15 May

Summer Solstice Workshop in Kalamazoo

 

The solstice is a time of transition – from spring into summer, the season of flowering, growth, playfulness, and wonder. Join us for a Kundalini Yoga workshop designed to open your awareness to this new, fruitful season.

2017 Theme: Vibrate the Cosmos ~ The Cosmos Shall Clear The Path

Each year, the international Kundalini community focuses together on a theme for the summer solstice celebration. This year, we’ll work with Yogi Bhajan’s 5th Sutra for the Aquarian Age. “To vibrate with the Universe is to vibrate the higher frequencies of love, compassion, and kindness. One of the best ways to be in the flow of the Cosmos is through yoga, meditation, and chanting mantra—sacred sounds that attune you to the Universe.”

When: Saturday, June 17, 1:00pm-3:00pm

Where: Upaya Yoga Studio on the 2nd floor at Michigan Holistic Health, 500 West Crosstown Pkwy, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.

Cost: $25 general, $20 students with valid ID

Space is limited! PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED; please use the contact form to sign up.

This workshop is appropriate for all levels – more experienced practitioners may enjoy the chance to reconnect with the fundamentals of this transformative practice.*

Sat Nam, and Happy Solstice!

* Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. General information found on this website is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

16 Feb

Trying Something New: Kundalini Yoga and The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary, by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D.

Kundalini for Women: Friday evenings at 5:30pm, February 17, 2017 – March 24, 2017

Classes run in 6-week series, $60 for the complete series or $15 drop-in. Classes are held on the 2nd floor at Michigan Holistic Health, 500 West Crosstown Pkwy, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.

Like many of you, I typically do some written reflection and intention setting around the new year. I scaled back on my typical practice this past December in favor of more rest and meditation, but one piece that made it through the cuts was selecting a word of the year. In 2017, mine is authenticity.

Universal Laws for Communication

My own therapist introduced me to the work of Angeles Arrien a few months back, and in particular, the universal laws for communication that are explored in her book The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary.  This text encompasses a larger vision than communication alone, exploring four archetypes that shamanic traditions have drawn on ‘in order to live in harmony and balance with our environment and with our own inner nature’ (p. 7). Arrien reminds us that the indigenous peoples have long worked with the natural rhythms of the earth to move through life processes and transitions, and that these tools remain available (and necessary) to us in our own industrialized society. For each archetype, she identifies key attributes and practices that we can use to more fully embody each role, finding balance in both our inner and outer lives.

The Warrior: Showing up and choosing to be present

The Healer: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning

The Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment

The Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome

As I worked with this little card of reminders, what arose for me was this theme of authenticity and being true to my own nature – which is actually something that connects really nicely with the practice of Kundalini Yoga.  Kundalini is the yoga of awareness – it is a practice that is designed to give you an experience of your soul. Yoga literally means union, connecting our finite selves with the infinite creative consciousness. I see that same thread in Arrien’s writing, connecting with these universal archetypes that reside within us all.

So it’s a little unorthodox to structure a Kundalini Yoga class series around an outside text like this, but I’m going with it. As those of you who practice Kundalini know, classes are always structured around a theme, which connects to the kriya and meditation. Kriya means action – it’s the postures, breath, and sound that are organized together to manifest a particular state. Typically, I’ll choose a larger theme from within the yogic lifestyle to select kriyas and meditations (the chakra system or the 10 bodies, for example) – but in this series for women, let’s try something new! Are you with me?

Kundalini for Women starts up again on February 17. Drop-ins are always welcome – though series passes give you the full 6-week experience, and save you a little cash. I hope you can join us!

15 Dec

A Simple Winter Practice

Misty Morning by Markus Trienke

I have written and reflected on the winter solstice and end-of-year rituals before, but this is the first time in many years that I have felt the true weight of this longest night. Outside my window, the snow is piled high, my back and hands sore from so many driveway shovelings already this season. At 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s time to close the blinds and turn on the Christmas lights, and there are gifts of handmade scarves and rice pouches that go in the microwave to keep me warm as I sit at the computer. Today, there were a few hours of glorious sunshine, the whole landscape glittering – but for the most part, it is cold and dark.

I’m grateful for these tangible reminders of the changing seasons – I have missed this. Some of us have an easier time of tuning in with the passage of time and the subtle shifts in the natural world; perhaps because I am, after all, a Midwestern girl, I need these louder announcements from the weather to truly feel connected.

