Kundalini Yoga is an all-inclusive form of yoga involving pranayama (breath work), asanas (postures), mudras (gestures–usually hand positions), and chanting. It is known as the Yoga of Awareness, as well as noisy yoga for the breath of fire. The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is the experience of awareness and consciousness.
Once a secretive and exclusive practice, Yogi Bhajan brought the practice of Kundalini Yoga to America in 1969; it has risen wildly in popularity since.
Kundalini Yoga is much different than other forms of yoga because its experience is extremely powerful in a very short amount of time. Within minutes you feel more awake, aware, and in tune with your body, life, and self. It is named after the Kundalini energy believed to reside in the base of the spine like a coiled snake. When you practice Kundalini Yoga, the energy is awakened and is able to flow through the body, bestowing a sense of bliss and well-being.
Kundalini Yoga often incorporates dynamic movements at more rapid pace than other forms of yoga. All classes I have taken have begun with the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” meaning “I call upon the Creator/I call upon divine wisdom.” Each class involves a set of exercises for a specified purpose, known as kriyas. There are kriyas for reducing headaches, detoxifying the body, increasing strength, realigning the spine, and strengthening the aura, among thousands of others. There seems to be a kriya for practically everything!
Advocates claim it can cure or treat nearly all issues–from psychological to physical disorders, create better focus and short term memory, increase the functionality of the immune system, create ego death, and attain a state of utter bliss/transcendence.
Some people who do Kundalini Yoga experience what is called a Kundalini Awakening. This happens when the chakras have been purified, and comes with mild to severe side effects. Scientists have named this Kundalini Syndrome, and have documented reports of people experiencing intense symptoms like anxiety, head pressure, psychotic episodes, tingling sensations, depression, hypersensitivity to temperatures, extreme changes in appetite and sexual energy, all scattered with feelings of blissfulness. Though the side effects sound undesirable, it has simultaneously been described as life changing, healing, and transcendental.
What’s more, a 1997 study involving Kundalini practitioners revealed that “long term practice of meditation appears to produce structural as well as intensity changes in phenomenological experiences of consciousness.” This means that practicing in the long term can structurally change–and intensify–your experience of self-awareness, love, joy, meaning, time sense, rationality, and um, arousal. (Hey, they measured for it!)
Kundalini is a nondenominational practice open to any one. The exercises are fairly simple and easy, but the repetitive movements and breath of fire really amp up the difficulty of the practice.
How to learn the breath of fire:
Sit up as straight as possible in a cross legged position.
Open your mouth and begin to pant like a dog. Really pant! Your stomach should be moving with your breath. Keep the inhale and exhale even.
Close your mouth and begin to do the same breathing through your nose. Be sure to keep your diaphragm relaxed, as well as your face. If you feel you cannot do the breath of fire at any time during practice, switch to long deep breathing.
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Photo: Jackie Popp via Flickr