What is Kundalini Yoga?
According to the Kundalini Teachers Association, Kundalini Yoga “is a metaphor, a poetic way of describing the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each one of us. These practises enable you to merge with, or ‘yoke’ with, the Universal Self. This merging of consciousness with individual consciousness creates a ‘divine union’ called ‘yoga’ of the beloved.” (K.Y.T.A.)
Bks Iyengar in his book ‘The illustrated Light on Yoga’ adds “Kundalini is the Divine Cosmic Energy in bodies. It is symbolised by a coiled and sleeping serpent in the lowest bodily centre at the base of the spinal column.” (Iyengar p.66)
Khalsa helpfully summarises the ideas above as “The easiest way to understand kundalini is to acknowledge that there is a universal spirit, sometimes referred to as God. God uncoils him/her/itself. This uncoiling process is known as kundalini.” (Khalsa p184)
Kundalini Yoga in its wider context
Kundalini yoga is a particular discipline or path of yoga, though its practise is inseparably linked with all other forms of yoga. In its generic form though, the underlying philosophy of yoga is an attachment or union with God albeit in whatever form God exists, appears or manifests. Hence “Kundalini is sometimes called the ‘mother yoga’. A unique and distinctive form, it encompasses elements that are found in all other forms of yoga.” (Khalsa p184)
Individuals will likely adopt a branch of yoga for various reasons. The perceived benefits may include an improvement in health, better general sense of well being and clarity of purpose, the chance to unwind and relax and in addition to the social and recreational dimension, participants might embark on a spiritual quest or simply attend classes out of curiosity. Proclaimed benefits include “improved functioning of all bodily systems, a consistent sense of well being, emotional balance, enhanced intuition, right relationship and a heightened spiritual sense.” (Singh)
Considering the practise of kundalini yoga in her ‘Yoga Bible’, Christina Brown writes that “Kundalini Yoga is a spiritual school of yoga suited towards those who are inclined towards meditation and who seek a higher state of consciousness.” (Brown p288)
Arguably Kundalini Yoga has been the best kept yoga secret for several millennia, known only to the Hindu sages and mystics. Concerning the power of yoga and giving credence to the above paragraphs Vimla Lalvani writes “All types of yoga have the same goal. The main purpose is to unite the Self with the Cosmic Universe. Different paths were documented in the Vedas and they reasoned that because we are unique and different our personalities would determine which path to follow.” (Lalvani p16)
Kundalini is a form of classic or raj (royal) yoga and, more specifically, a variant of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga emphasises health benefits that involve cleansing the body by means of practises referred to as ‘kriyas’ and include candle gazing, saline nasal irrigation and abdominal churning. The derivative of ‘hatha’ comprises ‘ha’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘tha’ referring to the moon. The aim of hatha yoga is to balance the sun and the moon forces to awaken the kundalini energy which then rises through the shakras (wheels or discs of which seven are aligned at equidistant gaps along the spinal column).
If clarification is required as to whether kundalini yoga is essentially a spiritual activity with spiritual aims and motives Sri Swama Sivananda, on behalf of the ‘Divine Life Society’, speaks plainly. “In Kundalini yoga the creating and sustaining Sakti of the whole body is actually and truly united with Lord Siva. The Yogi goads Her to introduce him to Her Lord. The rousing of kundalini sakti and Her union with Lord Siva affects the state of Samadhi (Ecstatic union) and spiritual Anubhava (experience).”
Origins of Kundalini in the West and the rise to prominence of Yogi Bhajan
It is worthy of mention that the Yogi who introduced Kundalini Yoga to the West was not a Hindu but a Sikh, Harbajan Singh Khalsa, more commonly known as Yogi Bhajan, who passed away at his home in Espanola, New Mexico, in 2004 aged seventy five.
