My mother used to do this thing when I was upset. She'd wiggle her fingers in my face and say, "Re-laaaaaaaaax. Re-laaaaaaaaax." I HATED it! It had the opposite effect and just enraged me more. One time it infuriated me so much that I kicked a radiator with my bare foot -- thinking, "That'll show her" -- and broke a toe.
In those moments, I obviously did need to relax, but I couldn't choose to. My mind was too chaotic and overrun by emotion to slow down enough to focus on relaxing. And those wiggly fingers were soooooo annoying.
My mom had such wonderful instincts as a parent and raised me with so much compassion, with such great values, and with infinite grace. Misfires were extremely unusual, but this was one of them in my opinion.
Why did "re-laaaaaaax" drive me up-the-wall, over-the-deep-end, and into a radiator?
Because it was a command, a command that negated my feelings. Instead, my mom could have let me say my piece and listened and been a little stealthier at getting me to calm down. She could have slowed her own breathing down, monitored her internal experience, rather than trying to dictate mine.
When you're with someone who's upset, a great gift and a healing is to focus on your own mental state and shift yourself into a relaxed place. If you're stable enough and strong enough in your calm, you influence the upset person surreptitiously. You can set the tone and even the rhythm of breath for the both of you.
I learned this technique in a children's yoga training with yoga teacher and special needs educator Allison Morgan. Allison told us a story about being called into a classroom to evaluate whether a girl (let's call her Jane) with problematic and disruptive behavior could stay in a mainstream classroom. She'd been hearing about Jane for weeks. Jane's teachers were so upset about this "uncontrollable" child. The principal was getting complaints from the parents of other children in the classroom. There was a lot of anxiety around Jane. On the morning that Allison went into the classroom to evaluate Jane, she talked to herself and silently to Jane. She slowed her own breathing down. Allison sat behind Jane as she breathed long and deep and projected thoughts like: "It's okay, Jane. Just be yourself. All you have to do is be yourself. It's okay."
And what happened? Jane worked at her desk quietly and did not cause any disruptions. She had never behaved like that before.
Allison explained that this was because of a phenomenon called entrainment, when one's internal rhythm syncs up with an external rhythm. The strength of Allison's focus and intention and the power of her breath calmed Jane down without her even knowing it.
What does this mean? It means we can do so much with our breath.
One day, a woman came to yoga and was clearly stressed. She peered into the studio from the foyer, saw everyone settling in on their mats, and said, "I really shouldn't go in there. I shouldn't be anywhere near here. I'm a ball of anxiety."
"That's what we are here for," I said. "This is exactly where you should be."
I didn't just mean that the teachers are here for her to help her calm down her nervous system and access her breath. I meant all of us, all of the students. After over an hour together, we rub off on each other. Our breaths can sync up. Those who can access a deep breath do, and they do it for all of us.
Off the mat, though, you have to be a little slick about it. If my daughter is having a moment and I shift into an obvious, conscious deep breath-- letting my torso expand and audibly inhaling and exhaling, she's onto me and she's not having it. "Don't do that yoga [expletive deleted] with me!" A big, deep breath can be the equivalent of the wiggly fingers. I have to do it quietly and imperceptibly. There's an art to it because I can't be so calm that I appear blank, either. My daughter wants to feel heard (as I did, as we all do) and know that her anger or agitation matters. I need to outwardly reflect active listening and inwardly calm myself. (P.S. I don't mean to suggest that I always make the right, artful choice. If only... )
I think about the potential of this, such a simple technique, and I get really inspired...
A young woman has just been let go from her job and is hyperventilating in the lobby of the office building. You ask if she's alright, listen to her intently, and most importantly, inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing. A young boy is frantic at the playground unable to find his favorite toy truck. You ask if you can help, listen to him intently, and most importantly, inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing. Your spouse, your child, your sister, your brother,
your mother, your father is angry about a perceived injustice. Very angry. You let him or her know that you understand; you listen intently, and most importantly, you inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing.
We can do this everywhere we go -- schools, offices, restaurants, subways, etc. Imagine. We can breathe deeply for each other. When we breathe long and deep, we are helping to heal the world. (As long as we're slick.)
Cate discovered Kundalini Yoga by accident over 20 years ago and was surprised and thrilled by how engaged, energized, and inspired it made her feel. She's been practicing ever since. In 2008, Cate completed her Level 1 (200 hr) teacher training with Hari Kaur Khalsa of Hari NYC. In 2012, she broadened her knowledge with a very special Holistic Hatha Yoga training (300 hr) with Amy Witmyer of Sacred Space. Kundalini Yoga is her home, her go-to sanctuary, her point of peace and insight. She believes that it is a wonderful tool for busy times and busy minds. Join Cate on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings for Kundalini Yoga & Meditation.
I have received many gifts in my lifetime. Sweaters, coats, jewelry, even a car! Yes, I actually got a car for my 30th birthday. These gifts were all great to receive. But the pleasure didn’t truly last. I wore the clothes and the watches; I drove the car, but those gifts just didn’t bring lasting joy. Recently, I received a gift that resonates through every cell and fiber of my being. It is with me every second of the day, every day.
