Ok, this question may pop into a new yogi’s head when trying out Kundalini Yoga, “Is Kundalini Yoga a cult?” So honestly, when I walked into my first Kundalini Yoga class, I thought it was some kind of cult. No kidding. Everyone was wearing white and some people covered their heads with a cloth, turban or had long beards. It was weird. Later on I learned about why people choose to dress this way or cover their heads.
Again, before we get going, I just want to mention that the first part for this series looked at the similarities between Kundalini Yoga and other yogas and in the second post we looked at differences between Kundalini Yoga and other yogas. The third post looked at Kundalini Yoga and sexuality. Again, we will talk about Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan™ rather than some of the other styles that call themselves Kundalini Yoga.
Is Kundalini Yoga a Cult or a Religion?
When I first started Kundalini Yoga and then again when I was in teacher training, a happy dose of skepticism had me looking through websites that say some pretty awful things about Kundalini Yoga in relation to being a cult, about sexuality and Kundalini Yoga and about Yogi Bhajan himself. Looking at that information and going through some really strong doubts, I compared my personal experiences to what was said on those websites. I came to the conclusion that this path has an amazing capacity to uplift and serve your higher Self and help you to live in Truth and prosperity. Yes, people talk funny and dress weird and let’s not even talk about singing the Star–Spangled Banner on all fours while alternately lifting opposite arm and leg to parallel with the floor (yes that’s really part of a kriya).
The White Clothes
White clothing is worn by some Kundalini Yoga teachers and practitioners to help expand the aura. This not just any white clothing, it is clothing from natural fibers such as cotton, linen or silk. We all have an electromagnetic field generated by the heart, brain and other organs that is often called the aura. It’s a real, measurable, scientific thing that some people can also see. Many people hover at the 4-5 ft electromagnetic field, but it can go as large as 9 ft or as low as 2 ft. The white expands the aura up to 2 feet. When our aura drops below 4 ft we can become depressed and having a little extra help is always nice.
For Kundalini Yoga teachers this is extra helpful because it allows us to hold space for students better. The clothes are often graceful and flowy because we are representing the purity of each student as we teach. In everyday life this is nice because we can feel more happy and strong in our interactions. Wearing white is optional, but it can help make some postures easier to hold in class. Expanding the aura is one of the reasons some Kundalini Yogis like to take cold showers in the mornings too. This is form of hydrotherapy and extremely good for circulation, glandular balance and detoxifying the body.
Why do people cover their head?
There are a few different reasons people cover their heads during a Kundalini Yoga class. One reason is that the amount of energy moved during the meditations and kriyas is larger than most hatha yoga classes. This can sometimes cause a headache (if there’s an existing imbalance), but wearing a head covering of white natural fibers helps to filter the energies and helps you feel more contained and grounded.
The turban has added benefits of stimulating energy meridians and adjusting the bones of the skull. Try it to see if you like it, if you don’t, don’t worry about it. For teachers head covers are recommended because it helps them focus during teaching. I even had a teacher tell me once he would get physically ill after teaching classes until his friends convinced him to wear a turban while teaching!
Wait, isn’t wearing a turban a religious thing? Ok, you caught me. Some Kundalini Yoga practitioners who wear turbans are also Sikhs.
Famed kirtan artist Snatam Kaur is a Sikh and a Kundalini Yogini. In the Sikh religion the turban is generally considered an article of faith and worn by devout Sikhs everyday to crown themselves and remind them of the path they’ve chosen. Yogi Bhajan was also a Sikh and so he taught Sikh practices to those students who wanted to learn them.
OK so Kundalini Yoga IS a cult/religion then! No, actually there are Kundalini Yoga practitioners who are Christians, Jews and I’m sure there are some Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists in there too, not to mention a few Wiccans and who knows what else. Some Kundalini Yoga practitioners and teachers choose to wear turbans regardless of their religion because it just feels so darn good. No really, give it a try sometime. The first time I wore turban in public I felt like I was living in a different body. It was great! My mind was quieter and I felt so calm and confident. It really does help you feel contained and grounded with this strong practice! Can you realize the self-confidence it takes to wear a turban in public?
In case you’re wondering, Sikhs are one of the few religions that don’t proselytize or try to convert people to their faith, it’s just against their belief in One God and one creation. The other thing that many people don’t know is that some Sikhs are opposed to the practice of yoga because of some things that are mentioned about it in the Guru Granth Sahib. So while some Sikhs choose to practice yoga, some have no opinion of it and other Sikhs thoroughly oppose yoga of any kind.
