Kundalini Yoga engages me: the breath work opens me up; the mantras inspire me; the movement enlivens and challenges me; the meditations shift me; the internal, silent repetition of Sat Nam (I am Truth) brings me back to who I am again and again. The engagement is what makes it such a doable practice. If I'm not fully engaged, I'm distracted. If I'm distracted, my thoughts take over -- and that is not what I want in my spiritual practice.
In this series, I explain 5 of the elements that make Kundalini Yoga an all-consuming, enjoyable, beautiful and healing practice. Each ingredient is, on its own, good for you. And together, they are a recipe for physical, mental, spiritual health and happiness.
PART ONE: BENEFICIAL BREATH OF FIRE
Breath of fire is a breath practice that is used throughout Kundalini Yoga. The three things I love most about it are: 1) how practicing it interrupts my churning mind, 2) how I feel a little buzzy and wonderful after a round of it, and 3) how it helps me through challenging postures.
It's an activating, fueling, fast (about the speed of a panting dog), belly-moving, and audible breath, usually done through the nose. With all that going on, it's actually difficult to let the mind wander. You're in it. You're present.
In addition to how it brings presence, breath of fire offers MANY tangible benefits, including:
Like everything in this practice, it's in the experience of it. So, try it (unless you are menstruating, pregnant, or fewer than three months post-partum, in which cases breath of fire is contraindicated). Here are two ways to learn or continue to move toward mastery of this awesome breath:
And you'll love it! You'll love doing it. You'll love the benefits. You'll love how it brings you in the moment. And, if you're like me, it'll help you fall in love with the practice of Kundalini Yoga.
PART TWO: BEAUTIFUL MANTRAS
When I first began my Kundalini journey, the mantras (sacred sounds) were a strange and confusing element to me. My first teacher used to shout out Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Wahe Guru with no explanation. Back then, I regarded mantras as an inaccessible aspect of a powerful practice that I could just choose to tune out, and in so doing, not embrace the full “weirdness” of it all.
Little did I know that mantras would enter my heart and remain there ever-available for my healing, for my soothing, for my transformation. In fact, much to my surprise, mantras became the most accessible aspect of my practice. Over the more than two decades I’ve practiced, my body and mind have been in different states. I’ve experienced minor injuries, fluctuating strength and flexibility and my mind has moved all over the spectrum from chaotic to peaceful. At times, I’ve had to pull back from a robust physical practice. At times, the mere suggestion of sitting in silent meditation will send me running away from the mat. But mantras — Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Wahe Guru — are always there in my consciousness, rising to the surface when needed, redirecting my distracted mind, reminding me that I am a spiritual being, and bringing a feel-good aliveness to every cell.
The word mantra means mind projection, and that definition tells so much of the story. In Kundalini Yoga, we repeat sacred sounds to bring our attention to beautiful and uplifting messages and to give our bodies the experience of a higher vibration than our everyday thoughts and language achieve. We draw on an extensive cannon of mantras, which come mostly from sacred Sikh texts. Although they come from a religious tradition, these mantras are for people of all faiths. They access something deeper — heart and soul — than tenets.
The above beautiful mantras, along with many others, are another tool in the toolbox of things that make Kundalini Yoga, oh-so-engaging and therefore oh-so-doable. There are three ways to work with mantras in a Kundalini Yoga practice.
Bringing mantra in in these ways has an impact. Like everything in this blog series, they add to the mix a way of staying in the moment.
In addition to bringing us into presence, each mantra carries with it a specific benefit.
Sat Nam, which I will discuss more in depth in Part 5 of this blog series, brings us into alignment with our authentic self.
Gobinday Mukunday lists qualities of divine energy and works to cleanse the subconscious mind and break through deep-seated blocks.
Chattr Chakkr Vartee speaks of divine support and helps to release fear.
Pavan Guru reminds us of our life force and the nourishment of the breath. It is said to increase energy.
Sat Narayan is about the sustaining force in the Universe and it serves to protect the heart and allow us to go with the flow.
You can sample my favorite musical versions of each of the above mantras here. Enjoy them. Enjoy the beauty. Enjoy the effects. Enjoy that they are available to us, to make our Kundalini practice that much more meaningful, real, and high.
PART 3: TARGETED SEQUENCES
When we teach Kundalini Yoga, we teach from manuals and books. We don’t wing it or decide what posture we want to do when. We use prescribed sequences, called kriyas. Almost everything is delineated — how to breathe, how to arrange the body, the hands, the fingers, where to focus the eyes, and how long to do all of it.
Why do we do this? Because each kriya is a special alchemy. A kriya is a series of exercises that lead to a specific effect. My teacher, Hari Kaur Khalsa, called them “divine recipes.” Each of these recipes yields a defined result. The outcomes can be physical, energetic, mental, psychological, or spiritual. Some examples of Kriyas are:
Knowing the potential benefit of a kriya adds to my engagement with my practice. When I know what I’m working toward, I’m more committed. So, this is part of my case for Kundalini. It’s another piece of the puzzle, another motivation, another point of focus, another way to go within.
