Kundalini Yoga Benefits and Poses for Mind and Body
May 29, 2019
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Yoga Journal describes Kundalini yoga as “An uplifting blend of spiritual and physical practices”, incorporating movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation and the chanting of mantras.
What is Kundalini yoga good for? The purpose of the practice is to help support both the mind and body, specifically by targeting the nervous system. According to Kundalini teachers and practitioners, a regular practice, even if it’s just for several minutes per day, can help create greater inner peace, promote relaxation, and increase life satisfaction through meaningful relationships, work and creative outlets.
What Is Kundalini Yoga?
Kundalini yoga is an ancient practice that combines asanas (yoga poses), mantras, mudras, meditations and breath work. There are many different types of yoga based on various lineages over thousands of years. As the Gaia website describes it, “Kundalini Yoga is a blend of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic practice of devotion and chanting), Raja Yoga (the practice of mediation/mental and physical control) and Shakti Yoga (for the expression of power and energy).”
It’s not exactly known how Kundalini Yoga originated, but records show that Kundalini was mentioned in the Upanishads, a sacred Vedic collection of writings dating back to 1,000 B.C. The Kundalini yoga that is taught today was developed by Yogi Bhajan who based the practice on a 5,000-year-old authentic system of yoga exercises and meditation.
The word “Kundalini” literally means “the curl of the hair of the beloved.” Kundalini yoga gets its name from the Sanskrit word kundal, which means “circular.” Kundal is thought to represent a coiled snake that lives in your spine and acts like a spiritual energy or life force. Coiled energy is said to represent the creative potential of an individual. Practicing Kundalini yoga is supposed to “arouse the sleeping Kundalini Shakti from its coiled base” through six chakras, or channels of energy, that reside along the spine.
Kundalini practices/sequences are called kriyas. Kriyas and meditation have the purpose of increasing body awareness and preparing the body, nervous system and mind to handle a positive shift in energy (sometimes described as “Kundalini rising”). Kundalini yoga poses mostly focus on the navel and spine, which are focal points of energy, also called meridians. Other practices that help shift one’s energy include breath work (pranayama) and the application of yogic locks of energy (bandhas).
A “Kundalini awakening” is used to describe a breakthrough that someone can have from their practice. A Kundalini breakthrough is said to result in maximum creative potential, freedom from negative Karma (the lasting effects of past actions) and a realization of one’s life purpose. What are the symptoms of kundalini awakening?
Kundalini Yoga Benefits
1. Promotes Mental Well-Being
Many emotional benefits are associated with a regular kundalini practice according to devotees, including gaining a deeper connection to others, sensitivity to ourselves, mental clarity, enhanced productivity and effectiveness, creativity, bravery, and fulfillment.
According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, the ancient system of Kundalini yoga includes a vast array of meditation techniques and practices that have been found to be beneficial in the treatment of psychiatric disorders — including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, phobias, addictive and substance abuse disorders, major depressive disorders, dyslexia, grief, insomnia and other sleep disorders.
A Kundalini practice also encourages deep listening and exploration of the self, which improves self-awareness and is beneficial for problem-solving and creativity.
2. Can Help Improve Strength
Is Kundalini yoga a good workout? Certain Kundalini yoga sequences are vigorous and performed rapidly within little rest between poses, which can result in a strenuous workout. The goal of a vigorous practice is to challenge and strengthen the nervous and endocrine systems and “test the will of the practitioner beyond the limitations of their ego.”
Abdominal strengthening kriyas, which combine deep movements and breath work, can serve as an effective core workout. Kundalini yoga poses that target the core include leg lifts, downward dog, cobra, backbends and crunches.
On a spiritual/emotional level, Kundalini kriyas that focus on core work are also said to be empowering and to help improve confidence, self-reliance and willpower.
3. Defends Against the Negative Effects of Stress
A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that after three months of regular practice, Kundalini yoga has an immediate effect on salivary cortisol levels and causes a small but significant decrease in perceived levels of stress.
In another study that focused on the physiological changes that Kundalini Yoga meditation causes, it was found that advanced practitioners experience a decrease in respiration rate during Kundalini meditation and more alpha EEG activity immediately following a practice. Abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing seems to help calm the body and cause positive changes in brain activity that may help defend against the negative effects of stress.
4. May Help You Break Bad Habits/Addictions
Research findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors. Kundalini is recommended for people dealing with addictions and damaging habits because a regular practice can help to counteract chronic stress, negative thinking, self-doubt, procrastination and resentment, which are seen as underlying causes of addictive behavior.
Certain residential treatment programs for substance abuse incorporate an array of yoga practices (including Kundalini), meditation, and other spiritual/mind-body techniques in order to address psychological and pyschosocial factors that contribute to addiction. Studies have found that yoga and meditation can build coping skills, increase insights, and boost self-awareness which positively impacts neural and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse
Kundalini Yoga Poses and Practices
Kundalini classes include six major components:
Tuning-in with the Adi Mantra
Closing with a song
A typical Kundalini class is 60–90 minutes long and includes 5–10 minutes of warm-up, 30–45 minutes of kriya, 5–15 minutes of relaxation/layout and 11–31 minutes of meditation. All Kundalini Classes begin with the practice of “tuning in,” which involves chanting in a seated position with your hands held at your heart center and your eyes closed. The chant that is repeated is “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” which some translate as “bowing to the truth within you.”