The gift is not a material thing. I can’t look at it. I can’t wear it, and I can’t drive it. Instead, I live it. It is who I am now.
I undertook a journey three years ago that led me to an “aha" moment. Three years ago, I started my Kundalini Yoga practice. This tradition has changed me in so many ways. I have gotten so much inspiration from the many teachers I have been fortunate to meet and study with.
When I decided to become a teacher, I knew in my gut that it was the right thing to do at that moment of my journey. Little did I know how much it would change me.
For my entire life leading up to my first exposure to Kundalini Yoga, I was someone very different from who I am now. I was a husband, a father, a business person and most important, a people pleaser. There is nothing wrong with filling any of those roles. But over the years, I lost my true self. I lost my Sat Nam.
Many people who come to Montclair Kundalini Yoga know about my passion for the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the principles it's based on are:
Much like Kundalini Yoga, the Four Agreements teaches that we can lose our true selves. We are "domesticated" by our parents, our teachers, our coaches and our business associates. We live a life by doing what we think is expected of us. We don’t trust our own intuition. The book and Kundalini yoga both teach us how to get back to who we really are. The book saved my life and started me on this path of trying to become my real self again.
So here is the real gift: “ I am what I am, and that’s alright.”
To explain, Kundalini yoga has taught me to live from my heart. To be my true self. It took my almost three years of practice and teaching, but this week I finally understood it and, more importantly, I started to live it. I feel so good about who I am now! I am still a husband, a father, a business person, but I am no longer a people pleaser. I live now in integrity with my truth not trying to meet external expectations. I am finally living my true self, my Sat Nam, and it feels better than any material thing.
I listened to this recording of the song, "I Am What I Am" by Aykanna and all of it came together.
Yogi Bhajan says "You owe it to yourself to be yourself." He also says, "Make yourself so happy so that when others look at you they become happy too." Pretty good stuff.
The practice of Kundalini Yoga is so powerful that it can change the world one person at a time.
Some people in my life don’t get it and think what I do is a little crazy. You know what? I don’t care! (Second agreement. Don’t take anything personally.)
So I live my life now knowing I am the essence of truth. I am who I am, and that’s alright.
It is an understatement to say that Andy is very excited to begin his Kundalini Yoga teaching career at Montclair Kundalini Yoga. His journey toward becoming a spiritual teacher began with the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz which offers a philosophical framework for living. The book literally saved his life and brought him joy and happiness. Soon after finding this book, he discovered Kundalini Yoga. He was instantly hooked and began studying and deepening his practice with the guidance of Cate and Savitri at Montclair Kundalini Yoga. Andy likes to say, "When I finished The Four Agreements, the light came back into my life. When I found Kundalini, that light went to technicolor." Andy recently graduated from 200 hour teacher training with Hari Kaur and Dharma Devi. His love of this practice and life is very deep and evident in his presence at the studio. Always learning from the master, Andy posts daily quotes from Yogi Bhajan on the Facebook group he manages, Friends Who Like Montclair Kundalini Yoga. Join him on Monday nights for a FREE Meditation Class, Meditation Mondays and on Thursday nights for Kundalini Yoga & Meditation.
When I first started to train in Reiki, we began by practicing on ourselves. In fact, that's the way we all start out our Reiki 1 Trainings. In the process, we radically detoxify, clear obstacles and transform ourselves into a channel for the pure healing energies. Right away, in those first few months, I felt Reiki working on so many different levels; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual and it enhanced every level of my life.
As I began to work with others, these benefits not only profoundly assisted those I laid my hands upon, but the benefits I personally felt were many times amplified. As stress and tension drained away, an emotional steady state of well-being became my new normal and I never looked back. Even my posture became more aligned, and I began to feel a crystalline mental clarity that I had not felt since the full bloom of youth.
As a kid, I was crazy about everything Japanese and my love of this culture and its treasures reignited powerfully as I synchronized with this ancient Japanese method of healing. The meditative sense of quietude that allows the energy to pour through, harks back to the Zen temples of Kyoto, as well as many of the other high spiritual arts Japan is so well known for. I often sense that I was born to rediscover this beautiful healing art and I am so honored to share it with others.
I continue to learn so much about the mysterious ways the vital and intelligent energy of the Universe wants to rush in joyfully to bring healing, revitalization and balance. It works very precisely, in the perfect way for each particular soul. Every encounter with Reiki leaves me with a feeling of intense gratitude and awe. The healing love light penetrates so deeply, that our lives, our bodies, our feelings and our perspective never fail to shift palpably and in wondrous ways. Each session is an act of loving kindness as the Reiki energy pours through with a love so pure, we know without a doubt that we are the dearly beloved children of the Divine, and that is always life changing.
