Over 10 years ago, I faced a devastating diagnosis: Breast Cancer. My disease forced me to undergo surgery and radiation; it also forced me to confront deep fear. That’s when I learned the Kundalini mantra Sa Ta Na Ma.
At the time, I had never heard of Kundalini Yoga, but I was practicing Vinyasa at a studio near my home, and I found that yoga was helping immensely with my ability to face this challenging and frightening time in my life.
Out of the goodness of her heart, the owner of the studio, came to my house the day before my breast cancer surgery to lead me through a visual imagery meditation in preparation for my operation. But just before she left that day she turned to me at the door and took my hand. “Say these sounds--Sa Ta Na Ma -- pressing your fingers like so,” she instructed, “every time you are afraid. This will help to calm you.” As luck would have it, she had recently been introduced to the mantra at a Radiant Child Yoga training (Kundalini Yoga for Kids), and she showed me how to press thumbs and forefingers as I said Sa, thumbs and middle fingers as I said Ta, thumbs and ring fingers as I said Na, and thumbs and pinkies as I said Ma.
This was a moment of grace because the mantra became my refuge. Although I didn’t know what the sounds meant yet, I took her at her word. As I lay on an examining table awaiting my surgery, I pressed my fingers together and silently chanted. As I went for radiation treatments, firmly secured in an immobilization device called a “mold,” unable to move even a fraction of an inch, I silently chanted the mantra. As I waited for test results, as I tried to fall asleep at night, as I woke up in the morning filled with fear for my future, I chanted the mantra. Somehow, I got through it all—thankfully, with the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma as my comforting guide.
The mantra Sa Ta Na Ma represents the creation cycle: Infinity, Life, Transformation, Rebirth. Some of you may know it from Kirtan Kriya, a popular Kundalini meditation which balances the hemispheres of the brain, and has been studied by scientists for its role in guarding against Alzheimer’s Disease. Sa Ta Na Ma can also be chanted to bring a sense of calm and peace. In fact, that’s exactly what it did for me.
Many years have passed since my diagnosis and I’m now cancer-free. I’m also a Kundalini Yoga teacher, and Sa Ta Na Ma is still my go-to mantra. I use it when I am worried about my sons, when I’m traveling, when the future looks dim or hopeless. I use it when the news is bad, when I can’t see the light, when everything seems topsy-turvy, whether in my personal life, or in the universe. I use it whenever I feel unbalanced or afraid—not just in dire circumstances, such as facing down cancer-- but to bring ease to the everyday challenges of living in these times.
Touching the tips of the fingers to the thumbs while chanting is said to light up and balance parts of the the brain, but I’ve also found that it balances the heart and restores a sense of trust.
Before I found yoga, I was a skeptic, a doubter, and chanting mantra was something I never even considered doing. Back then, life seemed random, unpredictable, and often quite scary. I questioned everything, including my own beliefs. But cancer led me to search more deeply, and yoga helped me to find my center.
“To believe,” my very first yoga teacher told me, “all you have to do is look up at the sky.” Whenever I doubted, her advice was the same: “Trust. Believe.”
Whatever else it may do or mean, for me, Sa Ta Na Ma will always be a mantra of trust. There is a cycle of life we can count on, and all is as it should be: Infinity, Life, Transformation, Rebirth. Sa Ta Na Ma brings balance to my brain, my heart, and my life.
Trust. Believe. Look up at the sky. And chant Sa Ta Na Ma.
Kathy (Harjot Kaur) has been practicing yoga for more than a decade and completed her Level 1 (200 hr) teacher training with Gurudass Kaur Khalsa. She began practicing Kundalini yoga six years ago; a breast cancer survivor, she found it to be a wellspring of courage, trust and joy. The author of the memoir Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman’s Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace, Kathryn blogs frequently for the Kundalini yoga music website SpiritVoyage.com. Her spiritual name, Harjot, means “light of the creative Divine.” Kathy is excited to share her light and love with her students at Montclair Kundalini Yoga; she strongly believes that Kundalini yoga is for everybody and every body: There is something for everyone on this uplifting, heart-centered path. She is also a practitioner of Iyengar and Vinyasa yoga and is deeply grateful to all her teachers. Join Kathy on Thursday mornings for Kundalini Yoga & Meditation. She plays the gong for relaxation. Here's what one of her students had to say about her awesome classes: "Harjot is one of the kindest, most knowledgable, and fun-loving kundalini yoga teachers I have ever had. I started attending her classes almost two years ago; and, in that time, I have noticed significant shifts in how I live my life. Something major that has changed in me, which I most certainly was not expecting, is that I am now so much more comfortable DANCING! At parties, in my living room, on the street... through the compassion she radiates as a teacher, Kathy has helped me open up to joy inside of myself and let go of whatever shame and insecurity was holding me back from letting that inner joy out of me. I think the capacity to help someone feel completely unashamed of who they are is a true mark of someone who has been touched by Grace. I am so grateful to be her student." - Jacob, Parsippany
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily (Arvind Dev Kaur) and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.