What about the long beards and hair?
Some folks grow long beards or long hair without cutting it because Yogi Bhajan taught us to see the uncut hair as an extension of the nervous system. This means that you can better sense the energies around you and feel more in-tune with your surroundings. Body hair helps energy move along the body and recharge the body systems. The other benefit of uncut hair is that it let’s the body use the necessary minerals and nutrients to strengthen the body rather than continue to try to grow more hair. In case you’re wondering, your hair will stop growing at a certain length. This varies from person to person, but we each have a limited length our hair grows to.
An added bonus to long hair is tying the hair in a knot at the crown of the head to help gently raise the flow of the kundalini potential. It has so many useful purposes! This is not just a Kundalini Yoga trick either, sadhus (wandering holy men in India who might practice yoga) also keep their hair long and beards uncut in some traditions. It’s a sign of non-attachment to the body in someways, opposite of the Buddhist way of displaying this with shaved heads.
For men, having a long, uncut beard is a way to balance their emotions as well. Men have an energy center at their chin that is sensitive to the fluctuations of the moon and having the beard to cover this helps to balance those shifts. Plus how sexy are those beards! 😉 Ladies have several moon sensitive energy points and are naturally more attuned to the moon phases and shifts.
Some more tips about hair… Yogi Bhajan taught that cutting the hair removed the sensitive portions of the “antennae” of the nervous system and that cutting off split-ends was like cutting a leg off a three legged horse. Ouch. To enlighten this a bit more, when the nerves are frayed, the ends of the hair becomes split as well and cutting those antennae off further cripples the sensitivity of the nervous system and intuition. He suggested washing the hair with egg whites and yogurt. Ok, that doesn’t appeal to me and it seems a little complicated to try, so I’ll let you give it a go. I do however, try to implement the combination of protein and fats into my hair care routine.
What about all the chanting?
We already looked at chanting and mantra in the second post in this series, so I suggest taking a moment to look at that again. The mantras come from many different traditions and many meditation and yoga traditions use mantras. So the chanting is not that unusual, but if you’ve only taken yoga classes at the gym it might seem that way. I wrote a more extensive article about mantra for SpiritVoyage a few years ago that you might also want to check out.
If you’re worried about chanting to a specific God or thinking that this might wash your brains out, I’d like to let you know that over the last 8 years I haven’t experienced that. I would like to say that the mantras in Kundalini Yoga are very powerful and will produce changes in your body, energy field and mind. Sometimes those changes take a little getting used to and it’s good to stay grounded with plenty of time in nature. Any chanting to GOD refers to the Generating, Organizing and Destroying energies of the Universe. So basically things come into being, they survive and sustain themselves, grow and go through changes and then they die or degrade overtime to end their cycle and provide space for something new to come into being.
So why do you chant to Guru Ram Das? The mantra Guru Guru Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru was given to Yogi Bhajan during a meditation by Guru Ram Das himself. This mantra is very healing and protective in its essence and can produce miracles in one’s life. The interesting thing is that even the Sikhs acknowledge that Guru Ram Das was on the Throne of Raj Yoga in his time. The Guru Granth Sahib reads Raj Jog Takht Dhyan Guru Ram Das, meaning Guru Ram Das was blessed with the Throne of Raja Yoga. Kundalini Yoga is a Raj Yoga style and thus the presence of Guru Ram Das in the lineage is not that strange. This mantra can be a personal request to Guru Ram Das, or a connection to the light that liberates us from darkness and surrounds us in the light of kindness, compassion and humility.
Is Kundalini Yoga a cult in your mind? I hope that this post has shed some light on some of the practices of Kundalini Yoga. It’s always in the eye of the beholder however and I’d love to hear your experiences with Kundalini Yoga. Did it weird you out the first time or did you just fall head over heels in love with it?
Kundalini Yoga isn’t a path that will magically fix everything, it’s a path that will help you overcome serious obstacles to your well-being. It asks only that you take your practice seriously and allow it to help. At times that means looking in the mirror acknowledging your own short comings (to see how to overcome them). Other times it means looking at the mirror in front of you and acknowledging the greatness in you that you’re running away from.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series about Kundalini Yoga in context and in relation to other yogas. Let us know your thoughts, I’d love to hear about your experiences and experiments with these concepts!
If you missed the previous posts, you can check them here: Part 1: Similarities Between Kundalini Yoga and Other Yogas, Part 2: How is Kundalini Yoga Different From Other Yoga?, Part 3: Is Kundalini Yoga Sexual?