Earlier this week, I re-connected with a dear old friend…kundalini yoga!

My relationship with kundalini has been a bit off and on, but my interest in this unique style of yoga began during my yoga teacher training at Kripalu, where we learned about the founder of Kripalu yoga, Swami Kripalu, referred to by his followers as Bapuji. Bapuji practiced kundalini yoga, the most ancient style of yoga (kind of how ballet is to the dance world), which incorporated very regimented sequences of breathing, movement, chanting, and meditation. The Kripalu style of yoga is derived from kundalini; hence, why Kripalu yoga is very heavy on the pranayama (breathwork)-asana (postures)-dhyana (meditation), and why I came home from yoga teacher training very interested in trying out this mysterious style.

The problem is that it’s pretty hard to find a kundalini teacher–let alone class–in Small Town, USA. Kundalini is totally different from “regular” yoga. There’s a ton of chanting, crazy-fast breathwork, and lots of repetitive movement, at times which can look very silly and feel somewhat awkward or weird (say, hopping on one foot with your eyes closed?). The objective is to unblock the energy from the base of the spine and allow it to rise through the chakras and all throughout the body.

Each session has a specific objective (e.g., heart opening, liver detox, mental clarity) with a prescribed set of “kriyas,” the postures/chants/movement. These kriyas are arranged in a specific order with designated time limits for each move or meditation; sometimes a set will call for the same move for 30 minutes; other times, the set will include several moves that last 2 or 3 minutes each.

I first started kundalini back in 2007, when a local studio offered an introduction series and then included it as a regular weekly class on the schedule. I was a kundalini junkie and experienced some pretty intense visualizations and post-class energy shifts. I was a regular student until the teacher stopped working at the studio, and then no more local kundalini classes existed. 😦

A different studio began offering the class last winter, and I immediately dove in. However, this teacher’s style was a bit different, and I felt like class was one third kundalini, one third the teacher talking about her life, and one third sitting (im)patiently on the floor post-start time, waiting for class to begin already. I couldn’t stand paying money for that and again had to depart from kundalini. 😦

But here we are in 2011, and to my delight, a teacher with whom I studied Tai Chi Chih last summer is offering a short kundalini series that began this past Tuesday. 🙂

I love this woman’s teaching style, with her soft, gentle voice; her attention to detail; and the way she can break down such a complex style of yoga to a hodge-podge group of students who are at all different levels and from different backgrounds. I mentally groaned to myself when she said that the first part of class would be more of a background of the practice but was surprised when I found myself eating up her words and really coming to understand the meaning of not just kundalini yoga, but yoga in general.

The physical practice that night was somewhat abbreviated but still powerful. We did all the basic warm-ups (lots of spinal rocking/twisting), the opening invocation, and worked our way into a short series for aura enhancement. I loved how she described our aura: the extension of our physical body, a kind of force-field surrounding our corporeal mass that we need to keep strong so we are able to block negative things (e.g., germs, bad energy) before they get to our physical bodies and cause sickness, disease, and mental negativity.

Strong aura, strong body!

We ended with Sat Kriya, which is usually included in every kundalini class. It’s a very simple but intense kriya in which you sit in hero pose (or rock pose, as it’s called in kundalini), with your heels under your rear; hold your arms above your head with hands clasped, pointer fingers extended and touching; and vocalize a sharp “sat” (pronounced more like “sut”) that draws in the belly, followed by a relaxed and soft “nam” during which the belly relaxes.

Hold the pose and repeat the sat-nam sequence for 3 to 30 minutes. Like most kundalini movements, this feels a bit tiring at first but then out of nowhere shifts into a very strong gesture and meditation. I’ve added 3 minutes of Sat Kriya to my morning routine and already feel the benefits: more alert, focused, and confident throughout most of my day.

The thing about kundalini is that sometimes its effects are not immediately evident; like, I didn’t leave class on Tuesday night feeling like my aura was all shiny and clean. However, the next morning, during my morning walk around the park, everything felt illuminated. The oxygen I breathed in, the sights I saw, the people I passed…I wasn’t necessarily labeling them as “brilliant” or “beautiful”; I simply felt like I was really noticing everything I passed, like my awareness was heightened. Especially with it being fall and the leaves changing color, the landscape around me felt like an artist’s easel with various shades of autumn pulsing from the canvas.

Crispy around the edges

Have you ever tried kundalini? If you ever have the chance, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s definitely different at times, but generally it makes me feel pretty darn good.