“Yogis, iiiiinhale!” I’m in my first Kundalini yoga class, and I’m struck by the joy my teacher conveys in this seemingly prosaic command, which she gives repeatedly throughout the class. Each time she gives it, the class finishes its exercise, sometimes gracefully, sometimes with relief, depending on the stamina that was required, and we move into Root Lock (Mula Bandha).
If your experience of yoga is mostly with popular hatha styles, there’s many things about a Kundalini yoga class that will strike you as different: music plays throughout the class; yogic exercises are mostly done with the eyes closed and there’s just as much emphasis placed on breathing, mantras and meditation as there is on physical postures.
Kundalini yoga is relatively young in Australia—it began being taught here in the 80s—but it has experienced rapid growth in the past years, with many yoga schools now offering it alongside their Ashtanga, Iyengar and hatha yoga classes (visit www.kundaliniyoga.com.au to find a local teacher).
“Kundalini is a very beautiful, very scientific yoga,” says Patty Kikos, who’s been a certified Kundalini teacher in Sydney for six years, and is also a hatha yoga teacher. “It has a ritualistic aspect to it, and is quite transformational.”
The Kundalini Yoga Approach
Originally, Kundalini yoga was a sacred, private ritual associated with the religion of Sikhism. The term “kundalini” refers to a “coiled” energy (commonly associated with a serpent) resting at the spine’s base. One of the aims of Kundalini yoga is to stimulate this energy through exercises or kriyas, making it rise through the body’s energy centres or chakras, releasing spiritual awareness.
Kundalini yoga was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan in 1968. He was the first to teach this yoga publicly, establishing the 3HO organisation, and training thousands of new teachers over the years. (Yogi Bhajan, who died in 2004, is a somewhat controversial figure, having accumulated an array of private businesses, including a homeland security agency. He is both praised and criticised for his assertive approach in popularising Kundalini yoga in the West).
Nowadays, Kundalini yoga is often called the “yoga for householders” because of its practical applications—the poses don’t take years to perfect, and there are sequences of exercises or kriyas to target every kind of blockage, weakness or imbalance in the body.
“May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.”
“It’s quicker and fast acting,” explains Renee Goodman (GuruJivan), who was one of the first certified Kundalini yoga teachers to practise in Australia, beginning in 1982. “You don’t have to spend hours to get a posture, you do a kriya and that creates a change, spiritually and physically,” she says.
A kriya (which translates to “complete action”) will combine poses with hand positions (mudras), body locks (bandhas), breathing (pranayama) and mantras. They are specifically designed to stimulate parts of the nervous and glandular systems, as well as to improve flexibility and strength, and calm the mind.
What to Expect in Class
The basic format of a Kundalini class begins with a chant (“Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” which means “I call upon the divine wisdom,”), some warm-up stretches and pranayama, followed by one or two kriyas, then a relaxation period and meditation, and then ending with a song and blessing. Teachers will be wearing white clothing and will have their heads covered in a scarf or turban; this is to improve and contain their spiritual energy. Students can wear white, but most come in their regular yoga attire.
Ideally, kriyas are held for an exact length of time—so, a kriya might consist of doing a twisting posture for two minutes, a pranayama technique for three minutes and then combining mudras and chanting for six minutes. This doesn’t sound very strenuous, but try holding your arms at 90 degrees from your body for even two minutes and you’ll get an idea of how challenging some kriyas can be.
Teachers do not make any physical adjustments during class, so as to not affect the flow of energy in the body. Students perform kriyas mostly with their eyes closed, which makes the practice quite a personal experience, and allows you to go at a comfortable pace and to take rests, without feeling self-conscious.
Recorded music is played during kriyas, and the teacher will often play a gong during savasana. The sound of a live gong has a mesmerising and calming effect, helping to strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system. The final song blessing, “May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on,” is an uplifting end to what already is an energising, and quite spiritual, yoga experience.
Related: Kundalini Yoga Festival
This long weekend at Mangrove Yoga, Sept 29th – Oct 2nd, the Kundalini Yoga Festival Australia will celebrate four days of kundalini workshops, presented by International and Australian teachers. It’s open to all, with kids program, healing sessions, live music, bazaar and yummy vegetarian food. Set amongst the tranquil settings of Mangrove mountain, and only 1.5hrs north west of Sydney, it will make for a peaceful and healing time for community to come together, relax, renew and rejuvenate.
For More information: Kundalini Yoga Festival