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KUNDALINI YOGA, MODERNLY
Most of what is taught as Kundalini Yoga is a form of practice that bears no relation to traditional practices associated with Kuṇḍalinī. Let’s begin by unpacking the modern variant.
MEET THE MAIN INFLUENCER OF MODERN KUNDALINI: YOGI BHAJAN (YB)
The Kuṇḍalinī Yoga brand began in the late 60’s by the controversial yoga guru and spiritual teacher, Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, also known as Yogi Bhajan. His yoga brands are globally recognized as the Kundalini Research Institute (KRI) and the Happy, Healthy and Holy (3HO) organization, and though his training programs are held internationally by KRI teacher trainers, the KRI ashram or spiritual center is physically located at Hacienda de Guru Ram Das (HGRD) aka Guru Ram Das ranch in Española, New Mexico.
In 1968, Yogi Bhajan emigrated to Canada from Pakistan with the intention of sharing his style of yoga with America: a bricolage of Kuṇḍalinī, Sikhism, and Vedic and Tantric streams. Shortly after, he made his way to Los Angeles, where he began teaching and sharing what was eventually branded as “Kundalini as taught by Yogi Bhajan”.
YB’S KUNDALINI PRACTICE: A VARIETY OF “KRIYA” + VARIOUS WISDOM TRADITIONS
His style of yoga was based on a merge of various wisdom traditions, and the practices he created are primarily kriya based. In this case, kriya refers to the engagement or performance of a combination of various hatha yoga techniques, specifically, prāṇāyāma or breath work, mudras or gestures, bandhas or body seals/locks, and the chan ting of mantras, some Vedic, and the majority in Punjabi, both of which are written in Sanskrit or Gurmukhī scripts respectively, and transliterated into roman/latin script for Western students.
What many people don’t know is that Yogi Bhajan as many successful teachers and entrepreneurs do, created this yoga system in large part as a response the demand of his time. His audience was a generation of free-loving hippies whom were already disconnecting from conventional wisdom, eschewing racial and sexual inequalities, and exploring different states of consciousness through music, drugs, free-love, turning-on, tuning-in and dropping-out.
The powerful yogic breath work practices he taught have the power to both clear out or purify the subtle energy channels or naḍīs (when practiced properly, otherwise they substantiate further imbalance), and also served students the ability to reach non-ordinary or holotropic states of consciousness through a combination of will, physical exertion and release and surrender vs. through topical application or ingestion of substance.
MORE ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF YB’S KUNDALINI YOGA
To learn more about the construction of Kundalini Yoga as introduced, taught, and propagated in the West by Yogi Bhajan, see scholar Philip Deslippe’s article, “From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga”.
KUNDALINI YOGA, TRADITIONALLY
WHAT IS KUṆḌALINĪ YOGA BEYOND KRI, 3HO, AND YOGI BHAJAN?
Let us focus instead on, “What is Kuṇḍalinī?”.
With first, a clarification on yoga:
The term yoga is currently used to refer to a practice performed for spiritual attainment, and to facilitate the transformation of consciousness, or more aptly, any combination of practices or range of disciplines used as such (not necessarily time-tested, though traditionally, the practices were Vedic and Tantric in origin). Yoga also refers to the attainment, which is the union of the divine or higher self or the universal self with the individual self. The union of infinite consciousness with the individualized expression of you.
Furthermore, yoga is not confined to any particular sectarian affiliation or social form.
So what is kuṇḍalinī then?
TANTRA: THE ORIGIN OF KUNDALINI
Kuṇḍalinī is of Tantrik origin. It is not found in any pre-tantrik source: not the Vedas, not the Upanishads, and not the six Darshanas.1
Furthermore, in the Tantrik tradition we find a different framework for conceptualizing kuṇḍalinī than we do in the later corpus of haṭha yoga, which found its basis in the Tantras, and which flourished from the 13th century CE.
KUṆḌALINĪ: TANTRA VS. HAṬHA YOGA
more coming soon