Tag Archives: kundalini

Turkey Pose: Thanksgiving Yoga in NYC

Sticking around the city this holiday? Here are some great Thanksgiving and day-after options.

THANKSGIVING DAY (11/26/09)

Om Factory — 108 Sun Salutations with Ashley Bouldin
sun salutations

8:30am – 10:30am
$17 drop-in (or use your class card)

108 Sun Salutations can be a celebration of gratitude for the health of your body. If you are thinking to yourself, 108 Updogs and Downdogs… are they crazy? It’s not whether you do 108, 8 or even 20… you do what you can and leave the rest behind. 108 Sun Salutations is a moving meditation that leaves you feeling amazing.

Golden Bridge — Attitude of Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Celebration with Guru Dharam Singh Khalsa
thanksgiving

10:30am – 12:30pm, with meal to follow at 1:00pm
$25 advance, $35 day of

When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude it invokes a condition of unconditional prosperity. Deepen your understanding of gratefulness by exploring what the yogis mean by gratitude. This Thanksgiving Day, join Guru Dharam Singh in a special Kundalini Yoga and Meditation class followed with a community Thanksgiving Day Feast and Gathering. Friends and family are welcome. Pre-registration is encouraged!

BLACK FRIDAY (11/27/09)

Reflections Yoga — Twisted Turkey Day After Thanksgiving Workshop
Lip_019_crop

12:00pm – 2:00pm
$30

Just in case you overindulged a bit, just in case your brother-in-law left your quiet mind in tatters, just in case you need to jump start your “I WILL NOT LET THIS HOLIDAY SEASON DRIVE ME CRAZY” resolution… Join Lip the day after Thanksgiving to detox your body, wash your mind, and ground your spirit. Pre-registration strongly recommended. Call 212.974.2288 or email brenna@reflectionsyoga.com to sign up!

Area Yoga — Post-Thanksgiving Detox Workshop
BAKASANA

4:00pm – 6:00pm
$20 (or 2 classes on class card)

Join Erin for the perfect post-Thanksgiving dinner remedy: a workshop designed to make you move and sweat!  The workshop will incorporate a variety of sun salutations, deep twists, invigorating inversions and bandha/core work. Not suitable for brand new beginners.

Earth Yoga — Free Day-After-Thanksgiving Class
14

7:45pm – 9:00pm
free

In the spirit of giving back to the community for his good fortunes in teaching yoga, Steven Cheng will give free classes at Earth Yoga. This is a great way to start your friends on this enlightening, fun, and healthful yoga path.

Any others? Post them in the comments and we’ll add them in.

Morning Practice #2

This felt great. For posterity:

Kundalini Warmup (seated, all with Breath of Fire)

  • Low Back Flexes (hands on knees)
  • Mid Back Flexes (hands on ankles)
  • Spinal Twists (hands on shoulders)
  • Upper Back Flexes (hands on shoulders)
  • Shoulder Shrugs (hands on thighs)
  • Shoulder Seesaws (hands clasped)
  • Shoulder Stretch (hands clasped in front of heart and pull, above head and pull)
  • Neck Circles
  • Eye Circles

Vinyasa Warmup

  • Down Dog
  • Down Dog Split (twisted)
  • Crescent Lunge
  • Forward Angle
  • Handstand
  • Lunge
  • Down Dog Split (straight)
  • repeat other side

Hatha Holds

  • Camel
  • Forearm Stand (2x, lead w/each leg)
  • Headstand

Then run take a shower! (That was all I had time for.) 30 minutes total.

Yoga Jobs: Kundalini Teacher

Creating a small Kundalini studio, in the “Arthur Ave. Little Italy” section of the Bronx. The studio will be geared to Fordham students, along with offerings for the community, kids classes, mommie and me. If interested please contact us. Intention is to have the space up and running by Nov. 1st. Also looking for the right teacher to hold some administration responsibility. Sat Nam Shivanter Singh.

40 Days Without Breathing

Two-score days ago I started a little New Year’s Resolution, and guess what? Today is day 40! I did it!

