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Asheville’s Kundalini Community

By Katherine Caldwell, North Carolina, USA

To many it may seem like an obvious fit, Kundalini Yoga and Asheville, North Carolina. The mountain resort town, lately lauded by the media as a “cultural mecca” of creativity, alternative healing, and spiritual awakenings, would naturally attract yogis of our persuasion. It has all the right stuff. Our story begins, however, not in the settling dust from a thundering herd of tourists, but in the quiet, self-reflective mountains that existed years before those tourists ever arrived. Like the benefits of the practice itself, our community began subtly, beneath the notice of the body at large. Through the years it has been led by those tuned to a calling as faint and irresistible as the distant music of a mountain stream. We’ve all trusted in this calling at some point in our practice: try holding Mulbandh as you listen with nothing but your inner voice as strong as the root you hold. You are at a beginning that has no end, and there are treasures buried somewhere in the busy-ness of your life, and you are about to find them.

The Seed of Inspiration

The seed of inspiration behind our spiritual community, like all Kundalini communities, is the teachings and encouragements of Yogi Bhajan himself. In our case, it was his direct encouragement to Sierra Hollister (Ong Kar Kaur) over 15 years ago. A dedicated young student living at the time in the Ahimsa Ashram near Washington DC, Sierra was instructed to leave life as she knew it and teach Kundalini Yoga in this small North Carolina mountain town that neither she nor Yogiji had ever actually visited. Despite having absolutely no vision of this for herself, she didn’t question “Why me? Why Asheville?” but instead, with love and in service of his vision for her, journeyed to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a wave of sheer faith. Riding on this wave, Sierra walked into Lighten Up Yoga, the only yoga studio in town in 1995, and found a teaching job before even securing a place to live. It was with blind connections like these, warmed with only the faithful inner light, that links on the Golden Chain began to be made. Sierra’s opportunities came, and her classes grew. There was expansion, even then, into a small community. “The truly blessed and truly hardy” Sierra remembers, “would arrive at 4 am” for the weekly morning sadhana she led at a local YMCA.

Within a few years, her classes were also taught at nearby Warren Wilson College, bringing students in search of their lives’ path into the practice. One student, Heather Housekeeper (now also a teacher), recalls how the classes were meaningful to her student life, “Every week I came….looking forward to the chance to sit and do nothing but what she instructed me to do. It was not time to think about assignments, my social life drama, or anything else that usually demanded my mindspace.”

Meanwhile, Sierra and her husband had a growing family of their own as well as a farm to tend in the rural mountains north of Asheville. As they began to set roots, the teachings also became rooted in fertile ground. We can only guess where our intuition and faith may lead us if we begin to take steps.

Most Asheville Kundalini Yoga teachers agree that it was after the new millennium that the community really began to take shape. One could say that it paralleled the growth and development of Asheville’s alternative culture, too. The last decade has seen a migration to the area of people willing to invest in movement toward the Aquarian Age, whether they know it by that name or not. Asheville now supports four natural food stores featuring locally grown produce, several restaurants that use local organic food, no-kill animal shelters and networks, and the area is able to support ten yoga studios. There is a general feeling from people who arrive here that they are following a higher plan and making a commitment to a higher consciousness. This consciousness in the larger community has not been lost on our own Kundalini community. We feel the planetary shifts, the accelerating vibrations, and have been responding to them. Our dedication to the practice, of course, keeps us ready for the changes thus far, even when they become challenging. Dozens of Sierra’s students went on to become teachers themselves, and some of them have decided to stay nearby and start classes in local studios. Sat Shabad, a devoted member of our community, remarks, “Yogi Bhajan was right. He said more and more people are going to need yoga and start practicing.”

A Shared Practice Creates Community

Also like the Asheville community at large, our group is diverse. At any given day in Asheville, the liberal-minded and conservatives, native mountain folks and city-raised transplants can be found mingling over food, music, and crafts that represent a blending of cultures and a mutual love of our mountains.

Likewise, some of our group discovered the practice locally, through Sierra or her students-turned-teachers, and others have found their way here from Espanola or other Kundalini communities. Some of us are Sikhs, and others are not, some prefer bana as a lifestyle, some only during practices, and it varies between us how our spiritual names are used. But the dedication to the ancient and transformative discipline of Kundalini Yoga ties us together again and again, raising our group consciousness. In our lives outside of yoga, we have a wide diversity of skills and occupations and may never have met were it not for our shared practice. Our collective skill set has served us well as a self-sufficient body. For instance, one teacher, Koriander (Harcharan Devi Kaur), has put together our website and designs our posters. Diana McCall’s (Hari Arti) talents as a professional chef have brought sumptuous meals to our retreats, and the natural leadership qualities of Bob Bauer (Siri Beant Singh), a sales executive, has been instrumental in getting us organized and staying connected and on task.

