Also called the "Yoga of Awareness," Kundalini is a branch of yoga that uses breath, hand positions, eye focus, postures, and chanting of mantras in an attempt to balance the mind, body, and soul. It was brought to the United States from India in 1969 by a teacher known as Yogi Bhajan, and today is taught at studios across the country.
Like many other forms of ancient yoga, Kundalini combines breath (prana in Sanskrit) with postures (asanas), to form sequences (kriyas) practiced during class. But in a Kundalini class, you won't hold each pose for as long as you normally might; instead, you'll perform repetitive movements -- like waving or kicking your arms or legs -- often to music. [Source: Ferretti]
The breathing techniques may be different from in a traditional Hatha or Vinyasa class, as well. Kundalini sequences utilize several different types of breath, including alternate nostril breathing (meant to calm the nervous system), a rapid and rhythmic "breath of fire" (meant to energize and increase vitality), and suspended breath (meant to provide deep stillness). [Source: 3HO]
Kundalini also places an emphasis on hand positions, called mudras. In Kundalini philosophy, hands are believed to be an "energy map of our consciousness and health," and that each area of the hand corresponds to different parts of the body, as well as to different emotions and behaviors. "By curling, crossing, stretching, and touching the fingers and palms, we can effectively talk to the body and mind," states the 3HO Foundation, the global center for Kundalini yoga.
Sound is also an important part of Kundalini yoga, and mantras are chanted throughout class to help channel specific vibrations of peace and prosperity. Most Kundalini mantras are in Gurmukhi, an Indian language, but some modern-day positive affirmations are used, as well. "Happy am I, Healthy am I, Holy am I" is a common one, and is also the guiding principal of the 3HO Foundation.
The word "kundalini" literally means "the curl of the hair of the beloved," but it is widely understood to be a metaphor to describe the flow of energy that exists within every person. This energy flow is sometimes depicted as a coiled, sleeping serpent near the base of a person's spine. The goal of Kundalini yoga, therefore, is to awaken this sleeping energy and achieve enlightenment through meditation and spiritual awareness.
A lifestyle consistent with Kundalini philosophy includes a daily spiritual practice called sadhana. According to Kundalini teachings, sadhana is best practiced in the morning, more than two hours before sunrise, when the world is quieter. It should consist of exercise, meditation, and prayer, and can be done in a group setting (such as a Kundalini studio) or in a private practice space in your own home.