Several years ago in Chicago’s Southside Englewood neighborhood, often portrayed in the press for its violence rather than the good people who live there, we began teaching Kundalini Yoga and training teachers from the community. We helped create I Grow, Chicago’s Peace House. I Grow offers an oasis of calm as a non-profit organization that combines yoga, urban gardening, and art to help encourage community members to become empowered and connected.
Although community organizations like I Grow have helped reduce the shootings in Englewood by 40% this year, one day there was an incident of domestic violence a few doors down from the Peace House during our children’s summer camp, in the middle of outdoor yoga class. The police came. Without any adult prompting, the children, all of elementary school age, began chanting, “I am happy, I am good, Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam ji!” These children, in a community with so little resources, have had their lives changed by a teacher.
Yogi Bhajan made it very clear that he came to the West to create teachers, not gather followers. Teachers are the best givers—teaching is the greatest gift for the teacher.
We are taught that Kundalini Yoga is a Legacy. In a recent Teacher Training session, as I (Shiva Singh) was explaining Legacy vs Lineage, I was humbled to realize that as a Teacher I am giving a legacy gift. Typically, a legacy gift is a planned future donation to a charity. In our case, ideally, we give knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration directly to the students and indirectly to the future. Our legacy gift is represented by the Teachings themselves.
Typically, when we give a gift we often watch the person’s face to see if they liked it, if they really liked it, or if they are just pretending so we don’t feel hurt. Even worse is when we wonder, “Will they still like me if I made the wrong choice?”
Yogiji shared the gifts of Adi Mantra, Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, and the Teacher’s Oath, “I am not a woman, I am not a man, I am not a person, I am not myself, I am a teacher.” As we vibrate the Adi Mantra before teaching a class, we tune into the flow of the Golden Chain. Optimally, there is no attachment to the gift, no expectation of a specific outcome or hidden agenda before the student. We are not bringing them to us as personalities. Our presence is the present we give to future generations.
We are approaching our 20th year of Level 1 Teacher Training courses and there have been so many times trainees will tell us in their entrance interview, “Oh, I don’t want to teach.” (Famous last words!) And then they report that during the months of training, “People just came up and asked me how to improve their lives.” A call to teach is a call to give, and it takes courage to make that leap into the unknown. You never know how far into the future the impact of your teaching will travel.
Yogiji has taught us that being a teacher is the last incarnation, then liberation. Consider that in order to properly teach, you must achieve a relationship with your own subtle nature, a deep humility, and an attitude of seva. The teacher serves the students. That’s why the ethical aspects are so important. It has been said that yoga students come to you “with their hearts in their hands.” Donna Farhi discusses this concept in her phenomenal book: Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Student/Teacher Relationship.
We consider it to be the highest honor to teach Kundalini Yoga. We also value the opportunity to represent the Golden Chain of Kundalini Yoga by teaching in clean, white clothing and have our head covered. It’s the gift wrapping.
Teaching is a gift that keeps on giving, serving generations to come.
Jinee naam dhi-aa-i-aa gay-ay maskat ghaal Naanak tay mukh ujlay kaytee chhutee naal
Those who dwell on the Name, And have put in their effort, can rejoice and go Home, O Nanak! Shining are their faces, and they save many others. -Guru Nanak, Shlok, Japji Sahib
Shabad Kaur Khalsa, LCPC, LMFT, E-RYT 500, KRI Level 1 Lead Teacher Trainer, is co-founder and director of Spirit Rising Yoga Center and Spirit Rising Foundation. She has taught Kundalini Yoga as well as practiced psychotherapy for nearly 30 years, integrating the yogic teachings into treatment for adults and couples. The health and empowerment of women through the teachings of Kundalini Yoga is a cause that is near and dear to her heart and she also specializes in Humanology, marriage, conscious birth, self-care, and health and wellness. www.spiritrisingyoga.org, [email protected]
Shiva Singh Khalsa, E-RYT 500, is the co-founder of Spirit Rising Yoga Center, President and CEO of Spirit Rising Foundation, and a KRI-certified Mentoring Lead Teacher Trainer. Since 1971 he has taught and practiced with the guidance of Yogi Bhajan, who said of Shiva Singh, "You have always been an inspiration to me." He is known as a Jupiter teacher—jovial, inspiring and uplifting. He is recognized as a leader of the spiritual/interreligious community, as well as an activist of HIV prevention and care of the aged and infirm. He has always emphasized the personal transformation possible through the practice of the 3HO lifestyle.