What Kundalini Yoga Is and Isn’t

vishuddha chakra

Everybody is looking for something, a lot of pop song lyrics go, and it seems more or less true; and what we are looking for tends to change with the phases of our lives. About 27 years ago I was looking for a way to integrate my body, mind, and spirit. Running, macrobiotics, some little hatha yoga, reading Autobiography of a Yogi, and a number of other things had provided some satisfaction (see: Rolling Stones), but hadn’t quite done it yet. So where else to look but the yellow pages? (Back when that was how people found stuff.) There was Baba Siri Chand Ashram, and they had classes in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, and I went, and never really looked back. It’s not for everybody, but for me, then, it was, as one of my Zen teachers had told me once, “the hook that caught the fish.”

So here in no particular order are some fun facts and fallacies about Kundalini Yoga.

Kundalini Yoga is dangerous. As a matter of fact it is, because it will change you in fundamental ways, and that is generally upsetting to at least some of the people around you; people tend to want you to stay as you are, even if you are dependent, uncertain, limited, and a bit lost–at least it’s familiar. Kundalini Yoga will make you independent, certain, and will help you find your way–not somebody else’s way, but yours. This is what makes you independent and certain, and more able to explore your destiny in life as a free soul. So don’t do it if you want to stay the same. Staying the same is always safer.

Kundalini Yoga is in conflict with your religion. Yes, but only if your religion is so rigid that it only believes in one possible truth and excludes everything else. Kundalini Yoga (and any other yoga for that matter) is more like a science of all religions–it helps you connect the parts of yourself that are usually a bit scattered and disconnected (and if you don’t think you’re scattered and disconnected, just keep a careful, honest journal of your thoughts and actions for 24 hours, then burn it).

This connecting of spirit, mind, and body actually will invigorate your other practices and make them more clear; why am I a Christian, or a Buddhist, or an Atheist (yes, Atheism is practice too–it takes a lot of practice not to believe in something). In authentic religious experience, there is never any conflict.

Kundalini Yoga is really hard physically and mentally. Well, sort of. Like everything else in life, it depends on your judgement. Yes, a lot of the kriyas (Kundalini Yoga mostly consists of sets of kriyas, literally, cleansing actions, which clean all the garbage out of your system) can be physically and mentally challenging, but you only do what you can do–this is a matter of personal judgement. If you go to a class and even just close your eyes and imagine that you are doing the kriyas, it will have many of the same effects. If you can’t sit on the floor, you meditate in a chair; it still works the same. If you can sit on the floor, so much the better.

You also find that many of the barriers you thought you had are largely or wholly illusions as you break through them. This can be dangerous (see Point #1). This helps you overcome your fears, and all of us have lots of those. It’s a long-term project to work them all out, sort of like peeling an onion. Somewhere in the center you run out of layers. Don’t do Kundalini Yoga if you want to hang onto your fears.

I don’t have time for a yoga practice (or the ever-popular variation, now is not a good time for me to start something like this. This could apply to any yoga practice. This is certainly true for all of us. We have to take time to go to work, sleep, eat, do our bathroom routines, recreate a little, drink, smoke, go to the movies, forget ourselves for yet a bit longer, etc., etc., but when it comes to practice, the unconscious mind says “forget it.” Of course you don’t have time. The alternative to this sort of thinking is to simply put your practice (by this we mean to have some spiritual action that we do every day, whether or not we have time, whether or not we feel like it) at the center of everything else.

If you prioritize your practice, your taking time to be with God, The Universe, or whatever you want to call it, the It will take care of you. Synchronous things will happen, doors will open, and time will somehow become available for the really important things. If you put your practice at the center, everything else will begin to rotate around that center, and there you are, at the center. You don’t have to believe in anything, you just have to do your practice.

Yogi Bhajan used to say, a lot, “Now is the time and the time is now; keep up and you will be kept up.” Also related to this is the good old notion that I can’t be perfect, or I missed a day, or whatever, so just forget the whole practice thing. Is my practice perfect? Of course not. In 27 years I’ve had many very good clear times and many missed days. One just starts over. Every moment is a new day.

John Stewart, aka Jiwan Shakti has practiced Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan for 27 years. He received Level I Kundalini Yoga instructor certification from the Kundalini Research Institute and is a member is the International Kundalini Yoga Teacher’s Association.