I don’t know how many kriyas have been recorded, but I do know that after more than 20 years of practice and 11 years of teaching, I still discover new ones.
Here’s an example of a short sequence, Kriya to Experience the Original You.
To experience the original you. This kriya, in particular, motivates me. To experience the original me is one of my priorities in life. Who am I? How can I discard the junk, the baggage, the conditioning that doesn’t fit? How can I be the most confident in my most authentic self?
I believe that this series of exercises would help me answer those questions. I believe it because I’ve experienced that these kriyas work, that Kundalini Yoga works. To get the full benefits of any kriya, it must be practiced every day for 40 days. It’s said that if you practice Kriya to Experience the Original You for 120 days, “you will gain great vitality, personal excellence and a new concept of who you are.”
It’s about pouring yourself in, your whole self into the kriya, and trusting that this particular sequence will bring the healing it promises. Let Kundalini Yoga kriyas be a vessel for your healing.
PART 4: ACTIVE MEDITATIONS
If all you know of meditation is the stereotype of “close your eyes and empty your mind,” it could feel impossible. The Kundalini approach to meditation is quite different, and in my opinion much less intimidating than other forms. Each Kundalini meditation (and there are many) has, like a kriya, a specific intention or outcome. In order to achieve the outcome, there is a combination of tools, which can include an eye focus, a breath pattern, a hand position, an arm movement, and/or a mantra. Having those tools what makes the meditations easier. The tools hold us every step of the way and keep us from straying into a torrent of thoughts.
This is so key for me. See, I didn’t go into this yoga in order to meditate. I wasn’t interested in meditation or convinced of the benefits of it. I wanted to move and feel good. But as I’ve experienced these meditations and trained, I’ve become more and more interested and more and more convinced -- to the point that Kundalini Meditations have become an imperative in my life and more than that, they’ve become a reminder of magic. But I can only get to the magic by doing and I’m only willing to do what feels doable and stuff only feels doable when I know I’ll feel engaged. (This is why reorganizing my bathroom cabinets hasn’t gotten done. Not so engaging for me.)
Here are some Kundalini Meditations to try that draw on tools to engage you.
Meditation to Conquer Self-Animosity
Draws on an eye focus, a breath pattern, and a hand position.
This meditation is particularly helpful in dealing with self-sabotage. Here how:
Meditation to Experience & Project the Original Self
Draws on an arm position and a mantra.
Practice this meditation in order to return to your True Self.
Meditation to Open the Heart
Draws on an eye focus, a mantra, and an arm movement.
This meditation is for those times when you feel your heart has closed and you need to re-initiate the flow of love.
Part 5: FOCUS ON YOUR TRUTH
In Kundalini Yoga, we often focus on the mantra Sat Nam (Truth is my identity). We silently repeat it to ourselves; we chant it aloud powerfully while pulsing the navel; we stretch the sound out as we close class. In my opinion, knowing one’s Sat Nam, one’s Truth is paramount in practice and in life — more important than any other benefit we gain from coming to the mat.
Knowing our Truths is the only way we will live authentic lives and fulfill our purposes. I’m sure there are folks who had their Truths affirmed throughout their childhoods, and as they separated from their parents had the inner resources to stay with it. But I think what’s much more common is parents and society projecting onto their kids and then kids growing up not trusting their own senses of who they are. So we have Kundalini Yoga to come back to it.
We have Kundalini Yoga to train our minds to not be pulled off center by our thoughts…
We have Kundalini Yoga to open our hearts so that we can love who we are…
We have Kundalini Yoga to get our energy flowing so that we have the energy to fuel our Truth…
We have Kundalini Yoga to challenge ourselves physically and as we do, we shift; and as we shift the layers of untruth fall away…
We have Kundalini Yoga & Sat Nam to reorient to our Truths.
The focus on Truth is for me the most profound aspect of practicing and teaching Kundalini Yoga. It’s not just a workout. It’s not just stress relief. It’s not just increasing flexibility. It’s not just energizing. It’s the authentic trajectory of our lives. Sat Nam.
During meditation, we may have interfering thoughts: a memory, negative self-talk, mundane planning, fear, hope for a future event. That isn't bad. In fact, it can be good. It can be important. It can be that these thoughts are presenting themselves in order to be dealt with or released. That is part of the "work" of meditation, and I am grateful for that work, as it heals me and will continue to heal me.
But there is another way to meditate that is a joyful expression, a way that leaves little room for interference. It's called Celestial Communication, and it is a stress-relieving meditation method that is accessible to all.
So what Celestial Communication and how is it done?
