I, Anke – Chris’ wife and partner at Yogashala, wrote this essay.
My intention is to speak to your imagination and share how Kundalini yoga has been a rich source of wellbeing and transformation for me. I hope to ignite a spark of curiosity in you too, so that you may drink from this source as many others have done before us.
Kundalini yoga at Yogashala is taught by Chris. I like to join the classes; they offer me a different experience from the yoga I know and teach. I was never taught how to teach this specific style of yoga, and when practicing it, I feel my strength, endurance, perseverance, and willpower being challenged and tested.
Giving up easily is not really who I am. I rather choose to overcome myself.
It happens regularly on the mat that I feel my body weakening and resistance rising while I work hard and sweat accordingly. I conquer the challenge, using my own personal compass. It leads me to never surrender to the loss of physical power and to overrule the (occasionally persistent) voice in my head telling me to give up. After each class I feel great and can assure you that the challenge has been worth the effort!
Kundalini yoga offers a great variety of Kriyas.
A Kriya is a set of exercises and takes its name from its purpose:
– “to stimulate the glands”, “to promote metabolism”
– “to reduce stress”, “to improve the hormonal balance”
– “to conquer sleep”
We practice either a long set that lasts for the 90 min class, or a combination of 2-3 shorter complementary sets.
Breathwork, meditations and chanting
All Kriyas cover breath work (pranayama) and oftentimes breath of fire, kapalabathi, which enhances the power of the exercises. We practice a great variety of meditations too. Some of these are based on pranayama, and I have known myself to get meditatively lost in the counts of my inhales and exhales…
In Kundalini yoga practice, chanting has been used to transmit tradition through the ages. Over time, I have learned to simply surrender to the words and sounds and let them do their magic!
Chris guides us skilfully
He has treasured teachings and experiences based on a yoga journey that he started when he was only 17. I know that this is nearly half a century ago! Correct posture and movement sometimes require supportive equipment like cushions or a blanket. Chris explains their application if needed, and assists either hands-on or with targeted personal instructions.
Being a mindful teacher, he reminds us regularly of the mutual and supportive relationship between movement and breath. I find this an interesting feature and enjoy the fine-tuning of it in my practice. It requires my willingness to feel and follow the body breathing and moving while my mind assists the process. I feel greatly supported when Chris wants us to pay particular attention to both doing and letting go in single movement. It can save you energy and you can endure for longer periods of time without feeling the loss of power.
Sometimes he lightens up the atmosphere with a good sense of humour and I then feel lighter in an exercise.
Burning arms & never-ending squats
Like in other styles of yoga, Kundalini yoga focusses on increasing mobility and flexibility in combination with strength and resilience. The practice approaches the body as a whole with a precision that stresses the health of the spine and hips, the breath and being sensitive.
I remember one challenging exercise where Chris instructed us into a stabile and supported seated posture. With the arms stretched out sideways and parallel to the floor, we held them for an extended period of time. My arms started to burn after a while. My mind screamed at me repeatedly and I heard the voice in my head that told me to give up. I persisted and remained present, softening into what I was feeling. Eventually I found myself becoming more conscious and alive, and conquering the challenge. This process repeated itself a couple of times during those never-ending 10 min (as Chris revealed to us afterwards). The next day I was regularly reminded by my sore biceps and triceps that I overcame myself repeatedly and believe me, it felt really good!
Another very vivid memory comes from part of a Kriya, when we had to repeatedly move to a strong breath and at a good pace in-between standing tall and squatting down low; another exercise that seemingly went on forever! The following couple of days I was sore and every step hurt. I very consciously avoided stairs and squats as you might have guessed, due to my thighs burning. Yet another great reminder of the great feeling I get from overcoming myself, and one I happily bathed myself in afterwards!
A diversity of challenges
In Kundalini yoga class I can fully immerse myself in a physical, mental and somehow spiritual challenge. Sometimes I find myself somehow lost when immersed in a challenge. I lose the sense of time and space. When I overcome possible mental resistance by not giving up and pulling myself through I feel more complete and somehow satisfied at another level of my being afterwards. I recognise this as the spiritual side of my being. I know it as I can also get in touch with it when practicing purposeful and guided meditations.
Have I sparked your interest by now?
I could write more about my Kundalini yoga experiences. This is just my side of the experience, and we could publish an interview with Chris too, sharing his rich experience of practicing Kundalini yoga.
In the end you can only truly experience what this style of yoga can do for you when you expose yourself to it. And not for one class only, but for a fair number of times. Bring an open mind and the willingness to learn and explore, ache and sweat, struggle and overcome, surrender and defeat!
You can join a class for trial, and you will get an impression of the class atmosphere and an idea of the scope of practice and its impact. You will also meet the group of “die hards” that has been coming for years, joining forces every week.