While this time of year is often characterized by the high energy and festive pace of the holidays, it can be helpful to recognize the disconnect with the slow and quiet rhythm of the season. If you’re feeling out of sync, it may be more than just the eggnog. Though the chill has been in the air for many weeks now, winter is just beginning. This season of cold and darkness is made for rest, reflection, solitude. Can you allow that for yourself?

I have a script I follow for my end-of-year reflection, but even that feels daunting this December. I’m looking at simplifying. The moon was full on Tuesday night, and one of my favorite sources for lunar wisdom had this to say (among other things), something that spoke to me as a complete practice:

“… If we value peace, how do we embody that peace in our daily lives? Or if we value truth, or harmony, or any other higher-vibrational ideal – how do we become that quality as we decide how to proceed from here?…”

Perhaps this is all I need this year. Maybe I will scale back the writing practice, sleep in, do some meditating… contemplate the values that I seek to embody in 2017. Maybe that will be the simple meditation that works for you, as well.

09 Mar

Morning Practice

Last week, I wrote about my words for the year: practice and discipline. Today, I’d like to share some of the practices that have felt really grounding for me these past couple of months. Perhaps some of these actions will resonate for you, and if so, I’d invite you to give them a try! In a broader sense, though, I’d love for this to inspire creativity in your own life – to play around with your daily routine, and experiment with activities that support your own spiritual center. Let us know in the comments how this is working for you!

Home Altar

Most days, I start my practice at 5 AM. You don’t need to start that early. The yogic tradition that guides a lot of my spiritual practice prescribes a morning sadhana, ideally performed during the Amrit Vela, or ambrosial hours, between 4 AM and 7 AM. I’m not strict about this timing, but I do find the quiet of the early morning is more supportive for my meditation, and sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Many yogis and yoginis practice for 2.5 hours each morning – that’s not realistic for my lifestyle right now. Still, I try to incorporate breathwork, physical activity, and meditation into a set that’s doable for every day. Here’s what my routine looks like:

  1. Light a candle. This is a new habit I’ve acquired through my work at Hospice. Before working with clients in grief, I didn’t understand the meaning behind lighting candles as ritual. In this setting, I see this act as a way of honoring the space, marking out time for a specific purpose, and inviting light into the world.
  2. Tune in. As with any Kundalini yoga practice, I start with the Adi Mantra, Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, chanted three times.
  3.  Complete a (very) short yoga set. I use breath of fire for each 1-minute exercise, with a 45-second rest in between: stretch pose, nose-to-knees (while lying on my back), ego eradicator.
  4. Recite the Seven Whispers. I’ll be honest – this is where I start to get a little shy about the hippie-woo-woo of my routine. That’s okay! Creativity, people! I picked up this little book by Christina Baldwin a few months ago, and was surprised at how much power it held for me. I decided to try it out in my daily practice, and right now, I feel like this is the most important part of my morning. The words capture what I want to focus on and reinforce in my life, and reciting them in the affirmative each morning is a continual reminder of what’s meaningful to me. I sit in a cross-legged position, close my eyes, place my hands over my heart, and speak softly: I am maintaining peace of mind. I am moving at the pace of guidance. I am practicing certainty of purpose. I am surrendering to surprise. I am asking for what I need, and offering what I can. I am loving the folks in front of me. I am returning to the world.
  5. Meditate. I tend to be the queen of monkey mind, even at 5 in the morning, so I gravitate toward meditations with mantra. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been chanting the triple mantra recording from this album, a practice that helps me to feel like I’m aligning with the flow of the universe. At the end, I whisper a “sat nam” to close this part of the practice.
  6. Consult the oracle. Had you told me at the start of the year that I would be using oracle cards on a daily basis, I think I would have laughed in your face. But! I’m working through an amazing course on self-care for healing professionals right now, and it is opening me up to new ideas. So… I’m having fun with this one. If there’s time, I shuffle the deck, ask my inner wisdom to guide me to what I need for the day, and pick a card. I’m finding this to be a fun way to connect with aspects of my consciousness that aren’t always right there at the surface.

After that, I’m up, dressed, and out the door to get some fresh air with my dog. In total, the routine above probably takes me about 20 minutes – totally doable on a daily basis. And that’s key! Start small and manageable, and see what works for your day. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.

