‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,’ is the mantra that rings out across the Kundalini Yoga class. Dressed in white, sitting cross-legged on a sheepskin yoga mat and radiating calm, the teacher leads the sacred chant with a powerful voice. Meaning ‘I bow to the divine, creative wisdom within,’ it’s the philosophy at the heart of Kundalini Yoga.
‘Kundalini’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘coiled power’, although it is often translated as ‘a curl in the lock of the beloved’s hair’. It refers to the powerful coil of energy that resides dormant at the base of the spine. Kundalini is said to house an individual’s infi nite creative potential and hold the key to the higher consciousness. Practitioners believe it can clear karma and equalise the body’s physical and energetic systems.
Kundalini Yoga is the practice of activating this powerful energy and guiding it on a journey up the centre of the body, clearing energy channels as it ascends. On reaching the crown chakra, it facilitates a sublime connection with the creative cosmos. The individual awakens as if from a dream and experiences the bliss of enlightenment.
Practice makes perfect
Although it’s a highly spiritual practice, Kundalini Yoga is grounded in a precise science of angles, timings, subtle movements and breath. A typical class combines ‘asanas’ (postures), ‘pranayama’ (breath control), sounds, the chanting of mantras, visualisation and meditation. Each session focuses on awakening the Kundalini energy as well as honing in on a specifi c physical, mental, emotional or spiritual issue. Untangling the knots of the subconscious, Kundalini Yoga irons out ingrained negative patterns and forges the blueprint for healthy new ones. One class may stir the creative juices in the navel chakra, another could alleviate depression or balance the aura. Every class is different from the next.
Considered by followers to be the original type of yoga, Kundalini Yoga is unique amongst other styles. Yoga in the West has blossomed into a bouquet of different styles – Ashtanga Yoga is a sequence of prescribed dynamic postures that build strength, stamina and flexibility, developed by Pattabhi Jois in India, and is the basis of Power Yoga; Anusara Yoga is a heart-opening, spiritually inspiring yoga developed by American yogi John Friend; Bikram Yoga classes are held in extreme heat, warming the muscles to encourage intense stretching during the 26 postures; Iyengar Yoga is a precise technology with great attention to detail in the accurate alignment of the body in the various postures; Sivananda Yoga is one of the largest schools of yoga in the world, with each class following a set structure of breathing, postures and relaxation; Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the connective tissue around the joints, holding poses for several minutes; and Laughter Yoga uses simple stretches, breathing and laughter to reduce stress and stimulate endorphins and was developed in 1995 by Dr Kataria in India.
Kundalini Yoga classes are strongly seasoned with meditation and chanting, which may disarm newcomers or those who are more familiar with conventional Hatha practices. Participants are encouraged to wear white, which is said to enhance the aura. They also often wear a head covering, which can be anything from a turban to a headband, to protect the crown chakra and enhance the experience of meditation. Students are advised to keep their eyes closed during the exercises, promoting a meditative state and preventing precious ‘prana’, or ‘life-force energy’, from escaping through the distraction of vision. Furthermore, many practitioners use a sheepskin rug as a yoga mat, as the wool is thought to protect the body’s electromagnetic field.
The very mention of Kundalini is a deterrent to some. There are a number of individual accounts on the internet and in various publications of ‘spontaneous Kundalini experiences’. In these cases, the Kundalini energy has instantaneously risen up through the centre of the body outside of a yoga session, causing side-effects such as psychic trauma, headaches, heightened sensory awareness, insomnia and feelings of alienation and depression. While these experiences are a very real phenomenon, they are not specifically related to the practice of Kundalini Yoga. In a proper yoga session, the practice prepares the body’s nervous system to cope with the strength and force of the energy once it has been activated. Ideally, the process of Kundalini awakening is a journey of spiritual growth that blooms with ease. The participant embarks upon a journey of gradual self-realisation.
Nonetheless, these spontaneous occurrences are a vivid reminder that this powerful energy is not a force to be taken lightly. For this reason, the ‘shakti’, or ‘power’, of this yoga is contained within the devotional space of the Sikh tradition. The guardian of Kundalini Yoga is considered to be Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and most of the mantras are spoken in the Sikh language of Gurmukhi. Although the practice has its associations with the faith, it is not necessary for a practitioner to be Sikh. Kundalini Yoga is non-denominational and accessible to people of all faiths, walks of life and fitness levels.
