"This will save your life." A conversation with Sahaj Kaur.
by Anne Marie Costantino
I started doing yoga in the 1990s when I dragged one of my sisters to a beginner’s series on Joy Street in Beacon Hill. Each week the teacher would kindly, yet sternly say, “SISTERS” when we would inevitably start to giggle at our inability to do, well, anything. But I was hooked. I spent the next two decades practicing at neighborhood studios and/or following VCR tapes (ahem) and DVDs--eventually I developed a home practice without instruction, but one of the yoga tapes that made the conversion from tape to DVD was my Kundalini one. I absolutely loved it.
I met Sahaj when we both worked at a small studio in the South End. I was excited to have a chance to practice Kundalini with other (live) humans. Although our time together wasn’t long, I had the privilege of attending one of her workshops and enjoyed her weekly class—in fact, I still use “sa-ta-na-ma” as a meditation device.
Sahaj and I chatted in Room Five so I could learn more about her path to Kundalini--and to get her thoughts on how accessible Kundalini is to the beginner yogi.
Anne Marie: OK, let’s start with the basics. What is Kundalini Yoga?
Sahaj: Kundalini is an integrated system of yoga, postures, breath, using rhythm, dance, and chanting that focuses on consciousness. Bringing us back to a to an understanding of our wholeness through mind, body, and spirit.
Kundalini Yoga was initially taught in private in India to qualified students. It is sacred and powerful. Yogi Bhajan brought it to the west and began teaching it openly to exalt the consciousness.
AM: How did you discover the practice?
I was 31-years-old. I wasn’t practicing yoga at the time and a friend of mine, who was pregnant, then, invited me to a private Kundalini class at her house on the Vineyard. After the class, I went outside to be in the sunshine, and I heard a voice in my head that said:
“THIS WILL SAVE YOU.”
I looked around. And thought, “Save me from what?” (She laughs)
Whoa. On behalf of myself, five doors and all of your loyal students, thank you for listening to that voice. So you started to practice Kundalini regularly after that?
Yes, I began to practice regularly after that.
I began by going weekly at the church here (she points to the church next to us). Gurucharan (Singh Khalsa) was the teacher, and everything changed for me. It was so transformative. My painting (she is an artist!) became visionary--it changed immediately. Kundalini yoga’s powerful technologies stimulate and enhance your intuition and creativity, by strengthening the glandular system and nervous system. It increases our natural abilities.
Are you a Kundalini purist? Or have you taken other yoga classes?
I am certified in Meridian yoga and studied with Tias Little and regularly practice Hatha and other forms of yoga. I love all kinds of yoga, Yin, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Katonah. I find other types of yoga to be complementary to the Kundalini practice. I enjoyed Glen Cunningham’s classes (the founder of Sadhana Yoga where I met Sahaj). Kundalini is very different though than a Vinyasa flow, although, we may start with Sun Salutations as a warm-up. A well-rounded practitioner would do well to practice a Hatha style yoga as well as Kundalini in my view.
What is the structure of a Kundalini Yoga Class?
We begin with a tune-in mantra, The Adi mantra, which we say 3 times to start our practice.
Oh, I love listening in to those.
Then we do warm-ups and/or pranayama. Followed by a Kriya. Do you know what that is?
Yes, I learned about them at Kripalu, but are they different for Kundalini?
Kriya means action--in Kundalini yoga, it is a series of postures, breath mudra, and sometimes chanting. We practice the yoga in an ordered, sacred sequence to achieve a specific outcome. For each class I select a Kriya, today, for example, was for the heart. Kundalini yoga is about physical, mental, and spiritual integration. It impacts the body, mind, and spirit. It’s energetic, strengthening and elevating. Another meaning of Kriya is "an outward physical manifestation of awakened kundalini, such as a spontaneous body movement related to Kundalini energy flow.” (Wikipedia)
After the physical yoga is completed, there is a relaxation (Savasana), after that, we finish with meditation, which can be any one of the following: Pranayama (breathwork), chanting or silence (or a combination of all three).
That is the basic structure.
When did you start teaching Kundalini?
I had a dream in 1998—that would be eight years from my first class. And in my dream my teacher, Gurucharan, came and asked me to do the Teacher Training and then in the dream he left abruptly. Then in real life, it just so happened that a few years after I had completed my Teacher’s Training, he moved away to New Mexico.
