Cancer is a Powerful Spiritual Teacher
by Livdhyan Kaur Khalsa
As a practicing Kundalini yogi, I view my life experiences through a spiritual lens as opportunities for soul growth and learning. So when I was diagnosed with cancer, I found myself on a very powerful spiritual journey, one that led me to confront the temporary nature of this life and all aspects of myself very deeply. As I was sincerely engaged in this work, the dominant discourse about cancer that I heard from family, friends, and the world around me (to keep fighting, to be a survivor) felt insufficient to describe my experiences and just rang hollow. I felt that instead of fighting part of myself (those nasty cancer cells were clearly part of me), acceptance was critical to learning and healing. I knew that surviving was of no value for its own sake, but that learning was the only way my soul could progress in this lifetime.
Because I am learning to use my voice, and because I may be able to open space for others to join me and remake that limited dominant conversation, I want to say that cancer has been a most powerful spiritual Teacher. These are the priceless lessons that I have been taught so far:
1. Suffering is optional. Many times in yoga class, just when we were tired, in pain, and wishing the exercise would end very soon, Darshan Kaur would say, “Suffering is optional.” Through her guidance, I learned to accept pain and move through the discomfort in kriyas and meditation. Little did I know how useful this training would be in dealing with cancer!
Just the mere word cancer stirs fear, sympathy, and avoidance of all sorts, not to mention the actual physical discomforts of the disease and its treatment by Western medicine. Through all of this, I found that I could always choose to suffer and indulge myself in unending pity parties. (This nausea is so awful; I wish it would stop. Will they find more cancer in my body? Will this treatment be painful? Will I ever be able to do the things I want to do?) OR I could choose to accept the experiences I was having, the fear and uncertainty and the physical discomfort, and be as present as possible with these. All of these different kinds of suffering are, at their core, attachment and I learned very clearly that attachment to the temporary, or maya, leads to separation from the Divine. When I was afraid or angry or hurting, I could not reach the Divine. But when I could accept whatever I was experiencing in the moment, I was suddenly not separated and I could experience oneness, peace, and even joy, no matter what was happening to my physical body.
2. This body is temporary. Cancer forced me to confront the very real fact that this physical body is impermanent. Whether or not I survive this round of cancer, my body will surely die at some point. And if this body is to be used and discarded, what, then, is its purpose? My practice tells me that the body is a vehicle for the soul, existing to carry the soul through this lifetime so the soul can learn its lessons and work toward becoming liberated. Through cancer, I learned to see the larger picture. I learned to care for and value my body not only for what it can do, but also to focus on my soul and the real purpose of this incarnation. Because of this potent lesson, I now choose to invest in what is truly lasting. While I nurture and protect my body because it is a sacred vessel, my greatest efforts go to spiritual practice, righteous living, and service so that this body may not be wasted, but contribute to the growth of my soul.
3. I am whole, even though my physical body is missing some parts. One of my greatest initial fears was that surgical removal of parts of my system would prevent my Kundalini from rising and keep me from balancing my energies, blocking my spiritual progress. I was ultimately forced to trust and be open to the results. I found that my fears were again unfounded. That my body was energetically whole and capable of everything I could do before and even more was a shock. I learned that wholeness is not based in the physical. No matter what I have lost, no matter what scars I carry, my soul can never be broken. In the Divine I am whole.
4. All is one. In th Kundalini Yoga tradition, I was taught that, though we have ten bodies, they are all one; so one cannot have a purely physical experience. For example, illness is reflected in the aura, and can have many origins. In my meditation, journaling, and work with my own cancer, I discovered that it had origins in old emotional experiences and parts of myself that I had blocked off. Being fully present with these painful experiences and releasing them helped to heal my physical body as well as my other bodies. Truly, I could reach and heal my illness from any of my ten bodies, and healing was most powerful through multiple levels at once.
And on another level, I found that others were deeply affected by my attitude towards my cancer and my journey. As I was not isolated from the universe, I was also not experiencing cancer in isolation; the people around me were all part of this experience as well. When I spoke to them authentically about my understandings, experiences, and divinely-provided courage, they were inspired to think about cancer in other ways. As I was being taught by cancer, so others were taught by watching me go through it.
5. I am not alone. Through this illness, I learned that I am not isolated in the universe or any part of it. As Yogi Bhajan said, “I am never alone. My God and Guru are with me all the time.” Many people prayed powerfully for me. At the points in my journey when I might have felt most alone, facing surgery, tests, and treatments, the rooms were so filled with loving presences, that there was absolutely no room for fear!
