Elisabeth Waltman wasn’t sure what to expect when she arrived for class. Although she had practiced different yoga styles, from ashtanga to vinyasa, Kundalini yoga was a new discipline. Elisabeth approached her first class last spring with some trepidation. As she rolled up her mat at the end of the session, his seasoned fitness buff recalls feeling something different.
“I was surprisingly relaxed,” she said. “That was the main thing I discovered right away. Since Kundalini was unfamiliar to me, I was a little unsure at first because the practice is unlike anything I have done before. In thinking about it later, I realized that my mind didn’t wander, and I concentrated throughout the session. And every time I have attended a class I sleep well.”
In Sanskrit, the word yoga means union and refers to a combination of movement and breath as practitioners move through a series of poses. These poses can be prescribed sets of sequences or a more free-style flow. The purpose is to help promote wellness by balancing physical and emotional health.
Newcomers to a Kundalini yoga practice will discover that the class features more than just physical poses. Each begins with a traditional tune-in chant, called the Adi Mantra, a warm-up, and is then followed by a kriya or set of physical actions, deep relaxation, a group meditation mantra, and a closing salutation. This sequence is designed to target the meridians, a set of energetic pathways in the body, as well as to awaken Kundalini energy coiled in the spine.
Yogis in Cleveland County have the opportunity to explore this type of yoga in a free class on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at The Well, located at 210 S. James Garner Ave. Led by longtime Kundalini teacher and practitioner Gwenn Agiapal, the sequence is accessible to all fitness levels. Most of the class is done from a seated position on the floor, but also can be performed in a chair.
“We are moving the meridians in a way that does not happen in our daily activities, like waving our arms to stimulate the heart,” Gwenn explains. “Much of our psychic pain centers around the heart, and moving the arms helps move that energy. This sustained, rhythmic movement has a way of stimulating the brain and that makes us feel good. No matter how terrible someone is feeling, or what kind of day they have had, whether they are sad or mad, everyone can feel better after a class.”
Gwenn adds a brief anatomy lesson to her classes as well to explain the effect that the combined postures and movement (asanas), breath work (pranayama), mantra (chanting), and mudra (hand gestures) have on the meridians. This network of 12 fibers functions like a highway system, each connecting to a major organ. In fact, the class at The Well is called Yoga and the Meridians.
This scientific aspect of the practice appeals to Elisabeth. With an intense job that requires frequent overnight travel throughout the state, yoga has always been something that helps her feel grounded.
“I really connect with Gwenn’s explanations of the science associated with Kundalini,” she said. “The practice makes a lot of sense to me as I understand that the benefits are based on research and science. I enjoy it and am excited about adding this type of yoga to my repertoire.”
Gwenn arrives 30 minutes early to set up the room and be available for questions, particularly for newcomers.
"What students can expect from Kundalini yoga above all else is to feel good,” she said. “This is an all-level class and can be done by anyone.”
Registration for the free Yoga and the Meridians class is encouraged at TheWellOK.org
Susan Grossman just completed the Level 1 Kundalini Teacher Training and is a Norman-based freelance writer.