One of my clients asked me how long I have been practicing Kundalini Yoga, and if I am still learning from it.
The answer is, just over 11 years, and yes.
I am not the same person I was 11 years ago. In fact, I've become a better version of myself many times over (most of you didn't know me back then). It would be fair to say that I've had crash moments when it felt like I took too many few steps back, but like a typical stock market chart with its ups and downs, the lifetime Savitree chart continues to go up.
We all have our monsters-- those things we have struggled with most of our lifetime. Mine has do to with this recurring sense of SHAME, that somehow I am a complete fraud and I don't know, and I am not what or who everyone thinks that I am, and also that I can't take care of myself. I was raised believing that everything I said was stupid, and I need to make myself good enough (through education mostly, and also by playing my role as the oldest daughter perfectly) to find a husband willing to take care of me, and if I am not, even my parents would abandon me. That is what I believed, anyway, and I had sealed it into my belief system.
Just months after I started practicing kundalini yoga, I learned that I was okay, and in fact perfectly capable. And as I learned to walk this Earth from my inner compass, I really was okay. I felt it safe enough to say that I "kicked" my monster! I doused it with water and it melted away like the wicked witch of the West.
I kept up with my practice. My life got better. I became a teacher and I wondered how I was going to make a living from this. Students liked me. I created a business, and everyone was coming to support it and me.
At the moment that things were really good, my monster came back. Shame. Fraud. Fear of abandon.
The misunderstanding would be that I didn't learn anything. Otherwise, how could my monster return? Is this practice working?
One of my teachers explained that we don't really ever get rid of our monsters. Instead, we learn to conquer them.
My teacher pointed out that I now get to conquer my monster, not from my past self, but from my current, more evolved sense of self; the one with more tools, a stronger nervous system, and a more developed neutral mind, subtle, and pranic body and an expanded magnetic field. And I know that my future self gets to do it again, hopefully with the same, even more chiseled and readily accessible tools.
Each version of me gains more tools, depth, inner stability and experience. Each version of me learns to communicate with, and relate to others, better. Each version of me creates a more supportive environment, a workable daily structure and a community that helps me better deal with my monster. That very monster ironically was what pushed and inspired me to search and learn, at the end helping to shape my personality, build my strengths and reveal my talents.
As my life opens up to me with more opportunities and challenges, my monster (read: ego) will want to rear its head again to, bless it's "heart", keep me safe and reign in on my efforts to step into the scary, vast, unknown ocean that promises a manifestation of a Self that marches to her own drummer despite the pathless path to which it points. As more opportunity opens to me and the "stakes" get larger, my ego will remind me of the shame and abandon that comes with failure that was the experience of my childhood that keeps me small. It means well. And as I deepen my toolbox, my ability to thank my monster for its misplaced sensibilities and move forward despite its fears becomes more and more automatic such that it almost feels like that monster no longer exists. Of course, as soon as I start to believe that, it roars loudly, LOL.
I continue this same practice of Kundalini Yoga day after day, year after year, because I know that that monster, given the opportunity, would rule me day after day, year after year. Each time I return to a specific kriya (sequence), I experience it from a different version of Self, and I experience new tantrums and glories. And I learn new things.
There are a lot of things I care about. I care about the food and medical choices that are accessible to us. I care about how we educate our children. I care about the rights and protections of every human on this planet. I care about this planet.
There are many places to direct my energy. And I chose to teach kundalini yoga.
What I noticed in my own practice was that as I went deeper, my original reasons for starting were no longer the reasons for continuing. I met this evolution with ongoing curiosity and at times hesitation. But I kept going. The more purposefully I practiced, the more I cared about what foods I put into my body, how I voted with my wallet, how I experienced adversities in my life, how I saw “mean people,” how I discarded things, and how I viewed my relationships with religion, nature and with other living things.
What I realized was that just because someone is into sustainability, for instance, did not mean that that person is necessarily into humanity. But when someone is about seeking Truth, that person naturally begins to act on all of the above. That person begins to act out of love instead of fear; rather than making decisions from what she does not want, she makes decisions from what she does want.
When one contemplates the very essence of yoga, or union, in yoga practice, the energy center of our body-mind that governs the feeling of connectedness with all things becomes open and balanced, resulting in a sense (or knowing), that we are all one. In Kundalini Yoga, we call this Ek Ong Kar. This not only shifts one’s paradigm and predisposes one to take action that is more life supporting and inclusive, it also creates an underlying sense of joy even in turbulent times; one is able to feel anger, sadness and pain and still maintain a sense of equanimity. What better place from which to move through life than a place of light to overcome darkness?
