The information on this page was written by Keval Kaur Khalsa, a Kundalini Yoga Lead Teacher Trainer.
Kundalini Yoga & Meditation as taught by Yogi Bhajan
The combined elements of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan® work simultaneously to balance and strengthen all systems of the physical body, even as they focus and discipline the mind, and connect us with spirit. In a world that demands more and more in less and less time, it is a challenge to hold to one’s center, keep up with daily responsibilities, and enjoy life along the way. Kundalini Yoga is a comprehensive technology that was developed for “householders,” or those who wish to integrate a deep spiritual practice into active lives in the world. The term “householders” accurately describes many contemporary practitioners of yoga, as opposed to “renunciates,” or those who withdraw from normal worldly activities in order to devote their lives entirely to spiritual study.
As such, Kundalini Yoga is designed to work quickly and effectively with even a brief amount of time devoted to a regular and earnest practice. Kundalini Yoga gives the stamina and grit to keep up with life as a “spiritual warrior” ––to develop the awareness, consciousness, and courage to act from the heart, and to stand up for the rights and welfare of self and others.
“In yoga a person has to be humble, have the power to merge, and to be spiritually, mentally, and physically committed for exalted experiences.” (Bhajan, 2003/2007, p. iii)
Yogi Bhajan – Master of Kundalini Yoga
Harbhajan Singh Puri, more commonly and affectionately known as Yogi Bhajan, was born in 1929, in what at that time was still a part of India but is now Pakistan (Khalsa & Khalsa, Eds,1979, p. 18). He was declared a Kundalini Yoga master at the age of 16½ by his teacher, Sant Hazara Singh. When Yogi Bhajan arrived in the United States in December of 1968, he stated his mission quite clearly. He was not a philosopher or a preacher but rather a transmitter of the same mastery that he achieved (Khalsa, Ed., 2002, p. 69). “I have come to create teachers, not to gather disciples,” he said.
When Yogi Bhajan taught his first class in Kundalini Yoga in the United States in 1969, hardly anyone had accurate information about this ancient, sacred, and up until then, secret science. Its technology for transformation and empowerment had been given only to those students who could prove their devotion, dedication, self-discipline, humility and obedience to the teacher. Despite scriptural warnings that whoever taught Kundalini Yoga publicly would not live to see his next birthday, Yogi Bhajan flaunted tradition and began teaching the practice openly to all who were willing to learn (Bhajan, 2003/2007, p. v). Now, more than four decades later, the Kundalini Research Institute is the international organization that oversees three levels of training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan ®. Classes and teacher training courses can be found all over the world through IKYTA – the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association.
Kundalini Yoga in Historical Context
Ancient Hindu scholarship credits Patanjali as the author of nearly 200 sutras (amorphisms) on yoga, recognizing the practice of yoga as existing both “on and off the mat.” Patanjali identified 8 limbs of yoga—yamas and niyamas (ethical precepts), asanas (postures), pranayam (breathing techniques), pratyahar (controlling the thought waves in the mind), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and ultimately Samadhi (liberation, or complete absorption in Spirit).
Kundalini Yoga is a comprehensive, Raj (royal) path that incorporates all eight of the limbs as outlined by Patanjali. In Kundalini, ethical precepts are a given. The practice of a kriya (literally defined as a “complete action,”) in Kundalini generally includes a set of exercises, or asanas, in addition to breathing techniques, or pranayama. Kundalini kriya technology also includes meditation and mantra (repetitive sound or chant), and these encompass the limbs of pratyahar, dharana and dhyana.
Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan® follows a precise framework, and the kriyas he taught are to be practiced without alteration to achieve a specific, desired goal, or to “complete the action.” Kundalini as taught by Yogi Bhajan works in a safe manner to awaken the kundalini (the highest and most creative potential of a human being).
The elements of Kundalini practice are described in more detail below.
Components of Kundalini Yoga
Tuning In: The mantra Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo—known as the Adi Mantra is chanted at the beginning of class to connect with the “Golden Chain” of teachers that have come before us, and to connect us to the energy and wisdom within ourselves. With Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo we bow to the Infinite Creative Consciousness all around us, and to the Divine Teacher within.
Kriya: A kriya in yoga is a sequence of postures, breath and sound that are integrated together to allow the manifestation of a particular state (Bhajan, 2007, p. 100). Kriya means action – not just random action, but action that is free of blocks, leading to a completion of the seed of the action. Over the course of Yogi Bhajan’s 36-year teaching career, he taught hundreds of different sets of yoga exercises, or kriyas, each set with a specific sequence, and all claiming to have a unique therapeutic value (Shannonoff-Khalsa, 2006, p. 2). Within a kriya, each asana (posture) serves as an exercise, a meditation, a connection to energy flow, and a tool for self-diagnosis (Bhajan, 2007, p. 100). Kriyas vary in length and range of difficulty. See the accompanying video for the short Wake Up Series, and Sat Kriya. Sat Kriya is an example of a single exercise that is considered a complete kriya as well as a meditation.
