Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses.
Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy, or shakti. This is a spiritual energy that’s said to be located at the base of your spine.
As Kundalini yoga awakens this energy, it’s supposed to enhance your awareness and help you move past your ego. Sometimes, the practice is also called “yoga of awareness.”
Although Kundalini yoga is practiced around the world, its origin is unknown. The concept of Kundalini energy has been around for centuries and was mentioned in ancient Vedic texts from 1,000 B.C.
Kundalini yoga is most associated with Yogi Bhajan, a yoga teacher from Pakistan. He’s credited with introducing the practice to Western countries in the 1960s.
The term “Kundalini” comes from the Sanskrit word “kundal,” which means “circular.” It also refers to a coiled snake. And according to practitioners, Kundalini energy is like that coiled snake: It sits at the base of your spine, sleeping and unaroused.
Kundalini yoga is practiced to activate this energy, which allows it to move up and through the chakras along your spine.
In yoga, chakras are the seven energy centers in your body. They include:
- root chakra
- sacral chakra
- naval, or solar plexus, chakra
- heart chakra
- throat chakra
- third eye chakra
- crown chakra
As Kundalini energy rises, it’s believed to help balance these chakras and contribute to your spiritual wellness.
With regular practice, Kundalini yoga is said to lead to spiritual enlightenment. This is called a “Kundalini awakening.”
Compared with other forms of yoga, Kundalini yoga is a more spiritual practice.
It still involves physical movements, but they aren’t the primary focus. This is different from hatha or vinyasa Yoga, for example, which both revolve around physical poses.
Kundalini yoga is also more precise and repetitive. Whereas other types of yoga flow with your breath, Kundalini yoga combines chanting, singing, movements, and breathing in specific patterns.
About breathing, mantras, kriyas, and mudras
Kundalini yoga consists of six main components, which are done in the following order:
- Opening chant. Every class begins with an opening chant, also known as tuning in.
- Pranayama or warmup. You’ll do breathing exercises, called pranayama, and sometimes also movements to stretch your spine. The goal of pranayama is to practice breath control.
- Kriya. A kriya is a sequence of postures, pranayama, mudras (hand positions), sounds, and meditation. The length and intensity of the kriya depends on your instructor.
- Relaxation. This allows your body and mind to absorb the effects of a kriya.
- Meditation. Your instructor guides you through a meditation to cultivate awareness.
- Closing chant. The class ends with a closing chant
Yoga Breathing Exercises
In yoga we call the branch dedicated to our breathing techniques Pranayama, which means breath control.
Kundalini Yoga employs a wide range of pranayama, using the breath to effect and manage different states of consciousness, relaxation, and well-being.
Breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice, and they can be a very useful tool in our daily lives, too. If you’re new to yoga, you might need a little guidance when connecting the breath to the movement.
There are a bunch of different techniques you can try utilizing for different effects. Here are just a few, in no particular order.
Before you get started, it’s always important to try to take a few relaxed breaths before and after each exercise. Start with just 30 seconds per exercise, building to longer increments of time as your body is ready. If you get dizzy, simply stop and relax for a few minutes, evening out your breath.
Beginner Breathing Techniques:
Long Deep Techniques:
Calm the mind; balance the emotions; harmonize the body, mind, and spirit. Long Deep Breathing uses the full capacity of the lungs by utilizing the three chambers of the lungs: abdominal or lower, chest or middle, clavicular or upper. Begin the inhale with an Abdominal Breath. Then add the Chest Breath and finish with a Clavicular Breath. All three are done in a smooth motion.
Start the exhale by relaxing the clavicle, then slowly emptying the chest. Finally, pull in the abdomen to force out any remaining air. Breathe through the nose.
Start by filling the abdomen, then expanding the chest, and finally lifting the upper ribs and clavicle. The exhale is the reverse: first the upper deflates, then the middle, and finally the abdomen pulls in and up, as the Navel Point pulls back toward the spine.
Suspending the Breath:
Recondition the nervous system; integration of the body systems; experience deep stillness, shuniya.
To suspend the breath on the inhale: Inhale deeply. Bring the attention to the clavicle and upper ribs. Lift the upper ribs slightly and fix them in place. Relax the shoulders, throat, and face. Pull the chin in. Become still and calm. If you feel the urge to exhale, inhale a tiny bit instead.
To suspend the breath on the exhale: Start with a complete exhale. Pull the navel point back toward the spine. Lift the lower chest and diaphragm. Let the upper ribs relax and compress. Do not bend the spine and ribs when you try to exhale completely— that would interrupt the action of the diaphragm. Pull the chin in. Become still and calm. If the muscles start a reflex to inhale, consciously exhale a little more. This can extend the length of suspension significantly without any strain or struggle.
This breath control activity encourages a sudden release, and invites a little playfulness into the practice. This is one of the most fun breathing practices, especially for kids. It is also a great addition to an adult class on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings, when everyone is ready to let go of the week they have had, and embrace the weekend.
