“I’m thinking we’ll just let the vibrations flow, and it will be okay,” a young woman in a flowing white dress and turban assures a similarly-clad counterpart, who’s seated next to a giant gong. Downstairs, two women discuss how mind-blowing the previous night’s 90-minute meditation was.
This is Golden Bridge, the unofficial New York headquarters of Kundalini yoga, a practice that’s been gaining momentum lately because of LA actors like Russell Brand, Demi Moore, and Miranda Kerr, and modern spiritual guides like Gabrielle Bernstein. (In fact, its popularity with celebs has been growing for a while—Golden Bridge’s director, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, has counted Reese Witherspoon and Cindy Crawford among her fans.)
While crowd-pleasing vinyasa is still undeniably the king of western yoga, Kundalini appeals to the city woman who is sick of competing with lithe, Lulu-clad headstands and wants to delve into a deep, less physical practice.
What is Kundalini?
Kundalini is a yogic term for energy that’s “coiled” at the bottom of the spine, and practicing Kundalini yoga, which was brought to the U.S. in its current form in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan, is said to bring that energy to life in the body.
In class, you won’t flow through sun salutations. Instead, you’ll alternate between chanting, breathing exercises, singing (yes, actual singing), meditation, and physical sequences called kriyas. (In my class, one kriya involved approximately one million squats, over and over. Another was rocking forward and back in Bow pose for an interminable amount of time.) Teachers sit at the front of the room throughout, wearing white to expand their auras, and with their heads covered, as they believe closing off the crown chakra helps them harness their own Kundalini energy.
Class, of course, is just the beginning. Kundalini resembles a religion in the comprehensiveness of its teachings (astrological concepts abound) and practices (from diet to serving others). God is a word you’ll hear often.
Who’s it for?
Most Kundalini devotees fall hard and fast. “Within the first ten minutes, I thought, ‘this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’” says Gabrielle Bernstein, who’s since completed teacher training and will be teaching a workshop that blends Kundalini teachings with her own at Goldenbridge this spring.
The element that seems to really draw people in is Kundalini’s emphasis on self-awareness and actualization. “I’m a different person; I’m a much better person. It has expanded me so I’m a better writer and a better speaker,” Bernstein explains. It’s a promise that appeals to creative types and celebs, but also to anyone who’s concerned with how to realize their talents and live their best life possible.
“There’s a constant opportunity for growing a little closer to your true spirit every day, so that you can be the best you,” Bethel says. Just be prepared to hold your arms above your head without moving for 11 minutes at a time. Really. —Lisa Elaine Held