Keys to Successful Practice
If you're new to Kundalini Yoga here are a few tips before your first class
Bring a yoga mat and cushion to sit on the floor comfortably
The basic format of the class starts with basic yoga poses to warm up the body and release tension. Meditation is usually seated on our mats. It is recommended that you bring a cushion, blanket or towel to sit on during meditation to allow your hips to be elevated slightly. If you're not comfortable sitting on the floor, a chair can be provided for the meditation portion.
Wear comfortable loose clothing or regular workout clothes
To practice Kundalini yoga no outfit or uniform is required. You might notice the teacher and some regulars wearing all white and a head covering such as a turban or skull cap. While it's tradition, it's not a requirement. Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini Yoga, believed colors have an effect on consciousness. And since white as a prism is a balance of all colors, it has a unique impact on the conscious and subconscious minds. The belief is by wearing white you will reflect what is outside and go within yourself.
Head coverings of any kind are useful for a meditative practice. Turbans in particular hold energy in and creates a meditative focus. It also provides a nice cranial adjustment. The skull is made up of tiny bones that are constantly moving even if only by micro millimeters and the degree to which they move impacts levels of calmness or anxiety. Covering the head stabilizes the cerebral matter and the 26 parts of the brain, which are interlaced with the neurological system and electromagnetic field.
Try not to eat 1.5-2 hours prior to class
Some set of exercises especially those involving abdominal work might be uncomfortable to perform on a full stomach. It's best to come to class when the stomach is empty and clean to allow the energy to flow freely.
Chant out loud
We will chant words in an ancient Indian language called Gurmukhi or in Sanskrit, the language of Hindu. While definitions will be provided, it's important to note that while you are chanting you are giving your hyperactive mind something to focus on rather than the 'to do list' that is going on in your mind. Repeating these words out loud has a specific effect on the body. As you say the mantra, your tongue is hitting meridian points on the top of the upper palate of the mouth, which affects to energies going to different glands such as the hypothalamus, the pineal, and the pituitary. By stimulating these meridian points, you are physically producing the effect of relaxation and an altered state of consiousness.
Kundalini Yoga incorporates profound breath work throughout its practice. Understanding and mastering the breath is an important part of successfully practicing Kundalini Yoga. There are three of the most basic breath work, or praanayams in the practice: Long deep breathing, Breath of Fire and Cannon Fire breath. Practice makes perfect so don't worry if you can't perform breath of fire like your neighbor!
Long Deep Breath - To take a full yogic breath, inhale by first relaxing the abdomen and allow it to expand. Next expand the chest and finally the collarbones. As you exhale, let the collar bones and chest relax first, then pull the abdomen in completely. The diaphragm drops down to expand the lungs on the inhale and contracts up to expel the air on the exhale. As you inhale feel the back area of the lower ribs relax and expand. On the exhale be sure to keep the spine erect and steady.
Breath of Fire - This breath is used consistently throughout Kundalini Yoga kriyas. It is very important that Breath of Fire be practiced and mastered. In Breath of Fire, the focus of the energy is at the solar plexus and navel point. The breath is fairly rapid (approximately 1-2 breaths per second), continuous and powerful with no pause between the inhale and exhale. This is a very balanced breath with no emphasis on either the exhale or the inhale, but rather equal power given to both.
Breath of Fire is a cleansing breath, renewing the blood and releasing old toxins from the lungs, mucous lining, blood vessels, and cells. It is a powerful way to adjust your autonomic nervous system and get rid of stress. Regular practice expands the lungs quickly.
Cannon Breath - Cannon Breath is a powerful continuous and equal inhalation and exhalation through the mouth, similar to Breath of Fire, but through rounded lips instead of through the nose. Very cleansing, this breath is invigorating, energizing and rejuvenating. To consolidate the energy at the end of a kriya, many will call for a Cannon Fire exhale, which means we suspend the breath on the inhale and then use a single strong exhale through the mouth like a Cannon.
Other tips --
Bandhas or locks are used frequently in Kundalini Yoga. Combinations of muscle contractions, each lock has the function of changing blood circulation, nerve pressure, and the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. They also direct the flow of psychic energy, praana, into the main energy channels that relate to raising the Kundalini energy. They concentrate the body’s energy for use in consciousness and self-healing. There are three important locks: jalandhar bandh, uddiyana bandh, and moolbandh. When all three locks are applied simultaneously, it is called mahabandh, the Great Lock.
Moolbandh or Root Lock - The Root Lock is the most commonly applied lock but also the most complex. It coordinates and combines the energy of the rectum, sex organs, and navel point. Mool is the root, base, or source. The first part of the moolbandh is to contract the anal sphincter and draw it in and up. Then draw up the sex organ so the urethral tract is contracted. Finally, pull in the navel point by drawing back the lower abdomen towards the spine so the rectum and sex organs are drawn up toward the navel point.
Uddiyana Bandh or Diaphragm Lock Applied by lifting the diaphragm up high into the thorax and pulling the upper abdominal muscles back toward the spine, uddiyana bandh gently massages the intestines and the heart muscle. The spine should be straight and it is most often applied on the exhale. When applied forcefully on the inhale, it can create pressure in the eyes and the heart.
Jalandhar Bandh or Neck Lock - The most basic lock used in Kundalini Yoga is jalandhar bandh, the neck lock. This lock is practiced by gently stretching the back of the neck straight and pulling the chin toward the back of the neck. Lift the chest and sternum and keep the muscles of the neck and throat and face relaxed.