Yogi Bhajan taught that happiness is our birthright and our natural state of being. The problem is that sometimes life disrupts that natural state or our own minds run amok with stress and suffering. With Kundalini Yoga, we can reconnect to our innate joy. For me, my primary happiness equation is Kundalini + Dedication to Practice = Happiness.
I've now been practicing Kundalini Yoga for more than two decades. In that time, some difficult, unhappy things have happened. Nevertheless, I've been able to move through the challenges and reconnect to happiness, even in midst of sadness. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not.
Some things on this human path are hard, unfair, maddening, tragic, but when we have a practice in which we relate to our soul, our connection to Source, the hard stuff comes into perspective and come what may, we can live our birthright.
In this blog, I've highlighted 5 aspects of the practice that unlock joy: breath of fire, dynamic movement, meditation, connecting to the authentic self, and chanting. With each, I've offered a way for you to try it on your own. See how it all adds up to happiness. Enjoy!!!!!!! In joy!!!!!!! Return to joy!!!!!! You are joy!!!!
Happy Breath. Breath of fire is one of the foundational breath techniques of Kundalini Yoga. If you've practiced breath of fire, you know that it delivers a nice, buzzy feeling in the body. For me, it provides instant relief in the mind because its rhythm and sound take over and everything else recedes. The equation is simple: Buzzy Body + Relaxed Mind = Happiness.
TRY IT: Breath of fire is a quick, rhythmic breath through the nose with an equal inhale and exhale. On the inhale, the belly expands a bit. On the exhale, the belly contracts. Ideally, you'll breathe at a rate of 2-3 breaths per second. If you are just beginning to learn, you can start slow and begin to pick up the pace as the navel action becomes natural. So, sit tall in a chair or cross-legged on the floor and try for 1-3 minutes. Do it everyday. You'll be HAPPY you did. Note: if you are pregnant or menstruating, do not practice breath of fire. If you become light-headed, stop, take some long deep breaths and start again when you feel better, focusing on an even inhale and exhale.
Happy Energy. In Kundalini Yoga, there is often an emphasis on dynamic movement. We do this because we want to get the energy flowing, the blood circulating, the spinal fluid moving. When we feel this pulsing aliveness in our bodies, we feel good. So too, through dynamic movement matched with the breath, we can move through old patterns of tension, pockets of emotional blockage, and stagnation in the body. We are also focused on raising the Kundalini Energy. Kundalini is so much: it is vitality; it is soul energy; it is awareness; it is our potential. Most of the time for most of us the Kundalini energy lies dormant at the base of the spine. We move to awaken it; to clear the pathway for it. Here's the energy equation: Pulsing Aliveness - Blocks + Awakened Kundalini = Happiness.
TRY IT: Cat-Cow is a great movement for the spine. Begin on the hands and knees, hands shoulder-width apart and knees directly under the hips. Inhale and tilt the pelvis forward, arching the spine down and lifting the head. This is the cow position. Think udders hanging down. Exhale and push the mat away and curve the spine like a mad cat, allowing the head and neck to relax down. Continue this movement for 2 minutes, moving rapidly. Do this everyday. You'll be HAPPY you did.
Happy Meditations. The mind isn't always our friend. We can make ourselves unhappy and suffer if we allow the stream of thoughts to overtake our experience. That's where meditation comes in. The meditations in Kundalini Yoga have specific intentions. We have a meditation to release anger, to calm the heart, to increase cognitive function, to relieve stress, to reclaim happiness, and many, many others. Regardless of the intention though, meditating daily and addressing the mental storms through meditation, will help you be happier. Meditation helps you cultivate a different relationship to your thoughts, so your thoughts don't own you, don't define you. When your thoughts don't own you, you realize you don't have to suffer with them. When you suffer less, you are happier. The meditation equation (maybe the most important one) is: One Meditation Per Day = Happiness .
TRY IT: There is a beautiful practice called Meditation to Reclaim Your Happiness. Don't you love that? We are reclaiming, rather than building, happiness because happiness is our natural state. If you'd like to give this practice a try, you can go to this video with Sirgun Kaur, Kundalini Yoga teacher and devotional artist. Try this meditation everyday and do this same meditation everyday for 40 days. You'll get the full benefits that way and RECLAIM YOUR HAPPINESS.
Happy Authenticity. One of our primary focuses in Kundalini Yoga is on the authentic self. Through the practice, we shed the baggage, peel back the layers of falsehoods in order to connect to our truth. How do we do that? One way we approach it is through the repetition of the mantra sat nam, which means Truth is my identity. Repeating sat nam to ourselves creates a focus on and a resonance with Truth. We thread this mantra throughout our practice and it becomes a ritual reminder to drop the masks, forget the expectations of others, and be our truest selves. In my mind, that is the path of happiness. If we are trying to live anything but our true purpose, what is aligned with our soul, we create inner turmoil. If we align, we lift that turmoil and bring ease and joy. Here's the equation: Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam + Sat Nam = Happiness
TRY IT: Repeat Sat Nam. You can do this anywhere any time. Inhale and silently repeat the sound sat (rhymes with hut); exhale repeat the sound nam (rhymes with mom). Continue as long as you like and when you're done, say to yourself, "I am in my Truth." Do this every day, several times a day. You'll be HAPPY you did.
