Is it all sex, dancing and danger? Kundalini Yoga myths, debunked
With a huge percentage of people now donning expensive leggings and heading out to their classes pre-brunch on a Saturday morning, the yoga boom is well-documented. But while some of the more energetic types, like Vinyasa, have grabbed the attention of the Insta-yogi crowd, others remain shrouded in mystery. One of these is Kundalini Yoga which, despite having been introduced to the West in the 1960s, is still prompting the internet to ask questions like: Is Kundalini dangerous? Is Kundalini all about sex? And, the very British: Do you have to dance at a Kundalini class?
We spoke to teacher and author Kathryn McCusker to find out the answers…
WHAT MAKES KUNDALINI DIFFERENT TO OTHER TYPES OF YOGA?
A Kundalini Yoga class will combine movement, music, mantra (chanting), pranayama (breathing), mudras (hand positions) and meditation. There are many different kriyas (exercise sets) and every kundalini class can offer something new.
Each kriya targets a different area of of the body and promotes a specific benefit — such as kriyas for the liver, to reduce stress or for prosperity — so Kundalini Yoga is very prescriptive and you can often feel the effects immediately.
With more emphasis on breath, inward focus and mantra, Kundalini Yoga can sometimes seem more meditative in nature than other styles of yoga, yet the range of kriyas ensures many classes can also be very active and physically challenging. Certainly there is something for everybody in every class.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, directly works with channeling the Kundalini energy we all have. The practice creates a deeper awareness of your chakras (energy centres) and how they impact our thoughts, mood and health.
Practicing keeps the body in shape while training the mind to be strong and flexible in the face of stress and change. It increases oxygen and blood flow, balances the glandular system, strengthens the nervous system and reduces stress-induced toxins, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which is beneficial when trying to navigate life in this fast-paced world.
One of the beauties of Kundalini Yoga is that you can experience the benefits in a very short time. A regular practice will help you feel happier, healthier, and more energised; the powerful breath work and mantra will awaken more creativity making you feel more confident, inspired and productive.
Kundalini has a vast repertoire of kriyas and meditations that also target problem areas in your everyday life, such as fear, depression, anxiety, fatigue, anger, break-ups, loneliness and sadness.
Research is now showing the benefits of Kundalini’s powerful and breath-controlled meditations for treating a range of health complaints, from depression and anxiety-related disorders to heart problems and memory lapses. The US Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation prescribes one of Kundalini’s Kriyas, the Kirtan Kriya, as a way to improve brain function, emotional balance, focus and memory.
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WHAT’S THE HISTORY BEHIND KUNDALINI YOGA?
Kundalini Yoga emerged from the meditative practices of ancient Hindu India, possibly as long as 4,000 years ago.
The ancient teachings of were kept secret for a very long time. Instead of being taught in the open, Kundalini Yoga was taught only to royalty and nobility for thousands of years. But the uplifting practice is now available to everyone, thanks to a man named Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the West in the late 1960s and began to teach it publicly.
IS THE INCREASED INTEREST IN KUNDALINI JUST PART OF THE YOGA BOOM?
Interest in Kundalini Yoga in the West has been growing ever since it was introduced, but has grown exponentially in the last ten years and you can now find classes in most cities throughout the world.
It is the yoga for our time; in this speedy, hyper-stimulated world, in which we are always ‘on’, Kundalini offers balance.
It also provides an antidote to the anxiety, fear and frustration caused by the current political, cultural and environmental shifts that are creating so much uncertainty; it gives them more depth, clarity, peace, happiness, connectivity and true health.
Most of us are time-poor, having to juggle the everyday stresses of work, family and life, so people are discovering it provides short, practical and powerful tools to cope successfully with the challenges of our times.
The wonderful thing about Kundalini is there is something for everyone!
IS THE IDEA THAT KUNDALINI IS ABOUT SEX ACCURATE?
Some people are misinformed about Kundalini Yoga; it is not about sex, it is about tapping into and awakening the natural Kundalini energy we are all born with, and use it to increase our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
When you focus on releasing blocks and opening the nadis (energy channels), especially in the lower chakras (energy centres in the lower spine), you may feel more aware of your sexual energy. Through Kundalini, it can be channeled inwardly and transformed into personal energy that can bring new levels of awareness. If used consciously, it can enhance healing, creativity and intuition, leaving you feeling very empowered. If that includes a renewed enjoyment of lovemaking with your partner, then that’s a bonus.
IS DANCING AND CHANTING A PART OF KUNDALINI?
Chanting mantras, creating sound waves and energy, is integral to Kundalini yoga. Vibrating a mantra cuts through our mental chatter and helps create inner focus, with the combination of sound, rhythm, tone and meaning, so they help transport us to a place of peace and are effective in opening the chakras.
Some kriyas include sections of dancing as a way of getting the blood flowing, igniting happy hormones and distributing energy around the body, as well as helping people to let go, relax and enjoy themselves. Yoga should be fun and uplifting!
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IS IT MORE RELIGIOUS THAN OTHER TYPES OF YOGA?
When we apply the technology of Kundalini Yoga to our bodies and minds, it has the effect of uplifting the spirit and connecting you with the energy of your being. But it is not a religion; it is for everyone, universal and non-denominational.
The word ‘God’ is sometimes used in practice, however you don’t need to believe in a specific deity. In Kundalini, it’s translated as ‘Sustainer of All’, but this can be substituted with a another word that resonates with you, such as divine, sacred, universe or spirit. The mantras are universal in nature and most of them predate all modern religions.
WHY IS IT SOMETIMES SAID TO BE ‘DANGEROUS’?
Awakening Kundalini energy can unleash tremendous power and anything powerful can be perceived as dangerous if it is not treated with respect.
Is it dangerous to awaken yourself to your full potential, to practice yoga that can help heal you physically, mentally and emotionally? I don’t think so. Practicing Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, is not dangerous. The kriyas have been taught and tested over centuries, and people from all over the world and all walks of life have practiced Kundalini Yoga and experienced its life-changing power. Under the guidance of an experienced teacher, you will be able to enjoy it safely and the many benefits it can bring to your life.
WHAT SHOULD ONE EXPECT IF THEY’VE NEVER TRIED KUNDALINI BEFORE?
The flow of a Kundalini class is very different to other yoga styles; it powerfully combines mantra (sacred sound), asana (posture), mudra (hand position), bandha (body locks), meditation (mindful focus), and pranayama (breathing techniques) to create kriyas (a sequence of exercises).
You will begin the class by tuning in with a mantra and this is usually followed by a kriya, which will can quite prescriptive — for example, a kriya to de-stress and detox the kidneys and adrenal glands — after which, there will be a relaxation followed by a meditation. The class then finishes with a mantra.
You will certainly notice the difference after the class!
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WHY SHOULD PEOPLE TRY KUNDALINI?
The beauty of Kundalini is that it takes you away from the chatter and clutter of daily life to a deeper place within you, where you can experience real freedom, peace, clarity and stillness.
When you clear the blocks and raise your energetic vibration, the mind and body come back into balance; you are more awake, aware and open to new possibilities.
If you are short of time and are looking for a yoga and meditation practice you can easily integrate into daily life, then Kundalini Yoga could be the right choice for you. After just one class, you can feel more energetic, sleep more soundly and be happier and calmer. What’s not to like?
Kathryn McCusker is a Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher, author of Everyday Kundalini and professional singer. She’s been practicing for over 15 years and holds regular classes at Triyoga in London and workshops and retreats worldwide.