My mother used to do this thing when I was upset. She'd wiggle her fingers in my face and say, "Re-laaaaaaaaax. Re-laaaaaaaaax." I HATED it! It had the opposite effect and just enraged me more. One time it infuriated me so much that I kicked a radiator with my bare foot -- thinking, "That'll show her" -- and broke a toe.
In those moments, I obviously did need to relax, but I couldn't choose to. My mind was too chaotic and overrun by emotion to slow down enough to focus on relaxing. And those wiggly fingers were soooooo annoying.
My mom had such wonderful instincts as a parent and raised me with so much compassion, with such great values, and with infinite grace. Misfires were extremely unusual, but this was one of them in my opinion.
Why did "re-laaaaaaax" drive me up-the-wall, over-the-deep-end, and into a radiator?
Because it was a command, a command that negated my feelings. Instead, my mom could have let me say my piece and listened and been a little stealthier at getting me to calm down. She could have slowed her own breathing down, monitored her internal experience, rather than trying to dictate mine.
When you're with someone who's upset, a great gift and a healing is to focus on your own mental state and shift yourself into a relaxed place. If you're stable enough and strong enough in your calm, you influence the upset person surreptitiously. You can set the tone and even the rhythm of breath for the both of you.
I learned this technique in a children's yoga training with yoga teacher and special needs educator Allison Morgan. Allison told us a story about being called into a classroom to evaluate whether a girl (let's call her Jane) with problematic and disruptive behavior could stay in a mainstream classroom. She'd been hearing about Jane for weeks. Jane's teachers were so upset about this "uncontrollable" child. The principal was getting complaints from the parents of other children in the classroom. There was a lot of anxiety around Jane. On the morning that Allison went into the classroom to evaluate Jane, she talked to herself and silently to Jane. She slowed her own breathing down. Allison sat behind Jane as she breathed long and deep and projected thoughts like: "It's okay, Jane. Just be yourself. All you have to do is be yourself. It's okay."
And what happened? Jane worked at her desk quietly and did not cause any disruptions. She had never behaved like that before.
Allison explained that this was because of a phenomenon called entrainment, when one's internal rhythm syncs up with an external rhythm. The strength of Allison's focus and intention and the power of her breath calmed Jane down without her even knowing it.
What does this mean? It means we can do so much with our breath.
One day, a woman came to yoga and was clearly stressed. She peered into the studio from the foyer, saw everyone settling in on their mats, and said, "I really shouldn't go in there. I shouldn't be anywhere near here. I'm a ball of anxiety."
"That's what we are here for," I said. "This is exactly where you should be."
I didn't just mean that the teachers are here for her to help her calm down her nervous system and access her breath. I meant all of us, all of the students. After over an hour together, we rub off on each other. Our breaths can sync up. Those who can access a deep breath do, and they do it for all of us.
Off the mat, though, you have to be a little slick about it. If my daughter is having a moment and I shift into an obvious, conscious deep breath-- letting my torso expand and audibly inhaling and exhaling, she's onto me and she's not having it. "Don't do that yoga [expletive deleted] with me!" A big, deep breath can be the equivalent of the wiggly fingers. I have to do it quietly and imperceptibly. There's an art to it because I can't be so calm that I appear blank, either. My daughter wants to feel heard (as I did, as we all do) and know that her anger or agitation matters. I need to outwardly reflect active listening and inwardly calm myself. (P.S. I don't mean to suggest that I always make the right, artful choice. If only... )
I think about the potential of this, such a simple technique, and I get really inspired...
A young woman has just been let go from her job and is hyperventilating in the lobby of the office building. You ask if she's alright, listen to her intently, and most importantly, inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing. A young boy is frantic at the playground unable to find his favorite toy truck. You ask if you can help, listen to him intently, and most importantly, inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing. Your spouse, your child, your sister, your brother,
your mother, your father is angry about a perceived injustice. Very angry. You let him or her know that you understand; you listen intently, and most importantly, you inwardly focus on slowing down your own breathing.
We can do this everywhere we go -- schools, offices, restaurants, subways, etc. Imagine. We can breathe deeply for each other. When we breathe long and deep, we are helping to heal the world. (As long as we're slick.)
Yogi Bhajan had a beautiful prayer to do with the breath that you may want to memorize and say everyday, so that you're ready to be of service in this way. Inhale deeply and hold the breath as you say to yourself: "Oh Universe within me. Oh Divine within me. Oh Self within me. Oh breath of life within me, bring me back to the balance of harmony, kindness, compassion, and service. Breath of life, bring in me the peace of mind, body, and soul. When you leave me, bring the peace of the Universe." Exhale.
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.
This week and last I've been teaching and practicing the following kriya (sequence of exercises). I LOVE it!!!!! It's for your spine, the navel, the aura, and your kundalini (the full potential of your vitality). What else could you ask for? I encourage you to do it. Prioritize it. Bypass the questioning mind and roll out that mat. Do it everyday. Do it for yourself!
Think about showing up for yourself and doing the work as an act of self love. Yogi Bhajan said, “Those who practice discipline have to be very generous to themselves. Discipline should never be rigid. Discipline should be self-acknowledging, so that you can go along with it.” Many Blessings!
In honor of Yogi Bhajan's birthday, I'd like to spend some time with some of his words. I've chosen three favorite quotes to highlight here. They're favorites because they are at once simple, beautiful, profound, and shifting. Just a few words can shift my mental state, my outlook, my emotions.
I'll begin with "Go within. Or go without." I used to have this one on my refrigerator as a many-times-a-day reminder. If I don't take the time to be in the here and now with my inner world, I miss the most important aspect of life, re-discovering my Truth, my path, my purpose, my reason for being.
When I ignore what's within, I suffer. Sometimes, I'm tempted to distract myself instead of recognizing difficult emotions like uncertainty or fear or pain. And sometimes, I give into that temptation. But I aim to witness and listen. I know to witness and listen because it's in those meditative moments when the voice of my soul emerges with an insight or beautiful sense of peace. Simple, beautiful, profound, shifting.
Another quote that I absolutely love is: "I don't believe in miracles. I rely on them." That one always makes me smile. It's a whole approach to life in two sentences. Life is miraculous, so dependably miraculous that you can rely on it. In the same way that I can rely on there being air to breathe, I can rely on miracles.
If I'm having a day when it seems nothing is going right, I can go to these words and suddenly I'm grateful for it all -- the broken umbrella, the dent in my fender, the curdled milk. Simple, beautiful, profound, shifting.
One more. The one I repeat the most when I am teaching. "Keep up and you will be kept up." I'm in good company with many, many Kundalini Yoga teachers who shout these words out to encourage students. Sometimes it's just "Keep up." That says it all.
Keep up. Don't give up. Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on the next breakthrough before you get there. Keep up.
Keep your arms in the air, despite the discomfort. Hold your legs up, despite the shaking. Stay focused, despite the desire to tune out.
And you will be kept up. The effort, the intention, the staying steady in the midst of the storm primes us for life, for thriving in life. Simple, beautiful, profound, shifting.
Thank you, Yogi Bhajan, for the teachings and your words. They've changed my life. In many ways, they've become my life.
Now, I'd love to hear from you. What's your favorite Yogi Bhajan quote? Let us know in the comments below.
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.
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