18 Feb

Khalsa Way in LA

Last month, I spent a week in LA studying prenatal yoga with Gurmukh. In recent years, I’ve made a practice of signing up for more intense yoga experiences in January, to re-ground myself in something that I know is vital to my own holistic health – the combination of full-time work and school, along with living in a place where Kundalini yoga isn’t as plentiful and convenient as in other cities I’ve called home, means its easier for me to “forget” to fill my own well. Like many of you, I see the new year as a good time to rebalance.

Golden Bridge Santa Monica

I’ve been wanting to write about my time there, but something has been holding me back. The nine days I spent in Los Angeles were truly transformative, and it was an incredible vacation for me – and my efforts to capture it perfectly on the page have kept me from writing anything at all.

I suppose one of the things I fear in writing about this publicly is that I think my idea of a good vacation is different from a lot of other people’s expectations. When I return from a trip, I tend to tell my friends and family all about it – fun, beautiful, challenging, strange, sad, annoying, exciting, hilarious… it’s all there. And it tends to catch me off guard when, later, these same friends and family will talk to me about that same trip, under the impression that I had a terrible time. That’s not generally the case. In fact, it’s the “bad” experiences that make travel worthwhile for me, probably as much as the “good” ones. For me, good travel involves seeing new parts of the world, and meeting challenges in a way that helps me see new parts of myself.

Spending the week in a sunny, spiritually alive, traffic-filled, sometimes-superficial city; staying with family who I love; building community with 30 female strangers (a third of whom were pregnant); being pushed to think critically about my own views on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, circumcision, vaccination, and what constitutes a healthy diet; rising at 5AM, wearing comfy clothes, and doing yoga every day – for me, these were all elements of a great vacation.

Santa Monica Pier 2

 

There were days when I felt angry and frustrated – both by the traffic, and by the content of our lectures. There were times when I felt inspired and truly loved. I made true, deep, fast friendships (and let’s be honest: there were people I didn’t like). I fell for the city of LA, and I can’t wait to get back. And I’m so grateful for the (too-little!) time I was able to spend with my family. Embracing that whole package is part of the experience. In fact, it is the experience.

This year, I chose this training because I felt a need to hold and nurture my feminine self. I knew that would be hard – healing and growth often are. And in the end, it was so worth it (healing and growth often are). Of course, I don’t know what the future holds, but I have a strong sense that my work as a therapist will focus on women and women’s issues, and spending this time in LA felt like a very important step toward that work. I came home refreshed and revitalized, and excited to share these teachings with women in all stages of life. I’m looking forward to what’s next on that path…

Khalsa Way 2014

05 Feb

About My Spiritual Name

My first Kundalini yoga teacher’s name was Dukh Niwaran Kaur. She also went by Patty. She introduced herself to me with both names, and of course I didn’t remember the first one. After I started coming to her classes on a regular basis, I knew her name was Dukh Niwaran – it was the way she signed her emails, and I’m sure she used it whenever someone new came to class – but I still couldn’t bring myself to call her anything but Patty. It felt weird to me, the sounds awkward in my mouth, and why did she have two names anyway? As I got deeper into the practice, there were so many things that were strange and foreign to me, and I asked about them all.  I know we talked about her name – it meant something like “healer”, which was fitting, since she also worked as a massage therapist – but I don’t think I ever called her Dukh Niwaran.

The fact that I couldn’t bring myself to call her by her name is what feels strange to me now. I didn’t understand at the time that a spiritual name has power – that people choose to be called by something other than their birth name because it connects them with a larger purpose. It connects them with their destiny.

And oh! I sort of squirm just typing that. Can a name really hold your destiny? That sounds so woo-woo.

Here’s where this is coming from: I recently updated my Facebook name to include my spiritual name. I had just returned from a weeklong prenatal yoga training (more on that soon!) where I’d met some really incredible women, and they all knew me as Sandesh. I always go by Sandesh when I’m in yoga classes; it feels like a place where that’s “okay”, where people won’t think it’s weird, and I want to use that name – it’s special to me. So when I got home, part of me was thinking, how are they going to know who I am when Facebook says I’m Cindy Scovel? But, you know, there was a place somewhere deeper that was saying, I want people to know that’s my name.

Sandesh Kaur

Yours Truly, AKA Sandesh Kaur

My spiritual name is Sandesh Kaur, which means one who brings the message of God to others. Here’s more from the note I received when I requested my name in 2010:

Sandesh means message, one who brings the message of God to others. Kaur means the Princess/Lioness of God who walks with grace and power throughout her life. Kaur is a name that all women receive. Yogi Bhajan taught that every woman has the potential to attain a true state of grace and power, and he encouraged each woman to manifest that potential. Receiving the name Sandesh Kaur means that you can connect with your soul by delivering the message of how to live in your higher consciousness to other people, with grace and courage.

