Kundalini Yoga: The Multitasking Yoga
How to Stretch Your Mind, Body, and Free Time
What is kundalini yoga? Kundalini is an ancient solution to the modern problem of time starvation. There’s nothing worse than having only a half-hour for yourself when your mind and body are both yelling out for help. You know you need some yoga, because you feel stiffer than a Laffy Taffy that’s been left unwrapped in the fridge. You know you need some cardio exercise, because you feel as logy as a tree sloth. And you sure could use the benefits that meditation is supposed to bring — but good luck getting your mind to settle down! Even if you did sit still and try to think about nothing, you know you’d just wiggle, squirm, and think about how many things you need to get done, including exercise!
Personally, I could never meditate in the best of times — not till I discovered kundalini yoga. When my body is still, my mind begins racing; it’s just how I’m wired. Regular yoga helps, but face it — for me it’s more about physical stretches and an emergency calm-down measure than what you could call genuine meditation. And I usually only do hatha or power yoga on days when I have time to do both that and some sort of rhythmic, cardio-type workout. But sometimes that’s just too much time to spend on merely maintaining mind-body health. Enter kundalini!
But before I rave any more in the abstract, let’s get to the nitty gritty: what exactly do you do in kundalini yoga? If you’ve taken a general yoga class, your instructor has likely mixed in a few typical kundalini moves from time to time — does ‘breath of fire’ or belly breathing ring a bell? This rapid, solar-plexus-centered, sniffing breath is as central to kundalini yoga as ujjayi breathing is to the commoner forms of yoga. Like kundalini in general, the breath of fire is more rapid, more athletic, more rhythmic, more stimulating, and yet more focusing than its hatha and power yogic counterparts.
There are a few static poses in kundalini, particularly during the focusing prayer that typically begins a session, or during the meditation sections that are fit in between the exercises. But most of your time in a kudalini session will be spent doing what are called ‘moving meditations’ — simple, easy to learn fluctuations between one posture and another that will calm your mind as they free up your joints, exercise your muscles, and give your cardiovascular system a kick in the pants without all the knee-slamming horseplay of high-impact aerobics.
There are a lot of kundalini moves for freeing up your hips, improving the mobility of your shoulders, making everyday activities feel easier, and improving your core strength — which has amazing mental benefits. The stronger your core body is, the more confident you feel — and not just because your stomach looks flatter. There’s a reason they call courage ‘guts,’ or ‘fire in the belly.’
And all the while, a good kundalini instructor will be giving you encouragement and advice on how to turn the rhythm of these exercises into a meditation that benefits your mind just as efficiently as it works on your body. Granted, there’s no yoga workout that’s ever going to reach the physical intensity of a Jillian Michaels video — but the beauty of a cross training/multitasking approach to fitness is that you can have room in your life for all types of exercise.
Best of all, you can easily do kundalini yoga at home! Don’t worry if you don’t live near or can’t afford a studio that specializes in the kundalini discipline — DVDs are available and almost as good. Or better; if you ask me, the relaxation benefits of yoga are improved when you don’t have to add in the time and hassle of getting to a studio, particularly before work or in nasty weather. Not to mention the money you’ll save. Kundalini DVDs are rarely over 20 bucks and can be used multiple times, especially if you rotate them; there are even free videos circulating on the web. In kundalini yoga, alignment isn’t as important as it can be in other forms of yoga; it’s hard to get it wrong, even without a live instructor.
One of my favorite videos is by Ana Brett and Ravi Singh, who are sometimes criticized for being too glamorous and Hollywood. I have to admit, Ana is ridiculously easy on the eyes, and the production values are high. But the music they choose is always extremely pleasing and motivating, and one of their videos in particular — Dance the Chakras — is an amazing mix of beginner-friendly traditional kundalini moves plus free-form, barefoot, fun as heck dancing for an extra cardio kick. The dance section even sneaks in some yogic moves for flexibility, particularly in the hips. There’s one irritating moment when they name one of their dance moves ‘planting rice in a field’ — on what planet is manual labor freeing or fun?! — but give ’em a break, nobody’s perfect, and if you can look past some of their flakiness they’ve got plenty to teach you.