 years, it’s not the most popular form. Is it because of its name?
“Kundalini” has been associated with sex, snakes, mysticism and new-age, and has been described as a dangerous force that shouldn’t be reckoned with. Sometimes I experience a powerful energy when doing this yoga, but mostly a beautiful, peaceful, friendly, happy quality that energizes and sustains me throughout the day.
Although it has a connection with Sikhism, not all Sikhs practice kundalini, and surely not all kundalini yogis are Sikhs. Since some of the bigger-name kundalini teachers are Sikh, Sikhism may show its face for the students like me who delve deeper into the practice, but is certainly not a part of the practice. That said, I’ve never seen any kind of religious fanaticism around kundalini yoga; in fact, it’s touted as a form for all faiths to enjoy.
Photo courtesy of Third Coast Yoga, Spring Lake, West Michigan