No! Another warning. Actually, that is an excellent point. How does Teacher Training work for Kundalini? To teach yoga, you need to complete a 200-hour program. What is your training?
Level One Aquarian Teachers Training is a 200-hour program which I began in 1999 at the Ashram in Millis, MA. After I completed my level one training, in 2000, I was requested to assist in the teacher’s training and to become a Teacher’s Trainer. I started teaching regularly and
I entered into the Kundalini Aquarian Teacher’s Training Academy to become a certified Kundalini Teacher’s Trainer.
You have to teach 1,000 hours to simply enter the Academy.
I have 500-hour certification from Yoga Alliance, and I am certified to teach Level 1 and 11 Kundalini training.
I now train teachers to become certified Kundalini Level One Instructors.
When I was chatting with another Kundalini teacher at the shop I asked her to confirm one of our students names (who is there weekly) and she said she only knew her Kundalini (or given?) name. What does it mean to be given or to take a different name—is it a choice or at what point do you receive a different name or how does that work?
I resisted a spiritual name because I love my name. My brother picked it out for me. Shelley—he chose it based on the seashore.
In 2002 I was at a camp—a retreat—in New Mexico. It was a very restorative experience and I went to get a sheet to put down my address to communicate that I wanted to receive my spiritual name and there weren’t any more applications. I wrote my information on a scrap piece of paper, blessed it, and handed it to a man who said he would take it to Yogi Bhajan. He folded it and put it in his shirt pocket. I figured it would get lost and that would be that. Six months later, however, I received in the mail a letter, beautifully written and typed from Yogi Bhajan, with an Audrey Hepburn stamp on the envelope. I treasure that letter.
You have been blessed to live with the name Sahaj…
Sa-he -age. It means ease, natural, flow.
It also has a mystical meaning:
“Sahaj is originally a Sanskrit word which means 'having been born together' (just as human 'twins') and thus something inwardly perceived or intuited along with one's birth as a human being - a sort of indwelling mystical principle of divine perception given to man as his birthright and therefore, a natural and effortless heritage of divinity ingrained in humanity. Properly speaking, Sahaj is the very 'mysticality' (to use a new term) of religion. It is the acceptance of inwardness and 'intuitionism' as the true basis of religion, to the negation of all ritualistic externalities.”
---Excepted from Guru Nanak’s Concept of Sahaj: Gateway to Sikhism by Dewan Singh
Your spiritual name is your essence… and you need to live up to it.
Thank you. For those of you who may not be familiar with Kundalini teachers, they dress in all white as Sahaj is now. Can you explain the significance of wearing white—and the meaning of the headwrap?
To teach Kundalini yoga, it is suggested to cover your head and wear white. Also it is suggested that head covering be made of natural fibers—cotton, wool or silk. The body can breathe with natural fibers.
The white amplifies the Aura. Which is a protective electromagnetic field emanating from our heart. We all need a strong aura. Kundalini helps to develop our sensory self, our energy, and awareness.
There are a few reasons for the head being covered. Some choose to wear a turban. The turban gives a craniosacral adjustment, and it is considered a sacred dressing. It is aligning, and it is protective.
One of my visits to Kripalu coincided with a Kundalini training and I am not kidding—the campus quieted to a level I had never experienced before. Everyone talked quieter to one another. The hallways were suddenly hushed whispers. There is something calming about being in the presence of Kundalini teachers and practitioners. Do you feel that? What do you think it is? The fact you are all living your truth? Is it the white?
I think it is the peaceful nature that the practitioners have. The practice creates a joyful, peaceful state.
Mmmm. I certainly feel that. Besides my DVD and your classes, the other strong Kundalini memory I have is of a Kirtan where Snatam Kaur performed. When you play your welcoming music and chants before class, I stop the music I am playing in the office and listen. It goes straight to my heart. What makes Kundalini chants and music so special?
It’s expansive. Like going to the ocean. The practice takes us to that place. Reminding us we have a home or space we can reside in, other getting caught up in our mind or our ordinary day-to-day experience. Kundalini yoga is a gift to humanity. It brings us to a place of balance, wholeness.
Thank you. I love being at the shop to watch the teachers and practitioners interact with their students and clients. Your group is especially engaging—one of them brought us plants! Another offered to bring stuff to Boomerang’s for us (donation shop). Such a lovely group. I am so grateful to work with you again and thank you for chatting with me today.
Visit the "Yoga" page to register for a Kundalini class with Sahaj or register here: