The technology used in Kundalini Yoga was developed between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago when Indian and Tibetan Rishis learned to activate the body through the use of breathing exercises, movements, mantras, and asanas, or postures. Traditionally, this technology was passed down from master to student in secret, but in 1969 a master named Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji (Yogi Bhajan) moved to North America and brought this ancient knowledge with him. He witnessed the counterculture movement of this era and realized that many individuals were seeking access to higher consciousness by using psychoactive drugs. Bhajan believed that Kundalini Yoga could provide these experiences while restoring balance and harmony to the physical body. Breaking from centuries-long tradition, he began teaching this technology to anyone that was interested, and thus Kundalini Yoga became known in the West. Yogi Bhajan was also heavily influenced by white tantra. In 1971, he became Mahan Tantric (the only living Master of White Tantric Yoga).
Kundalini Yoga works by activating the chakras, or energy centers of the subtle body. Furthermore, it balances the Prana, life force energy, and the Apana, elimination energy, which creates an activation in the root chakra, allowing the Kundalini energy to rise. B.K.S. Iyengar (1966) describes Kundalini energy:
“The Kundalini (Kunda = the coil of a rope; Kundalini = a coiled female serpent) is the divine cosmic energy. This force or energy is symbolized as a coiled and sleeping serpent lying dormant in the lowest nerve center at the base of the spinal column, the Muladhara-chakra (root chakra). This latent energy has to be aroused and made to ascend the main spinal channel, the Sushumna piercing the chakras right up to the Sahasrara (crown chakra), the thousand-petaled lotus in the head. Then the yogi is in union with the Supreme Universal Soul” (p. 523).
Kundalini Yoga is not for Yogis living in seclusion, the technology is for the householder. It is a way to experience the divine in all aspects of daily life. The practice of Kundalini Yoga is primarily focused on experiencing and controlling energy. In other words, Kundalini yoga is a way to stimulate and purify one’s own energy, which creates healing and balance in mind, body, and spirit. However, stimulating the Kundalini to rise is just one way to control energy in the body. Kundalini Yoga also uses kriyas, which are a combination of rhythmic movement, breath, asanas, mudras, bandhas, and mantras in a specific sequence. This sequence works with the body’s systems to produce specific results. Kriyas use the natural processes of the body to increase blood flow to specific areas, encourage detoxification, stimulate the lymph and glandular systems, increase electromagnetic energy, and strengthen the nervous system (Rattana, 2015).
Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, utilize specific techniques, such as movement, mantra, and meditation to affect healing in themselves and others. Much of this healing happens in Altered States of Consciousness (ASC). Another, better term for this state is holotropic (moving towards wholeness) states. These holotropic states of consciousness are “non-ordinary states of consciousness that are of great theoretical and practical importance… Holotropic experiences have the potential to help us discover our true identity and our cosmic status” -Groff. Holotropic states can be entered using trance, breathwork, drumming, the use of plant medicine. These states are used in both Kundalini Yoga and Shamanism as powerful healing modalities. ASC’s allow for an expanded sense of connection and give the practitioner the ability to tap into the collective unconscious. These states facilitate healing by allowing traumatic experiences to be processed and released.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons for the introduction of Kundalini Yoga to the West was Yogi Bhajan’s observation of the countercultural movement of the 60’s. He felt strongly that drug-induced holotropic states damage the chakras and centers in the brain. Rather than using illicit drugs to achieve holotropic states, Bhajan advocated the use of breathwork, kriyas, and meditations to access these states safely. During Kundalini Yoga, rhythmic mantra, various pranayama exercises- especially breath of fire (a quick panting breath through the nose), movement and dance, and drishti (focused eye gaze) facilitates natural movement into holotropic states. The rising of Kundalini energy also produces an intense holotropic state. Louis Vulsnik (2013) describes his experience with Kundalini activation, “I found myself entering periods of ecstatic bliss, states of mind I learned to control to some extent by consciously moving my energy and breath into each chakra” (p. 104). Although his Kundalini activation was not a product of Kundalini yoga, Vulsniks experience demonstrates the powerful holotropic state this energy creates. Kundalini Yoga is not simply a means to activate the Kundalini energy, it is a way to strengthen the physical and subtle bodies in order to sustain Kundalini energy (Rattana, 2015).
Death and Rebirth in Kundalini Yoga
Another theme common to Kundalini Yoga is the use of death and rebirthing in facilitating healing. In the book, Rebirthing: Breath – Vitality – Strength, Yogi Bhajan (2011) describes the rebirthing process as a cleaning out of the subconscious. The kriyas described in the book all use relatively long postures, combined with rhythmic mantra and pranayama to send participants into a holotropic state. From there, Bhajan uses the power of suggestion, combined with the physical activation of certain centers and body systems to facilitate the experience of dying and being reborn. Participants were often instructed to drink lemon juice throughout the day prior to rebirthing, and avoid sexual intercourse after, in order to facilitate an even deeper cleansing.
Ancestor work is important in Kundalini Yoga and many kriyas are designed to eliminate ancestral karma. The ancestral field is used to connect to one’s inner spirituality, and to develop a deeper understanding that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Ancestor work is also important because of the intergenerational trauma that can be passed down from parent to child. Duran (2006) a Psychologist and respected Native American teacher noted that historical trauma was causing mental and physical maladies in Native American populations in central California. In his book, Healing the Soul Wound, the author describes this phenomenon, “when trauma is not dealt with in previous generations it must be dealt with in subsequent generations.” Duran goes on to state, “not only is the trauma passed on intergenerationally, it is cumulative. Therefore, it is a process whereby unresolved trauma becomes more severe each time it is passed on to a subsequent generation”. These soul wounds are addressed in Kundalini Yoga. Yogi Bhajan discussed the power of Kundalini Yoga to heal the self and in the process the generations that came before as well as those that will come after. Kundalini Yoga also offers the mantra Akal to help spirits transition into the next world.
In addition to family and ancestral work, Kundalini Yoga emphasizes the power of group practice and community. Community work is especially healing “Ritual, communally designed, helps the individual remember his or her purpose, and such remembering brings healing both to the individual and the community…. When we are connected- to our own purpose, to the community around us, and to our spiritual wisdom- we are able to live and act with authentic effectiveness” -Some. Yogi Bhajan (2011) said, “Kundalini Yoga cultivates group consciousness because group consciousness is the first step toward universal consciousness which is the goal”.
The Wounded Healer
Although powerful healing does occur in a group setting, individual practice is important in Kundalini Yoga. I have experienced the wounded healer phenomenon in many Kundalini Yoga teachers. Typically there is some sort of energy crisis. Often, the individual is going through an existential crisis stemming from personal tragedy or years of taxation of the energy systems due to drugs, overwork, or a combination of these things. He or she comes to a breaking point, and this is often when Kundalini Yoga is discovered, and the individual begins the path to become a teacher. My own wounded healer story follows a similar pattern. I was dealing with depression that left me constantly exhausted and generally apathetic to my existence. I was using a variety of techniques to avoid dealing with reality. I found Kundalini Yoga to be a tool for self-healing, and felt drawn to learn how to share it with others. This practice gave me access to my interior self, which allowed me to find meaning and begin peeling away the layers of insulation that I had created around myself, a process which is continuing to this day.
As a Kundalini Yoga practitioner and teacher, I have had many experiences that I would identify as shamanic during Kundalini Yoga practice. For me, much of the shamanic essence comes in the ritual of preparing to practice. By creating a sacred space in my home I create a moment to become one with the diving. During my practice I smudge with sage or palo santo, take a cold shower, dress all in white, and sip warm spiced tea. I assume a yogic posture and connect to my breath. Using my crown and third eye chakra, I tap into an intention for class, and then ground this intention into the earth energy. To open the space the Adi Mantra is chanted three times – Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. This sacred sound helps me connect to the spirit and vibration of the teachers of the past, and reminds me of my own inner divinity. That is followed by a protection mantra which creates the sacred space for practice. If I am teaching, I also repeat the teacher’s oath, “I am not a man; I am not a woman; I am not a person; I am not myself; I am a teacher.” I have found that this oath opens my channel to receive information to facilitate healing for the class. Often, I feel that in this teacher state I am merely the messenger. I can sense the presence of guides and angels during practice, and especially during savasana. I sense these beings cleansing the energetic fields of the students as they practice and rest. In this state, I am attuned to all the energies around and within me. I am also tuning into another realm.
Through Kundalini Yoga I have also had several peak experiences that have left me feeling a deep healing has taken place. One occasion was during my teacher training. We were performing a mantra for healing. In turns, several of us would lie in the center of the circle to receive healing, while the rest of the group remained on the exterior reciting the mantra. When it was my turn to receive, I experienced the sensation of the room being completely full of entities. It was possible to sense their movement all around. Suddenly, I felt a distinct hand gently grasp my palm. I felt certain it was the hand of my Great-Grandmother, who had passed away a few years prior. The feeling of connection and healing totally overwhelmed me. After the experience several others shared similar experience of sensing beings in the room, feeling their hand held, or feeling hands on the heart. These experiences have left me understanding that the technology behind this yoga is incredibly powerful, and has prompted me to engage in this research.
It has been my goal to bring to light the importance of Kundalini Yoga as a means to heal trauma, and as a way to tap into a space that can teach us to live in harmony with each other and with nature. By deeper probing into both of this method, we may begin to understand its healing mechanics and how the spaces, seen and unseen, affect each of us on a daily basis.
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