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Kundalini Yoga

December 21, 2016 - - 0 Comments

The teacher who brought Kundalini Yoga from its secret origins to the public, Yogi Bhajan, used to have a saying: “Keep up and you will be kept up.” I like to use this saying when teaching yoga and mindfulness meditation at His House because it works so well with many of the 12 steps. The most obvious step that links to this saying is the 11th, to seek conscious contact with God (as we understand Him) through prayer and meditation, and to pray only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry out that will. The idea of “being kept up” brings the yoga student into contact with the idea of a power that is accessed within. Addiction can bring a person out of contact with any semblance of life force energy, and meditation is one way to begin the process of bringing a recovering addict back into contact with that energy.

Urging the students to “keep up” is to remind them that they were created in God’s image. I tend to follow the classic A.A. ideal when I talk about God: every person must come to know his or her own understanding of God. I ask the students to imagine that the same Creator who made all the stars and planets made them, and I ask them to imagine that the Creator makes no mistakes. The word “imagine” is critical: I understand that many who enter treatment are not yet at the 11th step, and I am not trying to preach while teaching. Instead, I am trying to get students to entertain possibilities, to begin developing their own understanding of their Higher Power. To “keep up” is to remain present and positive in the face of whatever life brings. In Kundalini Yoga meditation, the words “keep up” might refer literally to holding one’s arms up during an active meditation, but I always remind students that the entire process serves as practice for the stresses of the real world.

One of the ways Kundalini Yoga works is by stimulating the endocrine system, the glands that regulate everything from metabolism to mood. By tapping in to the body’s natural capacity to feel good, many people who are otherwise depressed or anxious can start to experience a little bit of relief. Over time, this small sense of relief can build. In this way, Kundalini Yoga can be an effective tool to help a recovering addict stay strong and centered.

I teach other forms of yoga and meditation at His House, doing groups at Prado, Merito, and IOP. I think it is important to try different approaches, because different things work for different people, and the idea is not to push one single technique, but to offer an assortment of tools that can be effective ways to experience meditation and relaxation. Because so many people in treatment suffer from anxiety, breathing meditations are well received. One of the simplest meditations I lead most often at Merito House is rhythmic breathing in and out through the nose. By evening the depth of the inhale and exhale for a short time, students can bring their minds to a state of deep relaxation. The rhythmic breath imitates the rhythms of the natural world, from the rotation and revolution of the earth, to the flow of the tides, to the change of seasons. When students are practicing rhythmic breathing, I tend to remind them of the different kinds of natural rhythms while reminding them that they are not separate from those natural rhythms. This sense of connection to something greater can be a good start in working the 12 steps, and it can be empowering when felt, and not simply thought. I can tell this meditation is working for the guys just by looking at them when they are done meditating, but I usually ask them to share a little bit about their experiences when they are done. Most describe feelings of relief and relaxation.
David L. Smith, Ph.D., M.F.T.T.

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