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Kundalini yoga is a physical and meditative discipline, comprising a set of simple techniques that uses the mind, senses and body to create a communication between "mind" and "body". Kundalini yoga focuses on psycho-spiritual growth and the body's potential for maturation, giving special consideration to the role of the spine and the endocrine system in the understanding of yogic awakening (Sovatsky, 1998).
Kundalini Yoga concentrates on psychic centers or chakras in the body in order to generate a spiritual power, which is known as kundalini energy.
Kundalini is the potential form of prana or life force, lying dormant in our bodies. It is conceptualized as a coiled up serpent (literally, 'kundalini' in Sanskrit is 'coiled up') lying at the base of our spine, which can spring awake when activated by spiritual disciplines.
Kundalini yoga practice
The practice of kundalini yoga consists of a number of bodily postures, expressive movements and utterances, characterological cultivations, breathing patterns, and degrees of concentration (Sovatsky, 1998). None of these postures and movements should, according to scholars of Yoga (Sovatsky, 1998), be considered mere stretching exercises or gymnastic exercises.
Shannahoff-Khalsa (2004) describes several Kundalini Yoga techniques in his Kundalini Yoga Protocol. Most techniques include the following features: cross-legged positions, the positioning of the spine (usually straight), different methods to control the breath, the use of mantras, closed eyes, and mental focus (often on the sound of the breath). The author emphasizes that the techniques are not meant to be a substitute for medical care and advice (for more information on circumstances where meditation is contra-indicated, see next section).
Kundalini Yoga is relatively new to the United States, having been introduced to the West Coast in 1969 when Yogi Bhajan arrived from India and began training teachers (Sat Bachan Kaur, 2004). Like other yogas, it links movement with breath. The way it differs is its direct focus on moving energy through the chakra system, stimulating the energy in the lower chakras and moving it to the higher chakras. The chakras are energy centers, seven in total, located beginning at the base of the spine and ending at the top of the head. An eighth chakra exists in Kundalini Yoga, which is the electromagnetic field, sometimes called "aura." The aura is thought to be strengthened through the practice of Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini Yoga awakens the energy that resides in the spine by activating the nerve channels that are intertwined there.
Although it is quite physical, its main benefit is derived from the inner experience. Kundalini Yoga is called "the Yoga of Awareness" because it awakens the "kundalini" which is the unlimited potential that already exists in every human (Sat Bachan Kaur, 2004).
Sovatsky (1998) describes 'kundalini yoga' as an energetically guided yoga. This means that the discipline is informed by the Hindu understanding of pranotthana, or "intensified life-energy". Pranotthana is sometimes thought to lead to spontaneous psycho-motor manifestations which, according to Yogic hermeneutics, might be interpreted as signs of psycho-spiritual growth and bodily maturation.
The word, 'kundalini', literally means "the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved." It is a metaphor, a poetic way of describing the flow of energy and consciousness which already is said to exist within each person. The practices are said to enable the person to merge with or "yoke" the universal Self. This merging of individual consciousness with the universal consciousness is said to create a "divine union" called "yoga."
The practice of kundalini yoga is universal and non-denominational. It is a yoga designed for householders, for people who have to cope with the daily challenges and stresses of holding jobs, raising families, and managing businesses. It does not require that the person leaves his home, become an ascetic, or sit in a cave.
Medical research on kundalini yoga
Recently there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological, as well as the psychological, effects of meditation, and some of these studies have applied the discipline of kundalini yoga to their clinical settings (Cromie, 2002; Lazar, et. al, 2000):
- Arambula et. al (2001) has studied the physiological correlates of a highly practiced kundalini yogi.
- Peng et.al (1999) has studied the heart-rate oscillations, associated with slow breathing during the practice of kundalini yoga meditation.
- Venkatesh et.al (1997) has studied twelve kundalini (chakra) meditators, using the Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory. They found that the practice of meditation "appears to produce structural as well as intensity changes in phenomenological experiences of consciousness" (Venkatesh et.al, 1997, PubMed Abstract).
- Narayan et.al (1990) studied the degree of relaxation of muscle under the effects of kundalini yoga with the help of an EMG integrator.
- Shannahoff-Khalsa (2004) developed the kundalini yoga protocol for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This protocol was later adapted to clinical trials.
- Arambula P, Peper E, Kawakami M, Gibney KH. (2001) The Physiological Correlates of Kundalini Yoga Meditation: A Study of a Yoga Master, Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, Jun 2001; 26(2): 147 - 53, PubMed Abstract PMID 11480165.
- Cromie, William J. (2002) Research: Meditation Changes Temperatures: Mind Controls Body in Extreme Experiments. Harvard University Gazette, April 18, 2002
- Jung, C.G. (1999/1933). The psychology of Kundalini Yoga. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Lazar, Sara W.; Bush, George; Gollub, Randy L.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Khalsa, Gurucharan; Benson, Herbert (2000) Functional Brain Mapping of the Relaxation Response and Meditation, [Autonomic Nervous System] NeuroReport, Vol. 11(7) May 15, 2000, p 1581 - 1585, PubMed Abstract PMID 10841380
- Lukoff, David; Lu, Francis G. & Turner, Robert P. (1998) From Spiritual Emergency to Spiritual Problem: The Transpersonal Roots of the New DSM-IV Category, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 21 – 50, 1998
- Narayan R, Kamat A, Khanolkar M, Kamat S, Desai SR, Dhume RA. (1990) Quantitative Evaluation of Muscle Relaxation Induced by Kundalini Yoga with the Help of EMG Integrator. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. Oct 1990; 34(4): 279 - 81, PubMed Abstract PMID 2100290.
- Peng CK, Mietus JE, Liu Y, Khalsa G, Douglas PS, Benson H, Goldberger AL. (1999) Exaggerated Heart Rate Oscillations During Two Meditation Techniques. Int J Cardiol, Jul 31, 1999; 70(2): 101 - 7, PubMed Abstract PMID 10454297.
- Perez-De-Albeniz, Alberto & Holmes, Jeremy (2000) Meditation: concepts, effects and uses in therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 5, No.1
- Shannahoff-Khalsa DS. (2004) An Introduction to Kundalini Yoga Meditation Techniques that are Specific for the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Vol. 10(1): 91 - 101, PubMed Abstract PMID 15025884
- Sovatsky, Stuart (1998) Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative, Suny Series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology, New York: State University of New York Press
- Venkatesh S, Raju TR, Shivani Y, Tompkins G, Meti BL. (1997) A Study of Structure of Phenomenology of Consciousness in Meditative and Non-Meditative States. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, Apr 1997; 41(2): 149 - 53. PubMed Abstract PMID 9142560.
- InteliHealth - Yoga For The Body And Mind. Article by Howard LeWine, M.D.
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- PBS Science Hotline - Interview with Sara Lazar of Harvard Medical School
- Institute for Nonlinear Science - University of California, San Diego
- Holistic and Integrative Medicine Group - University of California, San Diego
- Harvard University Gazette - Meditation changes temperatures
- The Internet Yogi - The Research Group for Mind-Body dynamics
- Yoga Technology - Online Kundalini Yoga resources - meditations, books, CDs, DVDs
- Free Kundalini Yoga online training course - Kundalini Yoga resources - English & Spanish
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- Kundalini faq by Kurt Keutzer
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- Kundalini Yoga & Chakras Balancing
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