Most yogis and meditators already know these practices are good for the brain, but it’s always nice when a new science study comes out backing the claim. The interesting thing about this recent piece in the NYT is they focused on Kundalini yoga. The researchers selected this style because of its low entry point making it accessible for people new to yoga, and/ or out of shape.
Many of the exercises in Kundalini are done seated, and while the physicality of the practice involves some strengthening of the body, it’s really energy work. I’ve dabbled in and out of this form of yoga for years, but as I get older the benefits become easier to see — Kundalini is incredibly energizing. It can also be an amazing portal connecting mind, body and soul!
My blogging buddy, Aleya from alohaleya, recently completed her Kundalini teacher training. I reached out to her to help demystify this 5000 year old practice.
Please describe Kundalini yoga.
Kundalini Yoga is the ‘Yoga of Awareness’. My training and practice is in the style taught by Yogi Bhajan, which incorporates specific kriyas (exercise set/postures), pranayam (breathwork), meditation, mantra (chanting), and precise geometric angles to strengthen and balance the body’s various systems. However, it’s much more than just physical; Kundalini Yoga is a technology that allows us to experience our true divine nature and inner infinity. It safely awakens the kundalini energy stored at the base of the spine…and once that’s awakened, inner and outer transformation must follow.
What first drew you to it as a practice?
I took my first class way back in 2004. My city has a yoga studio devoted solely to Kundalini Yoga, and I’d always been intrigued by the practice. I didn’t know much about it, but intuitively I sensed it was very special. I’d taken some classes in Hatha and Iyengar Yoga by this point, but Kundalini called to me on a much deeper level – it was like a profound cellular remembering of ancient knowledge that was ready to re-awaken.
What have you noticed in yourself that’s changed since starting Kundalini?
Oh, so much. I feel more present and calm in general. I feel better able to cope with the tumultuous changes in the world – I can see the bigger picture of expanding consciousness within, and on a global scale. I have the tools to help release me from my old stories, wounding, and karma (my ego), while having more love and compassion for myself and others.
Why did you do the teacher training?
I’d wanted to do the training for several years, but I kept putting it off for one reason or another. (Resistance!) Finally, I decided that it was time – I was ready to receive the gift of these teachings and begin a new chapter in my life. I want to teach because I’m convinced of the tremendous healing of this practice. In this age of awakening consciousness, I believe many people are searching for a more direct relationship with the divine – one that traditional religious structures have not necessarily provided. I especially want to share this practice with women. Kundalini Yoga has so many kriyas and meditations that truly support the resurgence of the Divine Feminine that so many of us are experiencing.
What was your teacher training like?
I did my training through Yogawest, in Vancouver, BC. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to train there, as my lead trainer – Guru Raj Kaur Khalsa – was one of Yogi Bhajan’s original students…and she literally wrote the textbook on Kundalini Yoga!
In the Vancouver training, we met one weekend a month, from October through May: Friday evening and all-day Saturday and Sunday. We started the day with a Kundalini class, followed by lectures, practice, group work. Between the training sessions, we had extensive homework comprised of reading, written assignments, yoga classes, and various meditations.
Yogawest also offers a Vancouver Island program, which I participated in during the first half of my training. This group met for 5 days at a time (for four sessions in total) in the beautiful town of Sooke, BC. This training was more intimate and condensed, with a much smaller group.
What does your daily kundalini practice look like now?
Right now my daily practice is mostly home-based. I’ve recently started a 40-day practice of Kirtan Kriya – one of the most powerful meditations to clear out the subconscious – and already I feel some powerful inner and outer shifts occurring. My priority right now is developing a strong morning sadhana (daily spiritual practice). I’m reading Snatam Kaur’s new book, Original Light, and am inspired to begin a 40-day practice of the Aquarian Sadhana, which involves two hours of chanting and kriya, starting at 4am. (40 days is significant in many traditions; it takes this long to successfully change a habit.)
Do you practice any other styles of yoga and / or meditation that complement your kundalini practice?
My focus has been on Kundalini Yoga these last few months, but I’d like to develop a stronger Hatha practice, as Hatha’s always been physically grounding and pacifying for me. I’m drawn to so many styles of yoga and I live in a city where the options are virtually endless. Each style has something amazing to offer and I look forward to exploring many different modalities in the years to come. (But I suspect Kundalini will always be my true yoga love!)
What does a newcomer to Kundalini need to know about the practice?
If they don’t want their life to change, they shouldn’t try Kundalini Yoga! 🙂 I kid, but it’s true. The newcomer needs to know that Kundalini Yoga is probably quite different from other forms of yoga they may have tried. They might feel a little out of their comfort zone at first, but that’s ok. If they stick with it, they’ll experience the positive effects of the practice. I had one friend resisting all the way through her first class. In the savasana, she felt a strong emotional release that immediately convinced her of the power of this practice. That’s the thing about Kundalini Yoga; it works like magic.
What would you suggest to a beginner, to do as a daily kundalini practice, and what benefits can they expect from it?
I would recommend they start taking classes in a group setting, if that’s available. The group energy consciousness generated during Kundalini classes can be quite beautiful. For a home practice, I’d suggest getting a good beginner’s DVD, and sticking with that for at least 40 days. That might seem like a really long time, but it allows the beginner to really feel the inner and outer changes. Once the basics are down, a home practice could include some beginner kriyas such as Basic Spinal Energy Series. Surya Kriya, Kriya for Elevation, or Awakening to the Ten Bodies. The beginner will have their own unique experience with the teachings but for me personally (and for many yogis I know), the practice helps one feel very calm, present, rejuvenated, and expansive – like they can hold and generate more light. Words can’t really describe it…it must be experienced!
Thank you, Aleya!
You can read more from Aleya on her blog, alohaleya