Have you ever done Kundalini Yoga? Sorry, forget that, have you ever heard of Kundalini Yoga?
This is the type of yoga that Russell Brand practices, and he calls it ‘the crack cocaine of yoga’ – now I’ve never smoked crack, but I have to agree with Russel – it can get you high. It’s also known as ‘the yoga of awareness’.
Firstly, let me just say and as you might expect, it’s incredible. I’ve never come across anything so powerful in changing my mood, lifting me up, and helping me to see things more clearly – and yes you guessed it folks – ‘letting go’.
Hippies and weirdos
A few years ago (before I’d ever been to any yoga class or knew anything about it), I was asked by a friend to go to Kundalini Yoga with her. If I’m being honest I didn’t really want to, I thought it might be full of hippies and weirdos and had already decided that it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be that person walking around town with a yoga mat. Please don’t judge my judgmentalness.
Plus, I was really focused on going to the gym and being thin back then. I thought that being really thin was the answer to being happy. So I didn’t want to waste my time doing ‘weird stuff’ with strangers, when I could be miserably pounding the cross trainer in a gym full of oppressive knuckleheads.
Nevertheless, I resigned myself to going as we have to support our friends don’t we, and I planned on just falling asleep in the corner. I didn’t fall asleep though. What I found was admittedly an unusual environment, I was certainly out of my comfort zone, but it was a fantastic and uplifting experience like none I’d had before.
I managed to have a great physical workout and my endorphins were high, but this was so much more. It was a feeling of bliss and utter contentment, and it doesn’t just last while you’re in the class, that sense of wellbeing can last for days after, encouraging confidence and mental clarity.
There’s a certain alchemy that takes place within Kundalini yoga, it’s different to other forms of yoga in that instead of striving to get into specific poses, you simply repeat the pose (or Krya) for a certain amount of time, say 3 minutes. This is combined with breath work (pranayama – special breathing techniques) and mantra (chanting). Yes chanting.
Say a little prayer
At the beginning of each class we sit down crossed legged, hands together in prayer, and sing a mantra. It’s a way of saying ‘okay, I’m here, I’m in the moment and I’m giving myself this special time’, or as some yogi’s call it ‘tuning in’.
When I think back to that first class, when I heard everyone chanting, and also realised that I was expected to take part, I was absolutely mortified. What had I come to? I looked around at my friend, hoping to catch her eye so we could share the ‘god this is weird’ look, but unfortunately this didn’t happen as she was chanting her heart out! With no support, and never enjoying being the odd one out, I got stuck in.
A surprising turn of events
I’ve never been a great singer, my mum, sister, brothers and daughter will all testify to this – those bastards… talk about stifling creativity. Anyway I digress, I’ve never sang much, and chanting has a religious connotation which put me off. It wasn’t something I was keen on, until I tried it, and guess what folks? I can chant! My voice joins other voices and together they grow in strength and power to fill the room with absolute beauty. I think anyone can chant, it’s just having the confidence to do it.
Also just to note, yoga isn’t in any way religious, it’s not a religion, it’s a science, more on that in another post. Chanting is just one of the ‘tools’ of yoga.
To summarise: in my humble opinion Kundalini Yoga is the bee’s knees, the best thing since sliced bread, the delicious vegan cheese not yet invented.
But there is a lot of controversy about Kundalini Yoga….
Advice from a genuine yogi
When I was in India I told my yoga teacher that I practiced it at home and he said: “No Hannah, you must not do this, this is very dangerous for you.”
Oh, ok then, I thought in alarm, and slight annoyance as Kundalini is my first love. “Why not?” – I asked him.
“Because if you activate the Kundalini, it may get stuck in your root chakra (chakras are energy centres in the body that we can’t see but even science nowadays accepts that they exist – kind of). This might make you do things that are of a very precarious sexual nature and you won’t be able to stop yourself. And then when the energy leaves that chakra you will regret everything that you have done and it will be terrible for you.”
