Karen Orton and
Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi
A new generation is exploring ancient tantric practices through kundalini yoga—a potent spiritual practice and gateway to higher states of consciousness. The lineage stretches back to breathwork and visualization techniques of Buddhist Tibetan monks, and the sacred practices of tantric masters and Shaktism in India. The combination of breathwork, mantra, and kriyā in kundalini go back millennia.
“This is a form of yoga that helps you understand you’re energy,” says Scorpios Mind & Body resident, Miriam Adler, who also teaches globally. In her Laboratorio retreats in Tulum and Formentera, she combines a range of healing modalities, from meditation and breathwork to tea ceremonies.
Kundalini, a Sanskrit term for “coiled one”—is the divine energy and consciousness that lies curled at the base of our spine. This primal energy can be awakened, rising through the chakras. In the tantric tradition, it’s seen as the Shakti feminine energy linked to both physical pleasure and divine bliss.
A kundalini class carries little resemblance to an average vinyasa yoga class—it’s been called “the most dangerous form of yoga” because of its potential for spiritual awakening, and was viewed with suspicion in the West. Breathwork is central to the practice. “Through breath, you’re opening up your channels to receive more energy flowing up through your body,” Miriam explains.
Yogi Bhajan was a hatha yoga master and a Sikh who brought this version of kundalini yoga to the US in 1968—he was reportedly the first person to show these secretive techniques to the West. Traditionally, these practices had only been taught to students who had spent years mastering more basic yoga techniques. “Yogi Bhajan got into trouble with the yogic community in India, but he said that he was sharing this knowledge because it’s the Aquarian age,” says Mariam Al Qassimi. A kundalini teacher, and breathwork and meditation facilitator at Scorpios, she is a follower of the shamanic Path of Pollen and leads retreats globally. She lives between the UK and UAE.
“A lot of us are slouched over, so the breath is just going to the upper and middle portion of the lungs. When we combine inhales and exhales with the movement of the torso, it gets energy moving in a powerful way.”
“Breath is energy. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide—and with that, we move out energy that we don’t need,” says Kamel Jaber. A kundalini yoga teacher and energy work practitioner who taught at Scorpios this summer, Kamel lives between LA and London. He heads up an investment management fund as well as teaching kundalini, and leading travel experiences combining yoga with live music. “The problem is that most of us don’t breathe properly, we travel a lot, we don’t sleep enough, and we have limited eating patterns.”
The breath of fire is a foundational practice in kundalini—a short, quick inhale and exhale through the nose, accompanied by a pumping motion of the navel. Many kriyās involve holding one’s hands over one’s head. “By doing this you’re getting air into the lower part of lungs,” Kamel explains. “A lot of us are slouched over, so the breath is just going to the upper and middle portion of the lungs. When we combine inhales and exhales with the movement of the torso, it gets energy moving in a powerful way.”
Tibetan Buddhist meditation and yogic practices have clear links with these techniques. Specifically, tummo ('inner fire’) is a breathwork and visualization technique used by Buddhist monks and nuns to create an internal warmth and control body temperature, giving them the ability to withstand the cold. Tummo resonates with the breath of fire taught by Yogi Bhajan, and it’s also an inspiration for the Wim Hoff Method, which uses breathwork, meditation, and cold therapy to improve physical and mental health.
Comparatively, shamanic breathwork differs from other techniques simply because of the cleansing and smudging rituals involved in preparing for a session. “Breathwork is a tool to heal and hold yourself,” says Anna Schwarz, who leads shamanic breathwork in her classes with Alpha Omega Yoga and LSD Yoga in Berlin. “I want people to feel the power they bear within, that they’re not dependent on external stimuli to experience a 'high’. Each and every one of us is their own medicine man.”
That desire to heal oneself was the reason that Miriam found her way to spirituality and wellness after her modeling career. “I was suffering because I was always trying to be a perfect version of myself. I felt I always had to optimize. It was difficult to express my vulnerability,” she says, adding, “breathwork really cracked me open. I feel free after doing kundalini, like I’m loosening the grip and getting rid of pressure.”
The science confirms the transformative effect of kundalini breathing. “At the back of the cranium is the vagus nerve (part of our fight or flight mechanism) which ends in our gut,” Mariam says. “My take is that the navel pumping of breath of fire activates trigger points in the body and allows traumatic energies to resurface.” She adds—“then you meet that breath with the mantra, the kriyā, and an eye gaze. You allow it to rise and it eventually clears all of the old patterns.”
Reciting kundalini mantras also has powerful healing potential because of the way that the tongue hits meridian points in the roof of the mouth. “You’re slicing through your subconscious programming with sound vibrations, like a knife,” Mariam says. “That then activates reflex points in the brain, imprinting them with higher vibrational frequency thought forms.”
“It’s been an absolute game-changer in my life—I’ve felt this lightness in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a long time.”
Kamel sees breathwork as helping people to tap into deeper states of relaxation. “It’s been an absolute game-changer in my life—I’ve felt this lightness in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a long time.” That’s led him to strategize a community of clubhouses across the US, with an emphasis on addressing the science behind spirituality and wellness practices, partly in order to reach men who might be wary of practices they perceive as too extreme.
Daily practice is essential in gaining benefits from breathwork and meditation. “Whether it’s kundalini, chi gong, holotropic or psychedelic breathwork, find some kind of breathwork and stick to it—daily if you can, or a few times a week,” Kamel says. “I do a few minutes as part of my daily meditation, it helps me access the neutral state of mind.”
"If you breathe through your emotions and accept them, they’re cleansed through the body and aren’t stored”
Devout kundalini practitioners might wake up several hours before the sun rises, for an early morning spiritual practice called sadhana. The karmic reasoning being, that whatever one puts into the world, comes back tenfold. “I’m really into the sadhana because when things surface, you have that container of your daily life to ground the teachings and integrate them,” Mariam points out.
For Miriam, the transformative power of breathwork is that it offers an immediate gateway to our emotions, rather than numbing through distractions like food, drugs, and sex. “We are so conditioned to not living emotions, to come from a suppressed neutral state—‘Everything’s ok, come on, relax’, people say. I didn’t feel emotions until I had strong anxiety and was numbing myself. I couldn’t bear feeling uncomfortable, because I didn’t know what was behind it.”
The key to processing emotions is breathing through them in order to release—rather than unconsciously holding our breath. “The first thing you teach women in labor is to breathe through the pain. If you breathe through your emotions and accept them, they’re cleansed through the body and aren’t stored,” Miriam says. “If we do this, we won’t be walking around with this weight.” She adds: “I don’t need to numb myself anymore, if I’m accepting who I am, in my fullest possible expression."