Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses.
Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy, or shakti. This is a spiritual energy that’s said to be located at the base of your spine.
As Kundalini yoga awakens this energy, it’s supposed to enhance your awareness and help you move past your ego. Sometimes, the practice is also called “yoga of awareness.”
Read on to learn more about Kundalini yoga, its potential benefits, and how it differs from other types of yoga.
Although Kundalini yoga is practiced around the world, its origin is unknown. The concept of Kundalini energy has been around for centuries and was mentioned in ancient Vedic texts from 1,000 B.C.
Kundalini yoga is most associated with Yogi Bhajan, a yoga teacher from Pakistan. He’s credited with introducing the practice to Western countries in the 1960s.
The term “Kundalini” comes from the Sanskrit word “kundal,” which means “circular.” It also refers to a coiled snake. And according to practitioners, Kundalini energy is like that coiled snake: It sits at the base of your spine, sleeping and unaroused.
Kundalini yoga is practiced to activate this energy, which allows it to move up and through the chakras along your spine.
In yoga, chakras are the seven energy centers in your body. They include:
- root chakra
- sacral chakra
- naval, or solar plexus, chakra
- heart chakra
- throat chakra
- third eye chakra
- crown chakra
As Kundalini energy rises, it’s believed to help balance these chakras and contribute to your spiritual wellness.
With regular practice, Kundalini yoga is said to lead to spiritual enlightenment. This is called a “Kundalini awakening.”
Compared with other forms of yoga, Kundalini yoga is a more spiritual practice.
It still involves physical movements, but they aren’t the primary focus. This is different from hatha or vinyasa yoga, for example, which both revolve around physical poses.
Kundalini yoga is also more precise and repetitive. Whereas other types of yoga flow with your breath, Kundalini yoga combines chanting, singing, movements, and breathing in specific patterns.
Kundalini yoga consists of six main components, which are done in the following order:
- Opening chant. Every class begins with an opening chant, also known as tuning in.
- Pranayama or warmup. You’ll do breathing exercises, called pranayama, and sometimes also movements to stretch your spine. The goal of pranayama is to practice breath control.
- Kriya. A kriya is a sequence of postures, pranayama, mudras (hand positions), sounds, and meditation. The length and intensity of the kriya depends on your instructor.
- Relaxation. This allows your body and mind to absorb the effects of a kriya.
- Meditation. Your instructor guides you through meditation to cultivate awareness.
- Closing chant. The class ends with a closing chant.
Kundalini yoga has several science-backed and anecdotal benefits. Let’s look at them more closely.
Stress and anxiety relief
Like other forms of yoga, Kundalini yoga can help relieve stress and anxiety.
In a small 2017 study, participants experienced immediate stress relief after doing Kundalini yoga. This effect continued after they practiced for 3 more months.
Similarly, a 2018 study determined that 8 weeks of Kundalini yoga lowered participants’ anxiety levels. The researchers concluded that Kundalini yoga may be an effective treatment option for people with generalized anxiety disorder.
Improves cognitive function
In a 2017 controlled trial, researchers studied 81 participants with mild cognitive impairment. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group practiced Kundalini yoga, while the other group received memory enhancement training for 12 weeks.
While both groups showed significant improvements in their memory at the end of the study, only the Kundalini group showed short- and long-term improvements in their executive functioning. This includes skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility, among others.
In addition to cognitive improvements, the group that practiced Kundalini yoga also had fewer symptoms of depression at the end of the study.
Another small 2017 study found that Kundalini yoga may improve body positivity and self-acceptance. These benefits were observed in nine women diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
According to the researchers, Kundalini yoga may help treat eating disorders by improving self-perception and self-appreciation.
It’s believed that as your Kundalini energy awakens, you become more spiritually connected with yourself and others.
These benefits have not been scientifically proven but are instead supported by anecdotal evidence.
The purported benefits may include the following:
- more empathy
- increased creativity
- improved charisma
- increased energy
- internal peace
If you’d like to try Kundalini yoga, you may want to start with these beginner-friendly poses.
Lotus is a basic seated pose. It helps open your hips, so it might feel difficult if you have tightness in this area. Move slowly and avoid the posture if you have hip problems.
To do lotus pose:
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended. Maintain a neutral spine.
- Bend your knees outward, bringing your feet toward your body as if you were about to sit in a cross-legged position.
- Place your left foot on top of your right thigh. Then, place your right foot on top of your left thigh.
- Inhale and exhale deeply while in Lotus, unless your instructor has you do pranayama.
This pose is said to activate your Kundalini energy. Here’s how to do it:
- Lie down on your stomach, with your legs and feet pressed together. Rest the tops of your feet against the floor.
- Plant your palms beneath your shoulders. Make sure your fingers are pointing forward and your elbows are parallel to each other.
- Inhale. Raise your head and torso, pressing your lower body into the floor.
- Straighten your arms, lifting your chest and stomach. Bring your shoulders down and back.
- Hold Cobra for up to 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Exhale and return to the starting position.
Archer is thought to make you feel confident, like a warrior. To do this pose:
- Stand up straight, with your feet together. Rotate your right foot outward, about 45 degrees.
- Step your right foot back, straightening your leg. Bend your left knee, but make sure it doesn’t go past your left foot.
- Extend your arms to shoulder height. Curl both hands into fists and point your thumbs up.
- Rotate your upper body to the left. Simultaneously bend your right elbow and bring your right fist toward your right armpit.
- Look forward and breathe deeply while you hold this position for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Then switch sides, with your left leg back and your left arm bent, and hold for another 2 to 3 minutes while breathing deeply.
Kundalini yoga, like all yoga, should be practiced with safety in mind.
Use caution if you:
- have breathing issues
- have joint pain
- have an injury
- have balance problems
- are pregnant
If you’re not sure whether Kundalini is safe for you, talk with your doctor to find out if there are any precautions you should take or if there’s a safer exercise option to try.
Kundalini yoga is more spiritual than other types of yoga. Whereas other types of yoga flow with the breath, Kundalini yoga combines chanting, singing, movements, and breathing in specific patterns. The purpose is to promote spiritual enlightenment.
There are several science-backed benefits of Kundalini yoga. According to research, it may help ease stress and anxiety, improve cognitive functioning, and boost self-perception and self-appreciation.
If you’re pregnant or if you have breathing issues, an injury, joint pain, or balance problems, talk with your doctor to make sure Kundalini yoga is safe for you.