I love yoga. I try to do some form of it several times per week. At the moment, this includes regular Vinyasa yoga on Saturdays and hot Vinyasa yoga on Sundays.
Briana recently told me about Kundalini yoga and said that I should look into it (if for no reason other than personal knowledge). So, I took her up on that offer, and this is the result.
What is Kundalini yoga?
If you do a quick search for Kundalini yoga, you may be quick to dismiss it as “woo”. Even in PubMed, you find some sketchy stuff.
But that visceral reaction is misplaced. I encourage anyone who follows up on this blog post to approach it with an open mind and look beyond the specific claims made about this practice.
Kundalini is the term for “a spiritual energy or life force located at the base of the spine“, conceptualized as a coiled-up serpent. The practice of Kundalini yoga is supposed to arouse the sleeping serpent from its coiled base through the 6 chakras, and penetrate the 7th chakra of the crown.
Regardless of your feelings towards chakras and spiritual energy, the essence of meditations in Kundalini yoga is to raise complete awareness of the body through a series of postures and breath work.
Kundalini yoga is a system of breathing meditations that serve as a catalyst for psycho-spiritual growth.
Does it work?
Does it work for what? Curing cancer? Probably not.
Kundalini yoga is simply a method by which people can become more aware of their thoughts and more attune with their body. It helps build self-awareness. We don’t need a clinical study for that.
Some people may find massive benefits from taking a moment to check in with their thoughts; others won’t.
From what I could dig up, regular Kundalini practice can reduce perceived stress in healthy young adults and children.1,2 It can also help alleviate anxiety,3 depression,4 and OCD tendencies,5 and help with alcohol addiction when used as a complementary therapy.6
Now, I don’t think that different meditation practices can be drafted to help treat specific aspects of mental health, as some propose,7 but the practice as a whole seems to be beneficial. I can understand why it may be considered an adjunct to the treatment of mentally crippling conditions like cancer.8
Kundalini yoga provides people with ethical precepts, sustained postures, breath regulation, and medication techniques that can all contribute to enhanced self-regulation.9
We also have data that Kundalini practice can improve cognitive function compared to memory enhancement training in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.10 These authors reported that both interventions improved MRI-assessed functional connectivity in the brain,11 supporting previous findings.12
Kundalini yoga is a form of breathing meditation that can benefit mental health. While you can probably find any number of unsupported “woo” on the internet, don’t let that blind you to the benefits of mindfulness practice.
Kundalini yoga has roots as a cult. Apparently, some people can’t dissociate the cult-like religion of Kundalini yoga from the meditative breathwork it uses in its practice. I thought it was obvious that this blog is about the latter and not encouraging people to join a cult, yet that is what some have accused me of in their delusion. So, this addendum is to make it clear that I’m not supporting the Kundalini cult or any other cult. I’m simply discussing the merits of using Kundalini-derived breathwork.
- 1.García-Sesnich J, Flores M, Ríos M, Aravena J. Longitudinal and Immediate Effect of Kundalini Yoga on Salivary Levels of Cortisol and Activity of Alpha-Amylase and Its Effect on Perceived Stress. Int J Yoga. 2017;10(2):73-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28546677.
- 2.Sarkissian M, Trent N, Huchting K, Singh K. Effects of a Kundalini Yoga Program on Elementary and Middle School Students’ Stress, Affect, and Resilience. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018;39(3):210-216. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29369073.
- 3.Gabriel M, Curtiss J, Hofmann S, Khalsa S. Kundalini Yoga for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Exploration of Treatment Efficacy and Possible Mechanisms. Int J Yoga Therap. 2018;28(1):97-105. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29698081.
- 4.Devi S, Chansauria J, Udupa K. Mental depression and kundalini yoga. Anc Sci Life. 1986;6(2):112-118. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22557558.
- 5.Shannahoff-Khalsa D, Ray L, Levine S, Gallen C, Schwartz B, Sidorowich J. Randomized controlled trial of yogic meditation techniques for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. CNS Spectr. 1999;4(12):34-47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18311106.
- 6.Khalsa S, Khalsa G, Khalsa H, Khalsa M. Evaluation of a residential Kundalini yoga lifestyle pilot program for addiction in India. J Ethn Subst Abuse. 2008;7(1):67-79. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19842301.
- 7.Shannahoff-Khalsa D. An introduction to Kundalini yoga meditation techniques that are specific for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. J Altern Complement Med. 2004;10(1):91-101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15025884.
- 8.Shannahoff-Khalsa D. Patient perspectives: Kundalini yoga meditation techniques for psycho-oncology and as potential therapies for cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2005;4(1):87-100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15695478.
- 9.Gard T, Noggle J, Park C, Vago D, Wilson A. Potential self-regulatory mechanisms of yoga for psychological health. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:770. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25368562.
- 10.Eyre H, Siddarth P, Acevedo B, et al. A randomized controlled trial of Kundalini yoga in mild cognitive impairment. Int Psychogeriatr. 2017;29(4):557-567. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28088925.
- 11.Eyre H, Acevedo B, Yang H, et al. Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;52(2):673-684. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27060939.
- 12.Andrew B. Newberg, Nancy Wintering, Dharma S. Khalsa, Hannah Roggenkamp, Mark R. Waldman. Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function and Cerebral Blood Flow In Subjects with Memory Loss: A Preliminary Study. JAD. April 2010:517-526. doi:10.3233/JAD-2010-1391