In recent years Bob has brought back a 4 am morning sadhana to Black Mountain Yoga just east of Asheville. After returning from his training in Espanola in 2008, he was so elevated by the Aquarian Sadhana practiced each day for the month-long intensive that he wanted to recreate that mindful, musical invocation to group consciousness in his home community. Now, on Saturday mornings nearest to each full moon a growing group meets in the dark to share the light. (www.blackmountainyoga.com)

There are efforts being made so that, as Bob puts it, “The roots of the community go deeper than a 90 minute class.” We’ve gathered at potlucks, sharing delicious vegetarian fare, and two summers in a row have had camp-outs in nearby Hot Springs, NC, an hours’ drive from downtown. On the camp-outs we’ve hiked, soaked in the tubs at the Hot Springs Spa, chanted around the fire, and of course, shared early morning sadhana outdoors under a pavilion. Teacher Narayan Singh Khalsa observes: “Through sadhana we are poked and provoked, experiencing one-pointed focus. In the same instant we experience a widening to a universal perspective. Ultimately we are uplifted to uplift others.”

Gong meditations have been a magnet for those who practice regularly, but also offer a vibrational boost to anyone, even those with no yoga experience. Designed for removing fears and allowing a cleansing in our physical bodies, the gong’s vibration offers deep relaxation from the strong melding strokes of this ancient tool. Bob began offering gong bath meditations several times a year. Now there are multiple gongs among us as Hari Mander, brought to Kundalini Yoga by Sierra and trained to teach by Yogi Bhajan, is now offering regular gong meditations. They have brought simplicity and light to some who may not have ever considered feeling the power of intention so deeply. Teacher Diana McCall finds the events recharging for her regular practice, “Aquarian Sadhana is my monthly tune-up and the gong meditation my regular oil change.”

Igniting the Flame, Beautiful Breath, Blissful Life

It was during casual, early morning conversations after sadhana that led seven teachers to the idea of hosting a retreat in the nearby mountains of Madison County. They thought to align it with 3HO’s Fire Tattva theme and called it “Igniting the Flame of True Self.” In May of 2010, in the geodesic domed practice rooms, over 40 people gathered from 9 states to blissfully breathe deep in the high mountain air. For three days, nights ended with kirtan and mornings began with singing, sadhana, and a healthy breakfast. The days were graced with instruction on chakra balancing, celestial communication, Bhangra dancing, opening our hearts, and further getting to know our intuition. The workshops showcased our local teachers, who volunteered their time for the whole weekend. Campsites were set up on the grounds and dorm rooms were also available. Each person was scheduled for seva. Some volunteers helped Diana McCall (Hari Arti), Kundalini Yoga teacher and natural foods chef, make delicious meals with local and organic produce.

Upma Kaur of 3HO IKYTA also joined us at the event and led a fire tattva kriya. She remembers it being “so much more than I could have imagined: kindness, compassion, passion, dedication, and a very strong sense of community and sharing the teachings of Yogi Bhajan…” The success of this gathering prompted plans to make it an annual event. Held this year on May 20 - 22, 2011, it is called “Beautiful Breath, Blissful Life” to follow 3HO’s theme this year of the air tattva. The Miracle Mantra will be practiced daily. The venue will accommodate 100 people this time, mostly at camping sites. For more information, see our website (www.ashevillekundaliniyoga.com)

Our most recent event was a Full Moon Gathering in November where seven teachers led a variety of practices. Teacher Heather Housekeeper remembers, “What a joy it was to share a mat with both my teacher and one of my students who now teaches. (Sierra and Koriander)... I was amazed at how, in that tight little room, hearts seemed to lift higher, expressions grew brighter, and mantras flowed effortlessly as we all came together again, as a shared self. Teacher, student, and fellow yogis, all breathing, moving, and chanting as one.” We closed the evening in a spiral formation led by Sat Shabad where we each gave a “Wahe Guru” one-by-one, as if we were vocally-inclined dominos rising up after bowing down to the force.

Teacher Training in Asheville

We are happy to host two teacher trainings in our community in 2011. A Level I Kundalini Yoga training is currently underway for the very first time, taught by Pritpal Kaur Khalsa and Pritpal Singh Khalsa of Espanola. Also, the Super Health teacher training with Mukta Kaur Khalsa is tentatively scheduled to be held in Asheville April 16 – 17, 2011. The Miracle Mantra brings us into 2011, the year of the Air Tattva, and we couldn’t be more moved by the zephyr that is already blowing in and around us. As Upma Kaur says, “if you have the chance to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains, be sure to stop by and visit with the Yogis in Asheville—you’re sure to feel like you’ve come home again.”

Katherine Caldwell is an Asheville yogini who came to Kundalini Yoga through Ong Kar Kaur (Sierra). Her yoga practice is taking a back seat this year to raising a young baby who is teaching her more about integrating yogic teachings into real life than anything else. She also writes a newsletter “Grief’s Companion” at a local hospice for grieving families in the area.