Kundalini. The curl of the lock of hair.
I’ve started a new class in Kundalini yoga which is known as the ‘yoga of awareness’, utilising life force energy located at the bottom of the spine and combining breath and a lot of movement. Kundalini is a relatively new branch of yoga, based on the writings of spiritual teacher Sivananda Saraswati who founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the Ganges in 1936. Influences come from tantra and shakta schools of Hinduism. It was popularised in the 1960s by Harbhajan Singh, also known as Yogi Bhajan. Kundalini yoga is said to strengthen and balance the body, give clarity to the mind, release tension, make contact with your infinity and innate inner wisdom, and help you to feel peaceful and fully charged.
According to Saraswati’s treatise, it aims “to cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human to uphold values, speak truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others.” This sounds absolutely beautiful. The name ‘kundalini’ has a poetic metaphor behind it, meaning “the curl of the lock of hair”, a reference to the energy and consciousness that flows within us.
The long class uses a blend of postures, pranayam, music, mantra and meditation, which teach the art of relaxation, self-healing and elevation. You get very deep into the soul of yoga. One of the exercises was to move from baby position to caterpillar on your belly with spine curled upwards, then back into baby and up into a downward dog, which is like a triangle shape with your bottom in the air and head down, feet flat on the mat. It’s going to take some practice. This and all the exercises were done with breath being the momentum that carries you onward, and so the movement of the body. and the inhale/ exhale is totally synchronised.
It felt very good performing the breath of fire. This isn’t when you’ve had too much vindaloo but a step away from Western breathing using just the chest area. The breath of fire is awareness of your breathing using the diaphragm to its full extent. Taking intense rapid breaths through the nostrils you fill your abdomen with new air and quickly expel the old. We must have looked like a class of hyperventilators. The technique is said to be good for clearing deposits from the nasal cavities and extending lung capacity, both of which are great for me as these are two problem areas.
Another exercise that I found surprisingly strenuous was lying flat on your back with hands placed under your bottom so the lower back is flat against the mat, then lifting straight legs to a 60 degree angle and opening and crossing them closed, with alternate legs being on top. You do this exercise at a fast pace in a sudden 3-minute burst of energy, which is very taxing when your body hasn’t the discipline for any sustained physical activity whatsoever.
All the physical exercises were tough for me. My body felt tired afterwards and a little achy rather than rejuvenated. All the more reason to stick at it, so that perhaps in a few sessions’ time I can actually feel the benefit. The day after (today) I have no aches but have become more aware of the awkward ways I hold my body, in particular my tense right shoulder.
Aside from the physical exertions, there is also a more meditative aspect to the class I attended. There are spiritual affirmations that are repeated – either chanted in a way that exercises the voice and you really feel your voice; or sung in a way that clears out old air from your lungs. You do feel a bit silly doing the Hindu chanting, but it’s easy to suspend that feeling and just give in to it, like when you dance and after loosening up a little your inhibitions go.
Kundalini yoga uses the energy locks system and focusses on the locks around the lower back. All that energy is contained within the spine – Kundalini wakes it up and shakes it out of its office-life imposed sloth. Sometimes a pose or an exercise will involve connecting the tips of your thumbs together or connecting your thumb and index finger as if circling an imaginary egg, which seemed arbitrary before but I’m beginning to see how this all makes a big picture.
I’m not a natural yogi, I even found sitting cross-legged with a straight back too much at times, but I saw the goodness that is at the core of this teaching and I will endeavour to continue whenever I am free on class night. I feel really lucky to have discovered this amazing way of tapping into inner resources and seeking all that I wish inside my very soul.