A Brief History of Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini is known as a niche form of yoga that is growing in popularity in pockets of New York City and Los Angeles. But Kundalini, perhaps more than any other yoga, has a long and fascinating history. There is no philosophy (physical or otherwise) that has been more durable than Kundalini Yoga. Unlike most ancient religious philosophies, Kundalini does not hold onto any strict rules or dogmas. The pure nature of Kundalini has allowed each generation for thousands of years to find personal meaning in the practice. The objective is decentralized and selfless – help people actualize their Higher Self. Kundalini does not claim to be the way; it is simply a way, one tool on each individual’s journey to personal discovery. Going to a class today feels so fresh, relevant and forward thinking, you would think it was a hybrid Eastern-Western concept developed specifically for the 21st Century.

“Kundalini” is an ancient Sanskrit word that literally means “coiled snake.” In early Eastern religion (long before Buddhism and Hinduism) it was believed that each individual possessed a divine energy at the base of the spine. This energy was thought to be the sacred energy of creation. This energy is something we are born with, but we must make an effort to “uncoil the snake,” thereby putting us in direct contact with the divine. Kundalini Yoga is the practice of awakening our Higher Self and turning potential energy into kinetic energy.

Today’s Western definition of yoga is limiting, describing a specific type of exercise. But to the ancients, yoga was a sacred spirit-body connection. Their goal was not fitness. It was direct connection with Brahman, the God-like spirit within us. No religious buffer between man and God was considered necessary. Just practice. Of the many yogas that developed over the past 5,000 years, Kundalini was considered the most sacred.
The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga is unknown, but the earliest known mention dates to the sacred Vedic collection of writings known as the Upanishads (c. 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.). Historical records indicate that Kundalini was a science of energy and spiritual philosophy before the physical practice was developed. The word “upanishads” literally translates to “sitting down to hear the teachings of the master.” The first Kundalini classes were just that. Masters sat down with students and gave oral recitation of spiritual visions. This was a popular practice in ancient Vedic society (and would be replicated centuries later by a couple guys named Buddha and Jesus). Over time, the body science of Kundalini Yoga was developed as a physical expression of the Upanishad visions. From its origin, Kundalini Yoga was not taught publicly. It was treated as an advanced education. Students were required to go through several years of initiation before they were prepared to learn the spirit-body lessons of the Kundalini masters.

For thousands of years, the science of Kundalini was kept hidden, passed on in secret from master to a chosen disciple who was considered worthy. Teaching Kundalini outside the secret society of Indian yoga elite was unheard of. The public was not prepared, it was believed, to access such powerful knowledge. Kundalini was veiled in secrecy until one morning when a holy Sikh rebel named Yogi Bhajan wrapped a white turban around his head and took a one-way flight from Punjab, India to Toronto, Canada in 1968.

 

Kundalini Philosophy: The Yoga of Awareness

To understand the philosophy behind Kundalini Yoga, let’s follow the trail to the first historical texts to mention it by name – the Upanishads. Written by several unknown authors over the course of 500 years (between 1,000 and 500 B.C.), the Upanishads (similar to the Vedic literary scriptures) are a collection of oral teachings on the spiritual nature of reality.
The Upanishads, originally passed from masters to students following deep meditative visions, are square one for Eastern spirituality. The central concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditions trace their origin to the Upanishads. So does Kundalini.
As the “yoga of awareness,” the philosophical purpose of Kundalini is to awaken your Higher Self. Each individual, it is believed, is an energy center for Brahman (God-like creative consciousness). By using the scientific methods developed by Kundalini masters over thousands of years, we are able to disconnect from the worldly Ego and connect directly with Universal Brahman.
Wait. How can a physical exercise connect me with, for lack of a better word… God?
In the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, God is not a personified deity in the sky. Not even close. The essence of God is the same essence of us. God is creative consciousness, the energy from which all things flow, including ourselves. We can access Brahman because it is already part of us. In other words, we are each individual expressions of the same collective energy. Kundalini is the method to shake off our false Ego narrative of separation and experience the true nature of our existence. Not bad for a little stretching, right?

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” –Carl Jung, author of The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga

 

Top 5 Practical Reasons to do Kundalini Yoga

“Okay cool,” you’re probably thinking. “This ancient and divine stuff sounds far out. But how will Kundalini Yoga benefit my life?” Fair question. For starters, it’s a great workout. The meditations included in each class are also great. But the health benefits of Kundalini are an added bonus. Here are a few other reasons to practice…
1) Expanding your presence expands your life.

Kundalini’s connection to your core energy allows you to approach each day with a strong sense of individual truth. This presence is obvious to those around you and will result in new opportunities and an expanded reality.

2) Instant inspiration.

I walk away from each class with a clarity of mind that breaks through old mental patterns and inspires new ideas.
3) Having a community keeps you in check.
Most of us spend part of our day around negative people who drag us down. Regular contact with a positive community on a spiritual path will lift you up and remind you what is important.
4) Magic happens outside your comfort zone.
Kundalini Yoga is full of surprises. You might be stretching one day and screaming the next. The spontaneous nature of each class keeps you light on your feet and ready for anything.
5) Everyone is a teacher (yes, even you).
Yogi Bhajan said that he did not teach Kundalini to attain disciples. He taught in order to train new teachers. Kundalini reminds us that we each have an important message to share with the world. By finding your voice, and having the courage to share it, you will transform your life and the lives of those around you.

 

Kundalini Techniques

Stretching, breathing, jumping, running, dancing, yelling, chanting, meditating. Any given Kundalini kriya contains a variety of activities. A typical class is focused on control of breath,expansion of energy and alignment of the chakras.

The typical class is 60-90 minutes, structured as follows:

  • 5-10 minute warm-up (often including spiritual teachings from the instructor)
  • 30-45 minute kriya (the workout itself)
  • 5-15 minute Savasana relaxation (try not to fall asleep)
  • 11-31 minute meditation (this could include mantras or hand mudras)

 

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