By Ravi Kaur Khalsa
My mother met Yogi Bhajan when I was 4 years old. Kundalini Yoga transformed her life and she had to meet “the Yogi.” My brother and I tagged along as she met with him. Our lives were never the same. We moved into the 3HO ashram in Eugene, Oregon and we did yoga. I went to boarding school in India from ages 11 - 16, and we did yoga. I moved to Tucson to work at 3HO SuperHealth when I was 17 and started teaching yoga. I got married at 18 and started working for Yogi Bhajan, and we did yoga.
As a kid, you have to do what you’re told, otherwise there are consequences. So yoga was something I had to do. It turns out I was a very sensitive child and was prone to emotional outbursts and since meditation worked for the adults, why wouldn’t they make me do it too? I see that now, but slowly the experience seeped into me that meditation was punishment for being bad.
It’s not like I’ve never done yoga before—quite the opposite as you can see, but yoga was always something I had to do and in the end it was what I had to rebel against. And I have to admit, that I’ve rebelled against it ever since I had the power to say, “You can’t make me do it anymore!”
I also find myself judgmental towards most teachers. I practiced with Yogi Bhajan! I was teaching yoga at 17! I’ve lived a spiritual life for 40 years! I don’t want to be talked down to, I don’t need spirituality 101, and I don’t want to feel like I’m at a sermon.
And yet now as a middle aged adult, I want to have a yoga practice. Even my doctors are recommending it to me. I know in my soul that it’s an incredible tool that gives people the experience to handle their lives. And yet I can’t get over the internal rebellion against it. I try every trick in the book, and yet it always feels forced and not authentically from my own soul's longing.
It's finally time to face this issue I have with yoga. I have never had the experience of finding yoga on my own, creating my own journey with it, finding the place it fits in my psyche, experiencing the subtle shifts as I grow, making it my own.
The idea for this journey I’m on came to me 3 months ago when I was considering applying for the IKYTA Manager position. My unique and tumultuous relationship with yoga is a funny thing when facing the job of managing its association. I decided I should come to terms with it once and for all. A trip was in order—which was the solution to all my problems. New York sounds good!
I decided to take a week and spend every day taking Kundalini Yoga classes—to finally make it my own; to break down the old memories and create new ones—memories and experiences of my own that will last me the rest of my life. I’m ready to start the journey fresh and follow it through to the end.
My plane lands in 30 minutes. I'm nervous—what if it doesn't work and I still can’t make it my own? But I’m also excited—what if it actually works? What will that even mean? Regardless, there's no turning back now.
My 1st day in New York at the yoga studio coincides with Teacher Training which amounts to 12 hours of yoga and meditation = cooked! It’s a whirlwind of excruciating exercises and impossibly long meditations. I keep thinking, “People are actually paying for this!” Mind boggling! I keep checking my watch; I find ways to cheat when the teacher isn’t looking. My adult self is noticing these tiny infractions and see them for what they are. I sooth myself and say, “No, Ravi, this is what you wanted; you are here on your own accord. Nobody is making you do this.”
I woke up barely able to move my body. But after a hot shower, I was able to walk the 6 blocks to meet Hari Kaur for coffee at 9:00 am. It was snowing and it made the city even more magical. There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. So I was grateful I had brought the perfect coat and pair of boots that I had meticulously picked for this journey!
We walked to her studio and she led me through yoga postures to loosen up my body. I've never had a private yoga class before. We stretched and talked and laughed. She talked about how important it was to keep the body stretched especially for women over 35 (ugh! I'm 44 already!). But by the end of the 90 minutes, I could touch my toes again.
After an afternoon of walking around the city in the snow eating great food and experiencing the vibrancy of the city, we headed back for the evening yoga healing with the gong class.
The studio filled up and we started with some stretches before getting into the kriya. I was feeling so relaxed by the time we finished the kriya and moved into the layout. Hari started to play the gong and I tensed up because I am used to people playing the gong in such a way that it produces a jarring shrill noise. But what a sweet sound this was. I could hear all the notes of the gong and it washed over me and held me and every cell was vibrating with it. I could relax and trust she wasn't going to jar my system with the harshness that I was used to.
