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
I made a mistake. I spelled a word wrong on a brochure I created, and I missed it. It got paid for and printed. It gets worse. The word was KUNDALINI, a word which as a Kundalini Yoga teacher and studio co-owner, you can imagine I type often and am expected to know how to spell. And it gets worse still... it really mattered because where I misspelled the word was IN OUR URL (www.montclairkundaliniyoga.com). When I opened the package of brochures and saw that glaring error, the first word that came to my mind was stupid.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. How could I miss that?
And stupid could have been on repeat and become my mantra for the day and put me in a I-ruin-everything-kind-of-funk. But then, I reached out to my friend Andy. I reached out to share my despair, but luckily he helped me shift my perspective right away.
First, he saw a simple solution that I couldn't see because I was too blinded by stupid, stupid stupid. We could print stickers with the correct URL and not have to scrap the brochures and pay for new ones. Then, he shared with me something he learned from his study of the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. (If you don't know the book, it contains a code of conduct that can lead to transformation, happiness, and freedom.) Andy explained that the First Agreement -- Be Impeccable with your Word -- refers to not only what we say to others but also how we talk to ourselves. He said I should embrace my failures rather than judge myself.
In his book, Ruiz explains that the mind is fertile ground, so we have to be careful, impeccable about the seeds we plant there. If someone calls us stupid or we call ourselves stupid, that opinion can take root and grow and infect our whole lives. The author gives an example of a mom who came home from work tired with a headache and found her daughter full of exuberance and singing. The singing became loud and the mom's head hurt more, so she snapped and told her child to stop because she had an ugly voice. That little girl never sang again.
I would venture to guess that we all can trace back to harsh words spoken to us in our childhoods that made us constrict in some way because we believed them. We believed them, repeated them, relived them, and then reinforced the "truth" of them for years and years and years.
To put it in a Kundalini context, we all have mantras, words that we repeat to ourselves. They can be negative -- stupid, ugly, lazy. They can be positive -- smart, beautiful, strong. Or they can be sacred -- Sat Nam, Ang Sang Wahe Guru, Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad.
Sat Nam - Truth is my Identity
Ang Sang Wahe Guru - The Great Infinite Wisdom vibrates in every cell of my being
Ek Ong Kar Sat Gur Prasad - The Creator and Creation are one, the Truth of this is the Guru's gift.
Now those are impeccable words. I think the more we plant sacred seeds the more the negative "weeds" that have taken root get crowded out. I obviously still have some work to do because stupid bloomed pretty quickly and took over.
This is the work I emphasize a lot when I teach, shedding the untrue, shedding the layers of conditioning from our upbringing and society that don't fit with the truth of who we are.
When I look at my mistake, I still cringe a little. Fortunately, thanks to my friend, it'll soon be covered up by a sticker and fortunately, I was reminded to be impeccable with my word and talk to myself with compassion.
The moral of the story is to catch the negative self-talk before it takes hold and, when that fails, have a good friend to remind you. May the Truth in you guide you to speak to yourself with self-love, and please, please, please chant some beautiful mantras.
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 and Friday 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.
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily (Arvind Dev Kaur) and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.