10 Life Lessons

2A Gyan Mudra

The UK is becoming one of the world leaders in bringing Yoga into healthcare with an official mention in the new NICE guidelines as a first step, along with exercise, for treating lower back pain. Over time, there will be more official recognition of how people can invest in their own healing through Yoga. The technology of Kundalini Yoga, the form that I teach, works on many levels. If you are new to this practice, you might be interested to know what I think are the 10 most important things you can learn from attending a Kundalini Yoga class:

1) The mind, the body and the emotions are interlinked. I used to think my emotions were just there, churning around randomly and pointlessly, and the best way to deal with them was to ignore them as much as possible. In a Kundalini Yoga practice, we have the opportunity to learn that when we hold our body in a particular way it changes the way we feel, and when we think in a particular way it affects our body. For example, if we are holding the arms above the head for 3 minutes, you can be sure that thinking “I can’t hold my arms up any longer!” will bring the arms straight down. But thinking something like “I am so strong, I can hold my arms up forever, nothing is going to stop me!” will empower you to keep them up. It is very common for people to release emotions during a Kundalini Yoga practice. Understanding that there is a relationship between the mind, the body and the emotions is an important step in managing mental and physical discomfort – and illness.

2) We hold a lot of unnecessary tension in our bodies. Working with the body makes us more aware of what is going on with it, and we can develop the habit of regularly scanning the body for tension. We might be surprised to find, for example, that sitting in meditation, when we think we are quite relaxed, we are inadvertently holding tension in the legs. This uses energy unnecessarily, puts the body under extra stress and can lead to all kinds of aches and pains if done repeatedly. It’s very common, for instance, for people to carry tension in their upper bodies, and to suffer from neck and shoulder problems as a result. Awareness gives us the option to relax tension and break through these damaging patterns.

3) Letting go makes us free. We feel hurt by what other people say to us or about us, or about the actions that others choose to take. We create a lot of pain for ourselves by trying to assert control over our partner, our children, our feelings, our productivity, our home. We try to second-guess other people, even though we can never know what someone else is actually thinking or feeling. Trying to control everything sets us up for a sense of failure: we cannot do everything, we cannot control the actions of others, and life has a way of interfering with our plans! Our only control is over ourselves. In fact, controlling the mind is the essence of Yoga. But we can practice letting everything else go – during relaxation, during exhalation, and during anything in which we experience resistance but carry on regardless – for a happier life away from the mat.

4) The way we breathe is really important. During a Kundalini Yoga class, everything we do has a relationship with the breath: for example, we inhale left and exhale right as we twist the torso, or we inhale in four equal parts and exhale for four equal parts during a meditation. Through this, we learn that using the breath in different ways has different effects on the mind and emotions. For example, we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system and slow ourselves down to deal with a stressful situation more effectively. Controlling the breath is the single most important tool we can take from our Yoga practice out into the world and our daily lives.

5) Practicing endurance prepares us for adversity. In a Kundalini Yoga class, we learn about endurance. Holding the arms above the head for 3 minutes is not a comfortable experience when we first do it (or even after we have done it many times!) but it teaches us that even if something is challenging, we can still get through it. Life is challenging, and there are times when we have to dig deep to get through. Having confidence in your ability to endure, trusting the process, knowing that everything passes in time, and be aware that you are stronger than you thought you were, is really helpful during adversity.

6) Fear holds us back if we let it. Kundalini Yoga and Meditation can be very challenging, especially to the ego. We might worry that there will be things that we can’t do, or that we will feel self-conscious during a particular practice, such as chanting a mantra. To borrow a phrase from Susan Jeffers’ popular self-help book, feeling the fear and doing it anyway teaches us an important lesson: we don’t have to let fear hold us back, and we can engage fully with a practice that enables us to gradually release the subconscious blocks and patterns that create the fear in the first place. This enables us to grow in self-confidence and realise our potential.

7) The ego can lead us away from our truth. Whenever we experience resistance in Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, analysing what lies behind it will often lead us to our ego. Our time is far too important to spend it sitting still for 11 minutes! But life is much more fulfilling, and authentic, if we can learn to listen to our soul, rather than to our ego; in a Kundalini Yoga class, we can practice this by leaving the ego outside and trusting the process, whatever happens in the class! As Yogi Bhajan said so eloquently “A lot of subconscious crap you don’t need can be released if you can allow and surrender”.

8) What we eat and drink affects us in many ways. It has a big impact on how we experience a Kundalini Yoga class: whether we feel physically strong, whether we feel sick (if we have eaten too recently), or whether we feel tired. This helps us to learn how important our choices are in relation to what we eat and drink: these choices affect us in our daily lives in so many ways. Once we understand how bad it can make us feel when we eat things that don’t nourish us, or when we don’t pay attention to how our digestive system actually works (for example, by eating too frequently) we can start to look at why we are making those bad choices in the first place. What is that we really need to work on?

9) We have to practice commitment. Many people, including myself, are terrified of commitment. The world we live in doesn’t encourage it: we can change jobs when we are bored with the old one, we can get divorced when marriage proves too challenging. I am convinced that one of the reasons the transition to parenthood is often so challenging is because we are not accustomed to confronting a commitment that we really can’t run away from when things get tough. This is one of the reasons why in Kundalini Yoga, we often commit to practicing a particular kriya (set of exercises) or meditation for 40 consecutive days – even when we don’t feel like it, or we don’t have time, or we are too tired. There are many other ways of practicing commitment: for example, attending a weekly Yoga class, writing a journal every morning, giving up alcohol or caffeine or something else that we know isn’t good for us, or giving up an unpleasant habit such as gossiping.

10) Kundalini Yoga leads us to moments of clarity. I have made many important decisions as a result of moments of profound clarity experienced during my practice. I don’t know what your experience of this might be, but I do believe that anyone who engages with this transformative technology will develop greater self-awareness and tools for a happier, healthier and more fulfilling experience of life.

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