Kundalini, Part IV

May 15, 2017 - - 0 Comments

One of the things I emphasize to clients of His House when I am teaching Kundalini Yoga is this: “don’t take my word for it!” I urge them to approach our yoga class together as they might approach a science experiment. We set up the conditions for this by doing a thorough inventory of how we feel at the beginning of class. The clients either close their eyes or soften their focus—anxiety can sometimes get worse with the eyes closed, and the aim of yoga class is to feel better, not worse—and start breathing through their noses. As the clients breathe, I ask them to imagine that every inhale brings with it support from above and below—from heaven and from earth—and that every exhale brings with it a little bit of release. I use “a little bit of release” because I do not offer yoga and meditation as magic pills, and imagining letting go of really big things like old behaviors or old concepts of self can take a long time. I also tell them if they want to start small they can imagine the physical tension in a particular part of the body going away a little bit at a time.

Once the rhythm of the breath is established, I urge the clients to connect their breath with a mantra on the inhale and exhale. As I was taught, the word “mantra” means “mind vibration.” I emphasize that a mantra is not a prayer, and I suggest that clients may choose their own mantras. Stripped to its most basic purpose, a mantra gives the busy part of the student’s mind something to chew on, as if the mind is a dog and the mantra is a bone used to distract the dog. Clients have come up with some creative mantras, such as “Jesus saves,” “sunshine hummingbird,” and “pine cone pomegranate.” When connecting such a mantra to the breath mentally, a student would vibrate the first word when inhaling and the second word when exhaling. This practice is not intended to stop all other thoughts, but it does help slow them down. After a few minutes of rhythmic breathing with mantra, I ask students to pay close attention to how their bodies feel, starting at the tops of their heads and working their way down to the feet. In this way, the clients can get a feel for what is going on physically. Sometimes, at this point I remind the clients that they are not supposed to take my word for how the yoga works, and that they need to get connected with how they feel so they can determine if the yoga helped them feel better. I encourage them to spend extra time breathing and concentrating on parts of their bodies that are really hurting (or tense).

After a few minutes focusing on physical sensations, we shift the focus to the emotions. Connecting with emotions can be difficult for anyone in 2017, and this is especially true for people in early recovery. Many people become cut off from their emotional experiences when they are in active addiction. For some clients, treatment involves feeling a lot of things they have not felt in years. For this reason, when we are in yoga class focusing on emotions, I emphasize the temporary nature of emotions, and I tell the clients to identify the emotion without identifying with it. I ask them to make a simple statement about what they are feeling (angry, sad, scared, happy, etc.) and to be as accurate with that statement as possible. For example, an accurate way to describe fear would be “I feel afraid right now,” rather than “I am afraid.” One of those statements describes a feeling state put into the context of time, and one of those statements describes a fixed identity. After spending a couple of minutes experiencing the emotions, I have the clients imagine that their bodies are full of energy that carries with it the capacity for growth, learning, and healing on multiple levels of their being. This idea is a simple truth that many of us take for granted: our bodies are energetic and they have the ability to recover from illness and all kinds of adversity. For people in early recovery, just being able to play with the idea that they are healing on multiple levels can provide inspiration. At this point in our yoga class, we are ready to begin.

Recently, we have been blessed to have lots of birds and cool breezes to provide ambiance at Prado House and at Encanto House, our men’s and women’s residential treatment facilities. I leave each class grateful for the opportunity to teach Kundalini yoga in such a beautiful environment, and many of the clients share similar sentiments.

David Smith, Ph.D., MFTT

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