Before we look at how Kundalini Yoga is different from other yoga, I just want to mention that the first part for this series looked at the similarities between Kundalini Yoga and other yogas. Again, we will talk about Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan™ rather than some of the other styles that call themselves Kundalini Yoga. Now, since there are so many different rumors out there, it’s important to look at the teachings of Kundalini Yoga objectively. In the age of hype and excitement and instant gratification it seems easy to jump to conclusions based on a facebook post that might not have any merit in the end. So to counter act that trend this set of posts looks at what actually happens during classes and what is taught through Kundalini Yoga.
How is Kundalini Yoga Different From Other Yoga?
So now let’s look at some of the things that make Kundalini Yoga unique from other styles of yoga. My focus is going to cover Kundalini Yoga in comparison to popular hatha yoga styles like Bikram, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Sivananda and so on.
While certain styles of hatha include more movement, Kundalini Yoga does this a bit differently. You may have been to a vinyasa flow class where you move from one posture to the next in a smooth series. Kundalini yoga incorporates movement into most postures.
Rather than holding a posture it’s likely that you will move in the posture. Think of it similar to the cat-cow posture where you are switching between the two poses continuously, but it’s still considered one posture. This happens with a lot of postures, forward bends might be inhaling up and exhaling down without holding either position. The movements are often incorporated with the breath, inhaling in one direction and exhaling in the other direction.
Many hatha yoga practitioners feel that Kundalini Yoga is too easy at first glance because the movements can be very gentle. Most of the beginner sets are there to prepare you for the more advanced sets that you can later practice on your own as they may be too long or challenging for regular classes. You may feel like you’re in a Navy seals bootcamp during some kriyas. Some sets you may find yourself holding your arms up for 31 minutes!
Kriyas or Sets
In Kundalini Yoga we practice pre-existing sets of exercises called kriyas. A kriya is a series of postures or exercises for a specific outcome. For example, there is a kriya for elevation, kriya for increased lung capacity, kriya for the magnetic field and heart center, kriya to cleanse the liver and so on. While in a hatha yoga class the teacher often decides the sequence of postures for the class, in Kundalini Yoga we never change the sequence of postures in a kriya. Our variety comes from the over 1,000 meditations, kriyas and exercises that Yogi Bhajan taught during his life in the United States. This way the teacher can choose warm-ups, a kriya, and a meditation to share with the class. There are so many kriyas with so many different styles that you really never know what you will get in a Kundalini Yoga class. A class could be slow and meditative or it could be challenging you to strengthen your core muscles.
It is important for all Kundalini Yoga teachers to follow the kriyas as taught because the sequence creates the effect. Leaving a posture out makes an incomplete pattern. Once in a while mistakes happen and that’s ok, were only human! (Why we tune-in, see sound and mantra below.) It’s the intentional dismantling of kriyas that is unhealthy. This includes mixing Kundalini Yoga with other styles of yoga (KundaFlow, no no 🙂 ). While using individual postures to warm up for a set is fine to do and all teachers create their own warm-ups, this is a big difference between Kundalini Yoga and other yoga. Some yoga teachers of other styles, because they’re used to sequencing their own postures, like to think that they can pick out postures from the kriyas and mix them in their own way, but unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. I’ve experienced Kundalini Yoga classes where a teacher intentionally cut a kriya short and left out postures because he was running out of time. I could feel at the end of class how the energy was stuck in limbo rather than completing the cycle! This is a real thing. It’s easy to imagine that this guideline exists to keep Kundalini Yoga exclusive, but you may begin to experience after some time that this manipulation of kriyas can be very unhealthy.
NOTE: There are some styles of hatha yoga, such as Ashtanga, Bikram and Sivananda that have preset sequences that are generally not altered from the original. These sequences also have set purposes, but are generally not called Kriyas. There is another style of yoga called Kriya Yoga that is associated with Paramahansa Yogananda which is also more oriented to Hatha Yoga and meditation rather than the kriyas taught in Kundalini Yoga.
