"As kundalini yoga works to unblock the seven charkras of your body, you feel an immediate release."
For a boost of energy, try kundalini
If, as a man, you find yoga extremely challenging, especially the asanas which challenge your hips to open and your hamstrings to stretch, try kundalini. My husband, Tom, is not a yoga person - surfing gives him his meditation and energy kicks instead - but earlier this year he was won over by a class at the Kamalaya wellness retreat in Thailand. Our teacher, a woman named Siri Anand Kaur, played music throughout the class and had us doing sets of repetitive movements which felt, as Tom said, "just a little bit bonkers". But after the initial shock, we were both sold.
"I have always struggled to sit still and straight and I think this compounded my frustration with yoga," says Tom. "But after 20 minutes in perpetual motion, a broad smile broke across my face and I was struggling not to burst into hysterical laughter." The feeling was the closest he had come while on dry land to the exhilaration of surfing. "The constant need to adjust my core balance, the sporadic but intense movement of arms and legs, and the surge of energy felt like surfing."
Like many men who are naturally calm, Tom says a steady and incremental hatha yoga practice is precisely what he doesn't need. "It leaves me totally horizontal, ready to begin a prolonged hibernation. As blissful as that might be, I need the hours in which I am not working or sleeping to be productive." Step in kundalini. But what exactly is it? Also known as the yoga of awareness, kundalini was brought to the West in 1968 by the yoga master Yogi Bhajan. He explains it perfectly: "Kundalini yoga classes are a dynamic blend of postures, pranayam (breathwork), mantra, music and meditation, which teach you the art of relaxation, self-healing and elevation." Based around the science of the chakras, or energy centres in the body, the practice is designed to balance body and mind using kriyas, or specially formulated sets of exercises, which can target areas that need work such as the nervous system, immune system and vital organs.
Most importantly for the likes of Tom, no previous experience is required to achieve results from the first class, which is why he took to the style so quickly. "Kundalini is a very direct form of yoga and as such has an immediate effect, unlike other forms which only tend to start working once the positions have been mastered," explains the teacher Maya Fiennes. "As kundalini yoga works to unblock the seven chakras of your body, you feel an immediate release. This can be in the form of easier breathing, better sleep, sharper concentration or just simply a happier state in general."
It will also highlight the areas in our lives that need to be worked on, says Simon Andriesz, a teacher and co-founder of the Alchemy yoga centre in London. "As a beginner, a lot of suppressed emotions may start to arise, which can be disconcerting. But that is part of the process of self transformation. Physically, too, the practice will show the parts of the body that we have let go and that are out of balance. As with any yoga, certain asanas will be more difficult than others, and the resistance will indicate what part of the body needs attention."
Beginners will appreciate the focus on the spine. "Many beginners I see have poor basic posture and are unable to hold the spine straight without slouching when sitting crossed legged," Andriesz says. "Kundalini yoga helps with this, as there are many spinal exercises. A healthy spine is a measure of our youthfulness and it so important to maintain." I'll leave you with words of Yogi Bhajan, to think about the next time you get stuck in a raging traffic jam: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Simon (www.alchemythecentre.co.uk) and Maya (www.mayaspace.com) run kundalini yoga retreats, or visit www.3ho.org. Caroline Sylger Jones is the author of theBody & Soul Escapes series of books, which feature places to retreat and replenish around the world. See www.carolinesylgerjones.co.uk