Lion’s Breath involves inhaling deeply through your nose then leaning your head back and opening your mouth very wide to exhale loudly while sticking your tongue out. Try practicing this while rising your arms up on the inhale and forming cactus arms with your exhale to accentuate the relieving effects.
Breath of Fire
Used in Bikram classes, this practice is very warming, as the name itself implies. It is great for warming up the abdominal muscles and ignites Tapas, or heat, in the organs. This is superb for a practice that is focused on detoxing.
Practice Breath of Fire by sitting tall, inhaling gently through your nose, then vigorously pumping your exhale out through your nose while pulling your navel in repeatedly and in short spurts. Each pull in with your belly exerts another exhale quickly after the last. Make your inhales and exhales even in force, depth, and time.
Otherwise known as Kapalabhati Breathing, this technique is another cleansing breath exercise that raises your energy level dramatically. Basically, it is the same as the Breath of Fire technique, but with a larger emphasis on the exhale, and with your arms straight up above your head to promote lymph circulation through the upper body.
Hold your hands in the mudra of your choice. For example, try Apana Mudra for invoking the future. Simply make your hands look like a dog’s head with the ring and middle finger resting on your thumb in a triangle, stick your pinkie and pointer finger straight up like ears.
Three Part Breathing
This slow, smooth process is super relaxing and is wonderful for insomnia, anxiety, stress, and frustrating situations. Three Part Breathing calms the mind and soothes the muscles. It is a wonderful way to end a late evening practice or begin a restorative practice.
Start by placing one hand on your upper chest and the other on your navel. Inhale into your chest then your upper abdomen, and finally puff your belly out like a balloon. Slowly release the breath in the same way, smoothly exhaling the air from your belly, then your upper abdomen, then your chest.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breathing exercise takes focus and clarity to prevent getting confused and to remember where you are in the process. For this reason, it is best used before an exam or when you are trying to ignite focus and discipline for any reason. Focusing in this way can be calming as it clears the mind, so many people will use it before bed if they tend to over think stuff at night.
Practice this technique by placing your right middle and pointer fingers in the palm of your hand leaving just your pinkie and ring fingers and your thumb free. Take your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Now take your ring finger and place it over your left nostril to exhale through the right nostril.
Next leave your hand as it is and inhale through the left nostril, then switch, placing your thumb over your right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril.
Repeat this until you are finished with your breathing exercise.
The first few times you try this one you may get your left and right confused. Don’t give up; you’re not alone in that struggle. Try to remember that each time you inhale you are sealing the breath in and that is when you switch sides.
Bellows Breath is very, very invigorating and is a wonderful way to begin an early morning Power yoga practice, or to wake yourself up in the middle of a meeting or long lecture.
Raise your hands up to the sky in little fists, or with the fingers splayed out wide. Inhale through your mouth and with every exhale, drop your elbows into your side body and make a “HA” sound from the bottom of your diaphragm.
Don’t be afraid to be loud here, as this is incredibly freeing and releases any pent-up energy, stagnation, or frustrations very quickly.
This is the most used breathing technique, as it is easy to perform during your physical practice, no matter what type of practice you have. It is useful for calming the mind and the nervous system in tricky situations both on and off the mat. It sounds like the ocean and can cool you off very quickly.
Practice Ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Drag the breath along the back of your throat so that it creates a gentle hissing sound and feels like sipping a cool drink through a straw. Try to make each inhale last as long as the exhale, and take each breath a little deeper than the last until your breathing is long and smooth.
Practice your breathing techniques as often as possible. Being able to control your breath will deepen your physical practice dramatically, and will help you take each posture longer, deeper, and more healthfully.
12D Kundalini Yoga Level 1 Class
- Opening Chant/Mantra:
ONG, NAMO, GURU DEV, NAMO
With this Mantra we are tuning ourselves into our higher self.
Ong is "Infinite Creative energy in manifestation and activity".
Om is God absolute and unmanifested,
Namo is "reverent greetings' implying humility,
Guru means "teacher or wisdom",
Dev means "Divine or of God"
Namo reaffirms humility and reverence.” I call upon Divine Wisdom".
And we repeat this mantra 5x times.
- Pranayama or warmup / Breathing Exercises:
Long deep Breath 5x
Suspended Breathe 5x
Three Part Breathing 5x
Alternative Nostril Breathing 5x
Breathe of Fire 5x
- A kriya is a sequence of postures, pranayama, mudras (hand positions), sounds, and meditation.
Root Stretch Pose # Leg Lifts # Cross Crawl
Sacral Staff # Seated Forward Fold # Twisting
Solar Plexus Downward dog # Walk feet into
into # Warrior 1 # Warrior 2
Heart Upward Hand Pose # Standing Forward
Fold Pose # Upward dog
Throat Cow # Cat # Camel
Third Eye Childs pose hands in back # Hands in front
Crown Hands Up Easy pose # Pull Hands
# Prayer Pose
- Relaxation: Corpse Pose (3-5 minutes) This allows your body and mind to absorb the effects of a kriya.
- Meditation: Golden Orb/Merkaba Activation
- Closing chant: ONG, NAMO, GURU DEV, NAMO 5x