Stretching? Juice bars? Pseudo-Eastern spirituality? Tight pants on skinny girls pre-brunch? Yoga today is an urban trend, growing quickly in popularity since the turn of the 21st Century. The irony of yoga’s “now” status as a popular workout is that the practice is among the oldest rituals known to man. Today’s polished yoga centers and Bikram studios are only the latest incarnation of a tradition that has adapted to fit changing cultures for thousands of years. Nations have risen and fallen. Religions have come and gone. The apple of ideas has passed from Eve to Newton to Jobs. But yoga, in some form or another, has remained.
Nobody knows for certain how long yoga has been around. But as far back as our records indicate, archeologists have discovered evidence of yoga as both a physical and spiritual practice. Among the oldest records are engravings of yogi-like figures dating over 5,000 years ago from the most thriving cities of the era, Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in the Indus Valley Civilization (present day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran). The development of yoga runs parallel with the rise of Eastern spirituality, and – prior to the centralized political power of religion we see today – was considered a method of direct connection with the divine. The spirit-body connection is the foundation of yoga (the word “yoga” itself is the Sanskrit word for “union”), and it remains the longest lasting spiritual practice in operation today. But, I mean, juice bars are cool too.
“Here is the greatest of altars, the living, conscious human body, and to worship at this altar is far higher than the worship of any dead symbols.” – Swami Vivekananda
What exactly is Kundalini Yoga
Yoga has dozens of variations in philosophy and style. Some yogas (like Bikram) are structured as a physical workout. Others (like Jivamukti) put an emphasis on meditation. Kundalini Yoga is little of both, but with an added emphasis on consciousness that activates energy centers throughout the body. Kundalini class can be a good workout, but its teachers and students (often wearing white turbans) participate in each kriya with a quiet reverence more akin to a temple than a gym. If you like your physical exercise to come with a side of spiritual enlightenment, Kundalini Yoga might be for you.
“The primary objective [of Kundalini] is to awaken the full potential of human awareness in each individual; that is, recognize our awareness, refine that awareness, and expand that awareness to our unlimited Self. Clear any inner duality, create the power to deeply listen, cultivate inner stillness, and prosper and deliver excellence in all that we do.” –Kundalini Research Institute
A brief history of Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini is known as a niche form of yoga that is growing in popularity in pockets of New York City and Los Angeles. But Kundalini, perhaps more than any other yoga, has a long and fascinating history. There is no philosophy (physical or otherwise) that has been more durable than Kundalini Yoga. Unlike most ancient religious philosophies, Kundalini does not hold onto any strict rules or dogmas. The pure nature of Kundalini has allowed each generation for thousands of years to find personal meaning in the practice. The objective is decentralized and selfless – help people actualize their Higher Self. Kundalini does not claim to be the way; it is simply a way, one tool on each individual’s journey to personal discovery. Going to a class today feels so fresh, relevant and forward thinking, you would think it was a hybrid Eastern-Western concept developed specifically for the 21st Century.
“Kundalini” is an ancient Sanskrit word that literally means “coiled snake.” In early Eastern religion (long before Buddhism and Hinduism) it was believed that each individual possessed a divine energy at the base of the spine. This energy was thought to be the sacred energy of creation. This energy is something we are born with, but we must make an effort to “uncoil the snake,” thereby putting us in direct contact with the divine. Kundalini Yoga is the practice of awakening our Higher Self and turning potential energy into kinetic energy.
Today’s Western definition of yoga is limiting, describing a specific type of exercise. But to the ancients, yoga was a sacred spirit-body connection. Their goal was not fitness. It was direct connection with Brahman, the God-like spirit within us. No religious buffer between man and God was considered necessary. Just practice. Of the many yogas that developed over the past 5,000 years, Kundalini was considered the most sacred.
The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga is unknown, but the earliest known mention dates to the sacred Vedic collection of writings known as the Upanishads (c. 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.). Historical records indicate that Kundalini was a science of energy and spiritual philosophy before the physical practice was developed. The word “upanishads” literally translates to “sitting down to hear the teachings of the master.” The first Kundalini classes were just that. Masters sat down with students and gave oral recitation of spiritual visions. This was a popular practice in ancient Vedic society (and would be replicated centuries later by a couple guys named Buddha and Jesus). Over time, the body science of Kundalini Yoga was developed as a physical expression of the Upanishad visions. From its origin, Kundalini Yoga was not taught publicly. It was treated as an advanced education. Students were required to go through several years of initiation before they were prepared to learn the spirit-body lessons of the Kundalini masters.
For thousands of years, the science of Kundalini was kept hidden, passed on in secret from master to a chosen disciple who was considered worthy. Teaching Kundalini outside the secret society of Indian yoga elite was unheard of. The public was not prepared, it was believed, to access such powerful knowledge. Kundalini was veiled in secrecy until one morning when a holy Sikh rebel named Yogi Bhajan wrapped a white turban around his head and took a one-way flight from Punjab, India to Toronto, Canada in 1968. Continue reading >>