All of a sudden an old painful memory came up and I cried and cried, but I felt safe in the energy of the group and let the gong heal me. Wow, this stuff works!
My eyes are puffy and my body is so tired. But the sun was out and the cold air woke me up. I go to yoga class at 9:30 with one of Hari Kaur's students. I was the only one there, so another private class. I realize what a hard business this is. Even in a city of a billion people, no one is interested in a morning class in midtown? I struggle with the strength in my lower body and it's awkward with just me not being able to keep up—no one else is there to carry the class. So a couple of times I hear, "Well, ok, inhale, exhale, relax..."
After an afternoon in Queens eating and shopping in Little India, I go to another class at 6:00 pm. All of a sudden, my body feels stronger and more flexible....I can actually see and feel the difference. If it just weren't for the Indian food threatening to make a re-appearance, I almost did it at 100%. The meditation went by in a flash (a first for me...I didn't once check the clock or open my eyes or adjust my shawl or get up to "go to the bathroom"). I realize that I’m luxuriating in it! It felt amazing—I felt amazing.
Listening to Hari talk about yoga and stories from the first immersion courses with Yogi Bhajan was a treat, including learning about the first time he gave out the Master's Touch meditation. It was a 17 day course and on day 2, he said they had to do this meditation 2.5 hours a day, every day, after their 2.5 hours of sadhana and even on their day off. He said it would help find the master within, which is like the bear that climbs the tree for honey. Regardless of the bees that might sting and the branches he may fall through, he is happy with the honey he worked so hard to get.
The master within is just there for the asking. "Supply is high, but the demand is low", he said. There are so many blessings for the taking, but we don't ask. We sit and expect it to come to us, but sometimes we have to just put some effort into it and we can all enjoy the sweet honey of wisdom, peace, love, and security.
Next we rushed off to Penn Station to take the train to attend a jazz concert by Hari's husband, Dave. That's New York!
Days 5 through 7
The days are a blur. My process goes way deep. The yoga classes continue 2-3 times a day. I stop looking at my watch during the meditations. I start seeing the flexibility in my body coming back. I go between a feeling of deep peace, laughing and feeling light to crying and feeling raw. I feel a deep sense of change inside.
Every night I get to my hotel between 10:00 and 11:00 and I’m buzzing with energy—of the day, of the city. My alarm wakes me every morning at 8:30 (and then again at 8:45) and I rush to my 9:30 class. It's fun to walk among the thousands of people I pass as I walk the 6 blocks to the studio. I establish my favorite coffee shop and create my little morning routine.
And it’s New York, so my days don't just consist of yoga classes. During these 3 days I see an energy healer, I get body work, I spend an afternoon at the spa, I take a Qi Gong class (whoa!), and I even get some shopping in. My body doesn't stop hurting but the concentration and determination are stronger. I no longer rebel in my mind. I no longer disregard the magnitude of the effects of this technology.
I take classes from different teachers that my ego would have never allowed in the past and I can even bask in their joy and their love of Kundalini Yoga. I can connect to their life-changing experiences that this brought to their lives. I love the community that it creates. People are quick to offer their support in my journey—laughing at my self-deprecating jokes, hugging me as I cry, and offering me water and snacks when I can't ground myself enough to walk. It truly took a village!
I've been doing Kundalini Yoga for 40 years and once did morning group sadhana for 3 years in a row without missing a day. But I have never done a personal 40 day sadhana before. I think I'm ready. I don't want to say it out loud because then I'll have to do it. But I do and Hari knows exactly what to suggest. I feel excited at the journey ahead.
I travel home tomorrow and I’m a completely different person on every level—truly in every cell of my body and spirit, as I can feel the constant buzzing of the week’s experience coursing through me.
I feel humbled by it.
I feel energized and alive from it.
I feel like I could sleep for a week.