Last month I attended my first Kundalini yoga class. I thought it was my second Kundalini class of my yoga life, but thirty minutes in the company of seasoned, clad-in-white, eyes-closed, loudly chanting Kundalini yogis and it was clear: the class I previously attended was the Crystal Light of Kundalini - here I was plunging into the real deal, undiluted. My shirt was white over black leggings, so I partially fit in, and I joined a Sunday morning class led by the owner of PranaShanti - Devinder Kaur. She's been teaching the same class for thirteen years, and her students are clearly dedicated. Through the room were white sheepskins, crisp white outfits from head to toe, and personally toted bolsters. I was so impressed at their preparation! (I feel quite proud getting to class on time with my own yoga mat wearing whatever is clean that day! Bonus points if my hair isn't embarrassing.)
Do I have to wear a white turban to practice Kundalini? Our excellent Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Agnostic/Atheist upbringings have trained us to believe that where there is ritual, there are rules. Here, no one is going to tell you covering your head is mandatory, but they may tell you it's good for you to help you focus in meditation. (I arrived in time for class, but not soon enough to request a turban tying tutorial.)
Thrilled to be there, it was exciting to be in a place where I was trying something new and very different from my comfort zone, and the positive energy in the room was palpable, certainly different then the struggle and electric negative energy that can dash around an athletic-asana class. It felt like acceptance and happiness at being together. Welcome. You'll be okay. The energy seemed to say.
What is Kundalini anyway? Kundalini is an ancient form of yoga with roots in the Tantric tradition. Tantra is not easily defined itself, developing between 1000 to 1200 AD in both Hinduism and Buddhism, "it encompasses such a huge, varied, and sometimes contradictory range of beliefs and practices. But first and foremost, although it has produced many philosophical texts, Tantra is a collection of practical techniques for achieving liberation or enlightenment". True to its beginning, Kundalini is premised on waking up dormant energy and potential in the individual.
Brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan, he said that "the kundalini experience does not mean you have gone into a deep breathless trance and are beyond this world. … It integrates you more fully with reality and gives you a broader vision and sensitivity so that you can act more efficiently."
My misconceptions tricked my mind into thinking I was going to sit around with some Grandmas in white sweaters and we'd sing and do a few torso circles to limber up the effects of The Arthritis. How wrong I was: there was core work! Vigorous, Kundalini raising, Kapalabhati-accompanied, core work. The Grandmas were owning me. Classes begin and close with chanting and singing, framing a "kriya" - a series of movements, breathwork, and sound to awaken the Kundalini energy (often embodied by a coiled snake). In Devinder's class, I also enjoyed the long gong meditation.
It's good for us to be heartily shoved outside our comfort zone on occasion. (I was reminded of Eoin Finn requesting everyone to hop around like frogs at Wanderlust Tremblant last year... this felt less silly.) At the heart of the word "enlightenment" is "light", and I certainly felt lifted, and lighter by the end of class. I felt buzzy - a highly technical term, so don't worry if it eludes you.
Even so, I was confident my snake was still sleeping. (All yogis experience this need to "get it right".) Asking Devinder after class if awakening Kundalini is something only achieved with years of practice and total devotion, she said no, everyone can achieve it, and yes, they achieve it frequently. It is not reserved only for the most devout and can be found repeatedly. (I like that Yogi Bhajan says this yoga is for "householders" - meaning everyone.)
This householder will certainly visit again.