What Is Kundalini Yoga?

An Introduction to Kundalini Yoga

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While some people practice yoga solely for physical exercise, Kundalini Yoga is more of a spiritual practice. It is meant to quiet your mind while, at the same time, opening your chakras so your energy can freely flow throughout your body.

This style of yoga has been associated with a few different benefits, both mental and physical, for both younger and older practitioners. Knowing what to expect can help you better prepare when beginning a Kundalini Yoga practice.

What Is Kundalini Yoga?

Kundalini Yoga is a combination of movement, breath (pranayama), meditation, and chanting. Its goal is not only to make the body stronger and more energetic, but also to increase your level of self-awareness and consciousness.

The Kundalini is untapped energy, coiled at the base of the spine. This energy can be drawn up through the body, awakening each of the seven chakras. Full enlightenment occurs when this energy reaches the crown chakra at the top of the head.

Kundalini energy is often represented as a snake coiled at the bottom of the spine.

Because Kundalini Yoga is more spiritual, it is different than exercise-based forms of yoga such as Iyengar Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and Power Yoga. Although Hatha Yoga also involves some level of self-reflection, it doesn't have the chanting of Kundalini Yoga.

When practicing Kundalini, it's helpful to know what certain terms mean. This includes kriyas, mudras, mantras, and chakras.

Kriyas

Kundalini Yoga asana sequences are called kriyas. Each kriya is a preset series of poses done with a specific breathing technique, blocking energy flow to certain areas of the body (called a bandha) to intensify the effects of the pose.

Some kriyas may consist of rapid, repetitive movements. In others, the poses are held for several minutes. In a group class situation, the teacher will typically pick a set of kriyas beneficial to most people.

Mudras

Mudras are the gestures you make when doing yoga, generally with your hands. Each gesture gives a different message to the mind and body.

The Anjali mudra is perhaps the best known. This is sometimes referred to as the prayer position and involves placing the palms of the hands together with your thumbs resting against your chest. This mudra calms the mind while bringing harmony to both sides of the body.

The Gyan mudra is the most common Kundalini Yoga mudra. To do it, you put your thumb and index finger together, applying pressure, while the remaining fingers are extended. This mudra helps to promote knowledge and encourage receptiveness.

Mantras

Part of the Kundalini practice is to chant mantras or positive affirmations. Often, these mantras are chanted in Gurmukhi, though they are also sometimes spoken in English. Some of the mantras you may use in a Kundalini Yoga session include:

  • Sat Nam, which means "I am truth" or "Truth is my identity"
  • Ong So Hung, which means "Creator, I am Thou"
  • Guru Guru Wahe Guru Guru Ram Das Guru, which means "Wise, wise is the one who serves Infinity"
  • Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which means "I bow to the Creative Wisdom, I bow to the Divine Teacher within"

Chakras

Each kriya is associated with a particular chakra. There are seven chakras, or energy points, in the body. Opening these chakras helps keep the mind and body aligned, creating optimal mental and physical health and well-being.

The 7 Chakras
  Chakra Color   Location   Represents
Root Chakra (Muladhara) Red Base of spine Our connection with the world; our basic necessities
Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana) Orange Above the genitals Sexuality and our ability to enjoy human relationships
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura) Yellow Above the navel Strength, vitality, and dynamism
Heart Chakra (Anahata) Green Middle of the chest Our most highly evolved emotions (solidarity, compassion, gratitude)
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha) Blue Neck and throat Purification, expression, and communication
Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna) Indigo Between the eyebrows Wisdom that extends beyond logic
Crown Chakra (Sahasrara) White, Gold, or Violet Crown of the head The highest level of consciousness and understanding

Benefits of Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga offers benefits for people of all ages. Some of these benefits are mental, whereas others are physical.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

One study involving elementary and middle school students found that, after 10 weeks of Kundalini Yoga, students had "significantly improved" levels of stress and resilience. Similar results have been found on the stress levels of adults.

Another piece of research reports that this style of yoga may also be helpful for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other studies have connected Kundalini Yoga with lowering anxiety for people with generalized anxiety disorder.

Improved Cognition and Mood

A 2017 study notes that, though cognitive decline is common as we grow older, a 12-week Kundalini Yoga program helps improve age-related cognitive impairment (both memory and executive functioning). And it does so both short and long-term.

This study further found that Kundalini Yoga also has positive effects on mood. Subjects engaged in this yoga style had improvements in their feelings of depression and apathy, in addition to reporting higher levels of resilience.

Healthier Blood Sugar Levels

Approximately one in ten Americans have diabetes, with a large majority diagnosed with type 2. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't respond to insulin as it should. This causes it to make more, increasing your blood sugar levels.

Research indicates that Kundalini Yoga may help by reducing these blood sugar levels, partially by reducing hormones that increase blood glucose secretions. It also helps to reduce weight, which is beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes as obesity contributes to this disease.

Better Flexibility

If you want to be more flexible, Kundalini Yoga may help. One study involving 60 college women found that 16 weeks of 60-minute training sessions held six times per week "significantly improved" the participants' flexibility.

Increased flexibility can potentially help reduce back pain by stretching the muscles and ligaments. This is enhanced by yoga's ability to increase circulation, allowing the body to get healing oxygen and nutrients to the pained area.

What to Expect in a Kundalini Class

A Kundalini class begins with a short chant followed by a warm-up to stretch the spine and improve flexibility. From there, you move into the kriyas before ending with a meditation which may be accompanied by the teacher playing a large gong and a closing song.

A personalized session might begin with a numerological analysis and diagnosis of which chakras seem to be blocked. Next, specific kriyas are prescribed to help bring balance and move prana through all the chakras.

Kundalini students often wear white clothing and head wraps, but don't feel obligated to adopt this style of dress when you take the class. You can also practice in yoga pants and other apparel you'd wear to another yoga class.

Some Kundalini practitioners use sheepskins instead of yoga mats. This was originally recommended as a way to separate the body from the Earth's magnetic pull. However, it is optional. Even some of the most devoted Kundalini yogis object to this advice on ethical grounds.

Is Kundalini Yoga Dangerous?

Some people fear Kundalini Yoga more than other types of yoga due to its ability to "awaken" emotions such as depression and anxiety. According to others, practicing can even potentially lead to a psychotic breakdown or otherwise mimic a mental illness.

Research indicates that these types of negative side effects can be reduced by practicing under the guidance of a Kundalini Yoga expert. Additionally, certain precautions and preparations may need to be made to create a positive experience.

If you are concerned about Kundalini Yoga's potential effects on your mental health, speak to your doctor, counselor, or therapist before beginning this practice.

History of Kundalini

Kundalini yoga was brought to a western audience in 1968 when Yogi Bhajan began teaching in California. He founded 3HO (the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) in 1969 to introduce Kundalini yoga to a broader population.

Before this, Kundalini was only taught in India and was passed down in the guru-student tradition. Although this type of yoga had not previously been offered to the public, Yogi Bhajan felt that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy its benefits.

A Word From Verywell

Kundalini is one of the most spiritual types of yoga. It goes beyond the asanas with its emphasis on opening the chakras through pranayama, meditation, mudras, and chanting. However, Kundalini kriyas still can be very intense.

Kundalini appeals to people who want a yoga method that stays grounded in the physical body while incorporating all of the traditional tools of a yogi to reach enlightenment. If you're not sure, give a few classes a try to see how they make you feel.

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