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Painted Brain | An Introduction To Kundalini Yoga For Mental Health
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • April 20, 2015

An Introduction to Kundalini Yoga for Mental Health

So the story goes something like this.

Yogi Bhajan left India in the fall of 1968 with a plan to teach yoga in North America, specifically in Canada. When all did not go according to plan, in January of 1969, Yogi Bhajan ended up in the suburbs of Los Angeles instead. By the late Sixties, many people in America were suffering from internal and external conflict and seeking a connection with self and a higher power. They were going about it the wrong way, however, most often through the use of chemicals such as LSD. It was here, in Los Angeles, that Kundalini was first taught to the public, introducing the West to a radical new practice promoting wholeness, and taming the monkey mind. Today, the practice is taught worldwide!
So, what is Kundalini yoga and what makes it so special?

Kundalini yoga is the yoga of awareness and, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, it is a precise technology, a science of body, mind, and spirit, so to speak. It works to clear, to heal disconnection, and to integrate the practitioner. Although the practice is precise, it is also very forgiving.

If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. Yoga itself comes from the word yoke, meaning harness, which, in Hindu terms, means the creation of union through physical and spiritual practice. So, doing yoga helps to unite body, mind, and spirit. From there, that union may be extended to include the Divine. Time to throw in a disclaimer; yoga is a spiritual, not religious practice. It may help for you to think of it this way: religion takes place in a building while spirituality is a God-given gift, by the very nature of being human. A Kundalini yoga practice should support, as well as enhance, the practitioner’s faith in what he or she already believes.

If you feel that you lack a symbiotic relationship between yourself and the world around you, you just may find one through the spiritual practice of yoga.

Kundalini energy is itself a spiritual energy, flowing through the body at all times. Only the frequency and intensity varies from individual to individual. Kundalini is the crystal in the timepiece that keeps the clock running. There is a reserve of Kundalini energy which resides near the base of the spine and is represented as a coil. As a source of energy, kundalini is powerful and life-giving, both grounding and uplifting at the same time.

This all sounds wonderful, but how can we apply it in a practical way?

Kundalini Yoga is, in fact, a highly-practical approach to body and mind, and is taught today for householders, or those of us who live within the realm of everyday, human society. The average person doesn’t have the time (or the desire) to live in a cave and wait for twenty-two years to be enlightened! Kundalini yoga is very direct in its application, tapping into the human nervous system, stimulating the body on a cellular level. Have you ever felt as if you’ve been run over by life, that time is moving too fast, or that you simply aren’t in control? Kundalini yoga strengthens the nervous system so that the body and mind may more easily go with the flow of life, with flexibility and resiliency, replacing that feeling of being battered and overwhelmed. The practice of yoga works on the entire being through breath, posture, meditation and relaxation.

As I said, if you can breathe, you can practice yoga!

Breath work, or pranayama, is the core component of yoga practice. Breath is the key. Whatever we want to access, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, the breath is the way in, the road to unlocking old patterns and deeply- ingrained resistance. We are breathing every moment of our lives, and unfortunately, we do it without being aware of it. Consciously working with and observing the breath creates changes in mood and behavior. The rate of breath and its intensity is usually an accurate indicator of one’s emotional state.

Try this simple yogic breath technique and see how it feels.

Sit upright, either on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Extend the spine upward while allowing for its natural curves. Release all of the air from your body and begin to breathe following this pattern: inhale for five seconds, suspend (hold) the breath gently for five seconds, then exhale for five seconds. Let each breath become complete, slowly and gently. Meditate, focusing on the breath, feeling and observing the movement of air throughout your body, sensing it without attachment. Continue this simple practice for three to eleven minutes. A positive shift in mental function happens when the breath is slowed to four cycles per minute. Increased awareness, a sense of visual clarity, and heightened body sensitivity are achieved as the pineal and pituitary glands synchronize in this simple, meditative state.

Now, imagine adding movement to the breath. In Kundalini yoga there is an emphasis on coordinating breath (pranayama) and posture (asana) to create an experience. It’s not about twisting yourself into a pretzel or how how good you look when you do it! The focus of Kundalini yoga is the experience! The coordination of breath and posture is what accounts for glandular stimulation and cleansing, inducing a feeling of renewal, of being refreshed after yoga practice. As a visualization, imagine your body as a sponge. Feel your yoga practice squeezing the sponge clean under running water, releasing and washing away all of the stored toxins. That’s what happens to your glandular system through the practice of yoga. Simultaneously, all of your muscles and tissue work together to create strength and flexibility, and a flexible body helps to create a flexible mind.

Many modern therapeutic practices focus solely on the mind. Please take a moment to expand your concept of mind from something that resides only in your head and/or brain, and extend it to include your entire body. Mind is a full-body phenomenon. The overall aim of yogic meditation is to tame the mind. Yeah, good luck! Have you ever sat down to meditate and told the mind to be still and quiet? The beauty of Kundalini yoga and meditation is that a point of stillness can be reached through active meditation and sound vibration. Breath, focal points, hand posture (mudra), and chanting (mantra) are all components found in meditation. The mind is material, largely automatic, and not all of its thoughts support who it is we really are. Force and willpower are not used to tame the monkey mind, but rather guidance and direction are offered through meditation. The mind is the root of everything, and meditation is the way to detoxify our subconscious mind.

Kundalini yoga is not about perfect posture, looking good, or having an awesome meditation practice. The practice is about the experience of connecting to and using the body, mind, and spirit. It’s about being and embracing who you are, not comparing who we are on the inside to how others appear to us on the outside. However immediate the results of Kundalini practice might be, it is a process which grows ever deeper with time.

You can start right now, right where you are! There’s always something to work on, but it’s okay to be content and satisfied in the current moment. Yogi Bhajan taught that it is our “birthright to be healthy, happy and holy.”

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Patty Wildassin has been a Kundalini yoga and meditation instructor in Los Angeles for many years. She is writing a series of articles about the spiritual practice exclusively for Painted Brain News.

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