“It” was a simple daily practice of Navel Lock with breath retention for 10–40 seconds. In most cases it was about twenty or twenty-five seconds; I’ve always had trouble with retentions on exhales more than inhales. Of course, I wasn’t using a metronome to count, just “Om 1, Om 2, Om 3…” like they do at Sivananda… so the actual times were who knows what. I started off doing it in bed, right after I sat up, but I felt like I had no capacity at all. Plus, I was sick for the first few days of this practice, and couldn’t breathe so well. So, after a few days I went for shower, clothing, makeup, pranayama, breakfast as my routine. (It is kind of bizarre to put on makeup before yoga, but it feels like part of my “getting dressed” bit.) This also created a nice pause if any rushing-to-get-ready feelings had built up.

This kriya/pranayama is called a Golden Nugget, one of the most powerful yoga practices (according to the excellent blog/resource Mastery of Meditation, Yoga & Zen). I did the intermediate option: one retention only, for 10–40 seconds max — although I had quite a few vinyasa classes this month that threw in this bandha practice too! So I might be disqualified. And on two mornings I forgot to practice, and did it later on the subway platform or in bed. We’ll assume that those disruptions did not affect the efficacy of the exercise (?). As for the quoted benefits:

  • “Dissolv[es] blockages (granthis) caused by emotional debris and toxin buildup in the psychic channels (nadis)” — I’ve never directly experienced the specific energy channels in the body, only the more general waves and tingles of energy or lethargy. So I can’t give a full traffic report on my blockages and channels. But I have felt more like myself lately; enlivened by spurts of real joy and actual relaxation. The lows are not so low, the highs are actually high.
  • “Tones and cleanses all the digestive organs and markedly improves the entire digestive system” — My digestion is getting better, but I’m doing some dietary changes as well. My skin looks better. I should have kept watch on my tongue, that’s a real indicator of toxins. But if this kriya is cleansing, shouldn’t I feel WORSE as the toxins come out?
  • “Works on the respiratory system and nervous system” — Not sure what “works on” implies, but I’m less nervous and more easy-going.
  • “Builds core strength and power” — Definitely. It’s helped my postural awareness too.
  • “Most importantly, its goal is to burn up unresolved emotions stored in the subconscious mind.  Steady and sincere practice of Golden Nugget Yoga Pranayama, results in a significant refinement of awareness and a calm, peaceful, silent mind capable of connecting with the Divinity that lies within.” — This has been the most pronounced or noticable change: I can meditate again. For the last six months, or even year, I’ve really struggled with my mind’s dances and dashes when I sit. It was really depressing and discouraging, because I really craved those moments of peace, and didn’t know why they had disappeared. I went back to open-eye, object-focused meditation; no luck. I tried a more regular schedule; still crazy. Group practice, solo practice; same thing. But in my Hatha class the last week or two, I’ve finally felt really at ease in the poses, and ended up in a peaceful little buzz of stillness. Credit to my teacher, too — he’s quite radiant :)

We can debate if I was “steady and sincere”; I will put forth that I felt genuine excitement to do the practice each morning. I’ve missed my pranayama routine, it really cleared my head in the mornings, and I was happy to have the inspiration to restart it. (In fact, these Golden Nuggets often led into a long round of Breath of Fire and a few rounds of Alternate Nostril Breathing.) One of the nice things about pranayama is that it doesn’t trigger my athleticism or vanity like asana sometimes does. It’s unique, mental, and wholly engaging, and in any case I’ve reached a point in my life where I think 80% effort is a lot better than 100% (and the subsequent 0%). It was a very valuable exercise to focus a practice on regularity versus quantity.