After surgery and radiation treatment, I had to depend on the grace of others to feed and care for me and my family. This was not an easy lesson for me, but one that I am certain I was to learn from cancer. And the Divine taught it to me in a big way! When people sent prayers and came with food, flowers, and well-wishes, the hands reaching out to me were God’s own hands. Their love was Divine love, and it was offered freely for me to accept; all I had to do was learn to receive. If it were not for cancer, I would not know how much God loves me.
6. The answer is always inside me. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I simply could not believe the amount of advice I received. The things I had to do, foods I had to eat, healers that I had to see, etc., etc. My head was spinning! I could easily have followed all of these instructions out of fear and early on I tried exactly that. I searched every tradition for answers and followed prescriptions from numerous practitioners, relatives, and friends. And when this became overwhelming, I began to realize that I was wildly grasping out of fear and confusion. When I could see this desperation for what it was, I saw through the grasping and began to listen to my own inner and higher selves. This direction from within was clear, focused, and quiet. I knew what I had to do and I could be true to myself even in the face of cancer and all that pressure.
7. The Divine speaks through all things. One healer said to me, “The challenge of cancer is: Can you grow faster than it can kill you?” Cancer was a giant wake-up call for me, a message from the universe that I had a blockage, a part of myself that could not express itself in any other way than to create a major illness. This was critical for me to hear. Once I could really understand this message and face it, then I could begin to heed the call, heal, and grow in earnest.
The Divine spoke to me through many, many people from my yoga Teachers to random people on the street. A very humble woman said to me in Spanish, just when I was feeling most resistant to the idea of surgery, that “surgeons are also used by God, so that we might see His marvels,” reminding (when I had forgotten) that God is in all things. Time and time again God spoke to me directly through the mouths of others, with messages that hit me like a ton of bricks, uplifted me, and reminded me who I am. Listening, deeply listening, I was carried across.
8. Attitude of gratitude. As I was enclosed in a tiny room by myself, being “dosed” with radiation at the hospital, I was filled with bliss and realized that I am a very blessed soul. Radiation is a blessing! Being treated for cancer is a blessing! I can now see how each and every experience on my journey with cancer was lovingly arranged to support, heal, and teach me.
You may not believe this, and most look shocked when I dare say it aloud, but cancer has been the greatest learning experience of my life and I would not take it back if I could. Every morning as I recite Japji, I am reminded that “So many endure distress, deprivation, and constant abuse. Even these are Your Gifts, O Great Giver!” The experience of cancer has helped me to truly know that all of this life is a gift, everything we might call good or bad, painful or ugly, beautiful or blissful. Every single experience is a gift, and when I am grateful for all these gifts, I am able to receive so many more.
if you should find yourself face to face with a
powerful Teacher in your life, whether or not
that may be cancer, I pray that you can be fully
present for the journey and find gratitude for
all of the powerful lessons it can teach. The
strength and joy you will obtain are
immeasurable! Sat Nam.
Livdhyan Kaur Khalsa continues to learn and grow tremendously through her journey with cancer. Because Kundalini Yoga has made such powerful changes in her life, she seeks to share this transformative technology with others. She is a Kundalini Yoga teacher and lives in Fairfax, VA. Livdhyankaurkhalsa@gmail.com
Sat Nam. Greetings from New Mexico! The spring equinox is a balance of light and dark. It is a time of renewal, realizing the strength in optimism, and an opportunity to leave the winter behind. It is a time to emerge from winter, and uplift each other so we can grow together.
On 18 March 1980, Yogi Bhajan said these words about the coming of Spring.
“We can, as a goodwill gesture, meet each other, relate to each other, and be friends with each other. It is the coming of the spring. As spring sprouts out, so does our relationships, our brotherhood, our love, and our affection for human beings, because of our human grace.
It is the time to do prayer, it is the time to do Sadhana, it is the time to be, to try to build the basis of our purity and our blessings so we must grow. It is the period when we must do the things which uplift our spirit. “
We are celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. We have specials in our online store, The Source, that are drawn from the amazing Women’s Training Camps that Yogi Bhajan sponsored here in New Mexico. http://thesource.kriteachings.org While you are there check out our two new titles. “Enlightened Bodies” and the new edition of “From Vegetable with Love”.
As teachers of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, it is always a good idea to continue our education. You can do that with us in New Mexico!
