Kundalini Yoga, or Iaya Yoga, utilizes a synthesis of mantra, meditation, physical movements and breathing techniques. This comprehensive combination is both physically and spiritually challenging, as the purpose of the posture sequence is to free energy from the lower body and allow it to move upwards.
In Hinduism, the word Kundalini denotes a latent energy, which lies at the base of the spine until activated. Kundalini Yoga, then, is a practice that stimulates this energy, allowing it to be channeled throughout the seven chakras of the body. Practitioners often refer to this discipline as “the yoga of awareness.”
“The primary objective is to awaken the full potential of human awareness in each individual; that is, recognize our awareness, refine that awareness, and expand that awareness to our unlimited Self.” – Kundalini Research Institute
The name of this yoga discipline evolved from the original Iaya to the contemporary Kundalini during the 20th century. In the ‘60s, Yogi Bhajan, born Harbhajan Singh Puri, introduced and popularized the practice in the United States. He also founded the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization, or 3HO, which now consists of 300 centers in 35 different countries, as well as Sikh Dharma, a Western sect of Sikhism.
Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO is described as a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the yoga, meditation and lifestyle practices of Kundalini Yoga. Since its naissance in 1969, 3HO has fostered a global community of yoga instructors, enthusiasts and students, who practice the Kundalini method.
“Kundalini Yoga consists of active and passive asana-based kriyas, pranayama, and meditations which target the whole body system.. to develop awareness, consciousness and spiritual strength.” -Yogi Bhajan
Practicing Kundalini Yoga may result in increased flexibility and muscle strength. However, the postures are more apt for those looking to tone their muscle, as opposed to those utilized in Ashtanga and Power Yoga, which work to build body muscle.
As previously mentioned, practitioners of this yoga discipline believe the combined use of poses, meditations and mantras stimulates the movement of energy throughout the chakras. Accordingly, practicing Kundalini Yoga is said to remove barriers in the body’s energy flow, thereby balancing the chakras. Another aim is to regulate breathing patterns by connecting them to the body’s movement. By releasing slow, deep breaths during the yoga sequence, practitioners are more likely to experience peacefulness and relaxation. As a result, Kundalini Yoga may be offered as treatment for emotional disorders, the most popular of which is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
Two clinical trials, which appeared in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, indicated that OCD patients who practiced Kundalini Yoga made substantial improvements (Shannahoff-Khalsa, 2004). It is also suggested as an effective form of treatment for those with anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and even learning disabilities.
- Pace yourself—Make sure to stretch the spine slowly at the beginning to avoid injuries!
- Listen to your body—If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, stop and take a break!
- Align your spine—You’re less likely to experience back pain if you support yourself and sit up straight!