Kundalini has been gaining a lot of recognition as of late for its numerous health and mental benefits. A number of celebrities have become converts, including Russel Brand, Kate Hudson, Alicia Keys and Mirander Kerr. It is also receiving recognition as a viable tool in the treatment of addictions, depressions and anxiety as a slew of new research adds weight to the claims of it's supporters. So what is Kundalini Yoga and how is it different from other forms of yoga?
What is Kundalini Yoga?
As we know, “Yoga” is about more than just physical asana practice. In fact, yoga is a way of life that has many elements, all of which seek to help us attain the primary goal of a state of unity or oneness with the self and the universe. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali referred to this state as Samadhi; Hindu scholar Dattatreya called it Raja Yoga. In both cases, Patanjali and Dattatreya considered Asana practice as one of the steps towards of the chief goal of yoga.
So what about Kundalini Yoga? Like other forms of yoga, such as Hatha, Vinyasa and Ashtanga, the goal of Kundalini Yoga is the same. The goal is to overcome the temperamental fluctuations of the mind and through this achieve a state of unity with the self. However, when you go to a Kundalini Yoga class you will find few similarities with the practices of Vinyasa or Hatha yoga.
Going within using Kriyas
Known as the “Yoga of Awareness”, Kundalini places great emphasis on the internal sensations of the body. During a Kundalini class, students are invited to keep their eyes closed and to focus all of their attention within. Instead of practicing traditional yoga poses, Kundalini yoga focuses on a series of “Kriyas”: a combination of posture, breath, mudra (hand and finger placement), meditation and chanting. Some of the more advanced kriyas can be extremely challenging due to the number of elements that need to be practiced in unison.
Kundalini classes almost always focus on a theme, such as connecting with the body or a particular emotion, strengthening or calming the nervous system, fostering mental clarity and even stimulating specific body parts such as the kidneys and adrenal glands. The goal is always to work towards a greater connection between the mind and the body, emotions and the self. It is very common for new practitioners of Kundalini to experience strong emotions during their first few classes.
Going to a Kundalini yoga class
Kundalini classes follow the same format as a regular yoga class: the teacher will lead the class from the front and give instructions to the students as you go. Unlike other types of yoga, in Kundalini the teacher will not make any adjustments or touch you at all during the class. This is to help maintain the focus on the internal sensations of the body. You teacher will also encourage everyone to keep their eyes closed during the practice and focus on their own sensations, not anyone else.
There is very little emphasis on stretching and flexibility. Kundalini kriyas focus more on repetitive movements, breathing techniques, hand gestures and chanting. A typical kundalini practice is much less physically demanding compared to a vinyasa-flow or hatha yoga class, although there are one or two kriyas that may cause you to break a sweat (frog kriya!)
If it's a very traditional Kundalini class then you may well see a lot of people dressed all in white and some may also be wearing headscarves. This is a tradition of Kundalini yoga so don’t be alarmed, practitioners are generally very friendly and welcoming people!
Don’t be afraid to try out a Kundalini class the next time you see one happening at your local studio. Either on it's own or as a compliment to your regular Hatha, Vinyasa or Ashtanga practice, Kundalini has much to offer you as you continue your yoga journey.