I teach kundalini yoga because it effectively infuses spirituality into its practice, and it is nearly impossible to separate the two. And if you want it to, it can take you to YOU fast. I teach yoga because I can’t think of a more important tool to share than tools that bring you to your true essence, and also because I love being witness to this type of transformation in others.
There are about 18 of us at Urban Yoga Chicago delving deeper through (average) 90 days of daily Sat Kriya practice.
I saw a quote this morning, and it made me think of what we are doing together because people wonder and ask what will come of this daily commitment. Here is the quote:
Sat Kriya does that-- it wakes you up.
Waking up is pretty cool. It changes the lens through which you see, and when you begin to see through a different lens, you begin to make decisions differently.
And for some, that unknown can feel scary. But honestly, I can’t think of anything more scary than status quo. We know how we feel about, for instance the Catholic Church “not changing with the times,” and same with our current government as they protect an antiquated second amendment created by our Founding Fathers 240 years ago. Things must evolve or they erode. Despite our efforts to stay the same, nothing does. So easy it is to judge the Church and our government for holding tight to the status quo, yet we resist our own transformation.
We do this because it feels like we are relinquishing a perceived power that comes from familiarity. Shit hits the fan as we transform, yes, and we may find ourselves feeling like newly freed slaves recalling the “comforts” of old, the sting of the whip and the hunger for freedom a distant memory in the face of the unknown.
Our ego says “everything is fine, you don’t need to do this right now.” It tells us, “I know what’s good for you. Stop being silly and fall in line! And here’s why…” And the reasons are persuasive, and they feel incredibly legit. Who needs a new slave master when our egos take over? For those ready to step into their next most radiant Self, they know that those reasons are mere excuses that emerge to test the will.
Waking up — and keeping up — changes that. It quiets the noise so that you can hear your personal Truth, or Sat Nam. When you stay tapped into your Truth, it nags at you to move forward differently: to lead the way of your own life and not be led by others; to find community that will balance out the external noise that supports the tantrums of the ego; to allow yourself to indulge in tools that heal the psyche; to find ways to delve deeper through study, and to surround yourself with teachers of all kinds to hold vision for your elevation as well as to hold you accountable. Those teachers may poke and prod at you, to push you out of your comfort zone, to crack through the ego and into your truth, which knows that you are greater than you ever thought. And why not? Ego pokes at you all day, and so does society, instead telling you in many ways how you are not enough; and they work to keep you in your sleepy comfort zone.
Meditate on Sat Nam. Meditate and dwell in your own silence. Meditation brings you back into your own power because it connects you back to your God essence. And no, you don’t change. You are still you're essence. You’ve just now woken up to it.
It is said that our search for romantic love, for material wealth and happiness comes from an innate but misguided desire to find connection with God, our eternal Self. Instead of turning within, we look outside of us to find that sense of wholeness. As if someone else, or something else can make us whole.
In our day to day life, we are pulled into different directions, and we struggle to find meaning in them. Under stress, and the experience of scarcity, we scramble to prioritize what is most important. When we are having this sort of discussion with friends over tea or wine, we know what they are. Our actions say otherwise. We don't want to disappoint. We don't want to say "no." Not to others. But to ourselves, we say "no," or "later" regularly.
Committing to another person, to work, to exercise, these things are important, and they define us to others. We are reliable and trustworthy. These commitments can reward us with companionship, reputation, wealth, a sense of accomplishment and good health. Still, these are external. We commit to these things for ourselves, yes, and yet they are so intricately tied to our desire to be accepted through the eyes of our public and to our parents. The fragility of which is experienced when one part of it, or all of it, crumbles.
There is another level of commitment, and that is a commitment to Self. This is a very different thing, and it feels quite different. It requires one to quiet the noise, both internal and external. It requires one to manage the ego and conquer the mind. It requires a complete surrender to one's true desire for excellence and alignment to one's truth. It requires overcoming external forces and setting healthy boundaries with oneself and with others. It requires being okay when others don't understand you. This path can feel lonely. Yet it takes away loneliness, even when alone. But one never really is on this path. The fear and anticipation of it is real, however. It develops courage and grit. It connects us strongly to our own values, our intentions and our actions. It makes us real human BE-ings.
