“The economy has changed. Geography has changed. The politics are changing. You’ll find changes, unbelievable changes. There’s no reason for you to worry about those changes. All they’re inviting you to do is change too.” –Yogi Bhajan, 1992
The sweep of this statement is typical of Yogi Bhajan, the originator of kundalini yoga and never one to play small. Although his particular synthesis of yogic practices arrived with him to the West in the late ‘60s, he always insisted he was just passing on what he’d been taught, a mailman delivering much needed information. He saw that the accelerated pace of life on the cusp of the 21st century called out for techniques to slow and calm the human nervous system. Each kundalini class as taught by Yogi Bhajan incorporates a physical yoga sequence along with pranayama (breath work) and meditation, for a distinctive mind-body workout.
There’s no question that yoga itself has arrived in the United States like water in a drought. We can’t get enough of it. According to Yoga Journal, 44.4% of Americans believe yoga has something to offer them. And according to a 2012 Yoga in America study, 8.7% of Americans actually practice yoga.
Considering you are reading the blog for LYFE Yoga, I’d say it’s pretty likely you are among the latter group of practicing yoga students. But it’s also likely you have yet to try kundalini yoga, still considered an obscure spiritual offshoot of the pure physicality of American yoga.
That’s too bad, because kundalini yoga incorporates breath and meditation components that can greatly reduce stress and enhance mood and cognition. Kundalini is a powerful mind-body exercise designed to bring you into the present moment and move negative emotions.
To get a taste, try this simple breath meditation with renowned kundalini teacher Gumukh
Kundalini yoga has been the focus of several compelling studies on the effects of yoga compared to other forms of exercise. Kundalini was chosen specifically for these studies because its meditative aspects make it easy to distinguish from other forms of physical activity. In 2015, UCLA conducted a study in which Alzheimer’s patients undertook either a course in cognitive therapy or did a kundalini yoga exercise each day–specifically a common chanting exercise called kirtan kriya. . The researchers found that both kundalini yoga and standard treatment improved cognitive function, but kundalini provided substantial additional benefits. Helen Laveretsky, psychiatry professor, and one of the studies’ authors, said kundalini yoga actually rivaled the gold standard of targeted memory work: “Memory training was comparable to yoga with meditation in terms of improving memory.” There were other benefits of a regular kundalini practice, as well, : “yoga provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills.”
My first teachers of kundalini yoga (encountered at our own beloved LYFE Yoga) included two with advanced degrees in psychology, a dancer, and an accomplished musician. This gives you a sense that kundalini yoga is as much about the intricate working of the mind and is is about the musculature of the body. At the same time, it involves the pleasures of movement, music and sound. What I loved about kundalini, then and now, was that it engaged all facets of my being, while leaving me more relaxed and energetic at the close of each class.
“It has a lot of stuff to it.” This was one of my favorite responses when I queried some of my regular students about what keeps them coming back to kundalini yoga classes. “It’s different, “ the student continued. Another student, Sophie, said it was hard to describe the “subtle” effects, but that regular kundalini practice kept her in a more positive frame of mind. Sai, in a phrase I love, said he “collects his mind with the breath.”
If you’ve been feeling like you want to incorporate meditation and mind-calming techniques into your life, kundalini is an excellent place to start. Please join us–LYFE Yoga offers three kundalini classes a week, each one appropriate for beginners.
Grace Lovelace, PhD
Categorised in: Blog
This post was written by Grace Lovelace