Becoming the Posture Master
By GuruPrem Singh
In a very simple sense I could answer that I am a 'Posture Master' and I teach people how to use their bodies and minds to live a calm, contented and comfortable heart-centered life. In reality I am Kundalini Yoga teacher, both in a classroom and as a therapist. I use a variety of techniques both verbal and tactile to assist people in achieving a healthier relationship with their body, mind and spirit.
I have worked for the last 30 years at the Khalsa Medical Clinic in Beverly Hills, California with my colleague and good friend, Dr. Soram Khalsa. It is my goal for myself and others to be able to carry our heart consciously, as well to embody the virtues and qualities within our hearts. In doing this, all our physical, mental and divine alignments improve. This is the work of a posture master.
I had been blessed with the special privilege of treating Yogi Bhajan for about twenty-five years, starting in 1980 while I was traveling with him during his European teaching tour. I was enjoying the beach at a hotel outside of Barcelona when he called me to his hotel room where he was lying in bed. He asked me to help his back, which was causing him a great deal of pain. At first this was quite intimidating, receiving his trust to help improve his physical comfort, but over the years it became one of the great joys in my life.
The following day he asked me to help one of his administrative assistants with her physical challenges. From that time forward until right before he passed away, Yogi Bhajan would send people to me for anything from aches and pains to sophisticated yogic guidance.
For many years he referred to me as the, 'technician.' That too changed over time as, with his guidance, I became less technical and more compassionate and intuitive. That transformation continues today. The Kundalini science of “angles and triangles” requires very exact technique but also compassion and intuition. Over time I have learned to use my technique as a tool to serve the spirit and soul of others as well as myself.
Playing Piano by Heart
Starting at an early age I studied piano. I learned from a strict Russian teacher who paid a great deal of attention to how I sat at the piano: spine straight, shoulders back and relaxed, hands curved in the proper fashion. It was all about the proper relationship to the instrument. Although he never stated it, I was being trained to put my heart into my hands. The goal was to learn the technical and then to transcend it. I was being trained to eventually play the music by heart. Not an easy thing to do, leaving the “head” and just playing in the flow of the moment, but that was the goal. Because of my “karma” it was not easy for me to transcend my intellect and the domain of thinking.
A few years later I also began to train in gymnastics. Gymnastics followed a similar pattern of learning basics then building skills until becoming technically adept. Of course technique is needed to express oneself, whether tumbling on the floor or engaged with gymnastic apparatus. Both music and gymnastics have their own unique languages for communicating through technique. Music and gymnastics were the two disciplines that taught me to appreciate the value of technique.
The Failed Posture Ruse
When I was eleven years old and in the fifth grade another event occurred which provided me with a great opportunity to begin learning about posture and spinal alignment. My elementary school gave basic health exams which included an assessment of our standing posture. Those who were considered to have poor posture were offered a special corrective class to improve their alignment. Twice a week a special teacher taught various corrective exercises.
Because I didn’t care much for my fifth grade teacher or perhaps because I was just curious, I made a deliberate effort to purposely fail the posture evaluation. Having succeeded at failing the exam, I began a twice-weekly posture improvement program. I don’t recall all the details of the class other than the therapist’s deep devotion to teaching correct alignment and that she used many exercises and techniques to help us improve our spinal alignment. Many of the exercises and therapies were similar to basic yoga. These special classes provided me with an early understanding of why good posture is important as well as my first experiences of awareness through movement. Although I never let anyone in on my ruse, it can be safely stated that I became her most improved student.
At the age of sixteen I got a summer job teaching gymnastics at a local YMCA. This is when I formally became a teacher. I knew immediately that my calling was to share the unique skills and knowledge I was acquiring. Starting then and continuing now, I am filled with the greatest joy when I teach from my own experiences.
After high school I attended the University of Southern California on a full athletic scholarship for gymnastics. Interestingly, my college gymnastic experience was not very joyful. It was performed out of an obligation to keep the scholarship. I had lost interest in competition, but I continued to love the learning and the mastering of the skills and techniques.
Academically, I focused on my major in economics and social science. Studying the flow of capital in the various systems throughout the world would lend itself well to my future studies on how the various systems of the body circulate energy. After college I began to work for my mother who was doing research in the neurosciences at UCLA and elsewhere. This was quite a different direction from my earlier studies but would offer me an ideal preparation for my future interests and occupation.
Aging Aches and Pains
In my earlier blogs I have written about my musical collaborations with Yogi Bhajan. By 1997, I had recorded at least 40 songs and mantras at his direct request and inspirations. This relationship trained me to listen to his words in a very special way. By listening deeply to his poetry, I usually understood how he wanted the musical versions arranged. This form of deep listening would prove invaluable on my new path of “Posture Master.”
During these collaborative years recording Yogi Bhajan's poems I often stayed up late and as a result my yoga practice suffered. It is very easy to get out of a regular yoga practice and ultimately out of shape. That is how I found myself in 1994. My wife was pregnant with our first child and I was definitely in need of more exercise. In addition to being out of shape, aches and pains were becoming all too familiar for me.