Overall, however, I’m left with a chicken-and-egg situation, because there are a lot of things going on in my life right now, so I can’t credit or blame individual factors with any degree of certainty. In the last two months, I ended a long relationship, I started talking to a therapist, I turned 30, and I finished a big job  — all these things affected my habits and health. Did the kriya inspire some of these events, or did the events actually cause the above benefits? This is one of my continual confusions with yoga; it’s not a black-and-white science, and none of us are isolated laboratory subjects. It’s empirical, holistic, and slow; you have to get a big-picture perspective of yourself over time. A steady practice works you like water in canyons — the current is most eye-catching, but years later what’s dramatic is the epic change.

The image that keeps coming to mind is from the Scientific American piece on rapid thinking: “even brief periods of heightened mood can lead to upward spirals.” This pranayama practice was part of an upward spiral… or the bellows beneath the whole great contraption.

Never Too Late for the New Year

Its your year, baby
It's your year, baby

New Year’s is probably my favorite holiday (in spirit, not in typically exorbitant and excessively drunken practice). It’s about starting fresh with what you have, doing things you’ve been wanting to do, declaring your intentions for the next year. I’m not usually a resolution-maker; I’m kind of a self-improvement junkie so I’m always tweaking my habits anyways. Plus, I don’t like to make good health a source of additional pressure — cause then I rebel against myself like a schizoid.

But this year, post-holiday, I’ve been really inspired by watching a few resolutions actually get carried out — namely this one and this one. Both women committed to daily yoga practices; one general, one specific. Both have described real transformations taking place even in just these few weeks, and I’ve even noticed their writing styles changing.

Luckily, the Chinese have scheduled their new year to scoop up all us late bloomers. I’m using today’s Chinese New Year to resurrect my morning pranayama, and make it a real habit. Kundalini yoga recommends that you practice a set for 40 days to truly master it, psychology books tend to say it’s 30 days to build a habit, and here’s an article that says 21 days is the brain’s minimum:

Brain circuits take engrams (memory traces), and produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain does not accept “new” data for a change of habit unless it is repeated each day for 21 days (without missing a day).

So, I’m going for 30 Days of Golden Nuggets. Not only does it sound like a fast food special, it promises to burn unresolved emotions. Which I am kind of full of these days, post family time and post breakup. It’s also good for the digestion, which I am also kind of full of. Basically, it’s Navel Lock with breath retention. The intermediate version takes 40 seconds each day. Maximum. If I can’t handle that, then I need to be led around on a little velcro leash. We’ll see if the old routine (Breath of Fire / Alternate Nostril Breathing / meditation) seems appealing afterward. No pressure, though.

If you have a New Year’s resolution you’d like to share, please do! Happy Year of the Ox!

Stress Less: A Routine for the Holidays

It’s sometimes hard to have a happy holiday. You’re so sleep-deprived you could kill/cry, your brain is a gray mush of to-do lists, and the prospect (or lack) of family time is cuing thunderclouds of emotion. Plus, it’s so cold/windy/sunless that your shoulders are frozen somewhere near your ears and you haven’t really exhaled in weeks. Ready to party?

I thought I’d share my favorite yoga routines for stress relief. I tend towards anxiety year-round, so I would say much of my yoga exploration has been a search for natural Xanax. I came up with this particular routine for a friend in crisis, and I’m happy to say she reported an incredible amount of stress relief after we went through it. The whole thing takes about 75 minutes; you can do just one or two sections, or all three. Practice with a friend for double the energy. I call it Kunyatha ฉ ™ ฎ :)

Note: If you don’t have time to practice, just read through the exercises, visualizing each for a few seconds. The brain cannot really tell the difference between reality and a strong visualization. You’ll feel the effects.

KUNDALINI
WAKE UP THE SPINE AND FIRE UP THE GLANDS

Sit in a comfortable seated position (cross-legged etc.) Move as quickly as you comfortably can, breathing through the nose. In these poses we do “Breath of Fire” where the exhales are quick, pulling the navel up and in, and the inhale comes as a passive relaxation. Make sure to relax for a few breaths after each exercise, to observe the effects and regain your peace. These poses are part of Yogi Bhajan’s spinal warmup series. They stretch each portion of the spine, massaging major glands along the way.

