Updated: Aug 1, 2019
“For every beautiful thing, you have to pass through a valley of hardship. There is no liberation without labor. There is no freedom which is free. To create in you the power to create the intelligence which will give you power to be effective in your own living and give you satisfaction in your own joy, you have to work for it, you have to earn it."
Yogi Bhajan - The Power of the Spoken Word
I was raised in a little village outside of London, England and growing up I was categorically atheist. My mother told me to keep my head up in prayer assembly, I've never been christened, and I only went to church with the school on Easter holidays. My family has long-held the beliefs that they do not know what is out there and there is not much point wasting time thinking about it.
So you can imagine my discomfort arriving at temples and chanting, singing, and praying.. maybe it was just a British thing but I just couldn't seem to get past the awkwardness. Though the people in there were always kind, patient, and strangely seemed to understand how I was feeling it didn't really make things any easier. Luckily for me it's almost impossible NOT to be attracted to the feeling that you get during and after these authentic yoga sessions so I kept going back.
The feeling of being light (free from tension and baggage), energised and deeply connected to the people around me was enough to open a door to things I never thought I would be saying, practicing, and definitely not teaching. It was only when I arrived at one of the most non-judgmental and authentic places in the world, the Vagabond Temple in Cambodia that I really was able to experience what yoga meant: singing, dancing, chanting, and a LOT of hugging.
Experiences will never be the same for everyone, but I am sharing mine with you so that you might feel a bit more comfortable trying something new if you are struggling with mental (or physical) health issues.
Yoga, mantra, and prayer go hand-in-hand. Though I hated to admit it, yoga is a spiritual practice. It is more than just physical postures and unless we move past this perception it will be difficult to reap the full benefits and improve our relationship to ourselves and the planet. To be spiritual isn't to worship a man-made God (if this doesn't feel right), being 'spiritual' simply means that you are seeking to find a higher knowledge/wisdom. To be spiritual means to search for something better, in yourself, the universe, wherever. It means to continually process and question experiences in the quest for peace and serenity.
It was in India that I was first introduced to a month of Kundalini Yoga practices, and it was in India that I felt the power of these movements synchronised with breath. Without this connection to our breath, sound, and movements it is impossible for us to get the most out of our practice and settle our minds in such a turbulent time in history.
The science behind the connection with our breath and mental health is becoming more and more prevalent each day, we can see this with over 350 schools in the UK introducing yoga & meditation into the national curriculum and many scientists proving that meditation activates parts of the brain that encourage restfulness and peace. Kundalini Yoga is a form of Yoga that was brought to the West by Yogi Bhajan, he was the first person to take such knowledge out of the hands of a select few as the process of initiation into the science of yoga used to be kept secret aside from the wisdom passed down only from master to student. Yogi Bhajan brought these teachings to the West for the times that we are now living, to help to guide us through these difficult transitions with more ease.
Kundalini Yoga uses mantra (sound), breathing techniques (pranayam), and carefully selected movements to encourage the activation of our chakras or energy centres. For those of you who don't know what chakras are, I will be going into more depth about this soon but for now let's just imagine that they are wheels of energy inside our body where things such as signals that our brain sends to our organs get spun off towards their final destinations. We actually have around 72,000 nadis (channels) in our body that carry these messages and 7 or 8 main chakras (there are many smaller ones throughout our bodies). If you want to find out more about nadis and breathing techniques you can click here.
These techniques have been vital to the maintenance of my mental health and energy since India and they can give you a real taste of the impact that Yoga can have on our lives. I would recommend finding a local Kundalini teacher in your area as some of the exercises can be quite powerful - and if this is not available to you there is a great video by Sohan Kaur that I have been practicing daily. As usual take what serves, practice and see.
In Kundalini the exercises are best when practiced for 40 consecutive days as this will give the body time to fully reap the benefits of the series, but you can continue as often as you like.
Sending you love of your journey,