When the heart is so locked up that healing cannot penetrate, there is a way through. There is a mantra that can break down the walls -- the Miracle Mantra, Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru.
Today, I spoke to MKY's spiritual sister Akal Bani Kaur (Sholeen) about her profound self-healing experience with this mantra.When Akal Bani (who is now a Kundalini Yoga teacher) first started practicing Kundalini Yoga, she would chant mantras in class and, at her teacher's suggestion, try 40 day practices with some. But she didn't keep up with any and never reached 40 days. Then one day in class, she heard Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru playing in the background. Something about it caught her; she asked her teacher for the details and then began a 40 day experience that, among other things, surprised her.
As she chanted Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru, she was overcome with tears. "I've always thought of myself as a happy person, an optimistic person." Akal Bani said. "I didn't know I had so many tears." She had committed to chanting 31 minutes a day but would often keep going for longer until the tears had moved through.
After weeks and weeks of tears, something else surprised her. Her heart opened. "I didn't even remember that after my first boyfriend broke my heart, I had like encased my heart in metal." As she chanted, the metaphorical metal around her heart melted.
After 40 days of daily chanting of Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru, Akal Bani opted to continue beyond the 40 days to over six months. She stopped counting. The heart opening led to a new compassion, and she was able to turn that compassion to herself. She was able to finally really look at herself, really see herself and love herself. "The miracle of the mantra," she said, "is self-love."
Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru is a longer mantra, also known as a shabd or Sikh prayer, that honors Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru in the lineage. Guru Ram Das represented miracles, humility, and service. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, we chant this mantra in the 11 days leading up to Guru Ram Das's birthday, which is celebrated on October 9.
If you like, you can see the mantra and its translation below, as well as a link to a playlist of some of the most beautiful versions of it that I know.
Dhan dhan raam daas gur jin siri-aa tinai savaari-aa
Pooree hoee karaamaat aap sirajanhaarai dhaari-aa
Sikhee atai sangatee paarbrahm kar namasakaari-aa
Atal athaa-o atol too tayraa ant na paaraavaari-aa
Jinee too sayvi-aa bhaa-o kar say tudh paar utaari-aa
Lab lobh kaam krodh mo maar kadhay tudh saparvaari-aa
Dhan so tayraa thaan hai sach tayraa paisakaari-aa
Naanak too lehanaa toohai gur amar too veechaari-aa
Gur dithaa taa man saadhaari-aa
Blessed, blessed is Guru Ram Das; the One who created You has also exalted You.
Perfect is Your miracle; the Creator has installed You on a throne.
Sikhs as well as all Conscious people recognize You because you manifest the Creator.
You are unchanging, unfathomable and immeasurable; You have no end or limitation.
You are unchanging, unfathomable and immeasurable;
Those who serve You with love are carried across the sea of existence.
The five obstacles of lust, anger, greed, pride and attachment:
You have beaten them and driven them out.
Blessed is Your realm, and True is Your magnificent glory.
You are Nanak, You are Angad, and You are Amar Daas;
When I recognize You, my soul is comforted.
Playlist: Link to it here on iTunes.
I want to say a word about community today. I've said before that our yoga community is kindred spirits coming together to practice and dwell in sacred space, to prioritize ourselves, inner and outer peace, and authenticity. But I'm feeling now that the word "kindred" may feel exclusionary.
When I started my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training, I felt that I wasn't "kindred" enough to really be part of the group. Others were deeper. Others understood more. Others wore turbans and all-white. Others knew all the mantras by heart.
As I've spent more time in yogic communities, as we've grown Montclair Kundalini Yoga's community, as I've spent more time in meditative space within and less time in the judgmental mind, I've realized that we are all one.
We are all one, whatever choices we make. Some of us eat meat; some of us don't; some of us wear glitter eye shadow; some of us don't; some of us drink coffee; some of us avoid caffeine; some of us are immersed in the teachings of Kundalini Yoga; some of us just like to chant sometimes and don't really understand what we're chanting about. It's all okay. It's all kindred.
We all have that longing to go deep within ourselves, to understand the way forward and what's True. If Kundalini Yoga feels like your way in or that it may be your way in, that's what brings us together in community. Each of us is equal in this community and we each bring our own gifts to the table. Kindred.
If you're thinking about coming to class for the first time but worried that you're not going to be an instant part of the community, let me put your mind at ease: You will be.
