Kundalini is an energy that we all have, in some it is already awakened and in others it lies dormant. The practice of kundalini yoga and meditation works on raising this energy so that we live more fulfilled and healthy lives. When the kundalini energy is awake and being utilized we experience innate joy, radiance, vitality, and a sense of well being. Regular kundalini yoga practice facilitates a deeper awareness and connection to your full creative potential.
Ready to give it a try? Most kundalini yoga teachers agree that this yoga is all about the experience but in the following paragraphs I will give a brief introduction about what to expect with links to a few other resources in the event you would like to learn more.
1. White Clothing and Turbans
Your kundalini yoga teacher may be wearing a turban, but not necessarily for religious reasons, as kundalini yoga is not a religion. They may choose to wear the turban because of the unique benefits, such as increased focus, especially while practicing kundalini yoga and meditating. Whether or not you cover your head during your practice, is all is up to you - it is recommended, but not required. Check out a list of the benefits here and this post by Snatam Kaur on the gift of covering your head in kundalini yoga.
In addition, kundalini teachers and some kundalini yoga students wear white, natural fiber clothing while practicing. Again, this is not required but the reason for doing so is another yogic practice similar to the turban. Wearing white expands your auric field and aids in balancing the chakras. It also demands a certain measure of personal grace, wearing white from head to toe and keeping it clean requires a presence and a consciousness much different then if you were wearing all black.
When I first began to practice kundalini yoga and attend class, I did not wear white or cover my head. Overtime I began experimenting with both and found a profound difference in my personal practice, especially in regards to wearing a turban. Fast forward almost four years later and I enjoy wearing all white and a turban; it feels completely normal to me now, though I remember feeling apprehensive in the beginning. Again, as a student the decision to utilize this yogic practice is up to you, it is recommended but not required.
2. Chanting and the Use of Mantra
Kundalini yoga class begins with tuning in with the Adi Mantra, and chanting mantra(s) may be done throughout the class. This is because in addition to pranayama (breathing exercises), one of the most effective ways to expand consciousness is through vibrating the sound current.
"There are eighty-four meridian points, or pressure points, in the roof of the mouth. Every time you speak, you stimulate them and their associated glands and organs—with the tongue. And every time you chant a mantra, you are tapping out a particular sequence, rhythm, and position that initiates a chemical reaction in the brain and body." (from 3HO.org)
While chanting mantras may seem uncomfortable at first, it is a beautifully healing and meditative experience. Still having a bit of doubt? Well, rest easy. You are not required to join in until you are ready to do so, but I urge you to suspend your judgement and give it a try. I’ve often told the story of my first experience chanting kundalini mantras as it was one of bliss.
3. The Concept of Kriya
Very simply stated, kriya means “a complete action.” In the hatha yoga tradition, the yoga class flows through a series of standing and then seated postures moving on the breath. In kundalini yoga we move through a series of specific exercises and meditations intended to bring about a certain affect on the body, mind, and spirit, and this is called kriya. So while you will move from exercise to exercise and end with savasana (relaxation), overall it will be a different experience from a traditional yoga class, and you can expect differences from class to class within the kundalini tradition too. It all depends on which kriya is being taught. There are over a thousand different kriyas so you there are bound to be ones you love and ones you don’t like as much, and that is totally OK - it is all part of the experience. Read more about kriya here.
Exercises in the kriyas vary in degree of physical difficulty and mental challenge but modifications are widely available. Some exercises are rhythmic and dynamic resembling calisthenics while other are static. Very few props are used in kundalini yoga. If you know you have tight hips and flexibility is a challenge, I suggest using a cushion, bolster, or a rolled blanket under the hips for seated activities and have a foam block handy for some exercises.
Some exercises you may recognize from the hatha tradition. Though they may have different names such as triangle (downward facing dog) or have the same name but be a different pose all together like crow (an arm balance in hatha but a deep squat in kundalini). There are shoulder stands but no headstands in kundalini as this could be be dangerous for the delicate structure of the neck, and create permanent damage.
4. Experience Challenge Beyond the Physical
The experience of kundalini yoga varies depending on the person. The first time I tried it I wasn’t crazy about it at all . Even when the exercises seem simple try to keep your expectations in check, as often we are working more than just our physical bodies. Yogic anatomy has many different factors that come into consideration, most of them energetic. Make no mistake, yoga is a mental exercise and kundalini yoga, in particular, challenges your body to go beyond the self-imposed limits of the mind.
The majority of the practice is done with the eyes closed and this can be hard for some. In addition, is not uncommon to have a meditation that uses all of the following at the same time: mantra, mudra (hand position), drishti (eye focus), bandha (body locks), and pranayama. That is a lot going on at once; it takes practice to get it all down and eventually the coordination of all those activities gets easier over time.
5. Teachings from Yogi Bhajan
Yogi Bhajan is the man who brought kundalini yoga to the West in 1968. His teachings are near and dear to many and your teacher will likely share some of them with you throughout the class.
Historically kundalini yoga was kept secret in India because it was so powerful. Yogi Bhajan grew up there practicing this and other yoga styles to the point of mastery. Originally he came to teach hatha yoga, but when he saw all of the flower children and the prolific use of drugs in an effort to reach higher consciousness in the late 1960s he decided to teach kundalini yoga instead. He knew that it was the most effective technology he could share with them to heal their bodies and their minds, and give them a valid experience. They could get “high” without the side effects.
In his lifetime he taught over 8,000 classes and inspired thousands of people to "keep up" and live in their excellence. Though he passed in 2004, he is still alive in his teachings and his guidance is available to anyone who tunes into his subtle presence.
I hope this post helped answer your questions about kundalini and peaked your curiosity about this powerful practice. Though challenging at times it is absolutely worth the effort. I can honestly say kundalini has more than doubled my return of any energy I've ever put in, even while being a total skeptic. This practice has completely transformed my life and I decided to become a teacher in order to share this technology with others. Please reach out via facebook and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.