Bringing It Back To The Mat
It's the silliest thing, but I've really missed my yoga mat. Let me explain. While I was doing my research for writing The Serpent Ascending, I enrolled in a Kundalini Yoga teacher training program. I wanted to get certified in Kundalini Yoga for a while, but I just could never find the time. Writing The Serpent Ascending gave me an excellent excuse to take my own yoga practice to the next level.
What most people don't know is that what we call Kundalini Yoga here, in the West, is really the original yoga, and, in India, it is called Kundalini Tantra or just Tantra. The yoga practice itself actually falls under the umbrella of White Tantra, because it's extremely meditative and gets the practitioner prepared to approach the "Red Tantric" practices. Red Tantra involves the sexual positions that most of us in the West have come to associate with the word Tantra. If you'd like to know more about that division, I talk a great deal about this in The Serpent Ascending.
Unfortunately, this sexual association actually gave yoga a bad name when it first came to the West, and some "re-branding" was required. Aside from the misconceptions surrounding the sexual practices of Tantra, the original yoga was less accessible to Western audiences because it focused so heavily on meditative practices. So, long story short, the name was changed and some of the practices were modified to make it easier for Westerners to embrace the benefits of a Kundalini practice, that is to say a Tantric practice.
Because most people in the United States identify Kundalini Yoga with this new style introduced to us in the 1960s by Yogi Bhajan, my yoga teacher started me off with that system (thinking that's what I wanted). Let me say here, for the record, that I was perfectly happy with her instruction and with the material I was learning. (I still like it very much and find myself using it from time to time.) However, while we were taking a brief break so that she could handle some pre-arranged commitments, she "tuned in" to my practice on a psychic level, and got the "intuition" that I might actually be more drawn to the original form of practice rather than Yogi Bhajan's style.
So … on our first session after our break, she asked if I would be willing to see the differences in the two styles by having a more traditional practice that day. I wholeheartedly agreed, and I'm so glad I did.
The first thing she said to me was "Get out your yoga mat." It sounds so ridiculous, but I was overjoyed! In Yogi Bhajan's style, there is less of a focus on the mat. In fact, the entire time we were learning that style, she never even mentioned the mat. Instead, we sat on pillows and used blankets. It was all very comfortable, but, I'll be honest, it felt like something was missing for me.
The lack of the mat was not the only thing that threw me off. There were other differences in the Yogi Bhajan style of Kundalini that I immediately noticed. For example, instead of chanting "Om," there was another chant that I had never encountered before. In Yogi Bhajan's style of Kundalini, the practitioner chants "Ong namo guru dev namo" at least three times before beginning the practice. A rough translation of this mantra is "I bow to the teacher within." While it is certainly beautiful, I always struggled with feeling like something was missing. I genuinely missed chanting "Om." What's interesting is that the word Ong is just another way of saying "Om," but still I felt like it was missing. Even the way that the classes are ended felt like a deviation from the traditional yoga that I have always known and loved. Instead of saying "Namaste," Kundalini Yoga (as taught by Yogi Bhajan) chants "Satnam" three times.
While I didn't have a problem with these differences, they did give me some pause. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to know why they were changed, and why I had never heard of them in my more traditional yoga training. Turns out that there's a simple answer.
Yogi Bhajan was Sikh, and he liberally combined elements of his own religion into his yoga teachings without differentiating between his personal faith and traditional practice. As a simple example of this, the word Satnam, which is used to end a Kundalini class in Yogi Bhajan's style, is pulled from the Guru Granth Sahib (a holy scripture of the Sikh religion). Personally, I don't have a problem with Yogi Bhajan teaching yoga his way. I'm sort of doing something similar by making comparisons between yoga and witchcraft. (That is definitely NOT traditional yoga teaching, by the way.) I'm just a bit more honest about where my own practices as a witch who uses yoga to enhance his witchcraft deviate from the original material, and I don't try to use yoga to present witchcraft to my mundane yoga students. If nothing else, I'll remember Yogi Bhajan as a guide for how to be more transparent in my own approach to talking about how witches can use yoga to become better witches.
Long story short, we tried a traditional Kundalini Tantra practice, and I was in love. It started in a very familiar way. There was a centering meditation. Then we chanted "Om." We performed some Sun Salutations, and the rest was history. It all felt very familiar. It was like I was re-embracing an old friend. I never realized how much I missed certain aspects of my yoga practice until I didn't have them for a while.
What's interesting is the fact that this change in style made all the difference in my chakra meditations as well. Tune in next time to hear how the change in style affected my focus on the sacral chakra.