By Sara Avtar
When practicing Kundalini Yoga, the most important thing to begin with is to make sure that your body is properly warmed up and relaxed. For 10-15 min beforehand, is good to practice some gentle stretching, with exercises that specifically prepare for the more challenging positions in the intended kriya. This is essential to avoid harming your body.
Before tuning in, take a moment to really focus on what the creative principle of ‘Ong’ means, as the feminine creative power and vibratory womb or matrix of all creation (Shakti principle). Then focus on what ‘Guru Dev’ really means: the subtle enlightening power of your original being (and all creation) bringing awareness to all aspects of your life (Shiva principle). This helps you to connect with the original energy of the mantra and not with any distorted energy that may also have been associated with it and which can creep in with unawareness. When that is clear, then chant with this intention.
When you lead the kriya make sure you have practiced it sufficiently beforehand to know the challenges and effects of the postures and the sequence, seeing how it stimulates or challenges you psychophysically. Recognise how you can accommodate that or what exercises may be necessary to modify and how that can be done.
When you demonstrate the exercises make sure you do it with correct postural direction and breath coordination. Check if people are having problems or need support to improve or modify.
Although the general rule in Kundalini Yoga is not to practice the exercises when you teach so your attention isn’t distracted away from the students; I nevertheless recommend co-practicing to a certain extent to set the pace and modality of practice, especially at the outset, or to help sustain the group with the onset of fatigue. In this way, you can demonstrate a gentle or moderate pace with correct posture, developing a balanced more self-sustaining flow, if it is a dynamic cyclic posture. (I teach about the self-sustaining cyclic flow more specifically in Shakti Dance®)
It is really important to cultivate the habit of paying attention to what you are ‘feeling’ as you practice. Direct your awareness in a relaxed way to the physical sensations that the exercises produce in you, observing neutrally where, how and why you may be feeling discomfort or stimulation. Doing this, will enable you to develop a state of meditative mindfulness and presence while practicing, enabling you to experience the exercises and their effects more deeply. It is important to stay ‘present’ in the body and not to let your mind roam, or to space out while practicing. This is the best way to ensure you listen to and take care of your body.
Some discomfort or resistance during Kundalini Yoga exercises can be caused by general muscle fatigue and this can be eased by realigning the posture, doing micro-movements, breathing consciously and focussing your attention on something suitable. This can help to gradually release the muscle fascia tension and its ‘blocks’. Doing this correctly will help you to move through, release and experience greater lightness. This is not always a straightforward process and needs to be done with care and the right approach. It can be often misinterpreted or attempted with insufficient awareness or postural capacity, in which case, ‘keeping up’ or trying to ‘push through’ can cause pathological damage.
Awareness of the body should also enable the practitioner to feel when there is any discomfort that is not just due to general muscle fatigue, but rather a sign of neural pain due to a trapped nerve or postural injury. This needs to be recognised immediately and modified appropriately. So, it is important for the teacher to also repeatedly instruct their class in how to bring awareness into their body correctly, how to recognise what they feel and how to respond appropriately.
Different people will benefit in different ways from the exercises, according to different approaches. Some will find it more beneficial to do short bursts of a challenging exercise with intermittent breaks, especially if it is an abdominal exercise. Others will find that remaining still and steady with focus carries them through better (like with some arm exercises). As a teacher you need to be aware of the different levels and needs of your students, which can be very different, and this is why, if you join in with the practice, you cannot lose yourself in the exercises or distract from what is going on in the class.
It is also important to maintain a balanced pace when guiding and moving through a kriya. Instructions, exercise duration, relaxation and any accompanying music needs to be well coordinated with an aim to supporting whatever benefits the practice can offer. Generally bringing a meditative focus into the class will be nurturing, supporting the practitioners and facilitating inner healing during the practice.
Open heartedness and a sincere wish for the students to benefit and find wellbeing, rather than worrying about your own persona as a teacher will be the active ingredient that ensures your class unfolds in a wholesome way.