I love my yoga practice, it has been transformative for my body and mind to have a regular practice to come back to. I enjoy guiding myself intuitively through my yoga practice and morning routine. Yet I have a curiosity and intrigue for the more mentally and physically challenging and disciplined practises, such as Kundalini yoga and the Kundalini Yoga poses and Kriyas.
I remember being a newly qualified yoga teacher and feeling invincible. I went to a Kundalini yoga class with my mum and her 75 year old guru (Guru Ram). The class was in a beautiful shed at the back of the garden and I remember starting with (what felt like a never ending) breath of fire pranayama. I had no idea what I had signed up for! Fast forward and we are doing 7 minutes of frog (intense yogi squats), 8 minutes of holding plank, and many repetitions of camel pose. I made it through 30 seconds each round and I was left in awe at the strength of the women around me. I was bewildered as to how I could ever find the mental focus and physical capacity to complete a whole Kundalini Kriya!
One thing was for sure. I walked out the class feeling powered up, and knowing I wanted to be like Guru Ram at 75.
What is Kundalini Yoga?
Kundalini Yoga is an ancient practice that helps you to channel energy and direct it towards transforming your life. The practice is powerful because it combines physical asana with the spiritual elements of yoga. A typical class incorporates all five pillars of Kundalini Yoga.
The five pillars of Kundalini yoga
- Pranayama (breath work)
- Asana (Kundalini yoga poses and kriyas)
- Mantra (Sat Nam)
- Mudra (hand gestures)
When these five pillars are worked together we activate and heal the nervous and lymphatic systems. The fusion of our physical and spiritual experience can often lead to profound shifts in our energy or life.
Kundalini means ‘awareness’, making Kundalini yoga the ‘yoga of awareness’. Kundalini energy is our vital life force energy. Often depicted as a coiled up snake at the root of our spine. The intention of Kundalini Yoga is to activate the Kundalini snake energy and draw it upwards. When we awaken this energy, we wake up our creative energy, our awareness and unite our body, mind and spirit.
What is a Kriya?
A Kriya is a set of Kundalini Yoga poses that have a specific focus and intention. They are designed to facilitate the movement of energy towards an outcome.
The movements, mantras, and breathwork that you practice in a kundalini class will be dependent on what Kriya you are focusing on. For example, Kundalini Kriya for Overwhelm, Kundalini Yoga for positivity, or Kundalini Yoga to Elevate the Spirit.
When you practice Kundalini Yoga poses, you can expect to hold them for longer than you would normally in a yoga class. You hold the poses longer than you believe you can. The reason being, is to move beyond your comfort zone and to reach the point of challenge and resistance. Here is where the magic happens, and we consciously choose to push through, see our capability, rewrite our story, and realise our potential.
This is where we build strength and resilience, physically and mentally.
5 ways Kundalini Yoga transforms your life and your yoga practice:
- Increases Confidence/empowering – Kundalini Kriyas are made up of simple movements that are repeated many times. The kriyas are also generally quite short. The length and simplicity makes many kriyas accessible for everyone to do. This accessibility can build a sense of confidence that the practices are manageable for you. The energising and uplifting practices help us start the day feeling confident and empowered.
- Builds your Strength and Resilience – In kundalini yoga you do an exercise longer than you normally would! When you think you can’t do anymore you move beyond your comfort zone and you can! This develops endurance and stamina and helps us become stronger and more resilient in our yoga practice and in other areas of our life.
- Improves the ability to focus – In general, us humans have developed a short attention span. We have fast fire information coming at us all the time and it is more challenging to focus. Kundalini trains the brain, with music, mantra, and breath, to focus more and stay present for longer.
- Enables deeper relaxation and rest – The breath work expands our lung capacity, whilst the mantra and sounds quiet the mind. This helps us access deeper relaxation, and we feel rejuvenated after class. We have more energy to create and take steps forward with projects and ideas. When we enter this place of deep rest we allow the voice of our intuition to speak louder and to guide us.
- Variety is the Spice of Life – Every kriya is different, and has a different focus. This means your mind and body don’t get stuck in a routine. There is always something new and unexpected to practice!
Should I ONLY practice Kundalini Yoga?