Kundalini Yoga Master Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, affectionately known as Yogi Bhajan, introduced Kundalini Yoga to the Western world in the late 1960s. Arriving in the USA with relatively little, Yogi Bhajan was the first to teach Kundalini Yoga openly to those who had not been through the initiation process – a secret practice in his native India, of which little is still known in the West. His arrival in America coincided with the peak of the hippy movement and its affinity with mind-altering drugs. Introducing it as an alternative, natural high, Bhajan encouraged his students to replace drug use with this new style of yoga. Bhajan’s students reported that the higher states of consciousness they were able to access through the practice superseded the effects of psychotropic drugs. During a Kundalini Yoga session, the powerful activation of transformative energy can lead to a profound sense of calm, wellbeing and universal connectivity, which does not sit comfortably alongside drug use. For this reason, Bhajan operated a strictly drug-free policy which, as is the case with most alternative therapies and activities, is still integral today.
Yogi Bhajan’s reputation as a teacher and spiritual leader has remained strong and, although he left his body in 2004, followers say that his presence continues to be felt through his teachings. His remaining legacies include the brand of herbal infusions, Yogi Tea, and his 3HO Foundation, a teaching centre based in New Mexico. Many consider it to be the worldwide headquarters of the practice: a base for guidance and resources.
Kundalini Yoga continues to hold its own in weaning addicts off substance abuse, tackling everything from tobacco to heroin. It has proved to be highly effective in reprogramming addictive behaviour and is incorporated into rehabilitation work by community outreach groups, such as the Guru Ram Das Project (grdp.co.uk), which offers complementary services to vulnerable minorities, such as drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless people and senior citizens in care homes.
But helping heal addictions is only one of the many strengths of Kundalini Yoga. It can also treat other physical, emotional, mental and psychic ailments, such as stress management, weight issues, depression and physical injuries.
Integral to the practice of Kundalini Yoga is White Tantric Yoga. White Tantra is a sacred discipline that balances and strengthens the feminine and masculine polarities, clearing subconscious blocks. Unlike controversial Red Tantric practices, where sexuality is used to access higher states of consciousness and bliss, White Tantra is platonic. White Tantra workshops are held in London and around the world by an organisation set up by Yogi Bhajan. Participants sit opposite a partner for the duration of the day. Each workshop consists of between six and eight Kundalini Yoga ‘kriyas’, or ‘actions’. Kriyas can last up to 62 minutes and are a combination of yoga postures, hand positions, pranayamas (breathing exercises), ‘drishdis’ (mental focus exercises) and mantras. Sometimes all that is required in a kriya is to gaze into the eyes of the partner and chant a mantra. Other kriyas may be more physically challenging. Each set is followed by a break with a vegetarian meal included at lunch.
Every workshop is different. The kriyas are selected in accordance with the numerological significance of the date. The workshop is facilitated by an experienced Kundalini Yoga teacher and led by recordings of Yogi Bhajan. Every component of a Kundalini Yoga kriya plays an important role in contributing to the final outcome of bliss. However, one of the most important postures is Sivasana, or ‘corpse pose’, for relaxation. Lying on the back and ‘letting go’ allows the body to integrate the powerful transformative energies that have been stirred up. Every class closes as it begins, with a mantra. The final chant is ‘Sat Nam’, meaning ‘Truth is my identity’. Spoken three times, it echoes the seed of intention of the opening mantra, which is to deliver the student to a profound connection to their truth, at one with the universal energy.
Kundalini Yoga meditation for prosperity
Sit comfortably on the floor with crossed legs (on a cushion if necessary). Keep your chin tucked in slightly, your spine straight and your neck long. Without squinting, close your eyelids but allow 1/10th to remain open. Focus your vision on the tip of your nose. Tuck your elbows into your sides and angle your forearms up and outwards with hands at throat level. The meditation begins with palms facing down and index fingers together. Keep your thumbs dropped. Alternately hit the opposite sides of your hands together. The baby fingers connect when your palms are facing up and the index fingers connect, and the thumbs meet under the hands when your palms are facing down. Repeat the chant ‘Har, Har, Har’, which refers to the creative aspect of divinity and is linked to the navel chakra. Pronounce the ‘r’ at the end of ‘Har’ with the tip of your tongue, and pull the navel in on each ‘Har’ to help activate this chakra. Continue for three to 11 minutes. Practice this daily for at least 40 days. This meditation is extremely potent in bringing prosperity.