Kundalini yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline for developing and tapping into inner energy and awareness. It can be practiced through the physical and meditative techniques found in all the main branches of yoga. Kundalini yoga is an ancient form of yoga that has only been practiced in the west relatively recently.
In 1969, Yogi Bhajan founded 3HO (the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) to introduce Kundalini to a broader population. Practitioners call Kundalini yoga, the yoga of awareness because they claim it directly affects human consciousness, develops intuition, increases self knowledge, and unleashes the unlimited creative potential that exists within every human being.
Kundalini Yoga has been described as an active approach to awaken the Kundalini contrasting with a passive approach which relies on surrender. Active asana-based exercises, pranayama, and meditation are undertaken to build the nervous system, glands and mental faculties to integrate the release of Kundalini energy and the activation of energy through the chakras. Kundalini Yoga, at its highest form, is practiced for the purpose of attaining bliss, developing power, attaining self-realization and ultimately merging into God consciousness.
Although Kundalini had not previously been taught to the public, Yogi Bhajan felt that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy its benefits.
Yogi Bhajan mastered Kundalini Yoga in India when he was 16 1/2 years old. In addition to his yogic practices (he’s also a master of Hatha Yoga), he finished college, served in the Indian military, married, fathered three children, and was working as a Customs officer at Palim International Airport when he received an invitation to go to Canada and teach Yoga at the University of Toronto.
One of the reasons he accepted the offer was that he had seen too many Americans and Europeans seekers arriving in India, being exploited – spending a lot of money, and leaving without having learned very much, if anything. He vowed to teach honestly, and share the wisdom and the technology that he had gained. He was determined to empower people through Kundalini Yoga and show them they didn’t have to become anybody’s disciple to progress on the spiritual path.
He not only lost his luggage en route to Canada, but when he landed in Toronto, he discovered that the professor from the University who had hired him had just died. So he had no job, only $35, and the clothes on his back. This was September of 1968.
He gave his first public lecture in the U.S. on January 5, 1969, at the East West Cultural Center of Los Angeles, where he spoke glowingly of his vision. He explained that it is everyone’s birthright to be healthy, happy, and holy, and the practice of Kundalini Yoga was a way to claim that birthright.
The Kundalini is untapped energy (prana) at the base of the spine that can be drawn up through the body awakening each of the seven chakras. Full enlightenment occurs when this energy reaches the Crown Chakra. Kundalini energy is often represented as a snake coiled at the base of the spine.
Each Kundalini Yoga asana series is done in conjunction with a specific breath that intensifies the effects of the poses with the purpose of freeing energy in the lower body and allowing it to move upwards. Kundalini sequences (called kriyas) may consist of rapid, repetitive movements done with breath or holding a pose while breathing in a particular way.
A Kundalini class begins with a short chant followed by a warm-up to stretch the spine and improve flexibility. The main work of the class is called a kriya, which is a proscribed sequence of poses and pranayama that focuses on a specific area of the body. The teacher typically does not make manual adjustments. The class ends with a meditation, which may be accompanied by the teacher playing a large gong, and a closing song. Kundalini devotees often wear flowing white robes and head wraps.
Kundalini is one of the more spiritual types of yoga. It goes beyond the physical performance of poses with its emphasis on breathing, meditation, mudras and chanting. However, the Kundalini sequences can be very physically intense. This type of yoga appeals to those who are up for both mental and physical challenges.