Not at all! I completed my original Vinyasa flow training with Vidya Heisel. I loved how she incorporated elements of Kundalini into her warm up sequences. It is great to remember that it is not about choosing between different styles of yoga for your daily practice. Instead it is about finding ways to bring the magic of Kundalini into any practice and weave it through life.
Vidya explained to me that she started Kundalini when she had a broken wrist and couldn’t practice her normal Vinyasa yoga. Now she continues to enjoy infusing Kundalini yoga into her self-practice and her Vinyasa classes. Vidya has created a self-empowerment practice with movements inspired by Kundalini yoga (Envision Yoga).
Vidya shared what she loves so much about kundalini yoga and how it has been transformation to her life and practice:
“I love all the breath of fire and strong rhythmic breath and find this breathing very energising and empowering. I also fell in love with the simple but repetitive movements.
In Kundalini you are encouraged to keep going when your mind wants to give up. there is an element of mind over matter. In order to keep going with a movement, long after you feel tired and feel resistance arising, you have to master your own mind. This kind of self-mastery has always attracted me.
I weave Kundalini into the warm-up section of my flow classes. It is a simple, effective, and interesting way to warm up the body and to build energy.”Vidya Heisel
Kundalini Yoga is accessible for everyone
Jennifer DeLucry is a yoga teacher, mum of two, and a kundalini newbie. She shared with me how Kundalini yoga became her replacement for coffee to get her up in the mornings during the Covid lockdowns, and with two kids at home!
“I knew I needed something more powerful to shift my energy, lift and ground me. I also knew the only time this would happen was before the kids woke up. Kundalini was the only thing that got me up to practice in the mornings, the online classes were great.
I woke up earlier every day, practiced for longer and I truly felt my energy transform in the morning. Kundalini yoga might seem intimidating and strange at first, but it is practical, powerful, full of spirit and sometimes we need to try something really different to shift things.”Jennifer DeLucry
5 Kundalini Yoga Poses you can incorporate into your yoga practice:
Whilst all yoga works with this vital energy and has the intention of improving your awareness and offering healing, it is clear that kundalini yoga can invite transformation at a faster pace.
This why it can be so powerful to incorporate Kundalini yoga and some of the tools into your regular practice and daily life.
Moving forward bend
- Stretch both legs in front of you and inhale.
- On the exhale, bend down and reach for the feet, or as far down as you can.
- Inhale to come up to seated and exhale bend back down.
- Repeat for one minute. On the last forward fold, stay down and take a deep breath.
- Slowly come back up
- Sit in Easy Pose and bring hands to your knees
- Begin to move your spine in a circular movement. Start clockwise.
- Inhale as you move forward, and exhale as you go backwards.
- Gaze between your eyebrows with your eyes closed.
- Continue for 2-4 minutes and then move in the opposite direction.
- Slowly return to centre
Breath of Fire
- Sit comfortably, hands on your knees (or one hand on your belly to feel the movement of your belly).
- Inhale through your nose and expand your belly.
- Exhale forcefully through your nose, contracting your abdominal muscles. Focus on the exhalation, the inhale comes naturally.
- Continue the rhythm, and when comfortable increase the speed, your belly should be moving.
- Close your eyes and focus on your eyebrows.
- Continue for 1 minute.
Throughout a Kundalini Yoga class Breath of Fire can be practiced in various different poses.
Spinal Flexes (Rapid Cat/Cow with rhythmic breath)
- Start in a table-top position, knees hip distance apart.
- Inhale and lift your chin and tilt your head backward. Belly button goes towards the floor and the tailbone lifts, so there is a curve in your spine (cat).
- Then exhale and lower the head, tailbone tilts under and your back arches towards the ceiling (cow).
- Transition between the two rapidly, but smoothly, without throwing the head back. Repeat for 1-3 minutes.
- On the last one inhale deeply and hold the breath in. Engage the root lock and draw energy up your spine.
- Exhale and release the breath and sit to your heals.
- Come to your back with bent knees and feet hip-distance apart.
- Interlace your hands behind your head with the elbows wide.
- Exhale and count to 6 as you lift up into a crunch
- Inhale to 6 and slowly lower down.
- Repeat for 2 minutes.
Kundalini Yoga is a powerful way to move energy. The combination of kundalini’s five pillars help us to harnesses our body’s vital energy, it is stimulating, eye opening and can be transformative for our lives.
Written by Joanna Gilbert – MFML’s Happiness Maven!