By Stella Bodhi aka Angela Schaefers
I had been doing yoga on and off for years, starting when I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. The cancer center where I was being treated offered gentle yoga as a form of pain management. Those first classes were when I discovered just how calming yoga poses and meditation can be.
Eventually I went on to try several forms of yoga. Sometimes I wondered how, if ever, I would get into (or out of!) a certain pose. Many times I felt frustrated at the challenge before me—until one day when I stumbled upon a Kundalini Yoga class.
Did I think it was kind of funky? YES! Did I wonder what kind of juju was going on? YES! Yet, I was hooked from the first class, because it made feel connected to the Earth, to myself and to something previously unattainable—my own ability to practice breathing techniques that made me experience self-awareness.
The first time tuning in (chanting) seemed awkward. Even now I hear myself tuning in and feel the vibration that comes from within me. It excites me how passionate I am about Kundalini. Doing the different movements that accompanied varied types of breathing is quite fascinating to me. There are some kriyas (body movement related to Kundalini energy flow) that require a great deal of movement and others less. These kriyas can create healing energies for everything from depression to allergies!
That first class ended by singing the sunshine song (the original is named May The Long Time Sun by The Incredible String Band circa 1968). It was a perfect ending to the most interesting yoga I had ever experienced. When the teacher mentioned we would sing the sunshine song to close the class, I first thought it was the You Are My Sunshine song I had sung to my kids for years at bedtime!
You can imagine my excitement thinking, “No problem, I’m an expert at that song!” And even though it wasn’t my sunshine song, I still feel a great sense of love and peace for myself and others when each class closes singing it. And after, a resounding Sat Nam was chanted.
Sat Nam is now one of my favorite sayings. Sat means truth and Nam means identity. That is indeed the outcome of Kundalini practice: finding, observing, and living your truth and identity. And though I really do not have a great singing voice, and save it for the shower when I am alone, something about practicing Kundalini makes me sing and chant at the top of my lungs, like nobody is watching or listening (technically they should not be as you are to stay focused within). And that freedom is powerful.
Because I am curious about the meaning behind everything, especially things that captivate me, I wanted to investigate the meaning behind Kundalini. Some of the first things I discovered were quite negative. Some feel the practice of Kundalini is cultish and not safe. Why? Because of the chanting? Because of the spiritual path it guides you along? Because some of the movements, with certain breathing bring you to a state of ecstasy or perhaps feeling an awareness outside of your physical self?
I appreciate others’ insights and opinions, yet I base my beliefs on my own experiences. And I never had a negative experience during or after any Kundalini class. Every class I have partaken in or taught has left me invigorated, peaceful and grounded. Many things have made me feel those feelings but not all three collectively.
I do not want to convince anyone that Kundalini is amazing and healing. I simply desire the opportunity to teach others what I know and guide them to have their own positive experience. While I never thought I would become a yoga teacher (I used to have a very different perception of yoga teachers—yes, the gorgeous, fit and able to get into and out a difficult pose with ease ones), I realize now how important it is to me. Along the journey of practicing Kundalini, I realized I am a teacher of many things and teaching Kundalini would be a perfect fit for me to add to my qualifications.
Of course, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into when I signed up and paid a significant fee for eight months of teacher training. I envisioned yoga classes for eight months that I would enjoy and which would give me more experience. Not quite!
Yes, we did yoga. Yet there was so much more that I did not expect:
- long meditations (2.5 hours long or more)
- long periods of learning while sitting in easy pose
- a weekend retreat (not like a spa retreat!)
- many Sadhana’s (practice at 4:30am for 2.5 hours)—did I mention I am not a morning person?
- developing curriculum for both a beginner series and specialized series of Kundalini classes
- a day of White Tantric Yoga® (partner meditation that lasted for hours, a lot of hours!)
- more than one 40 day straight meditation practice (and yes, you have to start over if you skip a day!) and more!
I asked myself more than once during the 8 months why anyone would put themselves through this--and I discovered it is all worth it.
For a bit of insight, here is one of the many assignments required as part of the training—a journal of my experience following my 40 day meditation:
My (first!) 40 Day Meditation
Feeling a bit apprehensive about what to expect, mixed with fear of failure, I was very intent on not missing a day of meditation and having to start over! I knew I could do it because I have prayed daily for years and have never missed a day. And I did not miss a day of my meditation practice amidst several challenges.
In the beginning I found myself peeking out of my closed eyes to make sure 1 - the timer was actually working (because it’s always possible to have a faulty timer! ) and 2 - to check on how much time I had left of the 11 minutes. Of course, every time I checked, I was only at 5 or 6 minutes and then felt guilty for opening my eyes! By day three I released the guilt and by the next day I stopped checking the time. Funny how that works!
It was exciting to go from being anxious and feeling pressured (time wise) to eventually feeling surprised when the 11 minutes were up and I wanted to keep meditating! What a blessing to have come to this place in my spiritual journey.
Here is what I discovered on my “What The Kundalini!” Journey: I actualized more of who I am at my core than any other option I have chosen over the years for my healing and personal development. And I will say that perfect timing was a factor even though these questions came up many times: Was I ready? Why didn’t I do this sooner? Why didn’t I wait until my life was in a different place? I will never know the answers to those questions. I was where I was when I started. I am here now.
Significant observations about myself during my teacher training are how fiercely committed I was to it despite the challenges, and how profoundly changed I was, for the better. I highly recommend going through teacher training even if you do not want to teach. Why? Because it will teach you about yourself and the practice of Kundalini while bringing up questions and insights that you might have never been exposed to. Whatever part of your healing journey you are on, or even if you are not, it will be a pathway to self-reflection, healing and spirituality.
Kundalini...love it or leave it, but first you have to try it!
Angela Davis Schaefers aka Stella Bodhi is a yoga teacher, coach, speaker and writer. She has interviewed people around the globe to share their inspiring stories of overcoming challenges and living successfully. She writes various articles on motivation, self-improvement and inspiration, often sharing her own experiences. She has published her book, Your Story Matters, You Matter – A Guide to Healing, Learning From and Sharing Your Story and facilitates workshops using the book. She can help you learn, heal from and share your story! www.yourstorymatters.net