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What is Kundalini Yoga?

kundalini yogaKundalini Yoga is a form of yoga practice derived from the Tantra and Shakti schools of Hinduism. Kundalini practice was introduced to the West by Swami Sivananda through his 1935 book on the subject. But the practice became popular when Yogi Bhajan introduced his own method to the U.S. in 1968. Yogi Bhajan’s style of Kundalini Yoga is propagated by 3HO—Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization.

The name comes from the Sanskrit adjective kundalin, meaning “circular or annular.” Wikipedia says this about the origin of the name:

“ … It [occurs] as a noun for ‘a snake’ (in the sense ‘coiled,’ as in ‘forming ringlets’) in the 12th-century Rajatarangini chronicle (I.2). Kuṇḍa, a noun with the meaning ‘bowl, water-pot’ is found as the name of a Naga in Mahabharata 1.4828. The feminine kuṇḍalī has the meaning of ‘ring, bracelet, coil (of a rope)’ in Classical Sanskrit, and is used as the name of a ‘serpent-like’ in Shakti and Tantrism as early as the 11th century, in the Śaradatilaka. This concept is adopted as kuṇḍalniī as a technical term into Hatha yoga in the 15th century and becomes widely used in the Yoga Upanishads by the 16th century.”

Kundalini is the word for the coiled sexual energy at the base of the spine. Kundalini Yoga practices include postures, breathing techniques, kriyas, and tantric meditations and visualizations. The practices combine to encourage the kundalini energy to rise up the ida (left), pingala (right) and shushumna (central) energetic channels in your torso. The energy rises up through the first six chakras, lighting up each energy center, then coming to rest in the crown chakra. The result is said to be an experience of awakening.

Where to Find Kundalini Yoga

Not everyone takes to Kundalini Yoga—I tried it several times years ago and it didn’t feel compatible with my nervous system. But those who do, find it to be a very powerful, transformative practice.

A longtime Hugger Mugger associate, Crystal Griffiths, wrote about her Kundalini experience: “Kundalini is one of the more spiritual types of yoga. I found that it goes beyond the physical performance of poses with its emphasis on breathing, meditation, mudras and chanting. Kundalini sequences can be very physically intense. This type of yoga appeals to those who are up for both mental and physical challenges.”

Because Kundalini energy can be powerful and sometimes unwieldy, it’s important to practice with a very experienced teacher. Yoga Technology’s website lists 295 Kundalini Yoga teachers throughout the U.S. You can find out more about the practice at the 3HO Foundation website.

About Charlotte Bell

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to schools and to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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