What is Kundalini Yoga?

Intro Kundalini Yoga


Kundalini yoga, once a secret tradition, has been brought out into the open in just the last few decades. A part of the tantric lineage, the path of kundalini yoga is one that can lead to great spiritual and physical power, using esoteric knowledge in a practical way.


Kundalini yoga uses the disciplines of āsana and prānāyāma to control and liberate the power of the energy within the body. Using yoga to understand and cultivate the channels within the body, it brings the yogi into a place of subtle vibration and intense energy.


Within the Tantric philosophy that the physical self is the spiritual self, kundalini focuses its discipline on āsana, breath and mantra as the way to liberation. It can be a complete way of life, with āsanas and breath work prescribed from the moment of waking, through the day, and into preparation for sleep at night. The need for mindfulness and constant physical awareness set kundalini firmly within the tantric tradition. There is no moment of life so mundane that it cannot be transformed by posture, breath and intention. 


 Yogi Bhajan, the yogi most responsible for introducing kundalini to the West has said “The kundalini experience does not mean you have gone into a deep breathless trace and are beyond this world…it integrates you fully with reality and gives you a broader vision and sensitivity so that you can act more efficiently.”


As with many yogic paths, kundalini uses mantra as a way of creating a disciplined focus for the yogi to open to the practice. The mantras used in kundalini, for the most part, are not the classic Sanskrit mantras used on many other paths. They originate in the Gurumukhi or Gurbāni language, so there are variations in the pronunciation. As with all mantras, the vibration of the sounds is most important, so that it resonates in the body. The mantra should be chanted with the eyes nine-tenths closed, and looking at the tip of the nose, unless otherwise specified. While repetition raises power, there is no exclusivity of mantra in this practice. Rather, there are mantras to work within certain meditations, other mantras to work within āsana, and still other mantras to work within the practice of daily life.


As one example, consider this mantra of protection-

 Aad Guray Nameh

 Jugaad Guray Nameh

 Sat Guray Nameh

 Siri Guru Dayvay Nameh


In translation-


 Aad is the guidance at the beginning of each action (or thought)

Guray is teaching or knowledge

Nameh is an invocation of reverence, opening to guidance

Jugaad is guidance through time

Sat is guidance through experience by remembering the truth

Siri is guidance beyond what we know

Guru is the light that vanquishes darkness (as in Sanskrit)

Davay is the transparent (non-physical)



With this focus, it is understood how mantra resembles the concept of prayer, and in kundalini, it also  resembles more of a continuous conversation with the divine through the many different mantras used in practice.


The physical focus of kundalini yoga are sets of āsanas enhanced with more specific tasks called kriyas. While the word translates literally as “action” or “work”, each kriya is sequenced to produce a specific effect, such as spinal adjustment or recharging the immune system. Like a recipe, they combine āsanas with prānāyāma, chanting, visualization and chakra locks. Some of the kriyas practiced today are many centuries old. And, like a recipe, the end result is much more than the sum of its parts.


The kriyas all work on raising the energy from the base of the spine using the breath, clearing the channels that move the energy through the body. While there are unfounded ideas that kundalini energy is dangerous and could cause mental imbalance if raised without proper guidance, the truth is that kundalini is always in the body, and many have raised the energy without even being aware of it.


This does lead to an important concept- the practice of kundalini yoga does not force the energy through the body- It simply allows that once the way is opened, the opportunity is there. As water can be allowed to flow downward with gravity, so kundalini can be allowed to rise with the breath. The ultimate goal of a kundalini yoga practice is to allow the rise of kundalini energy from the base of the spine up to the crown of the head, where it activates the pineal gland. This is said to create a shift in awareness, so that the yogi can then proceed to higher levels of consciousness with ever greater ease.


The importance of opening the chakras is emphasized again and again in the teaching of kundalini. In particular, the sixth chakra, the Ajna chakra, is crucial. Once the energy rises, it must have the freedom to keep on rising, or it will stop and return down the spine, creating frustration and bringing extra energy to the “animal “ centers of the body.  If there is a blockage in the lower chakras, they must be addressed as the first prerequisite of practice. This is also why kundalini can be a powerful healing tool, as a yoga practice that requires a seeker to understand and overcome problems (such as addictions ) in the process of restoring and revitalizing the chakras.  As the āsanas and breath work bring the energy centers into a state of ease and clarity, the kundalini energy has an open path.  Clearing the sixth chakra allows the kundalini unfettered access to the brain, and opens communication with the higher self.  


Swami Vivēkānada once said “Wherever there was any manifestation of what is ordinarily called supernatural power or wisdom, there a little current of kundalini must have found its way into the shushmana. Only, in the vast majority of cases, people had ignorantly stumbled on some practice which set free a minute portion of the coiled up kundalini. All worship, consciously or unconsciously, leads to this end. “


The word Kundalini refers to the power at the base of the spine.  The word “kundal “ translates as “coiled”. This energy is often described as the snake goddess, and is said to originate in the first chakra and is coiled at the base of the body three and one half times. That there is a half coil at the top is said to be the invitation from the divine to open the energy to the three major nādīs, the shushmana, ida, and pingalā. In the Vedas, the word Nādī is used to mean stream.  Nādī is from the Sanskrit nad and means movement. The shushmnā nādī is the central path up the spinal column, and the ida and pingalā nādīs coil and cross around it like strands of DNA, or the ancient medical symbol of the caduceus, the twin snakes crossed around the winged staff. Ida is the lunar channel, ending at the left nostril and cultivating female energy. Pingalā is the solar channel, ending in the right nostril and cultivating male energy. The shushmnā is the channel of eternity, said to function outside of time, and open the yogi into a connection with the eternal aspect of the divine. The task of the nādīs is to move prānic energy through the body. By moving prānic energy up the chakras to the crown of the head, the yogi unites the kundalini (shakti) energy with the masculine (shiva) seat to create Divine Union. In physical terms, the energy of the breath is sent up the spinal column to activate the energy of the pineal gland at the upper center of the skull. This creates a shift in consciousness.


The pratice of kundalini has been opened even further by teaching mantras in a language other than Sanskrit.  Like the decision of the Catholic Church to say Mass in the common language (English, Spanish, Italian) rather than in Latin, the need to open an esoteric tradition to the people who were most in need of its teachings created a gateway for seekers to enter. There are even mantras given in English. Paradoxically, the central mantra for kundalini practice is to inhale the word “SAT” and exhale the word “NAM”. So, while mantras are not required to be in Sanskrit, they are not required to be in any other language. As with other disciplines in the tantric philosophy, seekers must accept that mysteries do not follow logic.


Kundalini yoga is taught as an intense discipline for yogis who wish to seek liberation within the context of daily life. The energy and the balance that devotion to kundalini brings to the yogi can be used in planting a garden, working at a desk, raising children or going to school. In the words of Yogi Bhajan, “ Kundalini yoga is the science to unite the finite with Infinity and it’s the art to experience Infinity in the finite…This is it. “




  1. Kundalini Yoga, The eternal flow of power, Shakti Parwha Kaur Khālsa, Perigee books
  2. The Chakra Workbook, Anna Voight, Thunder Bay Press
  3. The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Theory and Practice, Georg Feuerstein, Shambala
  4. Relax and Renew, Kundalini yoga and meditations of Yogi Bhajan, Gurugattan Kaur Khālsa, PhD


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