  1. Camel Ride: Sitting comfortably, holding the ankles. Inhale and arch the spine forward; exhale and round the back. Head stays level with the ground. Breath of Fire, quickly. (60 seconds)
  2. Chinese Drum: Hands on shoulders, fingers in front, thumbs in back. Arms parallel to the floor. Inhale and twist and look left; exhale and twist and look right. Breath of Fire, quickly. (60 seconds)
  3. Camel Ride: Same as before, but siting on the heels. Hands rest on the knees. (60 seconds)
  4. Shoulder Shrugs: Sitting comfortably. Inhale and lift the shoulders to the ears; exhale and drop them down. Breath of Fire, quickly. (60 seconds)
  5. See-Saw: Clasp the hands in front of the heart. Inhale and lift the left elbow; exhale and lift the right elbow. Breath of Fire, quickly. (60 seconds)
  6. Bear Grip: Pull hard; take a deep breath in and out. Raise the grip above the head; take a deep breath in and out. Repeat 2 more times. (30 seconds)
  7. Neck Rolls: Let the chin fall towards the chest. Inhale and roll it very slowly towards the right; when you reach the back exhale and return the chin to the chest. Repeat in the other direction, making a few figure eights. (60 seconds)
  8. Antenna: Sitting on the heels, raise the arms and make a steeple grip towards the sky. With sharp exhales, think “true.” With passive inhales, think “name.” Breath of Fire, quickly. (2 minutes)

VINYASA
STRETCH AND STRENGTHEN THE MUSCLES AND NERVES

This sequence is a Moon Salutation variation. Moon Salutes have a lot of back bends and forward bends, which calm us down. There are some tricky transitions, which help us regain balance and focus. And they feel great, stretching arms, legs, and spine in nice swinging arcs. Do a few sets, until your heart rate is raised and/or you break a light sweat. It’s not what you can do, but how you do it — move gently, like your breath. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly; if there were instant mastery we’d have nothing to practice. Start off standing, with your hands in Prayer Pose in front of your heart.

  1. Raised Arms: INHALE, lift hands and gaze up to the sky.
  2. Forward Bend: EXHALE, fold forward, arms extended, and interlace fingers behind back.
  3. High Lunge: INHALE, step first foot back and raise arms to sky.
  4. Low Lunge: EXHALE, place hands down in line with front toes.
  5. Plank: INHALE, step second foot back to meet first, hugging belly in.
  6. Knees-Chest-Chin: EXHALE, drop knees, chest and chin to floor; tail in the air.
  7. Baby Cobra: INHALE, pull heart forward between the shoulders, belly in.
  8. Child’s Pose: EXHALE, send hips back to rest on heels.
  9. Toe Stretch: INHALE, tuck toes under, breathe into back, press palms down.
  10. Down Dog: EXHALE, straighten legs and arms to push tail towards sky.
  11. High Lunge: INHALE, step first foot forward between hands; raise arms to sky.
  12. Forward Bend: EXHALE, step second foot forward and interlace fingers behind back.
  13. Raised Arms: INHALE, sweep arms forward and up, gaze follows hands.
  14. Prayer Pose: EXHALE, bring palms together in front of heart.
    Repeat on the other side to make one set. (Try 3, 5, or 9 sets)

HATHA
RELAX THE BREATHING AND CLEAR THE MIND

These poses are just you and gravity. They alter the standard blood flow, to rejuvenate the organs and other systems. Holding poses longer lets you experience stillness and more subtle sensations. You don’t have to “do” anything, you just want to let things be as they are. Become completely fascinated by the breath, letting the thoughts rise and flow out like steam. Take a vacation from your thoughts; if they try to intrude on your nothingness just let them go away, and start listening to the breath again and again.