KRI is offering the complete 21 Stages of Meditation this summer. I will be teaching with Guru Singh and Krishna Kaur. It promises to be a lot of fun, I think. I am looking forward to being with those experienced and dynamic teachers. Register now, as we will have limited space available. http://www.kundaliniresearchinstitute.org/21stages
Have you visited our KRI Facebook page? We have lots of announcements, information, and comments on our wall. There is new content all the time. Come join us there! https://www.facebook.com/KundaliniResearchInstitute
Warm regards, blessings, and Happy Spring,
Nirvair Singh Khalsa
Yoga Research – Yoga as a Therapy to Treat Depression
Ajeetdev Kaur (Kerry Vanden Heuvel), M.A. and
Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D.
Depression is a prevalent and debilitating mental health condition that can affect anyone at anytime. Researchers have found that the majority of individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) report only a 50% decrease in symptoms with the use of antidepressant medication, the standard treatment for depression. MDD significantly affects daily functioning, with 60% of depressed individuals reporting that the condition has a severe or very severe impairment on their daily lives. The chronic nature of depression is that there is most likely a cyclical relationship in the brain mechanisms involved in the regulation of mood and stress responsivity, such that depression may occur because of life stress and life stress may be a result of depression. This suggests that managing stress may break this cycle.
As a common complementary
therapy in the United States, yoga may be
particularly helpful for depression because it
can be adapted to daily mood through integrating
practices to enhance physical, emotional, and
spiritual health. Most notably, yoga is easily
available and can be self-administered. The slow
rhythmic breathing practices and meditative/
relaxation practices of yoga are designed to
induce a sense of calm, well being, stress
tolerance, and mental focus, all of which can be
of help for depressed individuals. Stress is one
of the major known risk factors for the
development of depression. Increased risk of
depression can result from life events like
divorce, death, or loss of employment, in
addition to chronic stresses like illness, lack
of social support, and numerous daily stressors.
Given yoga’s ability to improve stress coping,
yoga has some potential for both preventing and
coping with depression and its symptoms.
In understanding how depression works, it is important to examine the brain, in particular the ventromedial (or subgenual) prefrontal cortex (VMPFC). The VMPFC integrates limbic, emotion-related information and translates this into modulation of autonomic and behavior outflow. Also, the VMPFC appears to function as a nodal brain region whereby social and emotional conditions interact with information from the body related to stress and relaxation, and is likely to contribute to mechanisms by which mind-body therapies like yoga can influence mood, social function, as well as autonomic output. Major input to the VMPFC includes projections carrying feedback from the body related to stress and viscerosensory signals. Because yoga encourages mindfulness, positive self-talk, and self-acceptance, which may help increase self-confidence and sense of self, these aspects may engage the VMPFC by encouraging a focus on body movements and the breath. In fact, researchers have shown that the application of mindfulness and meditation over the long-term enhances emotion regulation by reducing emotionally reactivity and this is reflected in actual structural changes in the brain; the amygdala in the limbic system responsible for emotion is actually reduced in size. This, in turn, reduces concentrations of stress-signaling molecules and increases dopamine levels. These effects improve the potential for better control over emotions, mood, and anxiety and for increased relaxation. Further, it is important to point out that practicing yoga does not typically involve ignoring depressive or anxious thoughts, but rather focuses more on non-judgmental acceptance of these thoughts, resulting in positive effects for depressed individuals.
The use of yoga as both an alternative and an adjunct to standard treatment for depression is reflected by the increasing number of studies assessing yoga as a treatment for depression. The quantity of this research has reached the point where there are now well over a dozen published systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the research on mind-body medicine approaches for depression including 4 review papers specific to yoga for depression published since 2005. An early 2005 review identified and described 5 clinical randomized controlled trials suggesting some benefit of yoga. In 2010, a review paper by researchers at Brown University School of Medicine reported on 8 clinical trials, and in addition to supporting yoga’s potential efficacy, also described the potential mechanisms involved. More recently in 2013, a more rigorous review, a so-called meta-analysis that applies statistical analytic techniques to published research results, was published by a group led by German yoga researcher Holger Cramer. This study found 27 clinical trials and examined the 12 of these that were randomized controlled trials that involved a total of 619 patients/research participants. They concluded that yoga is efficacious as compared with usual/standard clinical care, and somewhat better than relaxation or aerobic exercise, and benefits were shown for both patients with depressive disorders and in individuals with elevated levels of depression.
they also noted that the more meditation-based
forms of yoga appeared to be more beneficial
than the more exercise-focused yoga styles.
However, a more recent informal review paper in
2014 reported on six studies employing yoga
styles that had physical practices/asanas as a
core component, and concluded that there were
positive benefits. Not surprisingly, as with any
novel field of research, there are limitations
on the quality of the yoga for depression
clinical research literature and therefore of
what can be claimed. For example, there are few
studies that solely investigate the effects of
yoga for depression, the study sample sizes are
small in many studies and the generalizability
of benefits noted in participants who
demonstrate the motivation to participate and
comply in studies of yoga may be questionable,
the severity of depression is not known across
studies, and although adverse effects have not
been reported in these studies, details of how
the assessments have been completed are lacking.