One "easy" way to develop this is to do a 90, 120 or 1000 day kriya or meditation. 40 days is still short enough where the end is in sight, and we don't mind so much starting over again if we "have to" miss a day. The longer times are long enough that our relationship to our commitment becomes like brushing teeth. We don't ask ourselves, "how many days in a row have I brushed my teeth, and how many more do I have?" It simply becomes a part of the daily doing. It is a personal hygiene one would not consider skipping. Well, maybe one does from time to time, but then one ends up doing it because it's gross not to. Commitment to self is spiritual hygiene. It can feel gross to skip. If you have ever had a regular sadhana practice and have had opportunity to skip it from time to time, you might understand what I am talking about. Also, this is different from exercise. It becomes inconvenient for others, and there is no external force that technically gets why you are doing it. Other than your spiritual community. Connecting with them becomes wise and necessary. That is another benefit: learning to stay connected with your spiritual tribe from which to pull inspiration and strength. Them, you don't have to fight.
So it's time for me to do another one. I am doing the Sat Kriya again. I did it once for 31 minutes for 1000 days. This time it will be for 22 minutes for 120 days. And maybe I'll keep going. There are 10 others so far that will be joining me (including my awesome business partner and friend!), and I start this on Thursday, June 9. If you would like to join us, please let us know. This link goes to both me and my business partner, Jodh. We'd love to keep you in our thoughts as we do our practice. Let us know how long. It can be as little as 3 minutes and as long as 61 minutes. Please keep in mind that however long you decide to do the kriya, you will need to add at least the same amount of time for savasana (aka corpse pose, or lying on your back). The ideal time for savasana is twice the time. An 11 minute Sat Kriya calls for 22 minutes of savasana (ideal) or 11 minutes minimum. If you are doing 3 minutes of Sat Kriya, then you can probably find time for 6 minutes of savasana. For those that are not familiar with the 40, 60, 90, 120, 1000 day commitment: if you miss a day, you start over again at Day 1.
I asked my teacher who helped me choose this for my 1000 day many years ago, "What if an emergency comes up and my child is in the hospital? or I become very ill? or get into an accident on my way home to do the kriya?"
His answer: "Then you won't know what it's like to do it for 1000 days straight."
If you are unsure of how it's done, or want to know the benefits of the Sat Kriya, please see below our Urban Practice video w/ Jodh Kaur, which explains what it is followed by Jodh doing 11 minutes of Sat Kriya. If you would like to commit to 11 minutes and practice it with her daily, click the next video that starts it to 6:01. Just remember to tune in with "Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo" three times.
Sat Kriya 11 minutes with instructions
The Age of Aquarius is bringing unexpected changes so we should develop our strength and our talent and our IQ and our intelligence and our consciousness to face it gracefully. - Yogi Bhajan
The times, it's crazy. This election process is a mammoth mirror, reflecting the confusion and turmoil that we are experiencing as a society and as individuals.
There is division and there is union. There is deception and there is transparency. There is despair and there is hope. There is fear, and there is love. And all of this is happening inside of us.
It may be important to note that what we don't like may not be as dangerous as the war onwhat we don't like. This does not mean that we accept the unacceptable. It does mean, however, that we need to take extra care not to become the unacceptable. First, recognize that the other person is you.
When I get pulled into the craziness, I find the need to pull back into my own space and ask myself, who am I? Where is this anger, or disdain, coming from? Am I healing or fueling that source? Is it making me more compassionate or self-righteous towards others?
Wanting change is more than okay. The question is, at what cost. I think of the character Annikan Skywalker from Star Wars who became the very thing that he fought against. When I judge (and I admit I am capable of judging fiercely) I know that I have touched on a hunger inside myself. I pray that I have the strength to take care of my hunger first before I let the beast ooze out of me, blind-sighting those around me.
This election pushes many to a more primitive place. The bright side is that anger and hope can awaken us to create a better process together. Where we go with this awakening, and how we relate to it, will tell the rest of the story.
Fear can lead to the dark side. Fall into it, and it leads to anger. Fall into anger, and it leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering...
...no matter who is in office. -inspired by Yoda
Global 40 Day Meditation
4th Sutra of the Aquarian Age:
Understand Through Compassion or You Will Misunderstand the Times
3HO in partnership with Spirit Voyage is leading a 40 Day Global Sadhana starting Monday, May 16 (and ending June 24) dedicated to Compassion. Even if you are getting this after the 16th, start today. Here is the meditation. Or go straight to the instructional video(left). Don't need the instructions? Play the video on the right to go straight to the meditation.
