‘As above, so below’
The concept of Kundalini Yoga comes from tantra but the ‘serpent power’ it awakens is recognised and reflected across many ancient traditions and cultures. The word ‘Kundalini’ comes from the sanskrit root ‘kund’ meaning that which is coiled, or pit. Which aptly describes two aspects of this ‘serpent power’: Kundalini is the creative energy (shakti) resting coiled around the base of the spine, and the root chakra.
As the universe is said to dance between the divine energies of shakti and shiva, the human being reflects these two ‘opposite’ forces within. Shiva resides in the crown, symbolising pure consciousness – and as shakti rises towards him, we realise our full potential.
Kundalini may be awakened spontaneously, by grace of the guru or god, or through the effort of our practise. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika we hear that all yoga aims at raising kundalini:
‘The yoga of awareness’
The unique focus of kundalini yoga is preparing the ground for this energy to awaken. Through balancing the 7 major chakras, energetic portals between physiology and consciousness, and the nadis which connect and feed them with vital energy (prana).
While there are many reported examples of a big bang kundalini awakening, others experience profound but subtle shifts across diverse aspects of their lives and emotions over time. Yogi Bhajan, who with his 3HO foundation ignited interest in kundalini yoga in the West in the 60’s, named it the ‘yoga of awareness’; a route towards conscious living in a time when consciousness is beginning to arise.
What to expect in a class
Many yogis progress to the subtle energetic focus of kundalini yoga from more body-oriented styles. ‘Practising’ or ‘doing’ yoga becomes ‘sadhana‘: a quest towards a spiritual intention.
Depending on the style of kundalini class you choose the ‘kriyas‘ may differ; but essentially you’ll find yourself practising sets of oscillating movements, mainly while seated in a meditation pose, powered by a dynamic ‘breath of fire’. As well as the incorporation of mantras, mudras (energetic gestures) and meditation.
The theme, such a working through a particular emotion, guides the selection and sequencing of the techniques. Many kundalini teachers will play the gong at the end of class, and in the Aquarian tradition beautiful Gurmukhi mantras are often sung with live accompaniment.
Happy, healthy, holy – the benefits
If you think a few mantras and shifts of the spine sounds easy, think again! The practise is challenging in so many ways, which other styles of yoga may not touch.
Physically the movements may be simple, but have you tried holding your arms in the air for 3 minutes – let alone twisting side to side and breathing rapidly at the same time! The physical strength these yogis develop is deep, like a vein of divine steel running through the limbs and core.
Dynamic pranayama detoxifyies the lungs and blood and builds power in the diaphragm; great for those who suffer from breathing conditions such as asthma. Due to a correlation between the chakras and major glands of the body, kundalini yoga rebalances the endocrine and nervous systems, which are commonly affected by modern day stress.
Not to mention the pyschological effects. Kundalini yoga builds a resiliant and focussed mind through combinations of mantra, mudra, breath-work and movement; paving the way for deep states of meditation. Many people find themselves able to release depression, addictions and deeply rooted mental patterns after committing to the practise.
Many styles of kundalini yoga have a strong element of community and devotion, which students realise has been missing in their lives. In the words of one teacher: ‘I was feeling and loving all these highs and suddenly I thought – maybe this could be something more?’ The yogi who has integrated kundalini lives from the heart, not the ego, with reverence and surrender to the divine will.
Is it for me?
Expect to laugh, cry, dance, elephant walk and bring awareness to every aspect of dark and light that you were hiding within!
Kundalini yoga is open to all, and you will find a variety of ages and fitness in the group. Although beginners are usually welcome it is useful to have developed body awareness and basic knowledge of breath beforehand. Hatha yoga asana and pranayama practises help us to purify the subtle body in preparation for a higher charge of energy flowing through.
With a focus on discipline, devotion and compassion this may just be the strand of yoga to help us individually through difficult times. While collectively, tuning into the divine feminine within all of us may just begin to heal a fragmented and troubled world. Sat nam.