Happy Mantras. Mantras and beautiful music remind us of the magic of the universe. Each and every mantra in the Kundalini Yoga tradition is a reinforcement of the fact that we are part of something larger than our finite selves, that the Universe supports us. Here are just a few examples:
In chanting mantras, we embody their messages. When we chant in the sacred language of Gurmukhi (not our first language), we bypass the intellect and inscribe the sound and meaning in our hearts. Besides, just the beauty of it is uplifting. This is the simplest equation of all:
Chanting = Happiness.
TRY IT: Chant. Here's a link to a sample playlist of songs with the above mentioned mantras. You can also search for each mantra on Youtube and find wonderful versions. Listen. Learn them and, most importantly, chant along.
For many years, I let my ego run the show. I thought I was entitled to things just because of who I was. I was a legend in my own mind. I lived a lifestyle that was way beyond my means.
Then, the universe gave me the wake up call I needed. Everything fell apart. I had to sell my business. I had to scale back on everything. The legend was dead.
I went into a very dark period for many years afterward. (Some of you know my story.) After hitting rock bottom and then some, I turned it around. I faced who I really was. I went for therapy and got well. I was happy again.
Then, I found Kundalini Yoga. As I grew in my practice and became a Kundalini Yoga teacher, I received the gift of feeling "I am who I am, and that's alright" (as I wrote about in my previous blog, "The Gift").
As I've continued to grow and evolve with this practice, I feel something even deeper and stronger. I feel the truth of the mantra Ang Sang Wahe Guru. Ang Sang Wahe Guru means the dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of all is dancing within every cell of my body.
I now know that the Infinite is with me at all times. It took me a while to understand and accept this. But when I did accept it, it made a huge impact on my happiness. I know I can overcome anything by trusting my intuition and knowing that I carry the divine light inside me.
Everything we need is already within. It’s as if there's a signal from a radio station that is always being broadcast. We just need to tune into it.
One way to tune into it is with Ang Sang Wahe Guru. This mantra eliminates haunting thoughts. Under the pressure of fear, it helps us stay conscious and ready to act. It brings the inner peace of knowing that the Infinite Being is with me and vibrates in every molecule of my being.
So I say to you, Trust the Infinite within. When it’s a grey, cloudy day, you know that the sun is still there. You can’t feel the heat on your skin and you can’t see the brightness, but you know it’s there. The same is true for your heart. On your cloudiest day, you must know that you have God in your heart, and the divine will see you through.
Enjoy this version of Ang Sang Wahe Guru from GuruGanesha Band.
I want to share one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received: Lower your standards.
Not everyone agrees with this advice because it sounds, on its surface, like a road to mediocrity, but I believe that it's a road to steadiness.
The advice comes from poet William E. Stafford (1914-1993) who famously woke up everyday at 4am and wrote a poem. One poem every day before his family woke up.
How was that possible? The poet e.e. cummings said that a writer could spend 25 years on one line of one poem, and we know that writers agonize over their words and can be reluctant to call anything complete.
When Stafford was asked how in the world he writes a full poem every day in the space of a couple of hours, he replied, "It's easy. I lower my standards."
What I took this to mean is not that he didn't go back and revise ever but that he wouldn't let perfectionism stop him. He wrote a poem to an end in the allotted time every day.
The advice -- lower your standards -- applies to so many things in life (my favorite application is house cleaning), but I think it applies especially well to meditation. From one day to the next, we don't know how our meditation is going to be. One day it could be full of distracting thoughts. The next day, it could be very peaceful. We could feel a darkness pervading one day and showered with light another. In all scenarios, we are meditating and more importantly developing the habit of meditating. In all scenarios, we are showing up for the deep work of connecting to our inner wisdom and however messy it is in the mind, I believe our souls take notice.
So please don't let perfectionism stop you. Please drop your expectations of how meditation should be. You closed your eyes; you went within; you sat for the allotted time... you meditated.
It's not about having a perfect experience or blissing out, it's about showing up and moving through it. If we can liberate ourselves from perfectionism and keep showing up, we can be steady in our practice. And steadiness is the most important thing, providing the container for the wisdom to pour through, the insight to burst forth, the peace to rise to the surface day after day. That's what Stafford did with his writing practice.
Lower your standards and let the soul respond. If Stafford's body of work is any indication, it will. You can read one of my favorite of his poems below.
