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Understanding Kundalini Yoga

Aug/06/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

A guide for beginners to this potent practice

Woman in white clothes and turban on a beach doing yoga
Photo via Shutterstock

I have been practicing yoga asanas for close to two decades now. For about nine years, I have also been teaching yoga. I started my training in vinyasa yoga, then moved on to learn AyurYoga (yoga using Ayurvedic principles), and finally trauma-informed yoga to help survivors. Each training has been valuable. 

I have studied with ashtanga yoga teachers, hatha yoga, and Iyengar yoga gurus, because being curious and flexible on the mat is important. What is also sacred to me is an authentic yoga practice, no matter the style. After my father passed away, I felt a slight disconnect from my daily hatha yoga practice. So much had transformed in my life. Maybe I was seeking something different subconsciously? 

Starting Kundalini Yoga

One of my mentors, who is a doctor with more than 20 years of kundalini yoga practice, recommended I try it out. It is the yoga of awareness—the most potent form of yoga. The kundalini is untapped energy, coiled at the base of the spine. According to Vedic texts, this energy can awaken the seven chakras by drawing up energy through the body. Once this energy reaches the crown chakra at the top of the head, full enlightenment is a possibility.

I might be a writer and a healer who is very cued into her intuition, and an empath. But I function from a place of logic. Three-quarters of my brain is full of rationale. I need evidence, science, and proof before I make decisions or pass judgment. People talking about the mysticism of kundalini awakening, the taboo of tantra yoga, and psychological breakdown of kundalini practitioners had never made this practice attractive to me.

I’d also read stories about kundalini yoga being dangerous even though yoga is one of my guiding principles in life. Also, I am obsessed with movement, but kundalini yoga is a combination of movement, pranayama, meditation, and chanting. In essence, it’s more of a spiritual practice. 

When I returned from India after completing my father and father-in-law’s last rites, I found out that my studio had launched a kundalini yoga class with an experienced teacher. At the same time, one of my favorite teachers stopped teaching the hatha yoga class I used to take.

I loathe change. Not only had my world transformed after becoming parentless, not only had my relationship with India changed forever, but now my favorite yoga class was no longer available. “The universe is sending you a message,” my mentor said to me. “Try a few classes. I think your dad wants you to.”

Thus began my journey with kundalini yoga, filled with skepticism and reticence. 

The Kundalini Yoga Journey

In the first class, I felt uncomfortable. There was a lot of repetitive chanting, intense posture-holding but not much movement. I left the class midway.

Releasing Anger

Nope, my kundalini wasn’t rising, but kundalini yoga did release my anger. With two back-to-back losses in the family, I had buried my anger phase of the grief somewhere inside. In class the next day, I apologized to the teacher and confessed that I had never felt so much rage. She said, “The healing is beginning.” 

Reworking My Consciousness

A few weeks into the practice, something about me changed. Maybe it was my cells that got charged with energy as I practiced kriyas, or maybe it was my breathing that became slower and deeper with the longer meditation. Other people started to notice and comment that I was “glowing.” In the cruelest phase of my life where I was trying to redefine my identity in my parentless world, people said I looked my best.

This was also the first time I felt grossed out by the idea of eating any animal meat. Ninety per cent of my meals are plant-based, and I don’t eat any kind of red meat. I don’t judge how and what others eat, but kundalini yoga helped me connect to the universal consciousness. I started to ask the big questions about hurting other animals for filling up my belly. 

Reaching a Balanced State

I think this practice releases stagnant energy and builds mental resilience. Some of the poses and kriyas go on for an extended period. What at first had shown up as anger then transformed into peace and equanimity. Despite all the losses, I was content, unruffled, and pragmatic. The more I showed up with openness, the more fearless I became with running my company.

Kundalini taps into Shakti—the feminine divine. Many of us caregivers work from a protector or masculine space, which is extremely rational. I started to finally cry and tap into my vulnerable side. The balance in emotional well-being is something else I noticed. Did you know that kundalini yoga re-educates the nervous system? It gets you out of constant fight-or-flight mode.

Tips Before You Start Kundalini Yoga 

Experienced Teachers Are Everything

Your instructor needs to be accessible when you have a question or concern. There are many strange stories about kundalini yoga, like some people have esoteric experiences while others end up in mental institutions. Why? Because they were untrained to handle so much energy. If you believe that the kundalini can be activated, imagine flooding the body with a force of energy that a person’s mind, body, and consciousness are not ready for. My mentor said that I didn’t have to rush and practice it every day. “Do what feels right to you.” 

Beware Of Exhaustion And Heat Release

In the beginning, I would get intense headaches from kundalini yoga that would persevere for 24 hours. For a few weeks, I felt the heat spread to my body during and after the practice. I had heat boils and rashes. I am not a person who sweats easily, but the practice led to me standing in a puddle of my sweat. My mentor said that my liver (a pitta organ) was detoxifying and releasing pent-up heat. Even though my friends call me the “energizer bunny,” on some days, I needed to take a 20-minute nap after an intense session. 

This has been my experience in these past two months of practicing kundalini yoga. Keep in mind that this is an intense yoga practice, and I would recommend doing it only under the supervision of an expert.

“You cannot make your life a reaction to others; you must make your life your own.”

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and ayurvedic practitioner, contact the author here.

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