I know I was still on the fence about the whole spiritual name “thing” back then, but when I got that name… Sandesh… it felt right. I’ve always been a teacher, no matter what I do, and I regularly forget that. Hearing the meaning of my new name – it was yet another reminder of the path I already knew I was on. And even now, when I lose sight of what I’m doing, where I’m going, the bigger picture… it grounds me.

Okay, wanna hear something even more Kundalini? Part of the power of a spiritual name is that it lifts your energy through its nadh, or sound current. (I’m not kidding! Look it up!) And we’re not talking about a quick pick-me-up – by hearing the sound current resonate, you are moved toward your highest destiny. So every time someone calls me Sandesh, and every time I introduce myself, aloud, to a class of students, I get closer to that calling. I move in the right direction.

Can you see why I’m feeling guilty about Dukh Niwaran? I thought it sounded silly; she felt a resonance with her higher purpose.

Don’t worry, you can still call me Cindy. I get it. That’s part of why I wrote this all out for you. But I want you to know you can call me Sandesh, too, without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. After all, you’d be helping me on my journey.

03 Jun

Summer Solstice Workshop at Be The Change

Celebrate the Summer Solstice with us on Saturday, June 21!

Greeting the Summer Sun

The solstice is a time of transition – from spring into summer, the season of floweringgrowthplayfulness, and wonder. Join us for a Kundalini Yoga workshop designed to open your awareness to this new, fruitful season.

2014 Theme: There Is A Way Through Every Block

Each year, the international Kundalini community focuses together on a theme for the summer solstice celebration. This year, we’ll work with Yogi Bhajan’s 2nd Sutra for the Aquarian Age: There is a way through every block.

When: Saturday, June 21, 1:00PM-3:00PM

WhereBe The Change Yoga & Wellness, 52 South 1st Street, Suite 320, San Jose

Cost: $30 general, $20 students with valid ID

Space is limited! Pre-registration is required; please visit the BTC Wellness Events page to sign up. Questions? Use our Contact form, or email sandesh at skwellness dot org.

Sat Nam, and Happy Solstice!

12 May

Kundalini Yoga Resources

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about where to go for more information on Kundalini Yoga – questions I LOVE to get, because it means this practice is really resonating for people. Here’s where I send them…

3HO.org

The best place to start for all things Kundalini Yoga: 3HO.org, the nonprofit organization founded in 1969 to “share the teachings of Yogi Bhajan so that they may serve, inspire, and empower humanity to be healthy, happy, and holy”. Here you’ll find a great overview of Kundalini Yoga, lots of practice sets or kriyas (free!), information on events like Summer Solstice and Women’s Camp, and lots more. This is also where you can request your spiritual name.

Kundalini Yoga by Shakta Kaur Khalsa

I’m forever in debt to my friend, Rita, who took me to my first Kundalini class in Chicago – what changes that “welcome, neighbor” gesture ushered into my life! When I moved back to Austin, she gave me the book, Kundalini Yoga, as a going away present. I still think this is the most accessible intro to Kundalini in book form. (Thanks, Rita!)

Two other faves: The Kundalini Yoga Experience and I Am A Woman: Creative, Sacred, and Invincible. The Kundalini Yoga Experience is my go-to for chakra detail, with an overview of the chakra system, and a page dedicated to each individual chakra detailing attributes of balance/unbalance, physical location and body associations, colors, elements, etc., etc. And I Am A Woman… well, I just love this book. Yogi Bhajan had a lot to say about the role and aspects of woman (power, intuition, creativity, radiance, the polarities of woman and mother,…) and this manual dives deep into those teachings. The book isn’t just for women, though – many of the kriyas and meditations are appropriate for a public, co-ed class.

I hope this helps you on your journey – sat nam!

24 Apr

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Photo Credit: etsy.com, AlienEye

Photo Credit: etsy.com, AlienEye

It seems silly to need a reminder to do something that your body does naturally, doesn’t it?  And yet, how does this gentle reminder hit you right now, as you’re sitting here in front of your computer?  What is the quality of your breath in this moment?  What about when you hear it called out in the midst of a yoga class – don’t forget to breathe!  Does it make you realize that somehow you had forgotten?

