I am posting this excerpt from my book, Keep It Simple Series (KISS) Guide to Yoga, because a list of yoga styles on New York Times magazine did not include Kundalini Yoga, which has been around since 1969. If you want to get happy, fit, healthy, and feel the LOVE…try Kundalini Yoga.
People who do yoga, or have at least some understanding of yoga, are 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, in Sanskrit, 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.
The easiest way to understand kundalini is to acknowledge that there is a universal spirit which uncoils him/her/itself. This uncoiling process is known as kundalini. What is uncoiling and awakening is you, nothing more and nothing less. It is a normal capacity that most people simply are not utilizing. Yoga is the science of the self, and kundalini is the awakening of the self. It is that simple.
A unique and distinctive yoga form that encompasses elements that are found in all other forms of yoga, Kundalini yoga is sometimes called the “mother yoga.” Here are a few of the ways that Kundalini yoga shares paths with other traditions of yoga.
Links movement with rhythmic breathing patterns.
Has an introspective quality of listening to the body and releasing emotions, as well as drawing on inspiration, such holding a pose with fearlessness, etc.
Incorporates chanting and singing as yogic technology.
Is directly focused on moving the energy through the chakras (your body’s energy centers)
Encompasses the eight limbs and all seven branches of yoga
Includes pranayama (breathing) techniques and uses the bandhas (body locks).
In addition to yoga and meditation, Kundalini Yoga incorporates teachings for all aspects of life; for example, vegetarian diet, serving others, and yogic life skills such as conscious parenting and partnering.
Often people are afraid to try yoga, and no wonder. Yoga magazines and books are filled with images of rubber-bodied yogis in acrobatic twists, or muscular body-builders in perfect handstands. Unfortunately this portrayal of yoga scares most folks away, but fortunately, yoga, and especially Kundalini Yoga, is not really like the “macho yoga” image. Kundalini Yoga meets you where you are, and takes you to your potential. In fact, I always say that if you can breathe and move your body, you can do Kundalini Yoga. Strong, rhythmic breathing coupled with fluid movements is one of the strong foundations of Kundalini Yoga.
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 is for Kundalini Yoga is : Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo, repeated three times, one per each deep breath. 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 yoga “set” of postures and exercises that work on specific areas of the body, mind, and spirit. There are literally hundreds of these yoga sets to choose from: yoga for your back, your radiance, your mind/heart balance, your ability to keep up through hard times, in short, for every aspect of you as a human being.
After the yoga set, a Kundalini Yoga class will culminate with a deep relaxation, 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!
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Here’s a couple 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 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.
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 to 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 there
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: 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 1-2 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, and 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.
DOWNWARD DOG: Stand up. Bring the soles of the feet 6-10 inches apart. Bend over and place the hands on the floor, around 2 feet apart. Keep the legs and arms straight. Your body will form a triangle with the buttocks at the highest point. Press the hips back toward the wall behind you as you pull away from the hands. Stretch the heels down toward the floor as much as possible.
This pose aids in digestion, strengthens the entire nervous system, releases pent-up emotions, and relaxes the major muscle groups of the body.
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 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 quality of fearlessness. It balances and strengthens the nervous system.