Hype or Hope?

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. -Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (31 Mar 1596-1650)

Tomorrow I’m subbing again for the Kundalini class in Santa Clarita. I love teaching this style, which incorporates chanting, meditation, pranayama, mudras and kriya. I am not alone in my affection. Google “Satnam fest” or “Kundalini Yoga fest,” you’ll see what I mean. Thousands of happy looking people dressed in white with long hair and beards attend these festivals to celebrate life, practice yoga, sing kirtan and camp. Though I never met Yogi Bhajan personally I have felt his unique presence within my own teacher who studied with him for many years.

As my teacher, Lisa, vividly describes a Kundalini class or a retreat I picture the event in my mind. Her memories then record as my memories, digested. When I practice the set I hear her melodious voice in my head as madyama-vac (the sounds that are thought.) I not only remember the time we sat in the studio talking, I remember the image I had in mind. Thus I carry his instructive DNA through a golden chain of teachers. Reincarnation, transmigration, renascence are never more real than when experienced in person.

All very romantic but what about the outlandish? The not merely extravagant, but highly specific claims Yogi Bhajan made in his lifetime regarding Kundalini yoga? Dare I say hyperbolic, possibly exaggerations? For example he said that if we do the Long Ek Ong Kar Meditation for 2.5 hrs., starting pre-dawn, for 40 days we will be “liberated.” hmmmm Define liberated. I know it was the 70s, but I don’t think he meant the right for me to burn my bra or vote. Concerning the Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation, he said that if we do it for 2.5 hrs. a day for a year and a half, and wear white, we will “See the unseen and know the unknown.” Pretty heavy promises. Hype or Hope?

I’m seriously tempted to say, “Try it some time and let me know” – but that would be intellectually lazy. Anyway, I made this blog to demystify yoga not fog things further. At the risk of putting myself in harm’s way I’ll start by admitting I’ve had more than my share of “liberating” events. So why don’t I talk about them? Teach people to levitate, read minds, fly? Basically for three reasons:

  1. Once I save someone’s dog, I invite 100 more phone calls from anxious pet owners.
  2. Once I save someone’s dog, I inherit a fan club of trolls who would like nothing better than to prove me a fraud.
  3. Once I save someone’s dog, believers demand the crash course 200 hour teacher training on how to save dogs.

Allow me to elaborate. Years and decades and lifetimes create enhanced “sensitivities.” (I use this word for lack of a better one.) Sensitivity is not a superhuman power. It’s a literally human, deeper resonance, higher awareness, greater intensity vibrance. I sincerely believe anyone with patience and training can increase pranic sensitivity in the same way practicing scales strengthened my piano playing. Ya gotta practice. There’s the rub. Some people come into this life with musical parents, surrounded by opportunity for advancement. Others must try harder to find guidance. Good teachers are hard to find. Metaphysical powers are similar to artistic inspiration in this regard.

But what about the dog?

Sometimes the answer just falls in my lap. Sometimes I just know where a lost dog is. When I have that tingling feeling combined with an anxious pet owner, my inner grown up encourages me to tell the truth. (He was locked in the salon, but that’s another story.) I really don’t want to be in the business of finding lost dogs. This makes an excellent living for the likes of psychics on staff for police departments – but as for me? Unless the answer is staring me in the face, the searching, the focus, the process, requires tremendous energy. Maybe I don’t want to devote the bulk of my meditation to things that are lost. The law of attraction can be a crazy distraction for those who get hung up on it.

What is worse is the attention such yogic feats of energy are prone to ignite.

Trolls make a fine sport out of spewing. Rather than feel excited about the dog/owner reunion – they set about trying to prove fraud. They cry foul. They generally cast a bad light on anyone attempting to do good deeds. What naysayers misunderstand is that dynamic energy works in all directions. When I’m asked to perform in a vortex of negative mean-spiritedness, around people who want me to fail? Their vibration returns dissonance not harmony, clouding the subject. I’m uncomfortable discussing strange feats with people eager to trip me up. Yeah, make of that what you will. . . .

There’s one last reason why 40 days of 2.5 hour meditations may not yield the exacting results Yogi Bhajan describes: seriously, not everyone is ready.

IMHO if you are free of thoughts unpure, and of thoughts unkind you’ll do better at this sport. Gentleness clears the soul. Love cleans the mind and makes it free. Kind of a shame Yogi Bhajan was so exacting in his speech because that absoluteness detracts from his teaching. Preposterous stories are woven into the fabric of Oriental cultures, where myth is accepted as legend, as metaphor. In the West? Not so much. We live in a “show-me-the-money” world. When we know something is a myth, we don’t usually take it as a metaphor. The recent strong resurgence in fundamentalist versions of all kinds of religions serves as a sober reminder of how little we tolerate symbolism and metaphor in the West.

Which brings me to item three on the list. In the beginning Yoga Bhajan was teaching yoga, not selling certifications. Back then people started teaching when he gently (or not so gently) suggested they were ready. He knew my teacher personally. They had a relationship. He cared about her and she for him. By contrast not one of the teachers who issued my certifications know me personally, although some were more friendly than others. I keep myself current with continuing education – yet many valuable things I learn are from non-YogaAlliance-registered sources. Or to put it another way I learn as much from studying brain science, mathematics, somatics and quantum physics as to why Kundalini works as I ever did from yoga teachers.

Hype or Hope? I’m going with both. Yogi Bhajan’s claims are extravagant for the purpose of getting hopes up, for the purpose of jogging your brain, stretching your belief in what’s possible. Extravagant = hype. With Hope folding right into the mix. Because even if you aren’t walking on water enlightened by the end of the 40 days you will be altered by the process. How much you progress really depends on where you start. If you never start you might as well give up hope. I don’t believe “magical” powers come from twiddling yer thumbs or exposing frauds. I do believe some of what happens appears magical for those who miss all the hidden hard work – or haven’t you heard of the “overnight success?”

Personally, I am loathe to make particular claims about what Kundalini can do. I am uneasy making promises to people who may not have the correct frame of mind or honest intentions or actual ability, bless your heart. That is not the same thing as saying “It’s not possible.” Because I already know first-hand. I’ve already encountered far too many an eerie experience, sensed such sensational radiance, progressed too greatly beyond my origin, to discount his assertions. At the end of the day, to the trained eye one must observe: Kundalini yoga like Ashtanga or Iyengar, is all about the practice. It’s only 1 percent theory. The rest is up to you.

Now y’all play nice

Sat Nam

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