  1. Half Headstand: Sitting on your heels, clasp your hands and place them on the mat or carpet 18 inches in front of your knees. Spread your elbows apart, slightly narrower than your shoulders. Roll the flesh of your forearms out from underneath the bones. Place the crown of your head on the floor in front of your hands. The back of your head should graze your fingers. Press into your forearms to move your shoulders away from your ears, and take most of the weight off of your neck. If this is comfortable — as relaxing as sitting on the couch — gently exhale the legs straight, into an inverted V shape. If this is comfortable, walk the toes 12 inches forward and feel the hips balance over the head. (Hold 1–5 minutes)
  2. Legs up the Wall: Place a small cushion or folded-over bed pillow against the wall. Rest your hips on the pillow, and extend the legs up the wall. This pose prevents and eases swelling in the legs and feet. (Hold 1–5 minutes)
  3. Straight Leg Twist: Sit upright, with legs extended. Draw the right knee into the chest. Place the foot on the outside of the left knee. Inhale the left hand up to the sky. Exhale and twist gently to the right, about 80% of your maximum, taking the extended arm around or in front of the bent knee. Place the other hand on the floor behind you for support. (Hold 1–5 minutes; repeat on other side.)
  4. Seated Forward Bend: Sit up, with legs extended. Place the hands on the thighs. Inhale and lift the chest; exhale and move the chest towards the toes. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the toes pointing straight up. With every inhale, feel all the little stretches. With every exhale, relax the chest forward and down. Surrender to gravity. (Hold 1–5 minutes)
  5. Corpse: Lay down on the back. Feet are 18 inches apart; palms face up, 12 inches from the body. Lift the ribcage for a second and tuck the shoulderblades down the back. Lengthen the back of the neck and relax. From the toes to the tongue, feel each part of the body relax. Let the eyes and mind rest on the tip of the nose. Enjoy the feeling of your breath rippling across the surface of a deep, still pool of water. (Hold 2–10 minutes)

After your final relaxation, it is nice to enjoy some alternate nostril breathing, or a seated meditation to continue this vacation from your thoughts. When you are ready to rejoin the world, imagine a thin plexiglas shield surrounding you, sealing in your peace. Let stress and stimulus just slide right off it.

For further explorations, try Lauren Cahn’s Walking: Meditation for Non-Meditators (thanks for the “vacation from our thoughts” idea) or Boris Bhagavan Pisman’s Yoga-Based Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Anxiety™ workshop at Integral Yoga.

POSTSCRIPT: These 3 types of yoga are also great spread across an entire day. Kundalini is nice in the morning because it has a lot of quick movements and breathing to wake up and warm up. Vinyasa is great in the afternoon or twilight to clear out the stress of the day, and stretch with naturally warm muscles. Hatha is perfect before bed, to slow down the pace of the mind and prepare for sleep.

Kundalini with Gurmukh at Golden Bridge New York

Gurmukh at Golden Bridge New York with (not me)
Gurmukh at Golden Bridge New York with (not me)

Sunday night I went to a 2.5 hour kundalini workshop. I’m still sore. The director of Golden Bridge in LA, Gurmukh, who’s written the books and taught the celebrities that have made this studio such a hot spot I guess, was in town for a week. The teacher last week swore the event would fill up, we should register early, and indeed it was mat-to-mat, India-style, even arriving 10 minutes early. I ended up in front of the first row, on one of two mats perpendicular to the rest. A potted plant hung over my mat, I thought that was a little nicer than being wedged all the way in the back.

The theme was “The Answer is Inside You.” Something about accessing your own intuition through meditation, kriyas, and asanas.

Gurmukh spoke for about 30 minutes: random thoughts on teaching in the Hamptons and gifts she’d received from students. She shared an FDR quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That was as close as she got to the marketed theme of the evening.

So we did a 2-hour set of kriyas (cleansing exercises) that was quite strange, even for kundalini (where the teachers wear white clothes and turbans, and most exercises are grounded in numerology and subtle anatomy). Example: stand up, with your right arm straight forward, parallel to the ground. On the count of 1, lift the left leg. 2, look right. 3, look left. 4, look forward and lower the leg. Continue for 5 minutes.