I know that some people avoid meditation because they think they can't do it or they won't get it right. If that describes you, I pray you will lower your standards because the rewards of doing so are many.
First from Cate: I got home, and I began to reach for comfort in the form of popcorn and mindless TV. This was a habit that did not serve me. (Please understand that I don't think there's anything wrong or bad about watching TV or eating popcorn, but, for me, it had become an out-of-alignment habit and unskillful way to seek relief.) But this night was different. I was returning home after a Sacred Cacao Ceremony with Shamanic Energy Medicine Practitioner Hyacinth Mills. It had been a blissful and profound experience, but nevertheless I got home and began to go back to my habitual pattern: sit on the couch at the end of the day, eat popcorn, and watch TV. I say "began to" because what happened was my body and soul said, No. Without the force of will, something within me revolted against the idea. It was as if I'd been purified by the cacao and all the patterning that led me to seek the couch in this way fell away. I couldn't do it.
As we prepare for the next cacao ceremony at MKY on Sunday, May 19th, I reached out to Hyacinth to tell her about my experience and to ask her if it was typical of what people can expect. The following is how Hyacinth responded to my question. Read her beautiful words about the power of cacao.
Now from Hyacinth:
Cacao is a medicine of and for the heart.
It gently allows you to peel back the layers to be able to witness, process and release what you have been holding onto, whether its limiting beliefs, behaviors, thoughts, emotions, actions or a mindset that isn't based in truth and love.
We all have a story or things that we tell ourselves are true. When you are able to see those stories and behaviors for what they really are, not who you really are, through the sacred spiritual practice of a Cacao Ceremony, you are able to dream a bigger dream for yourself and for your life.
Old patterns fall away, creativity and inspiration is enhanced and healing happens, often in ways you never imagined possible. It's not just a mindset, it's an energetic shift that you can actually feel over time and it begins with the first ceremony.
Cacao is a beautiful complement to yoga and other mind-body healing practices. It works on a physical level, allowing more prana or life force to flow through your body and to your heart, clearing emotional blockages and tension.
It works the energy body releasing trauma and energetic imprints and also the mental body through neurotransmitter activation and production of Serotonin, the feel good hormone, Dopamine the de-stressor/relaxant, Anandamide known as the bliss (Ananda) chemical, and so much more.
Cacao is known as Food of the Gods for a good reason.
There is so much to say but it is so much better to come and experience this sacred medicine ceremony.
Plants are pretty powerful beings and have so much to share. I believe we need them now more than ever which is why I love to share the magic and mystery of the true meaning of Chocolate through Cacao Ceremonies.
Join Hyacinth on Sunday, May 19 from 3-6pm for Sacred Cacao Ceremony & Shamanic Sound Journey.
Right NOW -- this weekend -- is a great time to make a positive change. It will be the New Moon in Taurus. As we learn in the teachings of Kundalini Yoga, the New Moon is always a powerful time to set a new intention. With this New Moon, the energy of Taurus supports lasting change. You can think of yourself as the bull -- determined and grounded in strength and confidence.
Are you thinking of making a change? Do you want to eat better? Move more? Wake earlier? Drop a bad habit? Shed a self-limiting or hurtful thought? Then, let's start NOW. If you've been considering a positive lifestyle change, start NOW. Give yourself every advantage.
I've put together a list of 10 tips (which includes seizing the opportunity of the New Moon in Taurus) for giving yourself the advantage and anticipating and helping yourself through some of the challenges of change because change can be tricky. Before I get to the tips, let's look at why it isn't always easy to step into new good habits.
No matter how much we want to step into a positive future full of good habits, our old patterning may threaten to overpower our positive intentions. Old patterning gets in the way in the form of discomfort. For example, you can imagine that you may feel off if...
In addition to the old patterns, we also have the constant chatter in our minds that can knock us off course. At times, many of us are flooded with unhelpful and distracting thoughts. Our minds can throw us off track. For example...
Kundalini Yoga has a plethora of techniques for overcoming the tricks of the mind and the entrenchment in old patterns. I've put together a list of them below with a couple other things thrown in. Pick the tips that appeal to you; pick the ones that you feel will nourish you and carry you through. But, for goodness' sake, support yourself. Spoil yourself with support! You deserve it!
Don't know who Syd is? Well, he's this super chipper Buddha who believes in you, believes in your vision and your ability to change. You can tell that he's saying, "You've got this. I love you." At MKY, we have a special connection to Syd because his creator is our dear friend and student, Ellen Atkins, aka the Suburban Monk. We are a proud Suburban Monk affiliate. You can click here to see all 14 colors of Little Syd, meet Big Syd, find out a little bit of how he came to be, and purchase a Syd for yourself and for your change.
I hope these ideas serve you as you move closer and closer to a vision of your life that is the most expansive and joyful and aligned. Happy New Moon! Happy Change!
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.