Urban Yoga Chicago: Creative, Collaborative Kundalini
By DukhNiwaran Kaur Khalsa
Creativity and collaboration. These two Aquarian qualities guide Urban Yoga Chicago as we strive to make Kundalini Yoga a household name in Chicago. Founded by three yogis with different levels of experience and a shared passion for Kundalini Yoga, our roots are collaboration. Knowing that the model of a one-owner yoga studio would not work for us or for the coming Aquarian Age, we were looking outside the box to find a new way of bringing Kundalini Yoga out into the world. Our way of doing business needed to match our experience of Kundalini Yoga—empowering, life-changing, expansive, with integrity. We jumped into our partnership, eyes 1/10th open, responding to our longing for this expansive community.
Creative start: Pop-Up Yoga, Flash-Mobs, Cook-Togethers, Sunday Chant.
A small community of teachers and students came together to make Kundalini Yoga more visible in the Hatha-dominated culture of yoga in Chicago. With three existing Kundalini Yoga studios already in Chicago, we made a clear decision to not have a studio.
Our vision was to bring Kundalini Yoga out of the studio and into the streets. Granville Street Summer Market was our first Pop-Up opportunity. This was a Sunday indoor market that brought smaller versions of local boutiques into a huge unrented retail space. We set up a yoga center next to pop-up Akira, a trendy clothing store, a pop-up furniture dealer, and a myriad of other quirky boutiques. Our walls were made from hanging drop cloths and the view from savasana of the cinder block ceiling, ductwork and hanging electrical cords gave us the inspiration for our name—this was truly urban yoga.
We chanted while neighbors shopped and meditated with the sounds of barking dogs, pop music and crying babies. We had no idea what the shopper and shopkeepers thought of us until someone left an unsigned note on our sign in table: “Thank you for doing this.
The three of us began to meet weekly to find other outlets to express the power of Kundalini Yoga and to nurture our budding community. We started with the simple: food—and added a twist to the traditional potluck. Everyone brought a recipe, ingredients and a cutting board and we spent time cooking our favorite dishes in someone’s kitchen that was naturally not made for 10 cooks at a time. Sharing a small kitchen with each other challenged us to bring our yogic consciousness into the heat of the moment.
Our vegetarian cook-togethers were a big hit. Sharing delicious food—a feast that rivalled any international restaurant—brought our hearts together in appreciation for each other’s gifts and traditions.
Flash Mob, Flash Med and Class Mobs
We organized Flash-Mobs and Flash-Meds—seemingly spontaneous eruption of yoga, meditation and chanting. Chanting on the Metra commuter train, our Flash Med-tra was a particularly surprising outburst for the commuters. Yogis spread out in the train car to appear as strangers, and one by one added their voices to the chant started by a designated lead.
Some commuters watched us with fascination, some ignored us, and some joined in the chant. One woman elbowed her partner saying, “Look honey, a flash-mob!” The conductor smiled and asked us about yoga as we left the train.
Merging this concept with our goal to support Kundalini Yoga teachers all over the city, we created the Class Mob. A “mob” of students surprised a teacher by filling her class with students on a particular night. Armed with Yogi Tea, this class mob gave her regular students an experience of doing yoga with lots of yogis, and gave the teacher the joy of teaching a large class and socializing afterwards.
Our core activity is gathering bi-monthly at a local art gallery to chant together. We create a sacred circle to connect in the elevating vibration of the Naam on a Sunday morning and open up the space for people to be with each other in a more intimate way. One of our community members, an artist who makes labyrinths, created one with the group so that we could meditate and chant on the beach with this sacred technology.
We continually felt the pull for more—more depth, more visibility, and more connections. And we saw in our students a longing for more as well. In collaboration with Sat Nam Yoga Chicago, we were able to offer our first KRI Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training to answer this call from our students. Teachers in training transformed during the fall with a committed 40-day Aquarian Sadhana. Every morning, regardless of weather, 5-11 yogis came to the center in the Amrit Vela to set themselves for the day.
Watching each one strengthen their presence, drop outdated quirks and deepen their practice was powerful to witness. As these twenty teachers in training struggle, strain, love and grow, we are creating many communities from one, enabling them to share their love of this path wherever they live, work and play.
What’s Now and What’s Next
We are constantly creating the next opportunities for Kundalini Yoga community in Chicago. Our current project is the Pranayam Series: Suspension of Breath. For the next several months, students will go through 4 of the main suspension of breath pranayam exercises, each for 40 days. During this time they are supported by expert teachers and peer community with an interactive, online course experience.
We are planning retreats, concerts, workshops with teachers local and national, and growing our community through creative social media and web site presence. We envision having a physical space that reflects the journey we have taken—a space that enables us to continue to be creative and collaborative.
Instead of creating a fourth yoga studio in Chicago, we envision a different kind of space—one where students and teachers can learn more about Kundalini Yoga and their own path through study, workshops, one-on-one sessions, sadhana, kirtan and community. We see a space that will enable people to put down roots, to delve deeply into themselves and their practice and to create their next most radiant self. We see it as a yoga home: the house on the block where everyone hangs out. Hope to see you there!