Summer is coming. It is a season for celebrating life, enjoying the Sun, connecting with nature, and hopefully for those with school aged kids, enjoying a more relaxed schedule. It is a time to tap into the Sun's energy, which gifts us with vitality and an increased sense of joy and wellness. We feel stronger, more alive and ready to play.
Not to step on the Summer buzz, but it is a short one in Chicago. The cooling weather and winds of Fall, and the challenges of Winter come before we know it. As light gets shorter, we are slowly asked to turn inward and tap into our inner light, our inner Sun, and find our strength and sense of wellness from inside.
Easier to do when we have built up the reserves to do so. Else we feel tired, slave to seasonal affective disorder, and a challenged immune system. Aside from the picnics, outdoor runs and bike rides, summer is also a time when the farmers get busy. And squirrels squirrel away acorns. The more they cultivate and store away, the easier the winter months. Same with yoga.
Kundalini Yoga will deepen those reserves for you. They strengthen the nervous system, balance the glandular system, and they develop the mind and body in a way that better serves you. When the cold weather comes, it takes much less work to tap into the Sun energy that now radiates powerfully inside of us.
We challenge you to continue to practice regularly, even for just a couple of times a week. And what's amazing is that this intentional practice keeps everything else more mindful. Like eating. Summer can be a crazy time for that with the ice creams and barbecues. Enjoy what summer brings! And take advantage of the space that summer has to offer that prepares us for the next season.
Increasingly, we hear about injuries from doing yoga. Yoga schools are steadily pumping out new teachers who have, ahead of them, much experience to gain and seldom with opportunity to shadow a senior teacher. Then there are the really large classes where the teacher can not possibly oversee every student, and though this is not what yoga is all about, we start to compete, or compare ourselves, with others in the room. We become more focused on what is going on outside of us than in, which can lead to injury.
For this reason, it is that much more important to use that class to do what yoga asks us to do: go inward and connect with our breath and our body.
It is not time to look around to see how we compare to the person next to us or to attempt the poses without minding what our body has to say about them. Yoga is an invitation to be more proactive and inward-focused than that.
Learn to love yourself.
Step one: understand that what you pay attention to is what you love. Pay full attention to yourself while you are on the mat. It can be difficult, yes, but as Yogi Bhajan said, fake it 'til you make it.
This means connect with your breath and body. Either the breath will follow mind and body (which is autonomic), or the mind and body will follow the breath (which requires attention). Develop the latter, making the breath full, expansive and complete.
Step two: understand that the instructor is there to show you the ideal (and sometimes his or her ideal) and that there is the real, which refers to your current capacities and limitations.
Your real is what you want to pay attention to with loving kindness. These limitations can be physical or mental, and they can change from day to day. The goal is not to perfectly mimic the instructor or the student next to you but to pay attention to your own real.
Challenge yourself towards the ideal, where you will find yourself slightly outside your comfort zone. At the same time, honor yourself to know how far beyond that point you can go. Overwhelm invites injury. Often, this line between challenge and honor can be invisible to the instructor and can take you too far if you let her.
Step three: be totally okay with where you are today. Move at the pace that is right for your body. Only you will truly know what that pace is. The instructor is there to challenge and encourage you to go further. This does not mean she knows your story.
Step four: know that yoga is a continuous practice in delving deeper. Continue to find that evolving line between challenging yourself and honoring where you are. Cultivate self-awareness through the breath, and in time, it will become stronger and more instinctual, and the communication lines between the body, mind and spirit more spontaneous and aligned.
In the end, while the instructor serves to guide and inspire, it is up to you to gain ready access to your inner teacher.
May the Pure Light within you guide your way on. Sat Nam.
Love Yourself First
You can only give what you have inside of you. And, it’s how you can be with others without risk of getting lost.
Date Yourself First
Looking for someone to make you whole? That’s quite a responsibility to put on someone else. Can you imagine if you were encumbered with that same task?
Imagine two whole individuals coming together. No more co-dependence.
What would that sort of interdependent play look like?
Date yourself first. See how you can make yourself happy. If you can’t do that, how could you expect others to make you happy?
Find a way.
And when you finally do, expectations melt as healthy boundaries emerge. Attachments soften as commitments strengthen. And you begin to see the light in others— one that is constant. Because you’ve seen the light in you.
