Yoga is a word that derives from the Sanskrit jugat, which means to join together. The purpose of all yoga is to awaken consciousness. Various styles of yoga emphasize differing methods to achieve that awakening. Students often ask me, “What’s the best type of yoga?” No style of yoga is better or worse than another, they simply employ different methods for practice so whichever style makes you want to do more yoga is the style that’s best for you.
Hatha yoga emphasizes the perfection of asanas (postures). Other forms of yoga emphasize pranayam (breathing techniques) and still others emphasize use of mantra and sound. Kundalini yoga uses breath, sound and movement to create a awareness of and connection to mind, body and spirit. It is sometimes called “the mother of all yoga” because the many styles of yoga practiced today are all pieces of the practice of Kundalini yoga.
A typical Kundalini yoga class lasts 90 minutes. The session includes tuning in, warm up, a set of poses called a kriya designed by Yogi Bhajan for a specific effect (such as glandular balance or spinal flexibility), meditation, relaxation and closing. Hatha classes tend to use more postures held for a shorter length of time and do not always include meditation.
Keeping up with a difficult pose can have a huge payoff afterward. But how can you tell if you’ve gone too far? I suggest two methods for determining if you need a break:
(1) Ask yourself whether you are uncomfortable or in pain. If you are uncomfortable (including feeling frustrated or angry), try to keep going. If you feel pain, stop.
(2) Is the pain you feel exertion or injury? One rule of thumb to help answer this question is that if you stop the pose, does the pain continue? If it stops when you do, it is probably healthy exertion. If you feel pain after you have stopped the pose, take a rest.
“Resting” might mean anything from lowering one leg, to switching from Breath of Fire to long, deep breathing, to stopping the pose completely. Should you need to modify an exercise, try to come back into the full pose when you can. Child’s Pose is an excellent resting pose. Also, feel free to lay out completely on your mat. If you need to stop, continue to visualize yourself in the pose, concentrating on your breathing. I spent entire classes this way when I first began yoga because I was extremely weak. The next day I would feel sore as if I had actually done the entire set.
Most of us are accustomed to pushing ourselves too far, and then getting credit, self-worth or promotion for it. That is a concept and a behavior we attempt to overthrow in our practice. Less is more. In sports and most fitness classes, the goal is to push, push, push yourself until you reach ever higher levels of endurance, flexibility or skill. In yoga, we reach a level of excellence by learning to let go, working in cooperation with our bodies and breath to develop concentration. Our goal is to become aware of our own experience on the mat. Poses should challenge but not strain you.
Easy pose (which, in my opinion, isn’t really a very easy pose!) means sitting on your mat with crossed legs and is the most common pose in a typical Kundalini yoga class. If you have difficulty sitting in easy pose, sit on your rolled up mat and/or blanket to elevate your hips. Your knees should remain lower than your hips so that you are not using the wrong muscles to hold yourself up. You may need to switch the cross of your legs or extend one or both legs at times. If you need further support, move your mat so you can lean against the wall or try the pose sitting in a chair. All of these modifications are welcome in my classes.
Kundalini yoga, in particular, is best done on an empty stomach due to the strong emphasis on the breath and the lower chakras. Do not eat at least two hours before class. If you forget and have a meal, please let me know so that I can recommend alternative breath and/or poses. If you have dietary concerns that require you to eat before class, try to limit yourself to a light snack.
This term refers to the brow point (sixth chakra) and is used as a focal point during meditation and practice. We keep our eyes closed and concentrate on the third eye during most of class in order to close down outside stimuli and focus on our breath. Some people “see” various images or lights at the third eye, while other people don’t see anything. The brow point is connected to the pituitary gland, which is considered the master gland. Balancing the pituitary automatically balances other glands.
