The most popular form of yoga in the Western world today is Hatha yoga, but there are some other forms of yoga that have gained popularity. One such practice is called Kundalini yoga, which began to gain popularity in the late 1980s. Hatha yoga emphasizes the physical practice of yoga more than Kundalini, which incorporates mantras and meditation as foundational parts of its practice.
Kundalini Yoga Origins
Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by a man named Yogi Bhajan, who was deemed a Kundalini master at age 16. He emigrated from India in 1968 to Canada, then moved to Los Angeles and began teaching Kundalini yoga to Westerners. His goal was to make everyone healthy, happy and holy. Today, a non-profit organization appropriately named "3HO," after the healthy, happy and holy mantra, seeks to keep his goal alive.
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While there are some aspects of Kundalini yoga that are similar to a more popular practice like Hatha, the core beliefs are different. Kundalini means energy that is coiled like a snake at the base of the spine, which is the location of the first of seven chakras in yoga. A chakra is a center of energy in the body. The goal of Kundalini yoga is to unravel that coiled energy at the base of the spine and unleash it up through the six other chakras. This is supposed to be very energizing and peaceful.
Kundalini Yoga Practice
A traditional Kundalini yoga practice includes an even distribution between breathing exercises, meditation and physical yoga poses. Kundalini yogis practice different types of breathing, such as the Breath of Fire, alternate nostril breathing, and Dog Breath, to name a few. They include a variety of mantras to help those who are new to meditation cope with the silence of meditation.
Since Hatha is the physical practice of yoga, the physical poses of Kundalini yoga are taken from Hatha. The biggest difference is that Kundalini yogis incorporate their mantras and breathing exercises with physical poses. This combination of different aspects of yoga is called a "kriya," which means "action."
A kriya usually has a certain focus, like a mental or physical health benefit. Some of the mental health benefits of kriyas are eliminating anger or finding intuition. Some of the kriyas focused on physical health help with digestion or decreasing lower back pain.
Hatha Yoga Origins
Hatha yoga is the most popular version of yoga in the West. The practice is derived from Tantric Yoga, which believes that enlightenment can be attained through connection with your physical self. There are some estimates that Hatha yoga is 5,000 years old, but the oldest known Hatha text was written in the 15th century by Swami Swatamarama, according to Yoga Basics.
Hatha is really an umbrella term meaning the physical practice of yoga -- so anything from vinyasa to Bikram are technically Hatha. Today, a "Hatha" class listed on a schedule will mean a gentle sequence of postures.
Read More: What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga Practice
A typical Hatha yoga class involves some breath work or brief meditation and then flows through different yoga poses. Typical Hatha yoga poses include Downward Dog, Child's pose, Mountain pose and the three Warrior poses, just to name a few.
The focus is on the various poses and the pace is generally slow, which allows you time to get into the correct position. Most classes labeled "Hatha yoga" are just not fast-paced and physically demanding style of yoga.
Hatha yoga and Kundalini yoga share many of the same physical poses and some of the same breathing exercises. Hatha yogis may even use some of the same mantras that a Kundalini yogi would. The two types of yoga are similar in that they share many of the same techniques, but the way that their sessions are structured makes them very different.
If you're looking to work on your physical self through stretching and gentle strengthening, Hatha yoga is probably best for you. A Kundalini yoga class is better for someone looking to have a spiritual experience in their yoga class through meditation, mantras, and some physical poses.