Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ellen M. Martin, Kelsey O’Donoghue
For over a decade I consistently saw a physical therapist to help cope with my chronic pain, but never felt fully satisfied with my results. I thought I was doing everything within my power to alleviate my symptoms, but it was still not enough to garner the results I was after. After a long period of stagnancy, I began to wonder whether I should be trying other modalities.
And so, I started experimenting – a process of trial and error with different combinations of exercise, movement, and breathing regimes. My intuition had been right – there were plenty of additional resources, therapies, and lifestyle modifications awaiting discovery that could help calm my symptoms.
Take my advice; don’t spend years stuck in the same rut! Get experimental and find what works best for you and your needs. Whether it’s Pilates, Gyrotonic, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, or a mixture of exercises, one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing is incorporating movement therapy into your daily routine.
One exciting new option worth exploring is Kundalini Yoga.
What is Kundalini Yoga?
Most of us already have an idea of what yoga is – after all, yoga practices seem to be everywhere these days. Whether you’re seeing articles on your newsfeed, or pictures and videos of people you know practicing yoga, this exercise movement is bigger than ever in the West. Most likely, you have tried some variant of hatha (physical) yoga, popularized in the US from the 1960’s-80s (especially in California!). But there are many yogas: physical, mental and spiritual practices developed over many centuries in India. Yoga schools have developed an enormous body of techniques: physical (asanas, bhandas), pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation with mantras (sounds) or mudras (gestures), study of written materials (sutras and tantras), creation and contemplation of mandalas and other yantras.
Kundalini yoga is less familiar to most of us, although it is a venerable tradition in India, drawing on the schools of Shakta and Tantra Hinduism. “Kundalini” means “coiled snake,” and refers to the energy coiled at the base of the spine (root or muladhara chakra), which can be awakened through Kundalini practices, to cultivate the spiritual potential of human consciousness.
Kundalini practice combines physical postures (asanas) as in hatha yoga, plus breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation with mantras (sounds), and in more advanced practices, tantric visualization techniques. You are most likely to encounter classes that emphasize asana, pranayama and mantra meditation.
What are Kundalini classes like?
Unlike the black or colorful form-fitting spandex attire we associate with mainstream yoga classes, Kundalini prefers white: modest, graceful and comfortable pants, tunics, dresses, and turbans made of cotton that allow freedom of movement. This tradition arose because the color white, as the sum of all colors, is believed to increase the practitioner’s reflective nature and aura, and the built-in mindfulness of keeping white clothing clean is a meditation in itself!
Basic Kundalini yoga classes are generally comprised of three parts:
- A warm up that involves stretching and chanting, designed to allow you to tune into the practice and calm your mind.
- Participants are led through a series of asanas and bhandas, grouped into sets (Kriyas), each set with a specific physiological or psychological purpose.
- The class concludes with a meditation and wind-down period.
Why try Kundalini Yoga?
Many studies already provide support for the numerous health benefits that physical yoga may yield. With its blend of meditation with physical workout, Kundalini offers to help you optimizing both mental and physical health. The combination of multiple modalities: kriyas, breathing, mindfulness and meditation offers support for body, mind and spirit!
A recent study from the University of Chile* found that practicing Kundalini yoga correlated with decreased immediate and longitudinal stress. Researchers concluded that Kundalini yoga may be a “useful tool in the complementary treatment of pathologies directly related to high levels of stress” such as “immune system disorders, bruxism and periodontal disease, insomnia, depression, diabetes and chronic diseases in general.”
Kundalini yoga may have benefits beyond decreasing stress levels. The practice has also been shown to increase lung capacity and spine flexibility, strengthen immune and nervous system function, normalizes endocrine function, and promote joint health.
Looking back, I now wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize the importance of movement therapy as a supplement for conventional practices. But it’s never too late – so what are you waiting for? A quick Internet search can help you find a Kundalini studio near you, or a range of other movement therapies to try. No need to keep wondering when you can start experimenting!
For more information on alternative movement therapies, explore our blog here. And don’t forget to let us know what did (and didn’t) work for you!