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This book by David Shannahoff-Khalsa, who is known as "The Internet Yogi," offers Kundalini yoga meditation techniques designed to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders. Shannahoff-Khalsa's main intended audience is trained mental health professionals and others who work with psychiatric patients. Although the book is not a self-help manual per se, certainly motivated, open-minded individuals who are looking for non-traditional methods to treat their psychiatric conditions might benefit from the information provided.
Shannahoff-Khalsa maintains that Kundalini yoga is a unique but also scientific technique for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. He recognizes that this claim demands significant evidence, and thus he sets out to provide proof in two forms: scientific insight and individual experience. Regarding the former, the first half of the book centers around exploration of "The Ancient Science of Kundalini Yoga." Although Shannahoff-Khalsa is careful to make the point that his book is not a review of scientific literature per se, he actually does a through job of presenting scientific evidence for the potential beneficial impacts of Kundalini yoga on the healing process. In particular, he focuses on the physiological states associated with the nasal cycle, which is the tendency of our breath to flow through one nostril or the other at any given time. Shannahoff-Khalsa is quite detailed—perhaps overly so—in providing various charts of airflow tracings, time series data, plasma levels, and the like. Overall, he makes a convincing case that changes to the nasal cycle can result in corresponding physiological changes. Shannahoff-Khalsa also discusses the chakra system, the 11 erogenous centers, the 81 mind facets, the 5 elements, and mantras; with the exception of the latter, he does not provide the same level of evidentiary support for exactly how these processes work.
In Part II, Shannahoff-Khalsa presents specific Kundalini yoga meditation techniques for the treatment of various psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depressive disorder, sleep issues, chronic fatigue, attentional problems, and trauma. Each chapter briefly reviews conventional therapies for the disorder and then presents a multi-step "Kundalini Yoga Protocol" for that specific condition. Shannahoff-Khalsa provides detailed instructions on performing each step, with some black-and-white photo illustrations; he explains the purpose of each technique and also emphasizes which ones are most crucial. The techniques themselves may seem strange to some, as they incorporate a combination of breathing methods, mantras (hand gestures), chanting, and visualization strategies. However, the included short case histories offer further compelling evidence for the efficacy of the individual protocols. (The one exception to this was the 28-page case history presented in the trauma chapter: on the one hand, it is a fascinating account in the patient's own words, but on the other, it's long-winded, somewhat rambling nature detracts from the discussion of Kundalini therapy itself.)
The third part of the book is more specifically directed to mental health professionals, as Shannahoff-Khalsa describes how to incorporate Kundalini yoga meditation techniques into therapy. Shannahoff-Khalsa argues that clinicians must be able to express with conviction to their clients that these techniques are powerful and effective. This certainly makes sense, but it also poses some difficulty: how can a therapist, who is presumably not experiencing any psychiatric disorders his or herself, argue that these techniques are effective for same? As a psychologist myself, I believe that this would be a challenge. For more traditional therapies, we can point to existing research literature, but this type of support is less readily available for alternative therapies such as Kundalini yoga. Shannahoff-Khalsa also includes a chapter on Kundalini meditation techniques for couples therapy. Although he states that the procedures have potential use for troubled relationships, the strategies are probably more appropriate for committed, motivated couples who are looking to engage in self-growth activities. The book closes with an epilogue expressing hopes that Kundalini yoga meditation will play a role in the future prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders, and several appendices provide further supporting information.
Although in my own professional practice, I tend to stick to more traditional psychological therapies, I am very open-minded towards alternative medicine; thus, I am included to believe Shannahoff-Khalsa's claims regarding the effectiveness of these techniques. From my own experience, I do think that presenting these approaches to clients might be a real obstacle. However, for self-motivated clients who are eager and willing to experiment with more non-traditional therapies, Kundalini Yoga Meditation is potentially an extremely valuable resource.
© 2007 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.