The word Kundalini means a ‘latent female energy’ that is believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine that every human being is born with.
This ‘divine’ energy, once awakened, is said to give human beings very special super powers (known as siddhis) such as being able to forsee the future, and a whole host of other amazing and inconceivable skills. It also, more importantly, is believed to bestow the yogi with the answer to the real meaning of life – all very cool stuff right?
So how does one awaken this beautiful and powerful energy? Well, through Kundalini yoga apparently. Although in all honesty I don’t believe that to be true – not in the West anwyay. I have never heard of Kundalini being activated through Kundalini yoga, that’s just my experience, and I’ve done a lot of research on the topic. Hey, if anyone has awakened their Kundalini energy through Kundalini Yoga please get in touch with me and let’s chat.
I don’t think that one class a week, or even two or three is going to do that, I’ve never heard of it anyway. Yogi’s since the dawn of time have spent their whole lives trying to awaken this divine energy, some achieve it, many do not, it is apparently incredibly rare.
Why would anyone not want the Kundalini awakened?
Well, if you google ‘Kundalini Awakening’ you will see that there are millions of results. I’ve delved deep and far into these results and can tell you that there does appear to be a lot of Westerners claiming to be awakened. They seem to be struggling with it in many ways, the side effects seem to be mental health problems, paranoia, and all sorts of weird creepy stuff about other dimensions.
The concept behind Kundalini is that when the energy is released it moves through each of the seven chakras until it reaches the crown of the head, then you’ll receive your insight into the meaning of life and get your siddhis in your back pocket.
The problem arises when us Westerners get our Kundalini activated as we are just not prepared for it. We haven’t done the work, physically, mentally, or emotionally. The energy gets stuck in whatever chakra we haven’t cleared. Let’s face it, for most of us uptight, digitally addicted, socially awkward and painfully damaged Westerners, we’re going to have a lot of blockages.
Oh India I love you but it’s all so confusing
As I mentioned I have googled the hell out of ‘Kundalini Awakening’ over the years because I think it’s such a fascinating concept. Researching online for most things that originate in India, it’s very hard to get a real grasp of what it’s all about. There’s a lot of folklore stories about individuals that awaken their kundalini too early, but no real end to the story – like what happens? There’s also loads of interesting books written by yogi’s past and present who have apparently awakened theirs, ‘Kundalini Tantra‘ by Saraswati Satyananda Swami is one I’m reading at the moment, it is fascinating, but confusing.
Now if all this sounds too weird to you, I hear ya, it sounds weird to me too. The old Hannah would have run a mile away from this sort of ‘hippyish mumbo jumbo’. Remember I only found myself in the class by accident, but I’m so so glad that I did.
My conclusion of the situation is this: I love Kundalini Yoga, I enjoy practising it, it helps me to navigate my life in ways that I never thought possible, and I don’t see any danger in it. I don’t doubt that awakening Kundalini energy can cause problems if not fully prepared for it, what I doubt is the ability to activate it from a few classes a week in a studio in the UK.
Please consider Kundalini yoga, it can open your heart and your mind and your life. I feel so lucky to have attended that first class. That was my first introduction to yoga, it couldn’t have been any weirder so anything that came after that was pah, nothing, no skin off my back.
If you’d like to read a more comprehensive account of Kundalini there’s a great article here by James McCrae.
Things to note:
If you’re going to go to a class first things first – most people do not wear usual sports type yoga attire for these classes. They wear loose-fitting, comfortable, breathable and sometimes white clothing. The Kundalini Teacher always wears white. Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the west in the seventies, believed that wearing white expands the energy body by one foot.
Newsflash – My first ever yoga retreat was a Kundalini retreat in Ibiza – it was hands down the most transformational experience of my life. You can read about it here.
For more information on Kundalini please got to the Kundalini Research Institute.
**Disclaimer: I’m not a yogi, or a yoga teacher, I just like yoga and I have learnt a lot about it over the years in my job as a writer for Yoga Magazine.