Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga & Meditation to North America in 1969, tells us that “Doing is believing” when it comes to Kundalini Yoga. This is most certainly the case in my experience of trying to explain to well-meaning people who approach me asking me “So what’s the difference between Kundalini Yoga and other types of Yoga?”
Some differences are more obvious than others, and are therefore easier to explain. In my opinion, here are the main differences:
1) Mantras – We use a different mantra (sound vibration) to begin each class than you would in another style of yoga. The Adi Mantra (ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO) calls upon the voice of the inner teacher, and we chant it three times instead of “Om”. During a class, we have access to a library of various mantras which we incorporate regularly to have particular effects on the brain. Most of these mantras are in the ancient language of Gurmukhi, rather than Sanskrit, although there are some English mantras as well. Some participants are a bit “thrown off” initially by how often we use our voices in a class, but once the initial discomfort from hearing your own voice passes, many of my regulars identify that chanting is one of the reasons why they keep coming back!
2) Kriyas – you could attend a Kundalini Yoga class every single day for a year and not repeat the same exercises in the same order. There are thousands of exercise sets (known as kriyas) in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan®. These are prescribed to be practiced in a particular order in order that the practitioner experiences the full benefits; these kriyas are often geared to achieving certain effects, such as the Kriya for Elevation, the Strengthening the Aura series, or the Basic Spinal Energy Series. They vary in complexity and difficulty, but most are accessible to all levels of ability.
3) Dynamic Postures – Related to the above point, most postures within a Kundalini Yoga kriya are rhythmic movements linked directly to the breath, as opposed to static postures. Due to the dynamic nature of the postures, alignment is not typically a main focus, although reminders to work within your own body’s abilities are stressed. You will notice that there is a greater focus on the internal energy and the body’s systems (circulatory, glandular, etc.)
4) Meditations – Every KY class will feature at least one meditation; they are sometimes breath-based; sometimes mantra-based; sometimes movement combined with mantra; sometimes focused on being still. The length varies as well; some are done for as short as one minute; others up to a half-hour. There are thousands of meditations in the KY tradition with different purposes: for healing, for protection, for absolutely powerful energy, and so much more.
5) Music – I’ve heard KY music played in other styles of yoga classes as well, but one of the main differences is that the music is either in Gurmukhi or English, rather than Sanskrit. We often accompany our meditations with KY music, which allows people to feel more comfortable using their own voices.
In my experience, these are the primary differences a person might encounter when they attend a Kundalini Yoga class as opposed to another style of yoga. Hope this helps! For more specific information of how a Kundalini Yoga class is organized, please click here.