What are Kundalini yoga poses? Here are some of the most popular Kundalini yoga poses that are included in Kundalini kriyas:
“Ego Eradicator”/Arms Overhead — From a seated posture/position (such as easy pose, called Sukhasana), extend arms overhead and shake your arms, your entire upper body, and your head. This shaking is meant to dispel fear, anxiety, and other emotions and to support mobility in the spine.
Spinal Flexion — Seated in a cross-legged position, move your chest forward without moving your head much, then move your chest back with your arms along side you. Imagine that you were on a bumpy camel ride.
Rock Pose — Sit with your shins tucked underneath you and bring your hands to your shoulders with your elbows out wide. Keeping your spine tall, inhale and turn spine to the left, exhale and turn spine to the right. Repeat as you move back and forth as you build heat and breath deeply.
Stretch Pose — Lay on your back and bring your heels together, point your toes, and lift your feet 6 inches from the ground. At the same time lift your head 6 inches and gaze at your toes. Lift your arms and keep your palms facing each other. Try to work up to holding this posture for 1–3 minutes while performing “Breath of Fire.”
Deep Squats — With your hands at your heart and your spine long, bend your knees to drop your bottom towards the ground. Keep your head upright and inhale as you lower down and squat deeply, then exhale to come back up. Repeat for 30 seconds to several minutes.
Knee Tuck Crunch — While on your back, tuck your knees into your chest with your arms wrapped around your knees or simply your hands. Lift your head, bringing your nose between your knees. Hold for 1–3 minutes.
Alternate Leg Kicks — Laying on you back, inhale and pull your low belly in as you lift one left leg to 90 degrees, with toes pointed toward the ceiling. Your other leg stays flat on the ground. Exhale slowly as you lower your lifted leg down while keeping you hands under your hips. Alternate lifting left and right legs. Continue for 3 minutes or longer.
Camel Pose — Sitting on your shins with legs hip-distance apart, place your hands in the small of your back for support and arch backwards with your head. If possible, grab for your heels as you lift through your chest (don’t collapse your neck).
Pranayama (breath work) is an integral part of Kundalini yoga, since it serves the purpose of cleansing the nadis, or subtle channels and pathways, which helps to awaken Kundalini energy. Pranayama techniques that are integrated into Kundalini yoga include:
Kundalini “Breath of Fire” — Sit in a comfortable pose with your hands resting on your knees. Have the tips of your index finger and thumb touching (this is called gyan mudra). Keep your eyes closed and focus on your brow point. Breath rapidly with an even inhale and even exhale through the nose. Repeat for 3 to 7 minutes.
Alternate nostril breathing — Sitting comfortably with a straight spine and the crown of your head lifted, bring your right hand towards you nose and use your right thumb to softly close the right nostril. Inhale slowly through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause for several seconds as you hold your breath. Open your right nostril and exhale slowly. Keep your left nostril covered so you only breath out fully through the right. With the right nostril open, inhale slowly, then close it with the thumb. Pause again. Exhale through the left nostril. Continue this cycle, pausing between inhales and exhales before switching sides. Repeat this pattern 5–10 times or more.
Four stroke breath — Sit in an easy pose with your eyes closed, gently focusing up and in at the brow point. Inhale in four equal strokes through the nose then exhale in four equal strokes through the nose. Continue for 3 to 11 minutes.
Cold showers — While cold showers aren’t a breathing technique, they are also recommended for at least three minutes most days of the week to stimulate the nervous system and boost the immune system. Before getting into the shower, a traditional practice is to dry brush your skin and massage almond oil or coconut oil all over your body.
Never tried Kundalini yoga before? Below are some tips for kundalini yoga beginners:
At many yoga studios, no previous experience in yoga or Kundalini will be required for you to get started. Start slow, taking rests when you need to. Gradually build up to holding each pose for longer durations of time. Between each pose pause for about 30–60 seconds to rest.
Keep your eyes closed and focus on your “third eye,” which is the name for the chakra (or energy center) located between your eyebrows.
You can deepen your focus by mentally repeating a mantra. A popular Kundalini mantra to repeat is Sat (truth) as you inhale, and Nam (identity) as you exhale.
In a traditional Kundalini yoga class, practitioners wear all white, including white head coverings, skirts, shirts and flowing white pants. Because colors can have an effect on consciousness, the idea behind wearing all white is to help control one’s inspiration, productivity and expansion.
How long do you need to practice kundalini yoga to experience the benefits above? Even several minutes a day may make a difference, however many teachers recommend a practice that is 30 minutes or longer daily. While any time of day is a good time to practice, mornings may be best, since an early practice helps set the tone for your day and is less likely to get interrupted by the day’s demands.
Potential Dangers of Kundalini Yoga
There are relatively few kundalini yoga dangers to be aware of, although every type of yoga can potentially cause side effects if poses or breath work are taken too far.
If you have any back or neck issues, mention this to your teacher before beginning a Kundalini practice, since certain poses can make injuries worse (such as back bends and shoulder stand, for example). If breathing techniques make you feel dizzy, lay down, try to relax and return to your normal breathing pattern until you feel better.
Related: 9 Common Poses Most Likely to Trigger Yoga Injuries, Plus How to Overcome and Avoid Them
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