What is kundalini yoga? How this form of yoga uses the seven chakras to release stress

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What is kundalini yoga? How this form of yoga uses the seven chakras to release stress
Kundalini yoga focuses on re-aligning the seven chakras. 10'000 Hours/Getty images
  • Kundalini yoga is more of a spiritual form of yoga that combines poses, breathwork, and chants.
  • Benefits of kundalini yoga include improved cognition, mood, and flexibility.
  • Common kundalini yoga poses include cobra, ego eradicator, and seated cat-cow.

Kundalini energy is said to be sleeping at the base of the spine like a coiled serpent. The goal of Kundalini yoga is to activate this energy and help it pass through all the seven chakras in the body to achieve spiritual awakening or enlightenment.

Term: In meditation and yoga, the seven chakras are energy centers believed to be located at the base of the spine until the top of the head. Channeling energy into the seven chakras and balancing them is said to promote mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. However, there are no scientific studies confirming this theory.

Yogi Bhajan introduced the practice to the United States in 1969, says Stephanie Eggert, senior lecturer, and kundalini yoga and meditation class instructor at the University of Southern California. Since then, kundalini yoga has grown in popularity over the past few decades, and now, more people are interested in learning the craft.

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What is Kundalini yoga?

Unlike other popular forms of yoga, such as Hatha or Vinyasa, Kundalini yoga places more emphasis on breathwork and chanting than the physical movements of yoga.

Instead, Kundalini yoga is more of a spiritual discipline that combines many different components, according to Hari Gopal Kaur, a kundalini yoga instructor at Yale University. These components include:

  • Asanas, aka poses or postures
  • Pranayama, or breathing techniques like deep breathing and alternate nostril breathing
  • Mantras or chants
  • Meditation
  • Kriya, or specific sequences of postures, chants, and breathing techniques

"Kundalini yoga is for all levels, ages, and abilities, from the new, beginner to advanced practitioner, because there's something for everyone," says Eggert.

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The seven chakras

The intention behind practicing Kundalini yoga is to re-align one's chakras to release dormant energy to become more conscious, aware, and intuitive human beings, says Eggert. The seven chakras are:

  1. Root chakra, located at the base of the spine, represents the feeling of being grounded.
  2. Sacral chakra, located below the belly button, represents our ability to accept others and new experiences as well as our sexual and creative energy.
  3. Solar plexus chakra, located in the stomach area, exemplifies our ability to be confident and control our lives.
  4. Heart chakra, located at the center of the chest, embodies our ability to love.
  5. Throat chakra, located at the throat, symbolizes our ability to communicate.
  6. Third eye chakra, located between the eyes, represents our ability to focus and see the big picture.
  7. Crown chakra, located at the top of the head, represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually.

What to expect during a Kundalini yoga class

You can practice Kundalini yoga through online videos, virtual classes, or in-person classes at a studio. A class typically lasts between 30 minutes and 90 minutes.

According to Eggert, here is what a Kundalini yoga class typically includes:

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  • Tuning in: The class begins by chanting something like "Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo," which roughly means "I bow to the divine teacher within."
  • Yoga sets: You perform a sequence of yogic movements to stretch the spine and improve flexibility.
  • Breathing exercises: You practice deep breathing techniques, with the intent to improve attention and relieve emotional exhaustion.
  • Mantra: You chant mantras and positive affirmations to help the body relax.
  • Relaxation and meditation: You train your mind to focus and be mindful, which increases awareness of yourself and your surroundings.
  • Closing: The class sings a song that marks the end of a Kundalini yoga session.

"You don't 'need' anything [for the class]," Eggert says. "Mainly, you can expect to come in as you are, do whatever you can do that day and have your own experience."

Benefits of Kundalini yoga

  • Improves cognitive function: A small 2017 study found that a 12-week Kundalini yoga intervention improved cognition, memory, and mood among participants with minor cognitive impairment aged 55 years and above.
  • Relieves stress: Small studies show that Kundalini yoga can reduce stress among adolescents in urban areas and adults under the age of 45.
  • Increases flexibility: A small 2017 study involving college women found that 16 weeks of Kundalini yoga sessions significantly improved flexibility on a sit and reach test.
  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety depression: Another small study involving women with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) found that eight weeks of Kundalini yoga can reduce anxiety levels relative to those who just received standard therapy.

3 Kundalini yoga poses for beginners

There are plenty of beginner Kundalini yoga poses that you can try.

For these poses, try holding the position for 30 seconds - or the duration of five deep breaths - and work your way up to 3 minutes once you've gotten the hang of it.

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Cobra Pose

The Cobra Pose is good for improving lower back flexibility and relieving back pain.

  1. Lie down on your stomach and place your palms below your shoulders.
  2. Push your head and torso up by pressing down on the floor.
  3. As you bend your torso backward, look straight and keep your pelvis on the ground.
  4. Maintain the position for about 30 seconds or 5 deep breaths.

Ego Eradicator Pose

The Ego Eradicator Pose can help you become more alert and increase your awareness of how your body feels.

  1. Sit cross-legged on the floor.
  2. Curl your fingers so that the tips are touching the top pads of your palm. Extend your thumbs and point them towards the sky.
  3. Extend your arms and lift them diagonally to the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions.
  4. Try maintaining the pose for 30 seconds and breathe deeply.

Seated Cat-Cow Pose

The Cat-Cow Pose has several variations, but they are all good for improving spinal mobility and relieving back pain.

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  1. Sit upright and cross-legged on the floor, placing your hands at the center of your legs.
  2. Take a deep breath and arch your back forward, stretching your spine.
  3. As you exhale, round your spine outward and drop your chin toward your chest.
  4. Perform steps 2 to 3 five times.

Insider's takeaway

The goal of Kundalini yoga is to activate an individual's untapped energy by balancing the seven chakras or energy centers in the body. It is different from other forms of yoga because it involves various components such as poses, breathing techniques, movement sequences, meditation, and mantras.

Studies show that Kundalini yoga can improve cognitive function, increase flexibility, relieve stress, and reduce anxiety and depression. However, if you are pregnant or have a herniated disk, check with your physician before doing any yoga poses - whether it's Kundalini yoga or another form.

"[Kundalini yoga] is very effective even with a minimal time investment, [which is] perfect for the times we are living in," says Kaur. "The moment stress gets released, you are healthier, happier, and more conscious about your daily life choices."

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