Nevertheless, the research literature is
encouraging enough to support publication of a
brief 2014 Journal of Family Practice paper
(that reaches more practicing clinicians) that
summarized these published reviews concluding
that “Yes, yoga can reduce symptoms of anxiety
An advantageous factor in the application of yoga as a treatment for depression may be that yoga is safe, cost-effective, and can be used as an adjunct to medication. Increasingly, health care providers are encouraging their clients and patients to use self-management approaches for the treatment and management of chronic diseases such as depression. The fact that yoga is versatile, allows for personalization, and can be practiced in studios, gyms, outdoors, and at home is ideal for this form of self-care. Mind-body therapies, like yoga, can support pharmacological and psychological therapies by improving stress and emotion regulation and reactivity. Social support, which is an additional benefit of group yoga practice, has proven to have a positive impact on some individual’s mood and coping skills. Thus, the practice of yoga warrants serious consideration as a potentially efficacious strategy that would allow depressed individuals to cope with their depressive symptoms and their consequences. Further rigorous research is warranted to clarify specific mechanisms of yoga’s efficacy for depression and to determine the best practices and application of yoga that yield optimum benefit.
The Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings – Celebrate International Women’s Day
Spring is upon us here in the Northern
Hemisphere, a wonderful time of year to renew,
rejuvenate and rise from the slower winter
months. We also celebrate International Woman’s
Day, March 8th marks a day when thousands of
events are held throughout the world to inspire
women and celebrate women’s achievements. Yogi
Bhajan’s teachings are filled with inspiring
wisdom for women. He was always an enthusiastic
and outspoken advocate of the infinite capacity
This lecture from 1983 is chock-full of wonderful teachings about women. Yogi Bhajan says “Woman is the most powerful channel of God, through which God has to appear” he continues,
Woman is two things, the Self and the psyche. Her power through her psyche is beyond the power of God known to man. Her power of Self is the power of the majesty of a teacher, which no man in his whole life can reach. The look of a woman is more penetrating and more effective than the entire mighty bullet of a bounty hunter! There is no combination, there is no characteristic. What woman give to man, God has to honor it. It's a very simple statement. I have seen it happening, I have experienced it, I know it, I can say it authentically. It's impossible for people to understand what a woman really is.
This 1983 KWTC lecture touches on many aspects of a women. Treat yourself by reading the entire lecture and witness the depth of Yogi Bhajan’s wisdom on this topic. This month make it a priority to celebrate the women in your life and the incredible impact that they have on all of us.
And as you utilize The Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings® searchable database to explore these many beautiful teachings consider supporting the library as we continue to grow the resource with more lectures, media content and improving your user experience.
Shabd Simran Kaur Adeniji, Fundraising Coordinator
The Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings™
Kundalini Research Institute
Find us on Facebook “The Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings”
We Are KRI - Shaping Yoga in AmericaSonima.com and their sister publication, The Yoga Journal, recently complied a list of the 100 Most Influential Yoga Teachers in America, and we were so happy to see two of our own on this list!
Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa:
Gurmukh is the co-founder of Golden Bridge Yoga Center in Santa Monica and New York City, a dynamic place for the study and practice of Kundalini Yoga and Meditation (http://www.goldenbridgeyoga.com/gurmukh.php). For more than four decades, students in the Los Angeles area and from around the world have sought out her classes in yoga and yogic pre- and post-natal care. She has authored two books, The Eight Human Talents: The Yogic Way to Restoring the Natural Balance of Serenity Within You, and Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful: Experience the Natural Power of Pregnancy and Birth with Kundalini Yoga and Meditation.
Hari Kaur Khalsa:
Hari Kaur is a mentoring Lead Trainer for KRI, from New York City (harinyc.com). She was the Program Director and Lead Trainer for the Master’s Touch Level One with Yogi Bhajan at Hacienda de Guru Ram Das for eight years. She has served as the Kundalini Yoga representative to Yoga Alliance, working tirelessly to create the guidelines for registration with Yoga Alliance. She has authored two books, A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles, and A Woman’s Book of Meditation: Discovering the Power of a Peaceful Mind. Hari was beautifully featured in the Yoga Journal as part of the sampling of the Top 100 list.
Congratulations Gurmukh and Hari Kaur for this well earned honor.