If you've been coming to class but you still feel somehow separate, let me tell you that you are not.
Whatever you're wearing, believing, feeling, knowing and not knowing, you are kindred.
May the Truth in you guide you, Kindred Spirit!
Any amount of Kundalini Yoga and meditation that you do is beneficial. But I want you to gain everything you can from this amazingly rich tradition. I want you to experience all the promised benefits. I want it to infect your whole life so that you reach the full potential of your vitality and creativity.
Good news. There is a way. There is a way to accelerate your Kundalini Yoga practice, to receive more benefits: begin a 40-day Daily Practice or Sadhana.
What is a 40-Day Sadhana? It is the consistent practice of the same kriya (sequence) or meditation for 40 days in a row without missing a day. If you miss a day, you have to go back to day one.
It is said that in order to get the full benefits of any given practice, you must do it every day for 40 days. According to yogic wisdom, it takes 40 days to the remove any of the bad habits and blocks that might prevent the outcomes from fully emerging. It takes 40 days to retrain the mind.
Forty days is significant, and not just according to Kundalini Yoga. In the world of religion, this number represents a threshold for fasting and prayer. In psychology, researchers have shown that one's personality could be changed through handwriting exercises done over a 40 day period.
In this world, in these times, there are so many distractions, so many options, so many reasons not to roll out the mat and stay with the same process over time. So when we do, we conquer all that. We conquer our egos. When we commit and build up our discipline muscle, we see that we can do anything, and we see that this yoga works like magic.
It does. It works like magic. I've experienced myself -- such specific and deep change within. Magical! I've seen it in my students and private clients. Magical!
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.
I was bred to be a book lover. When I was a kid, my parents were voracious readers. When we went on vacation as a family, they b-lined to loungers with their paperbacks and tore through stacks. When I reached Judy Blume age, I started to understand their obsession. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret was the beginning of my LOVE of reading and of books themselves.
I've heard some people recommend keeping books out of your bedroom, because the bedroom should be simple and only about sleep. This sounds HORRIBLE to me. A bedroom without books is like a bed without a comforter. My nightstand pile is a reflection of me in this moment in time.
These days there are always at least a few trusty Kundalini Yoga books. Books I've read and referred to again and again. They are my pals. I need them by my side.
I wanted to share with you the Kundalini Yoga books that have helped me the most and inspired me the most. I also wanted to encourage you to buy a book or two. I love books on tape for the car, and I love the instant gratification of Kindle, but there is something about holding a book.
For overviews of the practice....
Aquarian Sadhana is a practice which was given to us by the Master of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan in 1992. He believed that we needed this practice in order to keep up with these times -- fast-paced, confusing, stress-filled times -- and live our lives as victories.
In short, it is a specific two and a half hour practice during what's called the amrit vela, or the ambrosial hours 3:30-7am. (At MKY, we make it a little more doable by starting at 5 or 5:30am.) Here's how the practice breaks down:
Yogi Bhajan said, "The greatest reward of doing sadhana is that the person becomes incapable of being defeated. Sadhana is a self-victory, and it is a victory of time and space. Getting up is a victory over time, and doing it is a victory over space."
If you are learning about Aquarian Sadhana for the first time, you may find some of its aspects extreme or strange. I know how you feel. I felt the same when I first learned of it and started practicing it.
I was first introduced to this practice in Teacher Training, and it was a requirement. Truth be told, I didn't have a great attitude about this requirement. I had all kinds of internal complaints about it.
If you want to learn more about Aquarian Sadhana, I recommend the book Original Light: the Morning Practice of Kundalini Yoga by beloved devotional artist and Kundalini Yoga teacher Snatam Kaur. She goes into depth and unpacks each aspect of the practice based on her lifetime of experience, growing up in a Kundalini Yoga community and studying directly with Yogi Bhajan. There are so many beautiful nuggets to take from this book, but here is one of my favorites: "It is through a daily spiritual practice that is consistent, like the heartbeat, that we change the psyche to know -- on an elemental, psychic, physical, chemical, and spiritual level -- that we are in fact putting the soul first."
I encourage you to read this book or any other about this beautiful gift from Yogi Bhajan, Aquarian Sadhana. But more so, I encourage you to experience it. Join us or find a sadhana near you. Sat Nam.
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.
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.