You came to class.
You could have gone for a walk, caught up on household chores, fed the ducks, done some DIY surfed the net, ate pizza, played golf, watched your box set . . . but you didn’t. Instead you performed one of the highest expressions of self-love – you got on your mat and did your yoga. You stretched, breathed and probably chanted (even if it did feel odd at first).
You may have come up to me after class, to point out where you are inflexible, what you struggled with, what you liked about the class, what you want to work on between now and next week.
And that’s great. I love talking to students after class.
What saddens me though is when students express some sort of inadequacy, or are even apologetic, about their limited physical flexibility.
Some students ask me if I know of a beginners’ class for their ‘level’.
Let’s talk about that.
When I tell people I’m a yoga teacher, I’m often asked if I can do a headstand. OK, literal answer first. In kundalini we don’t do headstands because they can be dangerous for the sensitive nature of the neck. Shoulder stands, which we include in kundalini, give the same benefits without the risks.
This question itself though – can you do a headstand – reveals I think, a lot about what’s wrong with yoga today.
Yoga advertising often has a teacher in the most extreme pose at the centre, with feet behind heads or one-armed handstands.
This can create the perception yoga is an intense physical activity, with teachers at the top of the extreme body posture hierarchy and only accessible to those who are seriously ‘fit’.
In that same image surrounding the teacher there are often buddha heads, Zen symbols, candles and lighting to create a spiritual backdrop for the aerobic activity.
Let’s get back to yoga basics.
The word yoga means union. Union of what? Union of your true self with your ultimate destiny so you can reach your highest potential. Sounds pretty big stuff right? It is and it isn’t.
We all know people who are in the wrong jobs, in destructive relationships or just ‘asleep’ with no joie de vivre about them.
Yogi Bhajan, who brought kundalini yoga to the west, said “If you don’t want to change, don’t do yoga.” Kundalini yoga is the yoga of awareness.
Through doing the postures, breathing and chanting we start to release our emotions, feelings and fears and see where we are out of balance, what we need to work on or what’s missing from our lives. Again, using kundalini sets we can build up the courage and patience to tackle the changes necessary and create the prosperity we deserve.
Now this doesn’t mean we need to pack up, quit our jobs, leave the kids and move to a yoga ashram.
I’m in the same relationship with the same friends I was six years’ ago but I’m a better wife and I give to my friends in a different way – out of love rather than obligation.
It’s about making a better you. I love an anecdote I heard about how an orthodox Jew would attend sadhana (morning kundalini practice) dressed in his religious clothing and take his place among the white-wearing yogis and read the Sikh morning prayers with them. When asked why he came to morning sadhana his response was: ‘It makes me a better Jew”.
The changes are often internal: how we think, treat other people, increase our self-respect but also hopefully create a realization of what our purpose is in life – where we are going and how we are going to get there.
This process doesn’t happen overnight. It takes devotion and discipline and on the way you might become more physically flexible and even start to enjoy chanting.
At some point though, kundalini becomes the tool for the changes that you see and create in your life rather than it being about the yoga itself.
For now, come to class, enjoy it and experience it for yourself. But drop the occupation with the physical.
Do disabled people miss out on this enlightenment, joy and empowerment yoga offers because they can’t do the postures? Of course not. If you can sit and breathe you can do yoga. The power in the practice comes from your projection and intention. If you can’t do a posture because of an injury or capability, mentally imagine you are doing it or accept the modification given by your teacher if one is given and do that if you can.
If you see a ‘beginners’ kundalini class advertised and you would like the opportunity to hear more explanation and detail about postures, breathing etc then go for it. But at the same time don’t feel you can’t attend a class that isn’t labeled ‘beginner’.
As Yogi Bhajan said: “If flexibility of the body is the only yoga, then clowns in the circus are the best yogis.”
See you on the mat – but it’s what happens off it where the real yoga happens.