KRI Recipe of the Month for March
Excerpt from: From Vegetables, With Love: Recipes and Tales from a Yogi's Kitchen (Revised and Expanded New Edition) by Siri-Ved Kaur Khalsa.
About Paraanthas: Paraanthas are the beloved
stuffed flat breads of Northern India,
especially in Punjab. Also known as “paraathas”,
they are stuffed with savory and spicy combos of
vegetables, garlic, ginger, and spice.
Paraanthas make a hearty breakfast served with fresh plain yogurt and a little achaar (Indian spicy pickle). “Paraanthas also make great travel food. Make up a batch, wrap them in foil, and they'll keep unrefrigerated for a day while you're on the road.
Stuffings for paraanthas are as varied as your imagination. Those included here are the most common. I have also tried carrot & fennel, broccoli, and paneer stuffings. Not too long ago at a cooking class, my students and I decided to make chocolate paraanthas. They were amazing! Find the recipe for Chocolate Paraanthas with Strawberry Chutney on page 272.
If you are new to making paraanthas, start with alloo (potato), which are the easiest to make. The filling holds together even if there are holes in the dough.
The directions for Paraantha Dough and How to Roll Out, Stuff, and Cook Paraanthas that follow may be used for all paraantha fillings, unless otherwise specified. Enjoy!
Yield: dough for 6–8 paraanthas
For the dough, generally allow a little less than ½ cup flour and ¼ cup water per paraantha. For fillings containing juicy vegetables, such as cauliflower or daikon radish, the recipes require squeezing out most of the liquid. You will have tasty results using this liquid for all or part of the water in your paraantha dough.
3 cups atta (chapatti flour or whole wheat flour)
1½ cups water (approximate)
Make the Dough: Place half of flour into mixing bowl. Make a little bowl shape in the center of the flour and add the water. Mix with a spoon until it is a sticky, moist dough. Gradually add the remainder of the flour, adding flour to the outside edges, working it into the dough toward the center with your spoon, and then ultimately kneading the dough with your floured or oiled hands. Knead on a lightly floured board or right in the bowl, until the dough is soft and pliable. Spread a little oil or ghee over the dough to coat well and let it rest while you prepare the filling. You may also prepare the dough in advance, lightly oil the surface of the dough and refrigerate covered (wrapped in plastic wrap).
Alloo Paraantha Filling—Potato Stuffed Chapattis
Yield: 6 big paraanthas
I prefer the consistency of russet or Yukon gold potatoes, but you may use any variety of baking or boiling potato.
1½ pounds russet potatoes
¼ cup finely chopped garlic
½ cup minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 scant teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt or black salt
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
½ cup chopped cilantro
1-2 jalapeño chiles, finely chopped (optional)
Ghee or oil for frying
Peel and quarter potatoes and boil until firm-tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and mash with a fork or masher (do not whip or use a food processor). Chop garlic and ginger and add to potatoes along with remaining ingredients (except oil or ghee). Make sure there are no hard potato lumps.
Editor’s Note: For detailed instructions on how to make these paraanthas as well as Gobi (cauliflower) paraanthas, please see the YouTube video linked to the KRI newsletter: https://youtu.be/bH5zm1n4ynE
Introducing our latest!
Completely rewritten and expanded second edition from Siri-Ved Kaur Khalsa
Everyday Grace: The Art
of Being a Woman
Level Three Teacher Training
10 Reasons to Join the Aquarian Teacher Level
Three Program This Summer
1. Expand Yourself. You teach and serve others every day, now it is your turn to work on yourself and expand your spirit.
2. Revitalize your Spirit. Rejuvenate yourself and fill your cup with light, love, and good energy.
3. Nurture your Heart. Grow your capacity to love though meditation and self-assessment
4. Cultivate your Spiritual Maturity. Commit to a 1,000-day journey of self-realization and spiritual growth that will expand your consciousness and deepen your self-mastery.
5. Develop your Meditative Mind. Dive deep into inner awareness and self-reflection, expanding your capacity for meditation to new heights.
6. Serve your World. Align your individual passion and purpose with a higher destiny to build communities and serve the greater good.
7. Discover the Power of Spiritual Support. Experience positive support and genuine trust with a group of your peers who walk with you each step of the 1,000-day sadhana.
8. Connect to your Teacher. Immerse yourself in the teachings of Yogi Bhajan and discover new ways that this wisdom can penetrate and change your life.
9. Intensify your Teaching. Deepen your teaching ability and bring a wealth of knowledge and inspiration that can be shared with all your students.
10. Answer your Soul’s Calling. Be the teacher that you are destined to be and make this your summer to start the journey towards being a Level Three teacher.