On Kundalini Yoga by Donna Quesada
Now that I’m between semesters, I can give myself over to my longtime practice of Kundalini Yoga, as the class I prefer meets on a weekday morning, a time when I would normally be teaching. Knowing about my background in Kundalini, sometimes students ask me about it and how it differs from the more common Hatha Yoga classes that are so popular. I have wanted to address this question in a blog post for a long time.
My First Experience
It was 1996 or 1997, when I walked into my first Kundalini Yoga class. It was different than the yoga my grandmother used to do for her back. For lack of a better word, it felt holy. I liked it, but I’m not sure what I liked, since I remember the actual class being sort of strange and painful. The teacher was a female with a white head wrap. I remember the breathing technique called breath of fire – we were told to continue pumping air vigorously with our bellies while holding certain uncomfortable positions, called kriyas. Other kriyas were done in innumerable repetitions for a specified number of minutes. We chanted sacred syllables and songs, we meditated and then we rubbed our feet and hands together.
A Thumbnail Sketch of Kundalini
The focus in Kundalini is energy. Not the borrowed kind you get from coffee, or even food, but rather the life force lying dormant within each one of us. Conceptualized as a coiled up serpent, this latent source of power is awakened through the motion of the kriyas, when synchronized properly with the breath.
The work done through Kundalini Yoga functions on the level of the of the subtle neural channels, balancing our glandular system, strengthening the nervous system and awakening our own potential for self-mastery. Dedicated practice enables a heightened ability to govern our emotional and mental energy and a corresponding capacity to supersede old patterns, rather than be controlled by them.
Kundalini explains that these patterns are stored in our tissue, our genetic code, our astral bodies and energy centers, known as chakras, and that they give shape to the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It entraps us. But we can supersede this bondage, by unlocking the flow of energy and allowing its rise through those spinal centers. As such, different kriyas focus on different chakras in the body.
Kundalini Yoga, known as “the master science of experience and awareness,” makes central the connection between our own cellular function and the entire cosmological sphere. There is a relationship between harnessing this energetic potential and our creative mastery and evolution. The concentration has always been on total transformation, done not suddenly, but in steps and measures, through consistent and dedicated practice. It is a methodology aimed at rising above obstacles, fears and limitations; a process referred to as the expansion of consciousness.
Another Description I Like
Kundalini yoga is a physical and meditative discipline, comprising a set of techniques that use the mind, senses and body to create a communication between “mind” and “body”. Kundalini yoga focuses on psycho-spiritual growth and the body’s potential for maturation, giving special consideration to the role of the spine and the endocrine system in the understanding of yogic awakening (Sovatsky, 1998).
Some Years Later
I found my way back to Kundalini some seven years ago. I was looking for one teacher in particular, but to my disappointment, he wasn’t there that day. Although another teacher taught in his place on that occasion, I went back when I knew Guru Singh would be there. I’ll never forget my first glimpse of him that evening, when he walked into the room, all dressed in white, from his turban to the guitar he carried on his back. Even his long beard strove toward the color of purity. At that time in my life I would have scoffed at the idea of an aura, yet his permeated the room. His presence was luminous and he walked with grace. To be frank, I don’t often feel that from teachers in regular old Hatha Yoga classes. And unlike regular Hatha Yoga classes, he didn’t tell us to “take a vinyasa,” nor did he direct us into down dog. But he did tell us our brains were broken.
It’s true that balancing the mind is at the heart of all Yoga traditions. After all, meditation, or dhyana, is the eighth and final step of Patanjali’s classic system of Yoga. But thru time, different aspects of this holistic technology got emphasized. For example, the great Krishnamacharya, teacher of the teacher that certified me to teach, was an Ayurvedic doctor in India, and taught a complete system of Yoga to individual students, according to their needs, but when he agreed to teach a group of overactive young boys, he emphasized the poses, as a way of harnessing their energy. It was this emphasis that his own students – none other than B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois – brought to west. And with our obsession on the physical body, that worked out just fine.
So, although other types of Yoga are at their holistic best when you get a good teacher that emphasizes breath work and meditation – these things are at the heart of Kundalini practice. One of the reasons Kundalini is so richly preserved and undiluted, is because for countless centuries, it was hidden away and kept arcane in remote parts of India. It was Yogi Bhajan that brought it to the United States in the ’60’s, and in so doing, made it more widely accessible. And it was my good karma that brought me to his disciple, Guru Singh.
The Kundalini Sunshine Song
May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, Guide your way on.
(Editor’s Note: Originally published on Donna’s blog DQ’s Windmill. Some of Guru Singh’s products are below.)