During my recent trip to India I tried my first Kundalini yoga class.
I had read a little about it before, and I had dabbled a little in short online videos but never an actual class. Knowing very little about kundalini yoga I was excited, yet a little nervous… I had heard it was pretty different from Ashtanga and hatha — my go-to’s!
Suffice to say… loved it!
Although it was, as expected, very different to anything I’ve learnt or taught in the past.
Kaballa bhati… or breath of fire
One main difference was the amount of ‘kaballa bhati’ or ‘breath of fire’ that was used.
Yes, we use this in Ashtanga but usually only a few consecutive rounds in one class, and often sitting in easy pose. Oh, no such luck here! In kundalini, you use breath of fire whilst holding certain (pretty challenging) poses!
Yep that was tough.
The breath technique involves a rapid pumping of the navel whilst drawing short, sharp breaths in and out through the nostrils…finding it difficult? Now stand on your head and do it, and you’re not far off!
Another difference, which I had actually encountered in the occasional class elsewhere, was the closing of the eyes during the practice.
In my first class we didn’t close our eyes for the whole practice, but for large portions of it, we kept our eyes closed whilst holding or repeating poses. I really liked this. It helps to bring our awareness inwards, takes away from any distractions of other people, surroundings etc. It also helped to bring me into that meditative place, the place of awakening your kundalini energy, and taking you to a higher consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of kundalini yoga.
Kundalini yoga and repetition
Kundalini yoga uses a lot of repetition.
The poses are either held for a long time or repeated over and over.
For example, one pose we held was bringing our fingers closed into our fists, with the thumbs outstretched (one of the many mudras used in kundalini), and holding the arms out over the head, whilst sitting cross-legged, whilst utilizing the breath of fire.
Sounds easy? It definitely wasn’t.
There are stages you go through with this, I learnt the hard way. At first you’re feeling good, pretty smug with yourself, you’re all ‘yeah, check me out, I can do this’, soon after that you’ve gone from smug to slightly frustrated but powering through. This swiftly turns into anger, frustration, and hatred towards everyone else who you assume (even though your eyes are closed), are all completing each exercise perfectly, not breaking a sweat, and probably smiling sweetly as they do so.
Okay, so that’s a tough stage and often I had to stop for a few seconds, and then begin again to get through the discomfort and difficulty.
However, I found that when I didn’t stop, when I pushed through the frustration and continued to hold the pose, it actually became easier. I started to focus on something beside the discomfort, beside the thoughts of “I can’t do this” or “when will this be over,” it’s a difficult feeling to describe but it almost felt like numbness, not of the physical, but of the emotional. Any struggles became stillness, effort became instinctive and I found myself moving and breathing intuitively.
Kundalini yoga and mantras
During the class a lot of music was used, specifically, mantras.
Mantras are a huge part of kundalini yoga, and I believe the main reason why I enjoyed it so much.
Chanting mantras produces sound vibrations within the body which creates chemical reactions in the brain and body. Chanting the various words of the mantras create different vibrations which touch on the meridians/nadhis and stimulate these to create energy within a person. It is also the method of using sound to tap into a higher consciousness.
In fact, Yogi Bhajan (responsibly for bringing Kundalini yoga to the Western world) said that…
“sound is a form of energy, having structure, power and a definite predictable effect on the chakras and the human psyche.”
The mantras are chanted in Gurmukhi, which is an ancient poetic language, which was written in a script intended for spiritual writings.
A common mantra used in Kundalini yoga is ‘Sat Nam’, meaning ‘I am truth’ or ‘truth is my identity.’ Sat means truth, and Nam means name or identity. It is connecting us to a higher divine consciousness, it is used both as a mantra and as a greeting in the kundalini tradition.
Another mantra we used in the class was ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’: I bow to the creative wisdom, I bow to the Divine Creator Within.
This mantra (often used at the beginning of a class) is used to help us tap into our self-knowledge. This made sense to me, as all yoga teachings (and other holistic therapies) focus on self-development and self-awareness — which is what many of us yogis are hoping to achieve or work on, over time, using a mantra is simply another method in which to do so.
Another reason why the mantra-portion of the class resonated with me is because I struggle with silence.
Like many people I find meditation difficult, particularly sitting back-straight, desperately attempting to keep my focus on my third eye whilst inwardly huffing and puffing about how this isn’t working.
When there are mantras involved it’s a different story.
I can chant the mantras, allowing the rhythm to become a part of my meditation, allowing the vibrations of the sound to sink into my body, and somehow my thoughts cease to huff and puff, I’m no longer struggling or inwardly grumbling but enjoying the rhythm, vibration and tranquility of the mantra.
There is so much more to kundalini than I can even begin to comprehend, but hopefully this has given you a taste of the wonderful aspects of a kundalini class to whet your yogic appetite. I am looking forward to learning more about this type of yoga and perhaps incorporating my particular highlights of a kundalini class into my everyday practice.
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