Savitri's path of right living centers around the spiritual upliftment of each person she encounters. As a Yoga teacher, Savitri brings the potency of over thirty years of spiritual study and practice, including meditation, in-depth study of Tai Chi, Chi Kung and other martial arts, as well as her certified expertise in Kundalini Yoga. Savitri is honored and grateful to have studied with many great yoga teachers. Savitri transmits her passion, joy and commitment to truth through these Raj (royal) yogas, which enliven and empower all who attend her classes, workshops and retreats. More recently, she has become a certified Reiki Master Practitioner. Join Savitri on Wednesday and Friday nights for Kundalini Yoga with Sound Healing and on Saturday mornings for Kundalini Yoga & Meditation and her Reiki Trainings and Healing Circles.
The other day, I sat down to do Reiki on my dog, Star. I began the invocation to call on divine assistance to let the Reiki energy flow through me to my anxious pup, to heal the trauma she experienced before she was rescued. Star was turning around, trying to squeeze her wet nose under my arms, "Pet me, pet me, pet me." And my mind was turning around too, trying to take me out of the moment. My mind didn't want to stay on track. I noticed that and took a deep breath and started again. I felt my hands. "The pulsing is real," I said to myself. "The energy is real." "May I be a conduit for healing energy," and I placed my hands on Squirmywormy-Wigglesworth aka Star, and we both settled.
As we proceeded, I kept needing to recalibrate. I focused on my breath and tuned back into the energy, and a mantra came to me: Aad Such Jugad Such Hai Bhai Such Nanak Hosee Bhai Such. This is the mantra for dissolving blocks. It was curious that this is the one that came to me because it's not one of my go-to mantras. But I repeated it internally because I believe that the mantras that rise to the surface are significant. I may not always know the significance of why one mantra rises to the surface over another, but I believe there is a reason. Maybe Star has blocks to feeling safe and relaxed; maybe I have blocks to letting the energy come through. Or another reason not obvious to me. Nevertheless, mantra kept me present. I relied on the mantra.
I've found that the internal process of delivering Reiki is much the same as the internal process when playing the gong: Tune in and STAY tuned in. When I sit down to play the gong, I must first repeat three mantras to invoke protection and inner guidance. Then as I begin to strike the gong, I try to focus and "unfocus" at the same time. I liken it to the way you look at an optical illusion, unfocusing your eyes so you can see the hidden image. This is concentrating, but it's concentrating on being clear, emptying. More often than not, I rely on mantra to do that, to keep me tuned in. I let a mantra come and repeat it to myself as I play. I rely on mantra.
And, of course, it's the same process as doing yoga. We tune in with Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, and we endeavor to stay tuned in as we practice, inhaling Sat and exhaling Nam. Let me tell you if you think you're the only one whose mind goes in a bunch of different directions all the time even when you're on the mat, you're wrong. It's a constant recalibration, a constant clearing, as it is delivering hands on healing, as it is playing the gong. We rely on Sat Nam.
I believe that mantra is our best recalibration tool, and I am so grateful that I found mantra. In fact, it's a bonafide miracle that I found it because I was NOT looking. When I first stumbled into a Kundalini Yoga class years ago, I did not know what I was getting into. When I heard the mantras, I was completely "weirded out." I fancied myself way too "normal" for mantras. (Little did I know!) Nevertheless, I somehow stayed with it. I stayed with it, but with a "bad" attitude. I told myself that I was only "visiting" the weirdo Kundalini world. It wasn't my world. I wasn't a chanter. The mantras weren't for me. Yet somehow, over time, the mantras melted me and, over time, they came to be my favorite part of the practice. Somehow now, mantras rise to the surface when I need them. Wahe Guru!
The word somehow in my usage above (and maybe always) is synonymous with "By Grace" or "Through Destiny's Momentum." I am here, and sharing the teachings of Kundalini Yoga, particularly the gift of mantra, is my life's work. Wahe Guru!
Today in class, a student said to me that she wished she'd had a practice when she first became a mother. I agreed. When my son was born 18 years ago, I had found Kundalini Yoga, but I wasn't all in. I was still in the "bad" attitude phase. I can get pulled into regret on the years I wasted on resistance. Yes, years. Ten years to be exact that I practiced as a tourist in the spiritual realm.
Then, I wonder if I needed to go through the years of resistance. In those years of half-hearted practice was a lesson. Perhaps I went through all those years, so that I could urge you not to...
Don't waste time thinking you don't belong in a spiritual practice. Don't waste time thinking the mantras aren't for you. They are for you. They are available, accessible, and useful to all of us. They are not religion. They are not weird. They are ancient guidance that resonate on a soul level, guiding us to be present, guiding us to be clear, guiding us to our purpose.
And if you do waste time as I did, know that if you continue with the mantras (with any attitude) they'll eventually penetrate. Inevitably, they will dissolve the walls.
If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be a Kundalini Yoga teacher who belted out mantras and started a blog talking about giving Reiki to a dog, I wouldn't have believed it. Yet, somehow, here I am.
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily (Arvind Dev Kaur) and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.