Take a moment, right now, and just notice your breath.  No judgment – just notice.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

If you’re like me, and you’ve been sitting in your office chair for over an hour, looking at a computer screen, you probably noticed that your breath is rather shallow.  Some of you, after spending that moment in awareness, might have tried deepening your breath.  Great!  How did that feel?  If you haven’t already tried it, do it now – take a long, deep breath.

Ahhh…  There are many sensations that might go along with a full inhale and exhale, but for most of us, the feeling is good.  That exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide stimulates the brain, relaxes the nervous system, and fills us with vitality.  Our modern lifestyle doesn’t naturally induce long deep breathing the way, say, working on the farm or hunting and gathering might, but that doesn’t mean that this practice isn’t available to us every second of the day.  Sometimes, we just need a little reminder.

Want more?  Take a look a the Long Deep Breathing exercise that Yogi Bhajan recommended.  Once you get the practice down, see if you can set aside 5 minutes each day to really fill your lungs.  C’mon, you don’t have 5 minutes?  Just look at what it will do for you:

  • Relaxes and calms, due to influence on parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Increases the flow of prana.
  • Reduces and prevents the build-up of toxins in the lungs by encouraging the clearing of the small air sacs (alveoli).
  • Stimulates the brain chemicals—endorphins—that help fight depression.
  • Brings the brain to a new level of alertness.
  • Pumps the spinal fluid to the brain, giving greater energy.
  • Breathing long and deep, plus concentration, stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete, enhancing the intuition.
  • Filling the lungs to capacity revitalizes and re-adjusts the magnetic field.
  • Cleanses the blood.
  • Regulates the body’s pH (acid-akaline balance), which affects the ability to handle stressful situations.
  • Energizes, and increases vitality.
  • Aids in releasing blockages in meridian energy flow.
  • Activates and clears the nerve channels.
  • Aids in speeding up emotional and physical healing.
  • Aids in breaking subconscious habit patterns such as insecurities and fears.
  • Aids in fighting addictions.
  • Re-channels previous mental conditioning on pain so as to reduce or eliminate pain.
  • Gives capacity to manage negativity and emotions, supporting clarity, cool headedness, and patience. 

 Benefits listed here are from The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, KRI International Teacher Training Manual Level I, p. 92

Happy breathing!

05 Feb

Withstanding the Pressure of Time, and Our Nervous System

Last night at Be The Change, we worked through the Kriya to Withstand the Pressure of Time.  Most of us can relate to feeling the pressure of time – it’s a hallmark of the age in which we live.  The devices that we carry around with us allow us to be contacted at any hour of the day; feeding us information, making demands on us, and entertaining us.  It can be tough to find even a moment of downtime.

 

Hourglass

en.wikipedia.org

Yogi Bhajan recognized that this would be our primary struggle in the Aquarian Age.  In fact, one of his five sutras for the age is, ‘When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.’  Last night’s kriya addresses that pressure by tuning up the nervous system.

 

For those of us who are feeling a bit removed from our high school science classes (me, too!), perhaps a review of the nervous system is in order…

 

The nervous system consists of our brain and spinal cord (the Central Nervous System, or control center) and the cranial and spinal nerves that run throughout our bodies (the Peripheral Nervous System, or the communication lines).  The whole system is designed to relay messages throughout the body – telling our feet to move when we walk, telling our eyes to close when we look into the sun, telling our hearts to beat every minute of the day (hopefully!).  It relays messages to our skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscles, as well as our glands – parts of our bodies that “work” when we’re thinking and when we’re not.

 

Here’s a helpful diagram of the system:

 

The Central Nervous System

en.wikipedia.org

 

So what does the nervous system have to do with feeling like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it?  The nervous system is the human body’s communication system – sort of like (a lot of) telephone lines that tell our bodies how to react to stimuli.  This includes our fight or flight response, a physical reaction that should get triggered when we’re facing the jaws of a lion in the jungle, or an oncoming bus on the street – but one that often goes off when we’re worried that we won’t get tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation done on time.  In our current age, our bodies tend to overreact to unfamiliar stimuli, producing stress responses that can have serious physical consequences.

 

The Kriya to Withstand the Pressure of Time helps us to tune up this system on a physical level by challenging muscles throughout the body and encouraging stamina.  On a more spiritual level, and through our meditation practice, we can create balance by bringing ourselves back to the present moment (the only moment that we have), and listening to the inner teacher.  Often, stress comes from feeling like we need to go out and get something that we don’t have.  Yogi Bhajan would remind us that the key to our success is to be still and allow things to come to us.

 

Resources for this class: