I first found Kundalini yoga about 11 years ago, when I was turning 20. It was a radical practice, and I had a love-hate relationship with it. If you’ve tried this practice out you’ll know it’s a challenge for every aspect of your being. It took me a while to understand that I was constantly coming up against myself, pushing up against my fears, attachments, ideas of normalcy or right and wrong. I was propelled from my comfort zone and sense of predictability, and it’s always been in those spaces of instability where my perception shifts the most. It’s a representation of potential to witness the vast ways in which we ourselves and the world around us can change, whether it be for “good” or “bad”, the perception of which can change. Once it changes, the domino effect that ensues can cause a great shift, a rift, in our way of seeing and relating to the world. Kundalini is a great ignition for revolution.
I’ve seen the first time experience of kundalini yoga for many students over the last couple years of teaching. It’s actually pretty amazing to guide someone through their first practice, and to now see some patterns emerge. I’ve noticed people are either freaked out or turned on by the intensity and work. They’re either uncertain or they’re ready for more. I’ve had students get creeped out by their experiences, having felt things they’d never felt before, or have tremendous insight and inspiration come through. Kundalini yoga is certainly a practice that initiates all sorts of “shit” coming to the surface. It’s a profound practice, and it can’t be ignored that it’s some serious work that you’re doing. These practices have been around for thousands of years to bring about altered states of consciousness and connection with the Infinite. It does this by first clearing away the debris of living, and then optimizing the systems on a physical, mental, and energetic level.
And that’s not easy. We spend our whole lives accumulating behaviours, perceptions, attitudes. So when we get into a practice that brings us right up close to all those attachments and hang ups, it’s work to move through. We’re likely not going to let these things go in one, two, or sometimes even a hundred practices. We sure can shed our skins, but it’s a process that takes an unmeasurable amount of time. It’s not going to shift overnight. We aren’t going to go into a class and come out an enlightened being. But through consistent practice, we clear away some of that accumulated debris that prevents our inner radiance from shining. It’s in this way that we restore our nature, which is the essence of enlightenment. We get a little bit closer to stillness, to oneness, the more we find that the fallacy of motion is a constraint on our perception. Yoga helps us to let go of the things that keep us shackled to the past and anxious for the future, and allows us to become one with the present moment.
Yoga and meditation have the potential to do incredible things for your body and mind, but it truly is work.
What you can expect in a Kundalini Yoga class
- Tuning in and chanting the adi mantra — At the start of practice students spend some time welcoming themselves to the space, and becoming present with the body, mind, and breath. “Tuning in” uses the adi mantra ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO, to connect to the golden chain. This is a lineage of teachers who have come before, are here now, and will come, that helps to support the success of the practice. I also like to remind students here that you’re tuning into your own divinity and wisdom. Ong namo guru dev namo translates to I bow to the subtle divine wisdom, I bow to the teacher within. The student greets themselves as a teacher, and initiates the process of turning inward to cultivate their consciousness. They start the practice of remembering.
- Pranayama — Prana is life force, the energy that constitutes all creation. In the body, prana is identified and moves in different ways in different parts of the body. The pranayama practices move that energy around to clear blockages, build capacity, and stir things up. The breath is like a thread between the body and mind, and is also intimately connected to the nervous system. So holding the breath either on the inhale or exhale, breathing in through or out of lips or nose, and using the left or right nostril, all have various effects on the nervous system. One of the most common pranayama practices is called breath of fire, which is a rapid and rhythmic breath accompanied by pumping the abdominals. It’s used extensively, and can take some getting used to for new practitioners.
- Kriya — Translated to “completed action”, a kriya is a series of movements and postures that are sequenced to bring about a specific effect. So there are thousands of kriyas that aim at moving energy through the physical body through movement, sound, and more breath work. Kundalini works extensively with the chakras (energy centres) along the spine, and on a physical level, the nervous system. Each chakra relates to a specific nerve plexus along the spine, an endocrine gland, and organ or organ system. The kriyas often focus on one or more of these areas, to clear away debris held in nervous tissue, and allow hormonal secretions to bathe the body. The whole process is one of purification, regulation and balance. Some kriyas are very dynamic, while others make use of longer holds of certain positions, and are known to have quick, noticeable effects.
- Meditation — Meditation is often accompanied by mantra/chanting. Though in the west, meditation is usually equated to stress relief and relxation, these are really symptoms or prerequisites to the actual practice of meditation. Mantra helps to orient the mind to the present moment, and cultivate focus. Some meditations use movement or breath work.
- Relaxation — ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS of yoga is relaxation. It is ABSOLUTELY necessary for the parasympathetic nervous system to come online, especially in our culture where many of us live stressed out and fast paced. Relaxation allows for a space of integration, and is an active practice of mindfully cultivating presence in softness.
Getting the most out of the practice
Come with an open mind and open heart — For many, kundalini yoga is a really “out there” experience. I mean, IT IS OUT THERE. So I think one of the best ways to really get a lot out of it is by doing your best to clear away any ideas about the practice, as well as about what you should be experiencing. That being said, it’s truly an experiential practice, so by maintaining a sense of openness in absence of expectation, you stay receptive and allow whatever comes up in the practice to come. Whether that’s excitement, fear, anger, or sadness. Know that this ancient practice has a purpose, and stay open to receiving from it.
Commit — Kundalini yoga is a great practice, but there’s no doubt it can be intense. That’s what it’s meant for, and the process of regulation and purification can be kind of ugly at times. Once you’re there, commit yourself to doing the practice whole heartedly. Remember that the class will end, so for that 90 minutes really give yourself to the work. Set aside expectations, and stay open (see above). Don’t hold back. Challenge the thoughts that move through your mind saying it’s too hard, weird, or whatever. Be there and practice focusing in on what you’re doing. It gets easier over time to keep your focus, as you clear away what keeps you from it.
Engage with community — This is and has always been one of my favourite aspects of kundalini yoga. I love the practice, and do it on my own daily, however there is something very special about being in the group and doing the work together. Especially when it comes to chanting, that practice is made up of both your own projection, and listening to the vibration of those around you. To breathe and move together, and take part in a really sacred experience, is not only unique but also enhances the group experience. It leaves a residue in the space you’re in; a certain frequency left behind. Even with your eyes closed, it’s pretty incredible to feel the presence of other people around you working in the exact same way, going through their own processes. The support is real.