We also did a lot of partner exercises where we chanted “peace! love!” and other affirmations. The silliness of it all made it easy to smile… Gurmukh said she was on the fence about teaching this series, “all the newcomers will think it’s really weird,” but Yogi Bhajan told her “just do it.” (He’s deceased, btw.)

It was really difficult. I had had a fight with my boyfriend the night before, slept really poorly afterwards, stuffed myself at the only meal of the day, and in general felt like a venomous slug. I was really embarrassed to be in the front row. And in kundalini, the more senior the teacher, the more repetitions they have you do. We would be flapping our arms, shoulders burning and spasming, and flapping, and flapping, and flapping, and she would finally say “You’re almost there! Two more minutes!”

The partner exercises, which I typically hate, actually helped me get through it. You have to make continuous eye contact with the other person, like capoeira, and smile the whole time. At various times one of us would start laughing or crossing our eyes with ridiculousness / soreness, and it would give one more boost of energy to keep going and finish the set. That, and Gurmukh calling “Doing this exercise for five minutes is the same as meditating for five years!”

And the next day, I felt out of this world. The foul mood and lethargy were completely gone, I was a complete nut, writing jokes to my roommate, and biking all around the neighborhood… this is the draw of kundalini. No other form of yoga has such immediate and obvious benefits.

But I still can’t make it downstairs without the banister.

Kundalini with Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge New York

Kundalini teacher Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge
Kundalini teacher Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge

Today I finally went to Golden Bridge, the kundalini studio in SoHo that I’d heard so much about. It’s a branch of the hugely popular studio in LA.

The space was less immense than I expected; it’s a cozy townhouse with one classroom per floor (and retail on the ground level), fireplaces and couches skirting the classroom. I felt really at home.

Siri Sat Kaur taught a great class, peppered with a lot of information. Kundalini tends to give you a lot more of the WHY behind the poses. I’ll paraphrase her comments.

We started off with sithali pranayam, a cooling breath where you roll your tongue into a U and inhale, then exhale with closed mouth through the nose. It’s good for the hot season, or amusing children.

Then we did a spinal warmup similar to the one I do in the mornings:

  • seated breath of fire with arms in a V above head, fingertips curled (ego eradicator)
  • seated spinal flexion with hands on ankles, then hands on knees (stretching lower, then middle back)
  • seated spinal twists with hands on shoulders (sitting on heels)

Next were the pelvic exercises. The major triangle is formed by our root, sacral and navel chakras. When this part of the body is in balance, the whole body can balance.

  • long deep breathing in reverse table top (hands facing back, torso parallel to floor)
  • breath of fire in wheel (surprisingly difficult, I ran out of breath a lot)
  • breath of fire in stretch pose (on back, stretch head, hands and feet towards the front of the room)
  • long deep breathing with alternating forward bends (standing with feet medium wide, hands together over head, hinging from hips to touch hands in front of each foot)

Then we did some heart opening poses. The heart is the center of love, but also of fear, compassion, and right action. When you move from the heart, you will never go wrong. The heart is connected to the thymus gland, which regulates your immune system.

  • long deep breathing in cat-cow, with leg extension on the inhale and knee-to-nose on the exhale (burned like the Buns of Steel I did as a teenager)
  • sitting with arms at 90บ out to sides, clenching fingers like a cat, with breath of fire

Finally, some relaxation and meditation:

  • five minutes in corpse
  • ten minutes sitting with hands in front of heart, palms facing out, index fingers touching and thumbs touching to make a triangle, other fingers folded to the center of the palm

I’m forgetting some poses, but it was a well-balanced class. I love how kundalini integrates asana, prayanama, and meditation into one. It doesn’t give you the stretched-out-workout feeling, you have to keep up vinyasa for that, but I get a serious happy buzz the evening or morning after a difficult class because it balances the glands and hormones. Strange but true.

The founder of the LA studio, Gurmukh, is teaching a couple workshops this weekend. Then she’ll be in LA until October. I want to go, but they’re $55 each, so I’m on the fence. Which is not so comfy.