Everybody starts somewhere. Yoga is not a competitive sport. We practice at our own pace, according to our own needs. Why should you be deprived of all the amazing benefits of yoga simply because you can’t fold yourself into a pretzel? It is not necessary to do the “perfect pose” in order to receive extensive benefits from your practice. For example, practicing meditation is powerful and healing whether you sit on the floor with crossed legs or you sit in a chair. Holding a forward bend for one minute is equally effective whether a student can reach their thighs or touch their toes. Kundalini yoga is called “the yoga of awareness,” and we develop the connection between mind and body for ultimate self-care.
Kundalini yoga is a challenging, rigorous practice that invigorates all of the body’s systems. You will greatly strengthen your heart, lungs and cardiovascular system with a regular kundalini yoga practice. However a typical kriya does not include the type of activity most people consider a “cardio workout.” The “flow” sequences in warm-ups and Hatha classes do provide some cardiovascular exercise.
Yes. Please inform your instructor and please use caution and common sense in adapting poses to your needs. Do NOT do the following:
Breath of Fire (substitute long, deep breathing)
Root Lock (mulabhand)
Inverted poses (shoulderstand, handstand, etc.)
All poses that place pressure on abdomen (Bow Pose, etc.)
Yogis have known for centuries something that Western science is only beginning to understand: sound and vibration create powerful changes in the mind-body connection. Volumes are written on the effect of mantra meditation and sound current on the body. Briefly, Kundalini yoga takes advantage of the powerful connection between the brain (which Yogi Bhajan often called a computer) and meridian points in the upper palate (which he often referred to as “the keyboard”) to create positive changes in brain and body chemistry.
No. If you are uncomfortable chanting, you may simply listen to the sound created by the other students.
Kundalini yoga is a particularly cleansing style of practice. Runny noses (or something similar) and coughing are quite common, especially during Breath of Fire, and tissues are available in the room. Some sets aid digestion, which may mean increased trips to the bathroom throughout the day. It is not unusual for people to cry during or after a Kundalini class. All of the stuff coming out of you is a good thing. Your body is releasing through apana (elimination) the toxins and blockages that inhibit the flow of prana (breath/life force). Drink lots and lots of water all day after class to support this process.
Kundalini yoga improves the capacity and efficiency of the breath and promotes flexibility, endurance and focus.
Health & Wellness
The physical benefits of all forms of yoga are too numerous to mention. In Kundalini yoga, we emphasize breathing, the flexibility of the spine and meditation techniques, all vital ingredients in health and vitality.
Kundalini yoga strengthens the glandular, digestive, central nervous and circulatory systems, which support the body’s natural cleansing and defense mechanisms used to combat all forms of illness.
A calm, balanced person is better able to relate with others through increased patience, clarity and communication skills.
A yoga practice does not provide, replace or impede any religious belief. It does, however, enhance one’s ability to connect with your own spiritual consciousness. For those who do not ascribe to any religious or spiritual belief system, yoga provides a quiet space for peace and contemplation.
Modern science is only beginning to scratch the surface of a fact yogis have known for thousands of years: severe, prolonged stress has negative, life-altering effects on the body that can be reduced through yoga and meditation. A regular yoga practice allows the body to return to its natural state of balance and healing in order to process and eliminate the physical and mental consequences of stress.
Student or Professional
Meditation dramatically improves concentration.
Yogi Bhajan is the master who brought Kundalini yoga to the West in 1968. He soon settled in Los Angeles and began to pass along the teachings of Kundalini yoga. His philosophy was, “I did not come to collect students but to train teachers.” He knew that people would desperately need the technology of this yogic science to cope with the extraordinary pressures and stresses of life in this age. He was a spiritual teacher, scholar, the leader of the Sikh community, author, entrepreneur and a family man. While some styles of yoga traditionally require initiation by a teacher (guru), Yogi Bhajan believed that students of the Aquarian Age initiate themselves and, therefore, he did not want his students to refer to him as “their guru.”
Humanity is now entering the Age of Aquarius, a period of heightened sensitivity and awareness. The clashes between the “old” ways of authoritarianism and individuality and the “new” ways of cooperation and experience are creating tremendous stress in our lives. A regular yoga practice can help balance this stress. Please visit the 3HO website for more information on the Aquarian Age.