Should you try Kundalini yoga? Is it the new Bikram in the UAE?
This celebrity-endorsed yoga practice is catching on in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
I’m doing the Breath of Fire. It sounds more like an action-packed video game about a dragon than a circulation-boosting breathing technique used in yoga. But that’s what it is.
I’m sitting up straight, my hands in the prayer position, eyes rolled back behind my closed lids so that I’m looking at the point between my eyebrows, where the Sahasrara – the crown chakra – lives. My mouth is closed, as I rapidly, rhythmically, and continuously breathe through my nose about two to three times per second. I’m contracting my diaphragm quickly, allowing the oxygen to be pumped through my body from the solar plexus.
Then I start chanting the mantra “sat nam”, which essentially translates to “I am truth” or “truth is my essence”.
This is how my first experience of Kundalini yoga begins. And it makes me re-evaluate what exactly yoga is.
At the heart of Kundalini yoga, which was introduced to the West in 1968 by Yogi Bhajan, is a delicate blend of physical poses and spiritual practices. There are literally thousands of kriyas (exercises), pranayama (breathing techniques) and mantras (sounds), so no two sessions are likely to ever be the same.
On a practical level, people who practice Kundalini say it helps to boost energy levels, provides emotional balance and helps cleanse the nervous system. Speaking philosophically, it is said to help you navigate the increasingly complex world we live in.
LA yogi Guru Jagat – who counts the likes of Alicia Keys and Kate Hudson among her followers – puts it this way in her column for mindbodygreen: “The power in Kundalini yoga is its technological way of working on the glands and the nervous system to create almost instant love, creative trajectory, vision, prosperity, productivity, and a sensitivity to ourselves, one another, and our interconnectedness as a planet, galaxy, and star system.”
It’s about as far away as you can get from the sweaty, cardio-heavy, weight loss-focused yoga classes that have dominated the UAE’s trendiest studios. These same stylish spots are now turning to Kundalini, however. For years, the practice has been gaining traction around the world, but it’s only recently that its captured the public’s attention in this country. Now you’ll find sessions in places such as Dubai’s Life‘n One and Shiva Shakti Yoga, and Abu Dhabi’s Bodytree Studio and The Hot House.
My first experience isn’t at any of these spots, though. Instead, it is at November’s Yogafest at Dubai Internet City Amphitheatre, when instructor Malini Ramani flies in to teach a session on the final day of the dedicated yoga festival.
I, and at least 50 other amateur yogis, roll out a mat under a clear-blue Dubai sky, following our leader as she talks us through a seemingly random series of postures. Ramani energetically and enthusiastically presents the session, dressed in the traditional all-white garb that’s common in Kundalini practices – it’s something that Yogi Bhajan believed expands one’s “auric radiance”.
At certain points throughout the session, I feel a little silly. We stretch our arms above our heads, stick up our thumbs, close our eyes and stay dead still for a good few minutes. We roll our shoulders around and around. We revisit the Breath of Fire numerous times. And we chant plenty.
Yet, despite my sheepishness, I walk away from the class feeling wholly energised.
Apparently my ventures into the realms of Kundalini leave me in good company, as, alongside Keys and Hudson, other A-listers have embraced the practice publicly, including British comedian Russell Brand and Australian model Miranda Kerr, who has made it her morning ritual. “I don’t think I would be able to do it all without that,” the former Victoria’s Secret model told a crowd at Gwyneth Paltrow’s first In Goop Health Summit.
I’m not quite there yet, but you might just catch me self-consciously practicing my kriyas at a session in Dubai again soon. Incidentally, there will be a session led by Nancy Zabaneh on the second day of February’s XYoga Dubai festival.
Sat nam, indeed.
Updated: January 19, 2019 11:28 AM