Traditionally many yoga masters originate from an ancient lineage of Brahmans, the highest caste in Hinduism, and whom themselves only teach other Brahmans. Typically Sikh’s reject the caste system, though Yogi Bhajan commenced yogic instruction at eight years of age and mastered kundalini yoga when he was sixteen. Whilst he was a teenager Yogi Bhajan was involved in leading one thousand people from what is now Pakistan to New Delhi in India. His aim in coming to the West “was not to gather disciples but simply to spread the teachings of yoga and he has had some success, since there are now centres worldwide.” (Brown p.288)
Yogi Bhajan was the son of a medical doctor and received privileged education in private schools and noticeably attended a Catholic convent school. “Teaching first at the East West Cultural Centre and then in a student’s furniture store in West Hollywood, ‘The Yogi’ was literally a magnet. Students flocked to his classes. Soon he was teaching at colleges and universities, including Claremont and UCLA, and accepting individuals to teach in other cities.” (K.Y.T.A.)
In 1969 Yogi Bhajan founded 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organisation) in Espanola, New Mexico. The organisation stresses that yoga is more than a practise, as it is a way of life. Consequently the community offers classes, yet not solely on Kundalini yoga and meditation but also “incorporates teachings for all aspects of life, for example vegetarian diet, serving others, living inspirational communities and yogic life skills, such as conscious parenting or partnering.” (Khalsa p188) Today 3H0 is a member of the United Nations as a Non Governmental Organisation, has three centres in thirty five countries and advises on women’s issues, human rights and education regarding alternative medicine.
The Kundalini Teachers Association recalls that “in 1973 Yogi Bhajan founded 3H0 Superhealth, a remarkably successful drugless drug rehabilitation programme, blending the proven ancient yogic wisdom of the East with the modern technology of the West…In 1989 Yogi Bhajan met with President Mikhail Gorbachev and established addiction treatment programs in Russia based on the 3H0 Superhealth model. Currently a pilot project of Superhealth is being formed by the Punjab State Government in India.” (K.Y.T.A.)
Yogi Bhajan was also extensively committed to furthering ecumenism and world peace on an international scale. Noticeably, Yogi Bhajan met with world leaders from various faiths including Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama and the then Archbishops of Canterbury. Not surprising ly Yogi Bhajan became the Co-President of the World Fellowship of Religions in 1974 and in 1985 established the First International Peace Prayer Day Celebration in New Mexico.
Kundalini Classes Theory and Practise
Kundalini classes are based on four themes comprising physical, breathing, relaxation and meditation exercises. Therefore a typical session may include forty minutes of breathing exercises, about a quarter of an hour of relaxation and five minutes of meditation. “Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, is a comprehensive system and some classes include discussions about life and spiritual philosophy.” (Yoga Holidays). Having said that, Christina Brown writes that Kundalini Yoga features many series of targeted practises. While a kundalini class will vary from week to week, if you have a particular goal in mind, your teacher may recommend a series of practises to follow consistently at home for forty days, ninety days or even longer (Brown p.288).
“While one series (called a kriya) may be aimed at stimulating the immune system, another set awakens the heart chakra, and a third prepares the practitioner for deep meditation… Meditation is very much a goal of kundalini yoga, which often features mudras, mantras or chanting. Chants may be short, chakra-related big mantras (seed sounds) or longer devotional chants.” (Brown p.288)
Specific mantras are prescribed in an effort to uncoil the kundalini serpent at the base of the spine. A common one is ‘Sat-Nam’ meaning ‘Truth is my identity’ Shakta Kaur Khalsa observes that mantras in English are equally effective. “You can hear the words ‘I am’ on the inhalation and ‘I am’ on the exhalation. The double sound of ‘I am’ will give you the understanding that I am what I know myself to be, and I am greater than I know myself to be.” (Khalsa p.191)
The releasing of kundalini energy is the goal of kundalini yoga and is purported to be attainable instantly or may even take numerous lifetimes. “According to yoga theory, our physical body is accompanied and surrounded by an electromagnetic field called the energetic body, and with this energetic body there are seven energy centres called Chakras. The chakras start off the floor of the pelvis and run all the way up to the Sahashra, the crown shakra.” (Bender Birch p.50)
Chakras are depicted as wheels of light bearing occultic symbols and their function is to regulate prana (life force or energy) for one’s mind body and soul. The idea then, is to link up the prana (the chakra where one breathes) with the apana (the chakra at the base of the spine) This union of the prana and apana is easier said than done! ‘Assuming the lotus position, this is achieved by ‘frequently contracting the anus and raise the apana up; by similar contraction of the throat force the prana down.’ (Iyengar p66) As soon as the apana and prana link up at the third chakra the electromagnetic circuit is completed, the serpent (kundalini) is uncoiled or released and the united prana travel up toward the sixth chakra where it is joined by the pranic energy of the sun and the moon and the three currents rise towards the seventh chakra.
