Yoga for Beginners: 10 Things That Make Kundalini Yoga Different from Hatha Yoga

How is Kundalini Yoga different from Hatha Yoga and its offspring (Iyengar, Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Bikram, Anusara, etc.)? Well, let’s start out with how it’s the same. Both Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga contain asana and breath. They both aim to increase flexibility and awareness, decrease stress, and move you toward the union of body, mind, and spirit. But then, the differences begin…

Here are my top 10 things that make Kundalini Yoga different:

1. Yogi Bhajan. The man who brought Kundalini Yoga (KY) to the West from India was Yogi Bhajan. He taught and inspired many and, though he died in 2004, his teachings are carried on by his students. You’ll often hear him quoted by KY teachers, many of whom call him their spiritual teacher.

One of Yogi Bhajan's many powerful DVDs

2. Kundalini Energy. In KY, there is a belief that each of us has within us a dormant energy that resides at the base of the spine. Many asanas target this energy and aim to activate and awaken it.

3. Tuning In. Right from the get-go, KY distinguishes itself. Instead of “om,” we tune in with the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” which means “I call on the divine teacher within.”

4. Breath of Fire. KY uses an energizing, rapid, rhythmic pranayama called breath of fire. Breath of fire is done by itself or along with certain postures.

5. Kriyas. Each KY class features at least one kriya (or series of exercises) designed to have a particular effect, such as Kriya for Elevation, Navel Adjustment Kriya, or Kriya for Conquering Sleep.

A great resource on Kundalini yoga

6. Mantras. KY has an enormous cannon of beautiful mantras. There are mantras for everything under the sun: for protection, for inner peace, for courage, for intuition, for happiness… I could go on and on. Unlike most yogic traditions that draw on Sanskrit mantras, almost all of KY’s mantras are in the Gurmukhi language.

Instructional for most Kundalini yoga mantras

7. Dynamic Postures. Many asanas in KY involve vigorous movement as opposed to static postures.

8. Meditations. There are thousands of meditations in the KY tradition, each with a specific purpose. I’ve never been to or taught a KY class that didn’t include at least one meditation. Cultivating the meditative, neutral mind is paramount.

Jai-Jagdeesh guides you through 3 powerful Kundalini meditations on this CD

9. Not Alignment-Based. In Iyengar and Anusara classes, the teacher may emphasize very specific alignment issues, such as the placement of individual fingers on the mat. KY focuses less on alignment and more on the internal energy — circulation, glandular secretions, and raising the Kundalini energy.

10. Music. The music of KY features Gurmukhi and English mantras, and it’s a gorgeous, inspiring, integral part of every class.

Play a little Gurunam Singh during your Kundalini yoga class...and feel a "Change"!

Those are the parts of Kundalini Yoga that stand out as different from what you encounter in a Hatha Yoga class. But, I think the real heart of it is that it’s the combination and the interaction of all of these tools — breath of fire, kriyas, chanting, dynamic postures, meditation, music (and there’s more I didn’t mention) — that makes Kundalini Kundalini.

For a more in depth discussion of the workings of Kundalini Yoga, check out Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa’s Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power. If you want to learn more about some of the different branches of Hatha Yoga, try one of these informative books: Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners by Michaela Clarke, or Bikram Yoga by Bikram Choudhury.

(Author’s Note: Although I’ve landed in the Kundalini Camp, I wholeheartedly believe that any yoga you choose to practice is wonderful and beneficial.)

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Cate Baily

Cate discovered Kundalini Yoga by accident over 15 years ago. Walking into a yoga class at the fitness center in her office building, she happened upon it and was surprised and thrilled by how engaged, energized, and inspired it made her feel. She’s been practicing ever since. In 2008, she completed her teacher training at Golden Bridge Yoga in New York City with Hari Kaur Khalsa. Currently, Cate offers private lessons with Kundalini-scriptions (a daily just-right-for-you practice); she teaches Kundalini Yoga at The Karuna Shala in Glen Ridge, NJ; and she runs her signature series, Meditation and Mantra Immersion Experiences for Women twice a month at NJ Acupuncture, Wellness, and Fertility in Montclair, NJ. You can find out more about Cate and her work at


  1. As per the research done by Mr. Pandian, Kundalini doesn’t mean coiled snake. Please go through the link for the meaning of word kundalini

    Please go through this video completely and make your views on Kundalini.

    Etymology of word kundalini and the meaning for the seven chakras and the colour concept behind them

    Etymology of the word Chakra:

  2. i mean get more flexibility….

  3. So i can do kundalini kriya’s set in the morning and other yoga assanas in the middle of the day, and again kundalini in the evening,yes?
    Kundalini is great, i like the effect after set, but i also want to get more strength and power in my body…

  4. Can i mix kundalini yoga with other yogas ?

    • You cannot mix different types of yoga in the context of a kriya. The kriyas should be kept as they are taught. It is ok to practice Kundalini yoga and also study other forms of yoga, to enhance your practice and your life. Blessings, Ramdesh

  5. Thank you for the comments, clarifications, and additions everyone! I appreciate the feedback and enjoy the dialogue.

  6. The 11th item I’d like to propose to add is that KY has a huge focus on community and once you tune in, you belong to the KY ‘family” and it’s not about you and your own practice, the emphasis is on a collective group practice.
    I don’t see Kundalini Yoga as the “endgoal” of a hatha yoga practice even though it was also explained to me that way, I respectfully disagree at this time in my life. Hatha yoga in it’s restorative and deep way holds a valuable place in the heart and soul of practicing yogi’s, in fact they say that baby’s do all the hatha yoga postures in the womb!
    I just see Kundalini yoga as a group effort and oriented towards helping the world through a collective yoga practice.
    Sat nam.

  7. Thank you for your article — this is certainly a question we get asked frequently!

    I’d like to offer a clarification. “Gurmukhi” is often characterized as a language, but in fact Gurmukhi refers to the script that the Siri Guru Granth Sahib (sacred text considered the Guru of the Sikhs) and the Punjabi language are written in. The mantras in Kundalini Yoga largely come from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, which actually draws on a variety of languages and dialects, which are all descendents of Sanskrit. Reference for this information — “Introduction to the Sacred Language of the Sikhs” by Christopher Shackle, 1983, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

  8. Hi! Beautiful  article and very useful indeed. I am just surprised that you haven’ t mentioned about the Golden chain and Guru Ram Das as i thought the main difference of KY is the source of the teachings. Thanks and Sat Nam!

  9. Awesome article. Very clear and presentable. I’ll be sharing this with some of my non-KY yogi friends. thank you =)

  10. Sat Nam! Thank you for this very helpful breakdown of the basic differences between KY and Hatha.
    I would like to respectfully add that raising the Kundalini is actually the end goal of Hatha yoga also, its just that Hatha yoga takes about 20 years of perfect practice to do so. At least thats how it’s been explained to me. They call Kundalini Yoga the yoga for “householders” because it can be done by people who dont have 20 years to sit in a cave doing yoga all day to get results. Simply put, both styles work, one just works faster to raise the Kundalini. Hence the name..
    I say this will all respect to Hatha yogis and teachers everywhere. Just my two cents.



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