Below is a fantastic mantra meditation to chant to: Beautiful Am I by Aykanna.
Beautiful Am I, Bountiful Am I, Blissful Am I.... Wahe Guru!
“I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me, 'I love you.' ... There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” ― Maya Angelou
“When you assume your worth, you will value others more.” --Danielle LaPorte
Historically, (and subconsciously), I chose to work and hang with people who eventually let me down in one way or another. They didn’t show up on time. They didn’t do what they said they would do. They were loose with their words. And they were full of excuses.
When I consciously decided to choose people who did show up, who stood behind their words, and who took responsibility… who, by the way, also seemed to have luck on their side… I realized that it would mean that I, too, would have to show up, be impeccable with my word and take responsibility. While we might like to see ourselves as having these qualities, we know there is a lot more work to do. And rising to this level can feel very scary, perhaps because most people are more afraid of success than failure. Something to do with deserving great things for ourselves…
So something holds us back, causing us to be late, to break our commitments and to tell someone we will get together and not follow up.
And in those moments where we feel somewhat elevated picking out faults in others, the truth is, we are projecting our own feelings of self-worth, or lack of.
To love ourselves enough to be kind, reliable and constant is assuming our worth. Living by your own inner compass without apology and with compassion and respect for others, no matter where they are on their journey, is assuming our worth.
Don't be the naked person offering a shirt. We all have some work to do, and as they say, it's an inside job. What, then, of our external world? As we transform, it will transform itself on its own.
I once worked with a macrobiotic chef whose clients were cancer patients. His main job was to alkalize their bodies, he said, for disease cannot live in an alkaline body. Still, he said that if his clients’ first meal from him was an alkalizing meal in its most ideal form for a cancer patient, most would probably spit it out on the first bite and show him the door. Not that his food was bad or lacked flavor, but a “toxic” tongue can experience a mild flavor like spinach as quite bitter.
To achieve some success with his clients, he drew from his French culinary training to meet their palates where they were and made slow adjustments appropriate to each client so that the experiential difference wasn’t so shocking and unpalatable.
One could say he was not following them because he wasn’t making more alkaline meals. One could say he’s catering to his clients at the expense of staying true to what he was taught, that he ought to hold the integrity of his training as macrobiotic chef and serve them what he was trained and hired to create-- the more ideal, alkaline meal.
I’m not sure how many clients he would have successfully served, but he would have been following rules.
The danger with the most enthusiastic of teachers and practitioners (of whatever discipline) is that, in their attempts to deliver “the right experience” to another human being, they sometimes lose sight of the other human being. The end result is a let down for both sides.
For Kundalini Yoga practitioners, kundalini yoga is the discipline. The “French culinary training” would be the life experience that is unique to each of us that brings to our yoga instruction the special ingredient that makes our own practice unique.* Each of us have it, and once we know what it is and can teach or practice from that place, the easier it becomes to fully own and radiate it. (*To be clear, it’s not the crap in our life that we bring to our yoga that makes us unique; it’s the crap we’ve worked through through our practice that is our magic.)
The ultimate goal of yoga is to find Love. Attention. Connection. Joy. Alignment. It is not to have followed the rules and done it right.
If a person is finding that connection at the very moment that another person might say, “you’re doing it wrong”...
...is it wrong?
Will we discount her experience because she didn't tune in?
Meet the practice where you are. Challenge yourself to move from there to somewhere slightly outside your comfort zone to increase capacity for more; you know best where that place is when you are being honest with yourself. Be careful not to take the teachings too literally. Teachings are guides- gifts from the heavens to give us infrastructure around which we may dance. Sometimes we need to color outside the lines. Sometimes we know to stay inside the lines because we know the lines are taking good care of us. Sometimes we need to turn the page over, visit the other side of the coin, and create something else from it. We can decide that this is “blasphemy”. Or we can celebrate the different points in each of our paths and trust in Grace.
The key components of getting the most out of yoga:
A totally different experience from following our reactionary minds that attempt to protect us from fear and lack (rather than harnessing it). When we stop over-protecting and open ourselves to this sort of sacred play, rules are guaranteed to be broken somewhere, and people will get mad, but you will not disappoint yourself.
Kundalini Yoga Quotes:
“I’d never felt anything like it; it was just an opening of energy and a feeling of such liberation.” -Marika Bethel, owner, Glowing House