Unlike the continuous flow of movement in many types of yoga, Kundalini Yoga asks you to pause.
Your Kundalini Yoga teachers may say things like, “rest the body and the breath”, “feel the effects…”, or “observe what is” in between active movements. So, why the pause in between exercises?
Generally, you may think of it as ‘hang out, chill time’ and that is partly correct. It is definitely time to smell the yogic roses. We are very used to running from place to place, doing activity after activity. We sometimes forget to take rests in between, we forget to pause. Kundalini Yoga brings an awareness to creating space for pause. Here are 4 important reasons why we pause, particularly in Kundalini Yoga:
Reason #1: Rest
The body needs a rest after intense movements in order to consolidate the energy released. Kundalini Yoga is a technology and the kriyas (exercise sequences) are set! The teachers follow the instructions as originally laid out by Yogi Bhajan. Sometimes, the rest times are deliberate and have a certain length. Sometimes, we just pause to take a rest. For example, after spinal twist – all 26 vertebrae are stimulated, the nervous system function is improved by aligning the spine and removing muscular tension, and cerebrospinal fluid circulation is improved. That is a lot! So, taking a rest afterward allows the body to catch up to what just happened.
Reason #2: Observe
After an active exercise or pranayama (breathing exercise), we allow ourselves time to come back to the natural flow of our breath and observe. Time to observe the sensations in the body. And, time to observe thoughts or feelings as they are, without changing or judging. Sometimes we jump in and identify with the thoughts, feelings, or sensations. When we notice this identification (ie: ‘I am not doing this right; I am irritated; I feel joint pain’), we bring our attention back to the sensation, feeling, or thought as it is without identification or analysis. Tricky business, but it is your job as a yogi – to observe until you fully experience that you are not your thoughts, labels, feelings, or emotions. When we pause in between exercises, we are giving ourselves time to observe without judgment.
Reason #3: Tap into the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Sympathetic Nervous System is our ‘fight or flight’ response to stressors. Not only running from lions and tigers make us stressed. Our busy schedules and unhealthy thought patterns keep us feeling on edge, and many of us stay caught up in this response all day long. When we pause in between exercises in yoga class, we begin the process of turning on the Parasympathetic Nervous System instead, which aids our ability to ‘rest and digest’. Kundalini Yoga teachers will remind you to inhale deeply and exhale after each exercise. Breathing deeply aids in triggering the Parasympathetic Nervous System. While resting between exercises, the muscles also have a chance to relax, the heart rate slows down, and feelings of stress begin to melt away. The more Parasympathetic Nervous System training you give yourself on the mat, the more you can utilize your relaxation response in daily life off of the mat.
Reason #4: Experience Shuniya
In yogic teachings, there is a space or non-space called shuniya or ‘zero-point balance’. Shuniya is beyond the duality of good and bad, or right and wrong. It is neutral. It is vast. It is your true nature! The pause between exercises can bring moments of pure stillness, where one can experience this neutral point of being. If your interest in Shuniya is piqued, come to Kundalini Yoga classes, build a practice, be curious and vigorous, and see what happens!
Even if you are an experienced practitioner, have a beginner’s mind every time you come to the mat. Every day is different. Every moment is different. In your Kundalini Yoga practice, approach both the active movements and mantras as well as the rests, silences, and observations with an ease and open curiosity. It may prove quite magical to begin cultivating more pause on and off the mat.
Amardeep Bliss is a PhD Candidate, researcher, and Kundalini Yoga as well as Restorative Yoga teacher. Her yoga classes include a focus on the practice of Ahimsa (non-harming) and honouring the present moment. She enjoys travelling, snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains, early morning Sadhana meditations, and playing the symphonic gong & crystal bowls. Currently, she is (very slowly) reading Be as You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Amardeep leads Gong & Kundalini Yoga classes as well as Sacred Sound Sessions at Lotus Yoga Centre. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.