Kundalini Yoga: 40 Days, 40 Kriyas

I started practicing Kundalini Yoga 9 months ago. Despite my misgivings on its origin story, it sucked me in. I had to admit it made me happy, pure and simple. It was helping me work on Tapas, self discipline. After a 5 day training where I was assigned and successfully completed 40 days of Sodarshan Chakra Kriya, I had an unsuccessful round where I missed the 40th day (Nooooooo!). My teacher laughed and said I obviously needed to practice another 40 days. I did dagnabbit, and started to practice the physical kriyas as well.

Surprisingly, I found myself intimidated by many of them. I spent hours pouring over the Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings, reading over kriya after kriya. One looked too easy, another too hard. How many minutes could one really hold one’s arms or legs in the air? They all made wonderful promises: balance your chakras, help your circulation, your organs, your mental health, etc. I felt like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog, drooling over the possibilities. I was so overwhelmed, I had a hard time picking one to practice. Should I practice one for 40 days or pick one for each day of the week? Why don’t I just try a different kriya every day? I had been practicing the Laya Yoga Meditation kriya on and off so that would be my constant. 40 days of 11 minutes of Laya yoga plus a different physical kriya every day.

In my days as a Target manager, every new project started with a binder. It was pretty much a running joke. This undertaking felt like it also needed a binder. I started printing up kriyas that had potential, filling my binder quickly. I admit 25 minutes or less was always a win. Even if the kriya looked hard, I felt I could make it through if it was short. I picked kriyas based on my energy level, my mood, sometimes what part of my body I wanted to work. When I hit my moon days, I looked for the shortest, easiest kriya I could find. I’m not proud. This was a marathon, not a sprint. I was looking for sustainability, not burn out. One of the gifts I’ve received from yoga is a smaller ego. I also don’t feel the need to punish myself physically like I used to. I was trying to maintain a decent vinyasa practice at the same time, so I was being strategic with my energy level.

So what did I learn during this 40 days?

