Yoga offers a wide range of health benefits, including improved strength, flexibility and fitness and better emotional health and mental clarity. To get all the benefits, you need to practice yoga with regularity and make it a habit that can fit into your daily life.
Because Kundalini and Hatha Yoga are widely represented in most classes, newcomers to the practice often focus on whether to try Kundalini or Hatha Yoga. It is a good idea to look at class descriptions before you dive in, as styles of yoga can vary in focus, energy level and physical requirements.
When just starting out, try different classes and teachers to see which style of yoga aligns with your needs and interests and helps you achieve your physical, mental and spiritual goals.
Hatha yoga is the predominant form of practice throughout the Western world, and many of the more physical practices stem from Hatha. It’s a broad category that encompasses various physical yoga practices. It focuses on the physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama), with the primary goal to balance the body and mind.
Kundalini yoga, on the other hand, is often referred to as the “yoga of awareness.” Kundalini practice focuses on releasing blocked energy and moving it up through the chakras, or central energy channels in the body, through specific postures, hand gestures, breath control and chants.
Kundalini Yoga vs. Hatha Yoga
Kundalini and Hatha yoga are both long-standing traditional practices and are both aligned with specific poses and philosophies. Kundalini and Hatha both connect movement and the physical realm with deeper, whole-body benefits.
Their differences are in their focus and mindset.
In essence, the difference between Kundalini and Hatha can be compared to taking two different types of transportation to get to a destination. They each take a different path and pass different scenery along the way while getting you to a destination, but because of the way you get there, you arrive with a different mindset.
The destination with a Kundalini path will be a more spiritual connection, while the Hatha path will leave you in a place that’s more connected to your body and breath.
Kundalini yoga is often characterized by its focus on awakening the “Kundalini energy.” According to the Ananda Spiritual Movement, this energy is a dormant, coiled energy at the base of the spine that we are all born with. The practice involves a combination of postures, breath control, mantra chanting and meditation to activate this energy and raise it through the chakras (the main energy points along your spine) to attain spiritual awakening and self-realization.
“Kundalini is an intense practice,” explains Mark Stephens in his book Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. “One is invited to move through what might feel like painful intensity, holding the arms aloft for long periods, stretching the breath seemingly beyond limits, sitting still for extended periods of meditation.” The intensity of a Kundalini practice leans heavily on self discipline and determination to create a true transformation.
Kundalini yoga is often seen as a more spiritually oriented and dynamic practice, renowned for its ability to catalyze change and break free from self-limiting habits. It is a powerful system specifically designed to unleash the reservoirs of untapped energy that reside within us. This practice operates on several key principles:
- Releasing blocks: Kundalini yoga aims to dissolve barriers and obstructions that inhibit the flow of latent energy. By doing so, it’s believed to unlock the potential for profound personal transformation.
- Balancing glandular and nervous systems: It is structured to bring equilibrium to the body’s glandular system and rejuvenate the nervous system, promoting overall vitality and wellbeing.
- Clearing and balancing systems: Kundalini yoga works on the subtle systems of nadis (energy channels) and chakras. Through various techniques, it clears and balances these energy pathways, enhancing mental, physical and spiritual health.
Origins of Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga has its origins in India and is deeply rooted in the broader tradition of yoga and spirituality. It draws from ancient yogic and Tantric practices, making it a holistic system designed to awaken and harness the dormant Kundalini energy, often symbolically represented as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine.
Kundalini has its origins in the writings of the Upanishads in the 5th century, but its practice goes back much farther, according to the Kundalini Research Institute. It is also associated with the Tantric tradition, where the concept of Kundalini energy and its awakening is explored in depth.
Kundalini yoga involves intense energy work and can lead to various physical and psychological experiences. There can be risks of overexertion, emotional release or discomfort if not practiced properly. It’s essential to learn from an experienced teacher and approach Kundalini yoga with caution, especially if you have underlying medical or psychological conditions.
How Is Kundalini Yoga Practiced?
