on my introduction to kundalini

I attended a kundalini yoga workshop taught by Tara Joy MacKeigan today. “Kundalini” refers to spiritual energy or life force, and is similar to the notion of “ch’i”/”qi” in practices like t’ai chi, reiki, and acupuncture. Kundalini flows through the body’s seven chakras or energy centers, each of which governs a particular psycho-physiological aspect of being. When these chakras are blocked (because of negative thoughts or experiences), the aspect governed by the blocked chakra becomes imbalanced, leading to problems in that area, which may also affect the functioning of the other chakras. Kundalini yoga practice tries to keep the chakras open through various activities including meditation and mantra chanting, breathing (pranayam), and poses (asana).

Today’s workshop focused on the sacral chakra, the “seat of emotions,” which governs feelings (especially that of love and hate), creativity, and sexuality. It is located in the pelvic area, which has remained my problem area through five years of yoga practice (I cannnot for the life of me get into the lotus pose and other poses that require much hip flexibility). I’m not sure what made me join the workshop, since I was only mildly curious about kundalini yoga (funny, I first learned about this style of yoga when I watched the 2009 South Korean horror film Yoga Hakwon, which gave a very perverse representation of yoga practice, superficial and vain in a Lululemon-meets-The Grudge kind of way), and I only learned about the sacral chakra’s connection with the pelvic area when I attended the workshop. Still, I’m glad I went. As Tara said, our meeting was not a coincidence. Hmmm.

The practice featured powerful breathing exercises the likes of which I hadn’t encountered in other yoga styles–it almost felt like a cardio workout, except that the breath flowed fast but easily, smoothly. I loved the kriyas (sets of exercises bringing together breath, movement, and sound), which were physically challenging but oddly hypnotic, perhaps because of the steady rhythm of our loud breathing. I also liked chanting mantras during meditation. It helped me focus more than I could have had if I’d just followed my breath (I tried zen meditation before and found my mind too restless for it).

What fascinated me most about the practice, though, was how its principles, which are thousands of years old, are supported by contemporary theories/knowledge in psychology and other sciences. For example, the aspects governed by the chakras are similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Tara said that the conditioning of the lower triangle chakras, which affect how secure and intimate we feel with other people, happens during the first 5-8 years of life, which, according to psychologists, is also when we develop our attachment styles, which affect how we relate to people for the rest of our lives. It’s very cool. I just started reading Sri Isopanisad, one of the Vedic scriptures, and in the introduction by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he says that human knowlege can never be “perfect,” because human beings err and our perception is illusory and limited; thus we should not be so arrogant about our sciences and scoff at “knowledge” that comes of divine revelation. I’m no religious person and tend to be skeptical of that kind of talk, with its seeming encouragement of unquestioning acceptance, but I still like reading texts like that for the insights they hold.

Kundalini as philosophy and practice caught my interest, though I still prefer the physicality of ashtanga and vinyasa styles. Still, I would like to learn more about kundalini–especially when I just took this chakra test that told me my chakras seem to be working alright, except for my sacral and heart chakras, which means that I am “not very open to people” and “cold and distant.” Hahahaha.

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