Kundalini Yoga and the Art of Awareness

On today’s episode of 30 DAYS OF INTENT, Natalie and Iman meet with Amrit Singh, a kundalini yoga instructor and teacher trainer. They had trouble containing their giggles during the breathing exercises, a reaction Amrit says is actually very common. We interviewed Amrit on what kundalini yoga entails and how it has changed his life.

The Chopra Well: Hi, Amrit! Thanks for chatting with us. First of all, what is kundalini yoga and how is it different from other forms of yoga?  

Amrit Singh: Kundalini yoga is the yoga of awareness. There are other styles of yoga that also call themselves kundalini yoga because, they, like most forms of yoga and like the style I teach, focus on raising the kundalini energy. Perhaps it is more clear to say that I teach Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan (R), to distinguish it from other styles of kundalini yoga.  In Kundalini Yoga, we utilize a very broad range of techniques – not just posture but a lot of breath work, rhythmic motions, and a lot of mantras. I think that most people who have never taken a yoga class may have an image in their mind about holding postures and stretching into challenging, strange looking poses. In Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan (R), we don’t emphasize flexibility as much as some other yoga approaches. We achieve the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits via the breathing, rhythmic motion and mantra.

CW: What drew you to kundalini yoga? What effects have you seen in your life since starting your kundalini practice?  

AS: I first took a kundalini yoga class in college for gym credit!  And I didn’t even like it that much.  I really liked the deep relaxations though, so I took it again, for a 2nd 7-week session. And then I started to feel some effects during the class – like heat or energy moving through my body. I also started to notice changes the day after – like my digestion being better the day after doing a sequence focused on elimination. I was noticing just enough effects that I took the class for a 3rd time and never stopped! I keep feeling better physically (I didn’t get sick for 3 years straight once I started practicing, even while living in the cold of Boston), and calmer and more neutral mentally. I’ve been practicing for 23 years now, and I honestly don’t know how people survive without some kind of practice to stay healthy, release tension, and clean out your mind.

CW: Do you ever give yourself a day off?

AS: In the last two decades I’ve certainly had periods when I’ve practiced every day, and others when I haven’t. Seeing how I felt when practicing regularly versus not made the benefits so obvious to me. The first thing I’d notice when I wasn’t practicing was how irritable I’d be. I’d get frustrated, annoyed, and angry way, way more often. And then a day or two later I’d feel a lot more stress and tension in my body – I’d mostly notice it in a tight (and sore) neck and shoulders.  And once I’d eventually sit down again and stretch, I’d find that most of my whole body had tightened up. I’d emotionally feel so much better once I’d stretched out. The tightness in my body seemed to be subconsciously making me feel tight and tense mentally and emotionally.  After many years of going back and forth between practicing and not practicing, the benefits were so obvious that now I don’t miss a day of practice. Even if it’s not that long or intense, I make sure I get at least a little yoga practice in, because I know that I’ll feel poorly if I don’t.

CW: Natalie and Iman were giggling a lot during their lesson. Do you often see that reaction with first-timers?

AS: Yes, it is actually quite common. Especially for people who don’t know what they’re getting into. :-) As I mentioned, we practice a wide range of techniques to work on our bodies, minds, and spirits.  Some of those practices are honestly pretty weird. We make weird sounds, and move in weird ways.  So it’s pretty normal to giggle. I still like to laugh at some of our practices. But they work. They are effective. So we do them.

CW: What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a kundalini practice?

AS: Check out the “Find a Teacher” section of the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association web page and see if you can find a local teacher or center. If several are available, try out more than one teacher as each teacher will have a different style and approach. There is so much variety in Kundalini Yoga, you should be able to find a teacher that you resonate with. If there are no teacher close by, there are lots of books, DVDs, and YouTube videos you can use to get a flavor of it.

What’s your favorite form of yoga? Let us know in the comments section below!

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