This post features a Q&A with one of my favorite yoga teachers, Donna Amrita Davidge.
I love a vigorous yoga practice as much as anyone on this green earth. For years I believed I'd never be fit or athletic or strong, so discovering that I can hold a handstand for two seconds has been a revelation.
After all, two seconds feels like a long time when you’re upside down.
Five days a week, I practice yoga at my gym, where the classes are sweaty and challenging and packed with conspicuously beautiful people. (Seriously, where do these people come from? They make suburban New Jersey look like a music video.) Together, the beautiful people and I power our way through a million chaturangas and some til-death-do-us-part forearm planks, pouring sweat onto the hardwood floor.
After a particularly challenging class, as I weave my way through the gym's main level—past the giant TVs playing infomericals, past the gazelle-like women on the elliptical machines and the beautiful, intense souls who are bracing themselves to lift a giant barbell yet again—I congratulate myself for having survived.
Some days, though, I need a yoga practice that soothes my soul. I need something more spiritual, more meditative. That's where kundalini yoga comes in.
Kundalini—a style of yoga that was brought to the U.S. in the 1960s by Yogi Bhajan—is all about moving stuck energy and accessing your intuition. I won't lie: when you're new to it, kundalini can seem weird. I'm a born skeptic, so when the teacher at my first kundalini class explained that meditating makes energy shoot out the top of your skull, I may have rolled my eyes.
During the three years since that first class, I've stopped rolling my eyes.
In kundalini, each physical exercise and meditation is designed to promote emotional and spiritual balance, and maybe there really is energy shooting out of my head, because it works. Kundalini gives me peace, clarity, solace, and goodwill that I haven't found through any other means.
Some of the exercises may seem silly. I kid you not, one class I took started with three minutes of lying on my back and making snoring sounds. But when I walked out of that class, I felt renewed. Kundalini helps me access and process emotions that I don’t particularly want to touch. Most kundalini exercises are done with your eyes closed (which is reassuring when you’re making pelvic thrusts in a room full of people, or dancing on your mat for three minutes), and it’s not uncommon to hear a classmate break into tears—or laughter.
Kundalini may not be as well known as other styles of yoga, but writers, artists, and creative types are finding their way to it. In case you weren’t already convinced, Ann Patchett has been practicing kundalini for decades.
I was curious about why kundalini yoga works so well for creative types, so I asked one of my favorite teachers, Donna Amrita Davidge, for her insights. In this Q&A, Donna explains what makes kundalini yoga special and suggests some meditations for writers and for people who are going through hard times.
I found Donna through her yoga retreat, Sewall House, which has been a haven for me during major transitions in my life. Donna is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund a kundalini yoga DVD, which would be a wonderful resource if you’d like to practice this style of yoga at home.
Without further ado, here’s Donna.
Laura: How is kundalini yoga different from what most people think of as "normal" yoga? And why do you think so many artists and creative types are drawn to kundalini?
Donna: Kundalini yoga does overlap somewhat with classical hatha yoga practices, but it’s very different from other forms of yoga that are popular today. Because it encourages you to focus inward and pay attention to your breath, kundalini yoga takes you into a deep inner space, revealing emotions and energy that might not be accessed through other forms of yoga. In kundalini yoga, the repetitive motions coordinated with breath, as well as long holds of postures, move energy in a more accelerated fashion than other forms of yoga, making it a wonderful practice for creative people.
Laura: What benefits or changes have you observed in your own life from practicing kundalini?
Donna: For me, kundalini yoga was first and foremost an emotional healer. It strengthened my nervous system, which had been damaged by certain life experiences that affected me emotionally. I was also performing during the first ten years I taught kundalini yoga, and the practice helped my development as a performer and taught me how to handle relationships—and myself—in my daily life.
Laura: Could you recommend a kundalini practice for someone who is struggling to access his or her creative potential? How about for someone who is going through a rough time in his or her life?
Donna: There are so many practices in kundalini yoga that it’s challenging to pick just one or two. Also, all yoga is meant to be individualized. That said, chanting the sound Ong is a great way to open the throat, one of the creative centers. The ng sound at the end of Ong also resonates at the point between the eyebrows, which is the third eye. In kundalini, we say that the third eye connects us to the infinite, where all things are possible.
There is a meditation for haunting thoughts that Yogi Bhajan gave me years ago, which is easily accessed online. [Here is a tutorial.] I suggest doing it for 90 days if you are feeling challenged in life.
Laura: Do you have any recommendations for someone who is intrigued by kundalini but doesn't know where to start?
Donna: Finding a kundalini class isn’t always easy. There is a great online resource called IKYTA, which lists all kundalini teachers.
If you are in a city, likely there is either a kundalini center or a studio that offers kundalini. If not, I have two DVDs, and there others available online, or even YouTube videos. There are some excellent books on kundalini, such Sadhana Guidelines, though learning the basics from a teacher or video first might help.
Thank you, Donna!
For more information, please check out Donna’s campaign to re-release her kundalini DVD The Challenge. The original was highly praised by Yoga Journal, and the new release would be a wonderful resource for those of you who don’t have access to kundalini classes or who prefer to do yoga at home.
So, are you intrigued? Would you give kundalini yoga a try?