The Westernized version of yoga relies heavily on the asanas (poses), but that's really only a small part of what yoga was intended to be. There's a large spiritual component that focuses on breathing, meditation and guidelines for how to live your day-to-day life.
In fact, one form of yoga — Kundalini — focuses much more on the latter than the former. It can be quiet different from the typical yoga classes offered in American studios, and the best way to understand it is to experience it firsthand.
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But it's also helpful to know what you're getting into beforehand. Consider this your beginner's guide to Kundalini — with a particular focuses on why some people consider it potentially dangerous if done incorrectly.
What Is Kundalini Yoga?
There are many ways that Kundalini is encouraged in a class setting, all of which lead to increased life energy and the encompassing of "spirit" of Kundalini.
"Primarily, these are a mix of bodily movements, deep breathing practices, meditation, chanting, the learning of codes of conduct and usually also a focus on moving energy between the chakras," says Cyndi Dale, author of Advanced Chakra Healing.
The idea behind Kundalini yoga is that there's a powerful energy or force that lies dormant at the base of the spine. The energy or force can be awakened and brought up the spine to the crown of the head, where it can lead to spiritual enlightenment.
"When we meet, there is no mistake to our meeting: Our task is to feel into our moment and determine if we're meant to help one another, create something together or simply appreciate the blessing of the moment and then move on," says Lauren Christian, owner of Five Peaks Yoga and founder of Embodied Vitality yoga teacher training.
What Is Kundalini Energy?
Kundalini energy refers to a specific life force. "There is a bundle of nerves seated at the base of our spine that houses an unfathomable store of creative energy," Christian says.
"Most of the time, this energy lies dormant or suppressed, because we're not aware of it or taught how to channel it. It's further suppressed by distracted thought patterns and sedentary lifestyles. But when our physical system is in harmony and we're open to a higher vision of ourselves and the world, the higher vision opens to us, as well as our place in it."
What Is the Kundalini Spirit?
The Kundalini spirit is one of creativity and aliveness. "It is the feeling of freedom that allows you to bend, stretch and reach for the sky — for your dreams," Dale says.
"When your Kundalini is flowing through your body, you'll have access to all the everyday life energy you need and enjoy a sense of wonder about yourself and the world. Many people also report that awareness of oneness — or whatever they call spirit — after invoking the Kundalini spirit."
What Is Kundalini Meditation?
There are a few key elements to a Kundalini meditation practice, according to Christian. These include:
- Kriya (purposeful movement)
- Mantra (chanting)
- Mudra (creating neural connections with fingertips)
Kundalini's approach to meditation honors sacred truths that appear among mystics in all major world religions — Christianity, Sufi, Judaism, etc. So it's not exclusive to any one group of people.
"Kundalini meditations use techniques like vibration, mantra, mudra, breath and repetitive movement as anchors to help you transcend time and personality," Christian says. This is done through a span of 3 minutes, 11 minutes or even an hour, where you essentially let go of your grip on time and your personality in order to "access yourself" as an eternal and limitless being.
Why Is Kundalini Yoga Considered Dangerous?
Kundalini can be interpreted as dangerous by some, but it's a topic of debate. "What can be dangerous or potentially harmful is approaching the practice from an unskilled mindset," Christian says.
As Dale explains, these awakenings can come on quickly and can be quite jolting. "The shocking neurological charges, emotional challenges or self-identity questions can cause quite the spin and feel traumatizing. Other individuals find the slow-moving process to cause too many imbalances, throwing off normal life."
Additionally, Christian points out: "When my ego is in control, I am more likely to push too far or use my energy in forceful or self-centered way. In the classroom, I have seen students overwhelm their nervous systems, experience panic attacks, pass out or pull a muscle. These occurrences are rare but very human and normal."
But don't let that deter you if you really want to experience a Kundalini session. "I have never seen anyone permanently hurt or injured by their Kundalini practice, but experiencing nervous-system overwhelm can be scary," Christian says.
How Can Working in a Positive Way to Enhance Your Life Force Go Wrong?
"I teach my students, 'Ego falls, wisdom rises.' Our egos want to be the best, get it right and become enlightened so we can be superior and more powerful than everyone else," Christian says.
She believes that culturally, we are conditioned to force things to be a certain way — at home, at work and within our bodies. "It takes students time to learn how to listen to themselves and calibrate the frequency and intensity of their breath and movement to their own internal cues."
What Is a Kundalini Awakening?
A Kundalini awakening is a shift in perspective; it can come on spontaneously like a "Eureka" moment or subtly — without you even consciously noticing.
"When you can sense that you have a spirit (or a spiritual heart) that is all your own and also that you are part of a cosmic, interconnected whole, you are awakening and will begin to behave differently," Christian says.
"You will start viewing your life and your personal decisions regarding self-care, relationships, vocation, finances, travel and expression in a way that honors you as an individual and you as a collective," Christian says. "There's no room for fear-based or survival-driven behavior anymore."
What Happens After a Kundalini Awakening?
"Time isn't the critical factor, rather, there are different factors that usually occur after the Kundalini awakens or 'turns on,' as it's completing its progress through the body" Dale says. These factors include:
- The flow of electrical energy. Every part of the body functions electrically and chemically. And often, Kundalini begins — and continues — as an ever-increasing flow of electrical energy moving through the nervous system. This process boosts life energy, physical wellbeing and awareness of life's goodness.
- A clearing of old emotions and traumas. After the Kundalini starts moving through the body and the chakras, issues that are preventing joy and peace are triggered. As we deal with them, the Kundalini is enhanced, as is our ability to trust ourselves and the world around us.
- Assessment of beliefs. A Kundalini awakening can helps purge unconscious, dysfunctional beliefs and operate from truths like, "I am loveable."
- Spiritual attunement. At some point, a Kundalini awakening enables us to embrace an essential truth. We (finally) know that we are worthy of our lives — and the giving and receiving of love from self, others, and a higher power.
Is a Kundalini Awakening Permanent?
Yes, a Kundalini awakening can be permanent. "Once we've awakened to our inner creative spirit and feel that amazing bond with something greater, we will most likely move into another stage, and then another," Dale says.
"Some individuals experience another Kundalini awakening, which would happen at an even deeper and more spiritual level than the first. Still others use that creative force to be literally creative, in whatever way they feel called. We grow, and then grow some more."
How to End a Kundalini Awakening
Ultimately, a Kundalini awakening ends when the spirit has moved all the way through the body and chakras, evolving into a meta-conscious "Eureka" moment. Dale explains that this is the awareness of existing inside and outside of the self and being linked to a greater presence.
At times, individuals might want to put a Kundalini awakening or process on hold for a while. "It's okay to hit the pause button and return to basics," Dale says. "Perform deep breathing, poses, eat well, get decent sleep, see a therapist, meditate, add bodywork or other support to life."