A Biblical view on Kundalini Yoga
Ankerberg & Weldon rightly assert that “no discussion of yoga is complete without an evaluation of ‘kundalini yoga’. By name, this is now practised by tens of thousands of Americans, including many professing Christians in mainline churches.”
This raises the urgent question; Can a Christian practise kundalini yoga, or any form of yoga for that matter, without it having a detrimental affect on their walk with the Lord Jesus Christ? One must ask whether any branch of yoga is Biblically compatible, as it has been demonstrated by Kundalini yoga advocates themselves that kundalini is the “mother of all yoga” and cannot easily be separated from the other branches of yoga?
Moreover yoga authorities have explained that all yoga is ultimately kundalini yoga and that yoga is in fact meaningless without it. This is why no less an authority than Hans Reiker, author of ‘Yoga of light: The classic Handbook of Esoteric Yoga’, concludes “Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practises.” (Ankerberg & Weldon cited in Reiker)
Here, then, are some specific issues relating to kundalini yoga that a born-again Bible believing Christian should seriously consider, and seek the guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ if they are deliberating over whether to attend classes.
Firstly, Yogis and their practitioners can attain a spiritual state when the kundalini has been uncoiled, resulting in the experience of being happily mindless. Yogis such as Gopi Krishna warn that yoga practise can endanger one’s sanity. “It was variable for many years, painfully obsessive… I have passed through all the stages of … mediumistic, psychotic, and other types of mind; for some time I was hovering between sanity and insanity.” (Cleghorn cited in Gopi Krishna)
This is in direct contrast to what the Bible teaches concerning the mind of the Christian. The scriptures below state explicitly how believers should use their minds for the glory of God.
Rom 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
1 Cor 2:16 “for who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
Eph 4:23-24 “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you may put on the new man that was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
Phil 2:5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Secondly, the age-old question, “Can a Christian participate in kundalini yoga/other yoga forms purely for the health benefits?” deserves a clear response. The reader may well have spoken to a Christian attending yoga classes stating that with the best intentions they just focus on the physical exercises and leave out the mantras, or even mediate on God? After all, what could possibly go wrong when someone has such earnest and sincere motives? Why not witness in yoga classes?
Hypothetically speaking, if the above assertions were true, at the very least merely attending kundalini yoga classes would no doubt create a stumbling block for other Christians opening up the doorway into a variety of ungodly practises and occult activity. “The first danger of awakening the kundalini powers is that they can be easily misused. If we open our third eye it is possible to read others thoughts and have a glimpse into the future.” (Pettinger)
Also, can we honestly reason that someone like Daniel or his three friends, who refused to indulge in the Babylonian practises whenever there faith in God was even slightly compromised, and who were willing to die if necessary, rather than give glory to anyone other than God, would never think of defiling themselves by even considering turning up for yoga classes? If Kundalini yoga classes were available then would, they have participated in an activity birthed out of false religions for recreational value?
