Kundalini Yoga And You

November 16, 2016 - , - 0 Comments

Yoga and Mindfulness
By David Smith, Ph.D., MFTT
Yoga and mindfulness are great ways to reduce automatic behaviors, or what I call “shut down the auto-pilot.” In my eight years as a Kundalini Yoga and meditation teacher, I have worked with many students of all ages and life situations; my work with students in treatment and recovery has been the most rewarding. In particular, my work with clients at His House/New Creation has been a highlight.

Kundalini Yoga is also known as “the yoga of awareness.” When practicing Kundalini Yoga, a student brings attention to processes in the mind and body that are normally unconscious, or automatic. For example, the postures of yoga help students become conscious of what is happening with their physical bodies on a moment-by-moment basis. When I am teaching, I encourage students to listen to their bodies as if they’re listening to an old friend: the friend does not want to be judged, just heard. Next, the conscious breathing of yoga helps students become more conscious of what is happening emotionally on a moment-by-moment basis. Typically, deeper breathing calms intense emotions and gets students to a less reactive space, where they can notice emotions without getting carried away by them. In addition, deeper breathing can increase energy and vitality. Finally, the use of mantra in yoga can help students become more conscious of thoughts and patterns of thinking that are often unconscious. In Kundalini Yoga, I encourage students to mentally vibrate the mantra Sat Nam when they breathe (inhaling Sat, exhaling Nam), though I tell them they are free to use a mantra (or even any two words) of their choice. While the mantra Sat Nam—which translates to “truth is my name”—is important to Kundalini Yoga, ultimately I am trying to get students to understand that the purpose of mantra is to give the busy part of their brains something to do while they meditate. Therefore, I tell students that they may mentally vibrate any two words of their choice on the inhale and exhale, creating their own mantra. When thoughts come up—and they will come up—students are encouraged to notice the thoughts. This process is easier to do when the thoughts are coming up against the background of a mantra. In this way, the mantra serves as a canvas. While a blank canvas may be the ideal, it is important to note that meditation is a practice, not an exercise in perfection: we are getting positive work done whenever we notice what thoughts are cluttering up the canvas in a given moment.

I recently started teaching a bi-weekly Kundalini Yoga class with the women in residential treatment at Prado. While most of my groups are either mindfulness based process groups or guided meditations, with this group we usually do a full Kundalini Yoga kriya. A kriya is a set of postures with specific breathing and mantra which is intended to help a certain system of the body; with the women in residential treatment, I tend to focus on the adrenals (which help with stress response) and the heart. The first thing that struck me about this class was how engaged everyone was with the process; even students who seemed to be struggling were giving the class their best effort. One student from the first class told her therapist that she was able to experience deep relaxation for the first time in a long time; as her yoga teacher, she did not have to tell me this: I could see it. This is a highly rewarding part of my job: being able to bring relief to people who need it.
With the men in residential treatment at Merito house, I conduct a weekly process group that leads to a meditation. The process group usually focuses on automatic behavior or emotional regulation, but I allow the group to bring up what concerns them in the moment and we go from there. Sometimes the meditation is an active Kundalini Yoga meditation that focuses on a specific topic (such as stress reduction or anxiety reduction), and other times I lead a guided meditation based on the principles of progressive muscle relaxation. The men have responded really well to this group, and several of them have told me they were not expecting to enjoy the process as much as they did. Other men have asked for copies of specific meditations so they can do them once they leave residential treatment.

The disease of addiction thrives on automatic behavior, and a relapse can sneak up on a person without much prior conscious awareness at all. Regular practice of mindfulness, whether Kundalini-based or not, can be another effective tool for a recovering addict.

David L. Smith, Ph.D., M.F.T.T.

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