Pranayam: Although the kriyas are among the more widely known features of Kundalini Yoga, pranayama—or breath control—is even more foundational to establishing a successful yoga practice. Yogis claim that breath is not just the transporter of oxygen and carbon dioxide, but the carrier of prana – the subtle life force that rides on the breath. As the oxygen feeds our cells, so prana feeds our subtle life energy, and opens us to the realms of emotions, thoughts, intuition. There are many pranayam techniques in Kundalini Yoga, but first and foremost is learning to breathe fully and completely without excess tension—something that for many reasons we seldom do in ordinary, every-day life. In class, a pranayam may be practiced by itself and/or incorporated into the chosen kriya. See the accompanying video for instruction and demonstration of the Kundalini yoga pranayam Breath of Fire.
Meditation: In the rich and vast body of work that is Yogi Bhajan’s legacy, perhaps the most important and fundamental to moving beyond limiting and self-centered attitudes into the experience of interconnectedness are his teachings on the mind. One of his oft-quoted aphorisms is that the mind makes a wonderful servant, but a horrible master. He emphasized that mastering the use and command of the mind is the gateway to living peacefully, truthfully, and prosperously. Through meditation, we learn to build and hold our awareness. We learn to observe the aspects of the mind: the negative mind, which is our protective mind that lets us know what could go wrong in a situation; the positive mind — our “cheerleader” mind, which sees opportunity; and the neutral mind which can take information from the other two aspects of the mind and make decisions that align with the Soul. Sat Kriya is considered a meditation as well as a kriya.
Mantras are special sounds that help us tune and control the mind by going beyond the mind. Since the universe is vibration, when we chant a mantra with proper focus, pronunciation and rhythm, we begin to attune to the frequency of the Infinite.
Relaxation: Deep relaxation allows all systems of the body and mind to integrate the work that we have done throughout the rest of the class.
Other important elements of Kundalini yoga practice are drishti (a specific eye focus that might accompany a meditation), mudra (specific positions or movements of the fingers and hands in meditation), and bhandas (“locks” or pressure applied in different parts of the body to move energy during the practice of a kriya or meditation).
Through a committed practice, a Kundalini yogi or yogini acquires wisdom that comes from direct experience of the interconnectedness of all life. The depth of this experience is a true knowing – gian – which opens us to a consciousness of unity and gives us the power and discipline to act from that truth. Yogi Bhajan states, “Just because you know about or believe something is true, does not mean you can act on it. But if you discover a truth and act on the path of that truth, and if you can find bliss, success, and fulfillment in yourself as a result, then no power on Earth can make you veer from that truth or do wrong” (Bhajan, 2007, p. 14).
Bhajan, Y. (2003/2007). The Aquarian Teacher: KRI international teacher training in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, level I instructor textbook. Espanola, NM: Kundalini Research Institute.
Bhajan, Y., with Khalsa, G.S. (1998). The Mind: its projections and multiple facets. Espanola, NM: Kundalini Research Institute.
Khalsa, S.P.K. (1996). Kundalini Yoga: the flow of eternal power. New York & Canada: Penguin Putnam, Inc.
Khalsa, S.P.K & Khalsa, S.K.K. (Ed.) (1979). The Man Called The Siri Singh Sahib. Los Angeles, CA: Sikh Dharma.
Khalsa, S.R.K., (2002). About Yogi Bhajan. Aquarian Times. Volume 2, Number 1. (p. 69).
Shannahoff-Khalsa, D. (2006). Kundalini Yoga Meditation: techniques specific for psychiatric disorders, couples therapy, and personal growth. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.
Singh, M. (2008). The unstruck melody: understanding the science of Naad Yoga. Aquarian Times. Volume 7, Number 3. (pp. 4-5).
White, J. (Ed.) (1990). Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, Exploring the Myths and Misconceptions. Paragon House. (p. 144). Quoted in Khalsa, S.P.K. (1996). Kundalini Yoga: the flow of eternal power. New York & Canada: Penguin Putnam, Inc. (p. 50).
Keval Kaur Khalsa, M.A.
Keval Kaur Khalsa is a Professor of the Practice of Dance & Theater Studies at Duke University, a Kundalini Yoga Lead Teacher Trainer, and the North Carolina Regional Coordinator for Y.O.G.A. for Youth and Teacher Trainer for Y.O.G.A. for Youth. Keval Kaur is the co-founder of the Y.O.G.A. for Youth Satellite in North Carolina, which offers a specialized training annually for teaching yoga to underserved youth and runs programming in four counties. Keval Kaur loves connecting with young people from all walks of life through her teaching with both Y.O.G.A. for Youth and at Duke University. Keval Kaur has been teaching Kundalini Yoga & Meditation for the past 15 years in locations as far-ranging as Michigan, North Carolina, New Orleans, Brazil, and Togo. She has trained Kundalini Yoga teachers in North Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, California, Michigan, and Accra (Ghana). At Duke University, she directed the Dance Program for seven years, teaches courses in dance, Kundalini Yoga & Sikh Dharma, and activist theater, and is currently conducting a multi-year yoga research study supported by Duke’s Bass Connections Initiative.