A Celestial Communication, or moving, mantra meditation, begins with a beautiful piece of mantra music. Then, we add arm choreography to the sounds. Essentially, we sing and move our arms. As we stay present with the mantra and the movement patterns, we reduce the possibility of interference.
Yogi Bhajan (Master of Kundalini Yoga), who brought us this practice explained why Celestial Communication is so effective. "The tension in the neural patterns is relieved into a relaxed pattern of its own originality. It is a very fantastic release. Physical relaxation is not as important as the systematic relaxation of nerves and self are. That's why the Celestial Communication system will work wonders with all people, from all religions and places. It is a methodology which gives you a tremendous amount of relief in your inner being."
The best way to understand is to do one, experience one. Watch this: chant and move along with some of the heavy weights of Kundalini music -- Snatam Kaur, Mirabai Ceiba, and Jai Jagdeesh -- singing Guru Ram Das and leading a beautiful Celestial Communication. (Watch up to the 4 minute mark, beyond that they move into another meditation.)
Here's some more of what Yogi Bhajan said about this practice which he believed was so important for stress-out folks in these times: "Celestial Communication is the greatest wonder food for healing the body, mental intelligence, and creativity, and to uplift the soul and increase the inflow of spirit.. it creates the mental equivalent of timelessness and brings that into full play. In that way, your automatic intuition wakes up."
I don't think there's anything within Kundalini Yoga that I LOVE as much as I LOVE Celestial Communication. I LOVE it all, but this is a beneficial practice for which I don't have to "go through" anything. I can just enjoy the beautiful music and moving. Bliss! There's also the joy and creativity of creating my own Celestial Communications. Everything else within the practice is prescribed and specific (for good reason, because that's what works), but with moving, mantra meditations, I can make them my own.
I love the description in my Stress & Vitality manual, "Celestial Communication is the body, mind, and spirit authentically telling a sacred story, a story of soul, a story of victory and a story of love."
When we move with a mantra, we embody its meaning and the "sacred story" of the soul becomes part of us.
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!
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.
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.
I remember packing my son Ben's lunch for his first day of preschool. I wanted it to be perfect. I put some goldfish in Tupperware. Then, I worried. What if his tiny three-year-old fingers couldn't open the container? I wouldn't be there to open it for him. What if he was too shy to ask a teacher for help? He wouldn't be able to have the comfort of his favorite snack. I cried a little as I watched this scene play out in my mind.
Last week, I cried again, as I packed Ben up for his first year of college. I labeled everything meticulously. I wanted it to be perfect. I conformed completely to the what-to-pack and what-not-to-pack lists. Everything he needed. Nothing he didn't need.
The day we dropped him off, we unpacked and all my planning and labeling proved worthwhile -- until something wasn't perfect. There were no hangers. We'd been told not to bring hangers. Hangers would be provided. Except they weren't. How could he embark on his college journey without hangers?
We looked for someone to ask. We googled. Never mind the fact that Ben has about two things that need to be hung up. He's a T-shirt and gym shorts kind of guy. Never mind that the consequences of not having hangers are... non-existent?
Ben, in his wisdom, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "I can handle it. I'll find hangers." I looked up at him unsure, and he said, "I got it."
Translation: "Mom, you gotta let go."
And I did. I left him in his hanger-less dorm room to find his way.
I know other parents out there can relate to the desire to control how our kids' lives go. Of course, we can't nor should we. Nevertheless, the impulse to clear the path stirs in the heart center.
How can I soothe this stirring when I can't make him a meal, give him a ride, proofread his homework? As with all things, I turn to Kundalini Yoga. I've felt too unsettled over the last couple of days to sit and practice, even though I know it would help. But what I can manage from this tradition I love is mantra.
The mantra that I gravitate toward in this transitional moment is Sat Narayan, the mantra for going with the flow. Now, I know that the phrase "going with the flow" sounds trivial in a hippy kind of way. But going with the flow is anything but trivial. With whatever arrives on our doorstep -- sending a child to college, moving, the death of a loved one, huge success, financial difficulty, new love, divorce, any of life's ups and downs -- if we accept what is and feel peace, we are winning the game of life.
Sat Narayan guides me with its sacred vibration into that acceptance and peace, going with the flow. When I chant Sat Narayan, I connect to an undercurrent of sustenance, rivers of teachings which bypass my intellect and go right to my soul.
Even if my mind is jumping and questioning and negative, if I stay with it and keep chanting, I begin to receive. I'm like a fussy baby protesting and squirming at first but with time the rocking brings deep comfort. Chanting is the rocking and rocker's heartbeat. With mantra, I soothe myself. I rely on my path, as I let Ben go to discover his own.
You can find a link to samples of my favorite versions of Sat Narayan in the comments below. What mantra soothes you? Please let us know in the comments below.
May we all feel sustained through all the ups and downs of life. May the truth in you guide you.
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.
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.