The central emphasis of Kundalini yoga is on the flow and transformation of energy. Rather than adhering to a single practice or sequence, this approach centers around kriyas, which are distinct sequences of yogic techniques and meditative practices aimed at producing specific shifts in consciousness.
Each kriya, derived from the Sanskrit word “kriya,” meaning “action,” is accompanied by precise instructions and typically encompasses a combination of the following components:
- Asana: Physical postures
- Mudras: Hand gestures
- Pranayama: Breath control
- Mantras: Purposeful, repetitive vocalizations
- Bandhas: Controlled constriction of specific body areas
- Drishti: Focused direction of the gaze
- Savasana: A period of relaxation that concludes the practice
Though a kriya may consist of multiple elements, it represents a unified action designed to be performed in its entirety to achieve a specific purpose.
Benefits of Kundalini Yoga
Ask anyone who practices yoga regularly and they will report that it helps them manage stress, and the research backs that up. A study in the May-August 2017 issue of the International Journal of Yoga of the practice of Kundalini yoga revealed an immediate biological effect on the subjects’ stress levels and on the subjects’ stress levels after 3 months of practice.
Hatha yoga is a foundational and widely practiced form of yoga that also traces its origins to ancient India. It serves as a comprehensive and accessible system with broad applications, making it suitable for a wide range of individuals.
“Hatha is somewhat of a blanket term for a more static type of yoga. In essence, all yoga is Hatha based. It’s just over the last 40 years we started adding Vinyasa flow, power flow, sculpt yoga, and now HIIT yoga — the list goes on and on,” says Jeri Reeder, a yoga instructor with Soho Yoga in Hermosa Beach, California. “Hatha yoga is slower and isn’t trying to make a dance out of the practice, rather to concentrate on each posture, one at a time.”
How Are Yoga Flow, Vinyasa Yoga and Hatha Yoga Related?
Vinyasa yoga focuses on the intricacy of transitions between poses. In contrast, in Hatha yoga, you’re approaching each pose as a static pose with emphasis and focus on form and alignment. As a result, Vinyasa flow classes tend to be more sped-up, while Hatha classes are slower and more focused.
Hatha yoga also has deep roots in Indian philosophy, religion, and history, with its beginnings dating back to the 2nd century BCE Hindu classic text, the Yoga-sutras. It is derived from the broader tradition of yoga, with its name “Hatha” stemming from the Sanskrit words “ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon), representing the balance of opposing forces in the body.
How Is Hatha Yoga Practiced?
Hatha yoga’s primary objective is to attain harmony and balance between the physical and mental. It does so through the practice of various techniques, which typically include:
- Asana (physical postures): Hatha employs a wide array of physical postures.
- Pranayama (breath control): Controlled breathing exercises are utilized to increase breath awareness and vital energy flow.
- Meditation: Techniques for calming the mind and cultivating inner peace are a crucial component of Hatha yoga practice.
- Relaxation: Each Hatha yoga session usually concludes with a phase of deep relaxation, promoting a profound sense of tranquility and stress reduction.
Hatha Yoga offers a multitude of advantages, including:
- Physical fitness: It enhances flexibility, balance and strength.
- Stress reduction: The emphasis on relaxation and breath control helps in managing stress and promoting a calm mind.A 2016 meta-analysis in the Journal of Evidence Based Medicine concluded that while better studies are needed, Hatha yoga is a promising method for treating anxiety.
- Overall wellbeing: Regular practice fosters mental clarity, emotional stability and a sense of inner peace.
- Accessibility: Hatha yoga is suitable for beginners and can be adapted to accommodate various fitness levels and age groups.
Bottom Line: Is Kundalini or Hatha Yoga Best?
The choice between Kundalini and Hatha yoga depends on your goals and preferences. If you seek spiritual growth, transformation and are comfortable with a more intense practice, Kundalini may be suitable. If you’re primarily interested in physical fitness, relaxation and stress reduction, Hatha yoga is a better fit.
Some yoga teachers and studios offer hybrid classes that incorporate elements of both Kundalini and Hatha yoga. However, these are not standard styles but rather personalized approaches.