  1. I can make time for yoga every day. This seems obvious, but who really wants to give up their time on social media or binge watching House of Cards. I’m in a fortunate position where my main job other than teaching several yoga classes a week, is taking care of my family and helping my husband with his business. Even so, it became glaringly obvious that I could still use my time more productively. I can easily spend 4 hours each morning drinking coffee and reading. Not making excuses not to practice spilled over into other parts of my life. It became harder to make excuses to not do other things like knock out my housework quickly instead of dragging my feet or make art even though I don’t have space, privacy or big chunks of time.
  2. Kundalini Yoga takes cues from calisthenics. There’s a lot of repetitive movements in Kundalini. Move your arms up and down, do squats, work those abs, etc. I have a pretty strong vinyasa practice but some of the kriyas really kicked my ass. The one called A Very Subtle Exercise left me sore for 3 days.
  3. Kriyas are deceiving. I would skim over a kriya before deciding to commit, but many times it didn’t really sink in. I’d be working through it and come to find that next exercise was more challenging then it looked or I didn’t notice it said continue for 7 minutes! One time a kriya had Bhangra dancing and silly me thought that would be easy. Other times, Breath of Fire or another pranayama would stir up intense emotions.
  4. Kundalini Yoga works. I’m not sure if it’s the claimed thousands of years of wisdom in the practice or if Yogi Bhajan was just a good yoga teacher picking up on the knowledge of the day and making it up as he went along, but there’s something to this practice. For a few weeks I had some sore lymph nodes under my arms, so on day 28 I googled “Kriya, lymph nodes.” Kriya for the Lymph Glands, Glands are the Guardians of Health came up, so that’s what I practiced that day. The next day, my lymph nodes weren’t sore or swollen, imagine that. Now I know that’s not a definitive, scientific study but there’s plenty of research out there that moving is good. Pranayama and chanting mantra has also begun to get some support in the medical community. It’s been proven that yoga in general is beneficial and relieves stress. An hour of Kundalini yoga is a combination of movement, meditation, pranayama, and chanting, so I’ve covered all my bases for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
  5. All the same distractions happen when meditating using mantras as silently meditating. This one caught me off guard. I figured chanting and pumping my stomach would be enough to keep me on track. My mind wandered just like in regular meditation. Some days it was as painful as doing physics homework. I just wanted to get through it. Other days, I’d get caught up in the rhythm and was sad when it was over.
  6. Committing to a practice is satisfying. I’m a free spirit, that’s a nice way of saying I suck at routines or doing something because “I have to.” I’m not one to get up at 4AM to practice my yoga and revel in the Amrit Vela, or “ambrosial period” before the sun rises. I’m still suffering from a mild case of Kopophobia resulting from my Target manager days of having an insane work schedule. I decided to show myself compassion on the getting up early thing. The first step was just practicing every day. That was empowering enough. I usually practice vinyasa 4–6 times a week, from 30 to 90 minutes. My Kundalini practice was every day, at least an hour, sometimes longer as I attempted to also learn Japji Sahib. It became something I looked forward to, something comforting. Some days I felt like I was saving it for later, like one might save dessert. I really didn’t want to miss a day once I got going. I even did one practice in my car outside a comic book store while my son played Dungeons and Dragons fearing I’d be too tired when I got home if I didn’t. Luckily, I found a kriya that was all arm movements.
  7. Kundalini makes me feel grounded. It has become my spiritual practice. While it claims to not be religious, it certainly has a spiritual or devotional feel to it. Meditation naturally makes one look inward. Chanting a mantra like the one for Laya Yoga, “Ek ong kar sat nam siri waheguru” which means “One creator created this creation. Truth is His Name. Great beyond description is His Infinite Wisdom” is pretty much a prayer to me. Tuning in with “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” and closing with a celtic blessing, “Long Time Sun” feels like I’m taking time to honor God, the Universe, whatever the higher power is that is out there. I feel connected to something bigger than me. Like Shepherd Book said in Serenity, “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe in it.”
  8. Kundalini yoga has endless variety. I feel like I only skimmed the surface. I probably printed at least 60 kriyas to put in my binder and there are so many more still out there. While there are movements that repeat, there’s still so many combinations. I had a hard time with Ashtanga because it was the same sequence over and over. Kundalini is opposite day in comparison. I also see how one can take a pretty relaxed path or amp up to really physically challenging kriyas. I’m quite fond of the middle path myself and listening to my body. Kundalini let me dial it up or down as needed.
  9. I like to cover my head. I know, head coverings are a hot topic right now. The raging feminist in me understands the argument that it is oppressive to make women cover their heads. The key word for me as a feminist has always been the “make.” Though I’ll add that Kundalini also asks men to cover their heads. A little background though. I was raised Catholic by German parents. I visited my relatives in Germany growing up and my Oma often tied a kerchief around her head, and wore an apron every day. She never wore pants but I saw her as a strong, capable woman at 4'11". Though it’s fading, the Catholic Church required women to cover their heads in church. I knew nuns who wore habits. Covering your head wasn’t a completely foreign idea. Throughout my life, I’ve been skeptical of authority and like to live outside the status quo. My feminism is based on choice (which is another hot topic). I’ve worked in male dominated fields such as welding and law enforcement. I loved being a homemaker when my kids were small, complete with homeschooling, gathering veggies from my garden in my apron, and baking my own bread. I embrace all of it. I covered my head through much of my life, for practicality. In college, a bandana or baseball hat, welding, a cap, as an officer, a hat, as a homemaker a kerchief or knit hat. It was easy and cozy. Hair can be annoying. I am also in a perpetual state of growing my hair out and hating it getting in my way. In Kundalini, “covering the head provides a sense of containment and focus while practicing yoga or while doing work that requires clarity of thought. It literally helps ‘keep your head together.’” I started wearing a large head band after cutting my long hair to give up a life of hair coloring and embrace my grey. People began complimenting me on it. Being lazy when it comes to primping, I went with it. A year and a half later, I feel naked if I’m not covering my head in some way. I researched head coverings in other cultures, for instance the tichel. I find them quite lovely and thought say goodbye to bad hair days. I’m even exploring it as a theme in my art creating different coverings in ceramics. So is covering my head being submissive to patriarchy or is it a way to feel cozy and “keep my head together”? The bottom line is I like it and there’s a part of me that understands the aspect that shows respect to something other than myself.
  10. I want to continue. While I decided to take a fortnight break and just practice vinyasa before starting another 40 days, I’m excited to keep going. I found so many more kriyas I want to try, even ones that are more than 30 minutes;) Guided by the practice, I decided to give up meat during my second round of Sodarshan. I’ve been an on and off vegetarian since college. I ate a little meat afterwards, before my next round but it’s been a few months now and I’m happy to continue meat free. For my next 40 days, I’m going to refrain from alcohol. I only drink occasionally, but I’m building up my Tapas. I’ll continue with a different physical kriya each day, and may try to get up at 6 AM(baby steps). It took a few days to decide on the meditation, the Antar Naad Mudra-Kabadshe Meditation. The description says, “Anyone who practices this meditation is granted prosperity, creativity, and protection against attacks. It gives new power to your words. It brings luck even if you are a scoundrel.” You can’t beat that, lol.

My 40 Kriyas

  1. Kriya for Pelvic Balance
  2. Kriya to Balance the Mind
  3. Kriya for the Lower Spine and Elimination
  4. Advanced Abdominal and Navel Stregthening
  5. Kriya to Withstand the Pressure of Time
  6. Kriya to Make You Enchantingly Beautiful
  7. Building Strength and Vigor
  8. Kriya to Throw Off Stress
  9. Surya Kriya
  10. Kriya to See Inner Beauty
  11. Foundation for Infinity
  12. Movement Relaxation Series
  13. Kriya for Inner and Outer Vision
  14. Kriya for the Back
  15. Nabhi Kriya for Prana-Apana
  16. Kriya for Creativity
  17. A Short and Sweet Kriya to get the Energy Moving
  18. Kriya for Glands, Circulation and Meditative Mind II
  19. Kriya for Keep Up Spirit
  20. Kriya for Physical and Mental Vitality
  21. Kriya for the Instinctual Self
  22. Ajna Stimulation Kriya
  23. Kriya for the 4th Chakra
  24. Kriya for Mood and Metabolism
  25. Kriya for Disease Resistance
  26. Kriya for the Colon, Spine, and Organs
  27. Har Aerobic Kriya
  28. Kriya for Lymph Glands, Glands are the Guardians of Health
  29. Balancing the Three Psyches
  30. Kriya for Emotional and Mental Balance and Prevention of Early Menopause
  31. Kriya for Natural Adjustment
  32. Kriya for Sexual Nerve Strength
  33. Eliminate Gastric Troubles
  34. Wahe Guru Kriya
  35. Releasing Menstrual Tension and Balancing Sexual Energy
  36. Work on the Meridians
  37. Art of Equilibrium of the Stomach
  38. Kriya for Energizing Self
  39. Getting the Body out of Distress
  40. A Very Subtle Exercise

Yoga teacher and student

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