How is Kundalini Yoga different from Hatha Yoga and its offspring (Iyengar, Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Bikram, Anusara, etc.)? Well, let’s start out with how it’s the same. Both Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga contain asana and breath. They both aim to increase flexibility and awareness, decrease stress, and move you toward the union of body, mind, and spirit. But then, the differences begin…
Here are my top 10 things that make Kundalini Yoga different:
1. Yogi Bhajan. The man who brought Kundalini Yoga (KY) to the West from India was Yogi Bhajan. He taught and inspired many and, though he died in 2004, his teachings are carried on by his students. You’ll often hear him quoted by KY teachers, many of whom call him their spiritual teacher.
2. Kundalini Energy. In KY, there is a belief that each of us has within us a dormant energy that resides at the base of the spine. Many asanas target this energy and aim to activate and awaken it.
3. Tuning In. Right from the get-go, KY distinguishes itself. Instead of “om,” we tune in with the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo,” which means “I call on the divine teacher within.”
4. Breath of Fire. KY uses an energizing, rapid, rhythmic pranayama called breath of fire. Breath of fire is done by itself or along with certain postures.
5. Kriyas. Each KY class features at least one kriya (or series of exercises) designed to have a particular effect, such as Kriya for Elevation, Navel Adjustment Kriya, or Kriya for Conquering Sleep.
6. Mantras. KY has an enormous cannon of beautiful mantras. There are mantras for everything under the sun: for protection, for inner peace, for courage, for intuition, for happiness… I could go on and on. Unlike most yogic traditions that draw on Sanskrit mantras, almost all of KY’s mantras are in the Gurmukhi language.
7. Dynamic Postures. Many asanas in KY involve vigorous movement as opposed to static postures.
8. Meditations. There are thousands of meditations in the KY tradition, each with a specific purpose. I’ve never been to or taught a KY class that didn’t include at least one meditation. Cultivating the meditative, neutral mind is paramount.
9. Not Alignment-Based. In Iyengar and Anusara classes, the teacher may emphasize very specific alignment issues, such as the placement of individual fingers on the mat. KY focuses less on alignment and more on the internal energy — circulation, glandular secretions, and raising the Kundalini energy.
10. Music. The music of KY features Gurmukhi and English mantras, and it’s a gorgeous, inspiring, integral part of every class.
Those are the parts of Kundalini Yoga that stand out as different from what you encounter in a Hatha Yoga class. But, I think the real heart of it is that it’s the combination and the interaction of all of these tools — breath of fire, kriyas, chanting, dynamic postures, meditation, music (and there’s more I didn’t mention) — that makes Kundalini Kundalini.
For a more in depth discussion of the workings of Kundalini Yoga, check out Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa’s Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power. If you want to learn more about some of the different branches of Hatha Yoga, try one of these informative books: Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners by Michaela Clarke, or Bikram Yoga by Bikram Choudhury.
(Author’s Note: Although I’ve landed in the Kundalini Camp, I wholeheartedly believe that any yoga you choose to practice is wonderful and beneficial.)