Valerie Burke, www.greenmedinfo.com
Modern brain imaging shows that Kundalini Yoga causes a shift in cerebral blood flow to the part of your brain responsible for feelings of joy, happiness and compassion
“You are very powerful. Provided you know how powerful you are.” – Yogi Bhajan
This is the second in a two-part series about Kundalini Yoga. In Part 1, the basic framework was built for understanding the value of a Kundalini Yoga practice. In Part 2, we will explore how various symptoms and illnesses can be treated by this ancient form of yoga, and what therapeutic benefits are supported by science, to date.
In Part 1, the age-old concept of “Kundalini” was introduced, as both a form of energy and a mechanism for distributing that energy throughout the body. Basic terminology was also introduced, including the terms “prana” and “chakra,” as well as the essential components of a Kundalini Yoga practice. If you missed Part 1 or need a refresher, you can find it here
Freedom from Illness Requires Freeing Your Kundalini
The mind-body connection is now fairly well established by science. Health is a balancing act between all aspects of your being—mind, body, and spirit—with the three interwoven in a mysterious web of energy and consciousness.
Unresolved emotional trauma can disrupt Kundalini flow and cause stagnation in the chakras, and over time those disruptions can manifest as physical symptoms. When Kundalini is opened up, however, the body intelligently heals itself.
As an example, Kundalini offers a completely different perspective on the symptoms of menopause. The cessation of menses represents the closing of a “gate.” Hot flashes help guide this newly realized energy, or “awakening” Kundalini, up the spine toward the head where, ideally, it is transformed into a higher state of consciousness. Think of the archetypal older, wiser woman!
Menstrual pain, bloating, thyroid malfunctions, headaches, memory loss and other menopausal symptoms are associated with resistance to the passage of Kundalini. However, if Kundalini moves up the spine unimpeded, then it confers “enlightenment, not incontinence.” Viewing menopause as an opportunity for expanded consciousness gives this important life passage an entirely new meaning for women. For more about this, I encourage you to read Menopause is Enlightenment by Katharina Kroeber.
Because Kundalini has biological manifestations, it can be measured and studied. In the remainder of this article, we will examine what science says about how Kundalini Yoga affects your brain and body.
Meditation, Mysticism and Neuroscience
Modern neuroscience is now shining new light on the brain’s activity in response to yoga, meditation, and mysticism (including near-death experiences), giving rise to an entirely new branch of science called “neurotheology.” Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has made significant contributions in this area.
Newberg uses fMRI, PET and SPEC7 scans to study the brains of meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks, known experts in Kundalini-style meditation. Neural imaging reveals that spirituality activates the limbic system of the brain, a region responsible for our experiencing of positive emotions and interpersonal connections with others. It appears the phenomenon of “spiritual awakening” is not just psychological but associated with actual changes in brain function—specifically, shifts in dominant brain activity from parietal to prefrontal regions.
Some of Newberg’s findings have been corroborated by neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, thanks to his special friendship with the Dalai Lama who loaned him eight of his most accomplished meditators. EEG and fMRI scans confirmed very high activity in the monks’ prefrontal cortices, especially in the left hemisphere. The left prefrontal cortex is associated with feelings of joy, happiness and compassion.
In 1999, Peng demonstrated that meditation is not an autonomically quiescent state and is associated with exaggerated heart rate oscillations. And in 2008, Jeffrey Dusek of Harvard discovered that Kundalini Yoga actually elicits changes in gene expression.
Evidence-Based Benefits for PTSD, OCD, Addictions and More
Science has provided us with a huge volume of data about yoga’s therapeutic benefits. Much of this research comes from India. In a comprehensive 2004 literature review, Harvard’s Sat Bir S. Khalsa cites 181 yoga studies. The GMI yoga page alone lists benefits for 76 different diseases.
In all likelihood, the health benefits evidenced in most of these general yoga studies could be extended to Kundalini Yoga. The majority of Kundalini Yoga-specific studies are small in size, with many being pilots. Nevertheless, the scientific pool continues to grow, and I’ve highlighted some of the more significant studies in the table below.
If Kundalini Yoga is offered in our area, I would encourage you to attend a class so you can experience the effects firsthand. If you can only do ONE yoga exercise, make it Sat Kriya. Why? This single kriya contains just about all of the benefits of Kundalini Yoga within itself and is revered for its power to raise Kundalini energy.
Specifics for Sat Kriya can be found here.
|PTSD: A 2015 study showed a 30 percent improvement in PTSD symptoms among those with “self-diagnosed” PTSD||OCD: Kundalini Yoga has been found effective in treating both anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is not surprising given that yoga in general has been found to improve OCD; in patients with memory loss, Kirtan Kriya produced positive changes in mood and anxiety, and Sudarshan Kriya Yoga was found superior to imipramine for treating melancholia|
|Stress: Harvard psychiatrist John Denninger found Kundalini Yoga, produced positive effects throughout the body in chronically stressed individuals; Granath found the stress-reducing benefits of Kundalini Yoga equaled those of cognitive behavioral therapy; a Kirtan Kriya practice proved more effective than relaxation music for reducing stress, and actually reduced stress-induced aging by increasing telomerase activity by 43 percent||Addictions: Sudarshana Kriya Yoga reduced stress hormones and depression in alcohol dependent individuals; an Indian pilot study found Kundalini Yoga showed great promise for the treatment of substance abuse|
|Stroke: A very small study showed Kundalini Yoga improved aphasia and fine motor coordination for stroke patients||Cancer: Kundalini Yoga was shown to combat mental fatigue and low energy among terminal cancer patients|
|Insomnia: A simple daily Kundalini Yoga session was effective in improving sleep quality for chronic insomnia sufferers||One of Dr. Newberg’s studies found Kundalini Yoga produced cognitive benefits for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory problems.|