Additionally why would any believer want to be associated with, or approve of, any activity whereby the objective is union with a life force in direct violation of the Scriptures? Few Christians would go to a mosque or a Hindu or Sikh temple and simply block out thoughts towards the deities being revered there and instead mediate on the Bible.
Why is there a need to attend a health class compatible with various religions, occult activities and new age practises? Surely, instead of pushing the boundaries by questioning what we can get away without sinning, should we not make every effort to flee from sin? On a positive note why not attend and enjoy a fitness class in good conscience before God and be in the world but not of the world and take every opportunity to be an effective witness for Christ in that setting.
Thirdly, Kundalini yoga has an overriding emphasis on self.
Remember “the main purpose is to unite the self with the cosmic universe.” (Lalvani 16) Worryingly, the self is elevated in place of God. The emphasis is on self esteem whereas Christians should be esteeming God greatly and exalting Him (Isa 42:8) and also preferring others’ needs above their own (Phil 2:3-4). Jesus taught the exact opposite of exalting and esteeming oneself. Jesus said to the disciples. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
Fourthly, kundalini yoga involves meditation and mantras.
While kundalini yoga involves emptying the mind, Christian meditation consists of filling the mind with the things of God. (Psalm 1:2, 63:6; Phil4:8; 1 Tim 4:15)
Fifthly, Yehudi Menuhin writes in the forward of BKS Iyengar’s ‘The Illustrated Light on Yoga’ regarding the power of yoga: “the tree of knowledge has indeed yielded much fruit of great variety, sweet, poisonous, bitter, wholesome, according to our use of it. But is it not more imperative than ever that we cultivate the tree, that we nourish its roots?” (Iyengar xi)
When we examine clearly the roots of how kundalini yoga emerged in the West via Yogi Bhajan it is evident that he perceived kundalini yoga as a whole lifestyle, involving yogic life skills blending yogic wisdom of the East with modern Western technology.
Yogi Bhajan was highly influential in promoting religious ecumenism on an international level, which is the antithesis of Jesus claiming to be the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
Lastly, meditating on the mantra “I am” and knowing oneself to be greater than they know themselves to be, again is the exact opposite to Jesus famous seven I AM statements in John’s gospel (6:35,8:12,10:9,11,11:25,14:6,15:1). Did Jesus not also say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord, who is and who was and is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev1:8)?
At best, participating in kundalini yoga will inevitably encourage others into activities that will be harmful to their walk with the lord. Paul wrote to Timothy “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Tim 4:16) At worst, gateways to the occult may be accessed and have a disturbing effect on the mind.
Even yogic authorities are unanimous in confirming the inextricable link between kundalini yoga and all other forms of yoga. Churches permitting yoga on their premises should seriously consider the ramifications of tolerating these disciplines and should be encouraged to cease allowing yogic activity in their residence with immediate effect.
If our Christian brothers and sisters are involved we should firstly bear in mind the same: they are our brothers and sisters in Christ! Nonetheless, we must warn them in the correct manner, boldly and not in a half hearted ambiguous fashion (faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6), but with a spirit of meekness and fear, remembering what Paul said; “But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace towards me was not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:10).
Ankerberg, DR.J. & Weldon, Dr. J Christian View on Kundalini Yoga “Kundalini Yoga”
Bender Birch, B. Beyond Power Yoga 8 Levels of Practise for Body and Soul Prion Books London 2002
Brown, C. The Yoga Bible The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures Godsfield Alresford 2003
Cleghorn, M. Yoga and Christianity Are they Compatible? Probe Ministries
Iyengar, B. The Illustrated Light on Yoga The Aquarian Press Harper Collins London 1980
Khalsa, S.K. KISS Guide to Yoga Dorling Kindersley London 2001
Lalvani, V. The Power of Yoga Hamlyn London 2003
Sivananda, S.S. Kundalini Yoga A Divine Life Society Publication
Singh, R. Kundalini Yoga for Body, Soul, Mind and Beyond White Lion Press 1989