All Kundalini yoga classes have some focus on the breath. All yoga classes will help you connect to the breath, but this practice specifically focuses on increasing the oxygen content of the blood. Higher oxygen content improves brain functioning. All postures are in some way connected to the breath and that is something people comment on regularly. It’s really not a difference between Kundalini Yoga and other yogas, but it’s a slightly more emphasized component of Kundalini Yoga as compared to other yogas. Breath focus or patterning is usually a part of most exercises in Kundalini Yoga. If you haven’t tried breath of fire yet, give it a whirl. We do also practice alternate nostril breathing like many other styles of yoga.
Sound and Mantra
You will find most yoga styles have some mantra incorporated into them, whether it’s Om or OM Namah Shivayah or something else. Kundalini incorporates a style of yoga called Laya yoga. This is the science of sound and using the vibration and pulsation of the sound to create elevation in the energy field. The difference between the mantras in Kundalini Yoga and hatha yogas is the lineage of the teachers. Hatha yoga styles generally come from a lineage of teachers that practiced Hinduism. Therefore the mantras used in hatha yoga tend to reference symbols that come from the Hindu tradition. This does not mean that hatha yoga is a Hindu practice! It means some of the stories that come down from Hindu references are used to explain concepts in yoga, but the two are very different practices.
In Kundalini Yoga the mantras come from many different places. Some mantras are in English, like God and me, me and God, are One. Some mantras are close to hatha yoga, like A-U-M. Some come from the Sikh tradition, such as Sat Nam. Sat Nam is translated as “Truth is my identity” and used as a greeting in the Kundalini Yoga community, much like Namaste in the larger yoga community. Others still come from more primal sounds, such as Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Se So Hung. Yogi Bhajan also gave alternates so that if one did not feel comfortable using the mantras in class, they could choose to use the mantra Hallelujah or Shalom.
Tuning into many yoga classes it is common to start with the mantra OM, referred to as the vibration/sound of the Universe. In Kundalini Yoga we use Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo to connect to the teacher within us and to the lineage of teachers in Kundalini Yoga. It is often called the Golden Chain of teachers. Think of it this way, would you rather do a complicated task by yourself with no knowledge of it or with the help of folks with a lot of practice under their belt? A little guidance can go a long way.
There are more components to this tune-in mantra in Kundalini Yoga. The mantra creates an energy of containment around the yoga class, allowing for any mistakes to be absorbed into the larger energy field. In other words, if your teacher is imperfect, most of us are, you are still covered by this tuning-in energetically. The vibration of the mantra Ong is done in the sinus cavity and with enough practice you can feel the vibration at the tip of your nose. This is a slight variation on the OM mantra, grounding us to the Earth while allowing for expansion. Try it yourself and see how the vibration sounds and feels. Inhale deeply and first Ommmmm and then inhale deeply and Onggg.
Mantras stimulate the energy meridians in the roof of the mouth and balance the glandular system of the brain and body. This creates a lot of harmony in the body and mind and also helps you feel relaxed and clear. Mantras can also clear your energy field of clutter and help your vibration feel lighter and happier. You will run into at least two mantras straight from the beginning, Sat Nam and Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. Many more may be incorporated into a class depending on the kriya. Check out any of our Kundalini Yoga videos to hear the tune-in and other mantras.
But wait, there’s more!
So I hope this has answered some questions you had about how Kundalini Yoga is different from other yogas. Coming in contact with some folks who had never practiced Kundalini Yoga and answering some of their questions about it motivated me to share this information from my practical experience. In the next two posts we look at the two things that freak people out most about Kundalini Yoga, sexuality and the cult thing. Yes, there are plenty of questions people have on these two topics, so I hope that you stay tuned for the next two posts coming up!
This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of all the similarities and differences, but it covers many of the differences that are immediately apparent to a beginner. The deeper lessons and differences take time and experience to discover and understand.
Now it’s your turn! What other questions do you have about Kundalini Yoga? Did this article poke at any sore spots as you read it? I would love to hear how this information affected you!