Yoga is an Eastern art, science, spiritual expression, religious expression, a contemplative discipline, a living philosophy, and a mind, body, spirit awareness practice.
In the West, Yoga has also endeared itself to the uber-intelligentsia as an integral aspect of transpersonal psychology for mental health, and an evolving exercise system of non-sectarian, non-spiritual schools and styles for physical health.
When a four letter word carries this much weight and bears the load on so many levels at the advanced age of six to eight thousand years, one must approach cautiously, respectfully, and with bare feet and “beginner’s mind.”
Determining which time period, geographical environment, and human cultural construct defines a “normal” Yoga is arbitrary at its least and highly complex at its best. Which Yoga is normal becomes a futile and ludicrous inquiry – and, frankly, a bad joke.
However, Yoga does leave behind a long series of archeological digs, and an extensive scriptural canon in two languages: Pali, the older form, and Sanskrit, the newer form which is ancient. Because Yoga is kind enough to leave its footprints in the sand, we have a list of essential facts that agree with one-another.*
The human footprint of language being dynamic and contextual, I will make the arbitrary but logical decision to find an ancient meaning for Yoga that one can recognize today as a thread of consistency in our search for the normal Yoga. Yoga, aside from all that it is and is not, is used today, in its formal sense, to mean a spiritual and contemplative discipline with the goal of controlling the mind and senses. This same usage dates all the way back to the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.4.1) created in the second millennium BCE. Today, we may be focused on one or two aspects of Yoga, however, its overview has not changed. At the leanest level of the neighborhood health club, Yoga stripped of all its deepest meaning, is still taught as a physical expression of a mental focus, or a physical discipline that may aid in the control of mental stress states.
Okay? We have our normal Yoga practice – “a spiritual and contemplative discipline with the goal of controlling the mind and senses.”
This normal Yoga still expresses itself through numerous schools or styles of practice. One of these styles is Kundalini Yoga. In saying that Kundalini Yoga is yet another expression of normal Yoga, I would like permission to make a slight change to my editor’s title, ‘How is Kundalini Yoga Different From Normal Yoga,’ to ‘What Does Kundalini Yoga Add to Normal Yoga?’
‘Kundalini-Shakti’ is defined as “Serpent power.” The theory is that the Kundalini power or the Shakti – female – serpent waits coiled down at the base of the spine for liberation from its sleep. Shakti is awakened through specific styles of seated meditation and ‘asana’ meditation, ‘pranayama’ breathing, and sound meditation called chanting.
Upon awakening the power rises up the ‘Sushumna’- a subtle energy conduit that aligns along both sides of the spine – through a system of subtle energy vortices called ‘Chakras’ which are opened, continuing through the subtle energy system called the ‘nadis’ that closely follow our human circulatory system, and reaches the Thousand-Petaled Lotus at the head’s crown, where Shiva – the male power – awaits. Shakti and Shiva are reunited as the goal of Kundalini Yoga. This energy union results in a radical shift of consciousness called ‘ananda’ meaning bliss.
To a mystic who practices Yoga, this bliss is a mystical liberation from human suffering, or the human condition. Yoga – the tool or way or path – has always been second in importance to its goal, mystic liberation or enlightenment, sometimes self-realization, or yoking with Brahman, with the divine.
It has been said – well, I said it, – “Many paths lead to Brahman.” Kundalini is another path leading to mystic liberation, and for those who practice Kundalini Yoga, it is a serious, lifetime commitment. Kundalini has its folklore, tales, and scriptural canon born of its parent, Tantric Yoga.
My take on all of this? I met a man years ago who was a lifetime practitioner of Kundalini Yoga. In his presence I felt his darshan spiritually lift me, and in his eyes I saw the still waters, the peace that only comes from mystic liberation. For me, Kundalini Yoga is a true and beautiful path leading to Brahman. I am swami, and my practice is Integral Yoga, however, I never choose one practice over another. Kundalini will always have my heart and deepest respect.
*I could muddy the waters by bringing in the Classical period of Yoga as the normal Yoga we seek here, but there are many who disregard and disbelieve that there was an actual Classical period of Yoga more than it being a classical period of Hinduism – I am one of them. Religion was a motivation for Yoga, yet Yoga has evolved far beyond any one religion.