December 19, 2012

What is Kundalini Yoga? ~ Shakta Khalsa

Kundalini is the awakening of the self. It is that simple.

People who do yoga, or have at least some understanding of yoga, are often curious about Kundalini Yoga. In the past, the Kundalini energy has been referred to as “serpent power,” and other exotic sounding terms. But, Kundalini Yoga, as taught by my teacher, Yogi Bhajan, is much more simple and close to home than you might think.

Kundalini comes from the root word, kundal, which means “the lock of the hair from the beloved.” The uncoiling of this “hair” is the awakening of the kundalini, the unlimited potential that already exists in every human.

Yoga is the science of the self, and kundalini is the awakening of the self. It is that simple.

So, what does a Kundalini Yoga class look like? First, we tune in using a centering technique to call upon our inner guidance. The tune for Kundalini Yoga is: Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo, repeated three times, one per each deep breath. Translated, it means: I salute the Divine guidance within me and all around me.

Then, we warm-up and stretch out our bodies using movement and strong breathing. Each Kundalini Yoga class is unique, but each will contain a “set” of postures that work on specific areas of the body, mind and spirit. There are literally hundreds of these yoga sets, or Kriyas, to choose from: yoga for your back, your radiance, your mind/heart balance, your ability to keep up through hard times. In short, there are sets for every aspect of you as a human being.

After the yoga set, a Kundalini class will culminate with a deep relaxation, which is supported and uplifted by divine music, and often times the sound of the gong. After the restful period, most Kundalini Yoga classes end with breath or mantra meditation—the icing on the cake, so to speak!

Here are a couple of easy exercises that bring flexibility to your spine and rejuvenate your brain. It is essential to create an internal awareness during yoga, not only to reap the greatest benefits, but also to prevent injury to the body. As best as you can, apply your meditative mind to each moment spent in Kundalini Yoga.

Feel the difference between a “good” hurt and “bad” hurt. A “good” hurt feels like a muscle offering resistance, then relaxing and unwinding. One effective way to help muscles relax more deeply is to direct your inbreath into any tight areas and visualize yourself relaxing more deeply. On the outbreath, feel the tightness releasing.

Warm Ups

>>Lower Spine Flex: Start by sitting on the floor with the legs crossed and tucked in. Straighten the spine by pressing the chest slightly forward and lifting the ribcage. Relax the shoulders and slightly tuck the chin. This is called “easy” pose.

Now, take hold of the outside ankle with your two hands. Inhale and flex the spine forward, chest out and shoulders back. Exhale and slump the body. The shoulders curve forward, the chest caves in and the spine is rounded.

Continue in a rhythmic forward and backward manner. Focus on rocking the pelvis forward and back, as well as moving the mid and upper spine. Feel each vertebra of the spine curl and uncurl. As you continue, pick up the pace. Go for 1-2 minutes. Then, inhale deeply, holding the breath. Exhale and relax the breath and the pose.

In this exercise, you are loosening the vertebrae of the lower spine, and stimulating the energy of the pelvic area.

>>Twists: Still sitting in easy pose, bring your hands up to the shoulders with the fingers in the front and the thumbs in the back. Straighten the spine, and begin twisting side to side as far as you can in each direction. Keep the upper arms parallel to the ground as you swing freely from side to side. Inhale to the left and exhale to the right. Breathe rhythmically and powerful for 1-2 minutes.

The entire spine is loosened and adjusted.

>>Shoulder Rolls: Place hands on the knees again. Make sure the spine is straight and your neck is in line with the spine. Inhale and roll the shoulders forward and up toward the ears. Imagine you want to touch your ears with your shoulders. Exhale as you roll your shoulders around to the back and down. Breathe deeply, and continue for one to two minutes.

Then, inhale deeply, stretch the shoulders up—hold for a few seconds—and exhale down. Relax and breathe normally for a few seconds. Feel a warm energy circulating throughout the shoulder and neck area.

In this self-massage, tension in the shoulders is pressurized and then released.

>>Neck Rolls: Having worked your way up to the neck, drop your head forward. As you inhale, begin to rotate the head around to the right. Keep the jaws relaxed, the mouth slack. The chin will come over the right shoulder as you inhale. The head will drop back in a smooth, continuous motion. As you exhale, the head will move over the left shoulder and back to the front.

Move meditatively and slowly. Feel that the weight of your head is taking your neck around in a fluid circle. After two or three circles, reverse the direction. Inhale to the left, exhale as the head comes around to the right. Continue for two or three circles.

Then, inhale and bring the head to the front. Exhale and relax.

Energy has been stimulated and circulated in the spine upward to the neck area. This exercise releases the tension in the neck, allowing the energy to flow into the head.

>>Archer Pose: Stand with the right leg forward and the left leg back at a 45-degree angle to the front foot. Straddle the legs about 2 1/2 feet apart. Raise the right arm straight in front, parallel to the ground, and make a fist as if grasping a bow.

The left arm is pulled back as if pulling a bowstring back to the shoulder. The left forearm is parallel to the ground, and the hand is in a fist. Both wrists form a straight line with the arm.

Bend the right knee and lean into it  slightly so that you cannot see the right foot. Keep the body centered, do not lean forward, but put 70 percent of your weight on the front leg. Face forward and fix the eyes above the fist to the horizon. After 1-2 minutes, switch legs.

Archer pose brings the qualities of focus and fearlessness. It balances and strengthens the nervous system.

Movement Relaxation (Yoga Set)

Rhythmic, unforced, graceful and free movement relaxes the entire body and mind. It releases the tensions stored in the body from our everyday emotions. All emotional traumas leave their signature of tension in the body. If these areas are not relaxed, the built-up stress can lead to both physical and mental health imbalances.

>>Movement: Stand straight with arms completely relaxed. Close the eyes. Notice any tension by feeling the entire body. Allow the tension to release in each part. Consciously let it go.

Next, begin to sway and move every part of the body. Dance, feeling the easy movement of each body area. If there is gentle rhythmic music of a high vibration available, it may be used as a background. Continue for 3-11 minutes, or as long as you like.

>>Touch: Stand straight with the eye still closed. With the hands, begin to lightly feel each part of the body without reservation. Every square inch must be touched. Feel sensitively with the palms of the hands. Bless yourself with your touch. Continue for 2-5 minutes.

Feeling the entire body confirms the reality of the relaxation, is self-healing and smoothes the aura (surrounding energy field).

>>Forward Hang: Lean forward with arms hanging completely relaxed. Keep the knees relaxed and unlocked. Allow every muscle in the body to relax. Let the breath be normal. Continue for 2-11 minutes.

>>Backward Hang: Inhale and exhale deeply several times. Slowly straighten, and, in a continuous motion, slowly lean backwards with arms hanging loosely down from shoulders. The breath is relaxed. Continue for one minute.

Then, slowly straighten and completely relax.

The last two exercises strengthen the heart and circulatory system. If this system is weak, tissues in the extremities and  joints may build up deposits that create illness.


Shakta Khalsa has practiced and taught Kundalini Yoga for over 35 glorious years, and she is sure that it’s Kundalini Yoga that has made those years so glorious! She has authored several yoga books, and was named one of the top five Kundalini teachers by Yoga Journal Magazine.


Editor: Sara McKeown

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