By Emily Hudson
Lately, I’ve been particularly curious about stretching in the direction of Kundalini Yoga. It’s been a mystery to me… and thus, this article was born. I decided to investigate by embarking on a Kundalini covert ops mission for you, dear yogis.
It is my job to experience new facets of yoga, engage with the yoga community, and to grow with yoga knowledge. To learn about words and concepts that I have never heard of before… to absorb knowledge of breath, energy, anatomy, and light. I’m stretching my mind and body every which way.
To retrieve knowledge of Kundalini and understand the benefits of this practice. Now, simply read and discover.
I interviewed Pete Lee, IKYTA-certified and Yoga Alliance-registered Kundalini and Restorative Yoga instructor, certified Co-Active Life Coach, Reconnective Healing Practitioner and Energy Healer. And, all around incredible human being.
I started my Kundalini investigation by taking Pete’s class. It’s one of the perks of my position at YogaWorks – I can choose to either take a break or a yoga class. Let’s just say I’ve been known to skip lunch. I had no idea what to expect from Kundalini. I had only heard this form of yoga explained as a mix of dynamic movements, breath work, and chanting. It was a little bit nerve wracking trying something entirely new, but Pete’s warm energy and effervescent light put me right at ease. With faithful yogis lined up and awaiting his instruction, Pete opened the class with a subtle explanation of Kundalini and one simple phrase that all by itself made me take a deep, cleansing, settling breath: “I have only one rule: nobody gets to be wrong in my class.”
If yoga as a whole system is an amusement park, Kundalini may be on the other side of the park where you would also find Tai Chi and Oigong. In many ways, it is reminiscent of acupuncture, as well as acupressure and traditional Chinese medicine. This practice awakens and unblocks the energy channels of our bodies and releases what’s ‘on our nerves’. Kundalini offers an internal cleansing, allowing us to make space for what really matters in our daily lives.
With the explanation fresh in our minds, we began the dynamic movements of Kundalini class. We mixed the movement with breath and sound, chanting “Sat Nam” (which, loosely translated, means “I am being true to myself”). Kundalini is an energy that is stored at the base of the spine. It’s your awareness, your full potential. The work we did in Kundalini class helped us to tap into that energy and allowed us to connect with our highest level of being. We practiced mostly seated postures during the class; quite different than Vinyasa flow. The elements of my personal practice may be entirely different, but holding the Kundalini postures for an extended period of time and remaining connected to my breath was challenging in a new and different way. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t forced. For me, Kundalini was a balance between strength and ease – gentle, yet empowering. I felt through the entire class that with the movement, breath, and spoken words, I had no choice but to focus and connect with the practice. Any negative energy I brought in with me to class quickly dissipated.
As we do in other forms of yoga, we tuned in to our core during class – to our real being, and we tuned out the minutia of life. I came away feeling like I went to church, but a church that lay within my self. Like I gave my soul the gift of time and energy that I typically spend on other people and on the details that surface in the day to day. After class, I found it difficult to focus on work right away because I felt so light, happy, and free. Pete’s Kundalini class allowed me to simply… be me.
Step 2: Delightful Personal Interview with Pete
EH: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became a Kundalini instructor.
PETE (PARAPHRASED): I eased into yoga with a Hatha Yoga practice years ago. I liked it, but I didn’t fall in love with it initially. While working at the LA times, I was fortunate enough to have a coworker who was passionate about Kundalini. She invited me and some other coworkers to begin practicing Kundalini once a week in the LA Times basement during our lunch hour. As a means to create a more active work environment, I was open to the practice but didn’t know what to expect. I found it to be incredibly emotionally cleansing, so much so that I bawled during the first practice. I hadn’t ever felt that way in a yoga practice. It was definitely a heart-centered practice. They were healing tears, and I immediately connected with Kundalini.
In my professional life, I grew as a life coach and energy healer. I was inspired to train as a Kundalini instructor in 2009 to become more connected to the ‘body’ side of my practice. It was the balance I needed, already having the mind and spirit aspects as elements of my career. I also was inspired to pursue Kundalini after attending yoga classes at Golden Bridge with my nephew for many years. He is Autistic, and I have had the chance to see how yoga helps him, keeps him grounded, and inspires peace. It has also allowed us wonderful opportunity to connect.
EH: How would you describe Kundalini to someone who has never heard of it before?
PETE (PARAPHRASED): Kundalini means awareness. That is why we chant “Sat Nam” – “Truth is who I am”, or “I am being true to myself”. The practice of Kundalini is about releasing the should/could/supposed to/have to from your life and letting go of societal programming. In class, we’re coming back to who you truly are.
I would describe Kundalini as postures and movements that almost anyone can do. It doesn’t involve acrobatics with inversions (besides shoulder stand). In fact, it’s known to be the householders’ yoga – accessible to everyone. Its attention is focused on the glandular – nervous system. There are thousands of Kundalini sequences, and classes generally focus on a particular area of the body. For example, we can practice a sequence for heart opening, for the kidneys, lungs, or for the sciatic nerve. There may be a primary focus, but each Kundalini class is holistic and cleansing for the body and strengthens all 72,000 nerves.
Your full potential is lying dormant. By practicing Kundalini, we are bringing our radiance forth. We are casting away the clouds and letting our radiance shine through.
EH: What are the main benefits of Kundalini when practiced consistently?
PETE (PARAPHRASED): It allows space for the things that are in alignment and harmony with you are, and for the permission to do them. It opens us up to speaking and being our truth, and feeling at peace with doing so. It allows us to be more grounded, centered, present, peaceful, and “b.s.-free.”
As far as the physical benefits go, it purifies our blood and increases the flow of oxygen through the body. This practice really helps with anxiety, P.T.S.D., and depression because of the work we do on our nerves. It is said that Kundalini yoga is a ‘shortcut’ to personal transformation. The effect of 1 year Kundalini Yoga equals 12 years Hatha Yoga, 6 years Raja Yoga, 3 years Mantra Yoga and 1 year Laya Yoga. Yoga is union – any practice, whether it’s Kundalini or Vinyasa flow or Yin, unites your body, mind and energy systems, connecting you with your truth. All yoga is good. Kundalini is just known as a shortcut. I wholeheartedly recommend practicing all styles of yoga, as they complement each other beautifully.
EH: Why do you think some people hesitate to try Kundalini?
PETE (PARAPHRASED): I think that the idea of chanting in a class seems to freak people out. We can explain it with sound. Think of the way ocean waves sooth the nerves. Chanting is an internally generated sound current that soothes the nerves from inside out, just like an ocean wave. Also, there are 84 nerve points at the roof of the mouth. With chanting, your tongue acts as an acupuncture needle, tapping into those nerves. Chanting awakens subtle energy channels and stimulates acupressure points, allowing for deep healing.
EH: Is Kundalini for everyone?
PETE (PARAPHRASED): Yes, absolutely. Young, elderly, athletic, pre/post natal… Kundalini is for any level, any person. I always see a diverse range in my classes. This practice is for anyone who is open to being themselves and releasing stuck patterns and emotions. It’s for people who are willing to step into being more of who they are. Kundalini yoga is a tool you can use to access and own your truth. To me, it is a practice that consistently reminds me to be true to myself and to be good to myself, with every breath and movement.