Even though I spent my days working at Khalsa Medical Clinic helping people with their individual health problems, I was ignoring the state of my own health. That was about to change. Becoming a first-time father to my daughter, Harisimran Kaur, inspired me to take better care of myself. I set about making an effort to practice Kundalini Yoga every day as well as engage in cardio exercise. My favorite pastime became in-line skating. Within about six months I was feeling much better and I started to practice some very challenging Kundalini Kriyas.
At the age of forty-one I discovered I could not bend and twist as easily as I used to. Kriyas that included challenging postures such as Wheel pose and other deep backbends held a great interest for me. The problem I faced was that the years I had spent sitting around and doing little serious yoga had weakened my spine, making back bends difficult. I refused to accept that I would have to retire from the more advanced kriyas. What I needed was a “coach” to give me some technical guidelines.
Having been a competitive gymnast and coach myself years earlier, I understood what coaches do. I realized I would need to seek that type of guidance outside of the Kundalini Yoga spectrum. So I began to visit other styles of yoga to find the technical guidance I was seeking.
What I found was, in many ways, more than I expected. Some ways were very useful and some were quite problematic. All in all, studying Yoga asanas from the various schools was quite an education. What I appreciated through all my peripheral studies was the level of consciousness that was always there in the world of Kundalini Yoga. However, I was on a mission to learn what I could about technique, form, and alignment wherever that mission took me. Yoga became my hobby and profession as well as my great spiritual resource. My goal was to learn all 84 major yoga asanas. This I did, along with a lot more.
I would often talk with Yogi Bhajan about my experiences. He was both encouraging, and at the same time he challenged me about my deeper interest and my motivations. It was during this period that I was able to have numerous conversations with him regarding yoga. This was also the first time I had the courage to offer some disagreements regarding the teaching protocols of Kundalini Yoga. These discussions usually centered on topics such as whether it was acceptable to use props or use hands-on assistance for the student. I was for them and he was often against their use.
It was about this time that he insisted that I become less technical but at the same time continue my studies. It seemed to me like a contradiction, he was giving me more direct orders to improve the teachings of Kundalini Yoga yet telling me not to be so technical.
And this brings me full circle back to how I became the posture master.
One day in 1998 I received a call to come over and treat Yogi Bhajan. I arrived at his house and walked into his living room where he sat in his usual chair surrounded by about twenty people. I greeted him in the usual respectful manner and before I could even sit down Yogi Bhajan announced that I needed a title. No one there knew exactly what he meant, but he suddenly conferred upon me the rather unique title of 'Posture Master.'
This was both amusing and humbling. To be on any path of mastery is a great undertaking, but to be told you already are a master was difficult for my mind to accept. So as I was standing before him somewhat shocked, Yogi Bhajan asked how I felt. I responded with a bit of humor—I promised not to slouch. As a devoted student of my spiritual teacher, I was committed to the disciplines he put before me. Being given the title of ‘Master’ seemed to put a new standard of consciousness upon me.
In our community news travels fast, and for the next few months people I knew and didn’t know wanted an explanation of what this new title meant. I wasn’t completely sure myself and I tended to be somewhat dismissive about its importance when asked. But in my heart I knew this to be a serious elevation of my relationship to my teacher, my destiny and myself.
Now what? What actuality is a posture master? And what changes should I expect from such a mastery? Although I was blessed with the ability to speak personally with Yogi Bhajan on a regular basis, I never asked him directly about the title.
In 2001 Yogi Bhajan requested that I write a book about the postures and Kriyas and about how to do Kundalini Yoga correctly. This took much longer than I ever expected, but finally in April of 2004, I personally presented the book 'Divine Alignment' to Yogi Bhajan in Espanola, New Mexico. At the time he was very sick and near the end of his life, but on that particular day he was in good spirits and quite talkative. As I sat with him in his room we had a very different conversation from any we had ever had before. He wanted me to tell him about my life, my family and all about the Los Angeles community with as much detail as I could elaborate.
Then we talked about the new book 'Divine Alignment.' It had been two years since I received his assignment to write the book and he originally asked me to complete it in a couple of weeks. Now it was two years later and I was finally delivering it. He insisted that I read him portions from the new book aloud, and so I began reading, thinking a few paragraphs would be enough, but he kept on insisting that I continue. After about ten minutes of reading I paused and looked at him for a sign of approval. What I received were the last words that I would ever hear him speak from his physical body, “That is very good. Now I can sleep.”
Now it is eight years later and I still strive to continue to improve myself, both as a student as well as a teacher. Any mastery I have comes from my master, who I serve and will continue to serve. That is my Guru, the master of my heart.
GuruPrem Singh Khalsa is the author of 3 books related to Kundalini Yoga: Divine Alignment, The Heart Rules and Everyday Devotion - The Heart of Being. He continues his practice at Khalsa Medical Clinic, as well as teaching in courses and Teacher Trainings around the World. For more information on his teaching schedule visit www.DivineAlignment.com