Boundaries in your Head.

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The other day I was taking care of my 3-year-old nephew.  It was a beautiful day and we were both excited to get outside and play.  As we were headed out the door I wanted to review with him his “boundaries.”  He is allowed to ride his bike by himself to the “pointy-bushes” about half way down the block.    

“Where are your boundaries?” I asked him

“In my head.”  Was his spot-on reply. 

While this wasn’t exactly the answer I was looking for it was a perfect and poignant message.  All of us would do well to remember that our boundaries really are only in our heads!

I liken this to a box.  When we’re growing up we keep putting things into the box of “Stuff I Can Do.”  Ride a bike?  In the box.  Learn a new language?  In the box.  Take up archery?  In the box!

But then, at some point, we stop putting new stuff in the box.  We start to get comfortable with the skills (physical and emotional) that we’ve accumulated so far and we stop stretching ourselves to grow, try new things, fail sometimes and expand our box.  Pretty soon the idea of trying anything that isn’t already in our box (that is to say that we’re not ALREADY good at) is scary and we just refuse to do it.

The reality is though …that box was just an illusion from the start.  We have within us already the capacity to be boundless, infinitely powerful and hugely transformative in our own, and other peoples, lives.  What we find when we start to practice yoga, meditation or serious self-reflection is that when we reach our hand out to find that firm edge of our box….where we KNOW our limits lay….our hand passes right through like a mirage.  We don’t have limits.  All of our boundaries are self-imposed by our own minds!

For children, all of those boundaries between what they are and are not capable of don’t exist.  They are still in the open receptive space to know that anything they want to be or do in this life is possible.  If we allow ourselves to go back to the child-like mentality we find that we too are capable of anything.  We are boundless.  When we drop our mental boundaries, open up to the Divine flow and put our honest desires and efforts out there….magical things happen.

Today I will take note whenever I come up against one of those mental boundaries.  Any time I find myself thinking “I can’t_____”  or “I’m not ______ enough” I will visualize that wall of my box vanishing before my eyes.  Because; I can and I am.  I choose to ride my bike past those pointy bushes and into the infinite space of possibility. 

Breath: The Aspects of Kundalini Series

“The main problem in the world is stress.  It is not going to decrease- it is going to increase.  If through pranayam the shock can be harnessed, the entire stress and disease can be eliminated.” Yogi Bhajan

The breath is one of the few things we do that can be either completely unconscious and dictated by muscle memory, survival instinct and habit OR it can be completely consciously regulated for particular purposes.  The way we breathe has a powerful effect on how we feel in any given moment.  When we learn to breath more deeply, smoothly, fully and slowly we more easily relax and savor life. 

Prana= Life force  //Yama= Control

So, Pranayams are techniques to control the breath.  By controlling the breath we control our state of mind, emotion and health.  Kundalini Yoga has a deep well of pranayam techniques to try for example,

One of the great things about having a few breath techniques in your yogic toolkit is that breath can really be used at any time, by almost anyone in any situation.  Wherever you are right now…stop and take a long slow breath in through your nose, let your belly relax out as you do …. And then a long slow exhale through your nose, feel yourself sinking down into your chair as you do.  Do you feel more peaceful? Grounded? Or attentive than you did a moment I go?  (I do!) 

Nirmal's Breath Story

Confession time:  I was a reverse mouth-breather.  Whew!  There, I said it!  I remember being on a road trip when I was about 8.  Laying down on the bench seat in our wood-paneled mini van.  And watching my belly as I was breathing.  I noticed that as I was breathing air in my belly sucked in and I felt tightness in my chest and shoulders.  As we continued down the road and I continued to watch my belly all of the sudden I had this thought. “If the air is going IN shouldn’t my belly go OUT to make room for it?”  I tried making my belly move out when I inhaled….but it felt weird.  Also when I was younger my sister used to make fun of me for breathing  loudly through my mouth.  I would try breathing through my nose instead ….but after a few breaths I would feel like I was running out of air and have to take a big gulp of air to catch up.

These incidents stuck in my mind…but I didn’t give them a lot of weight until I started taking lots of yoga classes.  When I began learning the basics of correct breathing patterns I realized my reverse-mouth breathing was not only weird and loud but that it was also the opposite of an ideal breath!  My 8-year-old insight was correct….your belly should expand to make room for the air when you breath in.  (And much to my chagrin my older sister was sort of  right….you should breath through your nose not because it is quieter but because breathing thorough our nose is gentler on your body).  It was many months of practice of yoga and paying attention to my breathe before I started to re-train my body in correct breathing.  Over time I have found a greater ease with a yogic breath and it makes me feel alive, grounded, peaceful and calm. 

Breath work, and your experience of it, continues to change so much as you move forward on your path.  I am still finding newness in my breath of fire…there are still moments where I settle into it in a new way.  There are still insights for me at the end of a long breath hold.  There are still times I feel amazed at the power of pranayam.  

Mantra: The Aspects of Kundalini Series

“We meditate so that our minds can be sharp and alert. We chant mantras so that your souls may be ignited like candles. We walk in the light of this beauty.”  Yogi Bhajan

One of the most transformational times in my life started from the seed of a mantra.  I was drifting through a life that vaguely resembled what I thought I was supposed to be doing…. but not really feeling connected or passionate about it.  I decided to practice a powerful chanting mantra every day for 40 days.  The decision was almost off-hand…. I had some friends who were doing this meditation and I figured I’d give it a shot.  Shortly after completing the 40 days everything in my life started to fall apart.  I was effectively kicked out of the stream of life that I had been drifting on.  The Universe picked me up and plunked me down onto a new path.  And while this transition was incredibly painful…. I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I now feel like I am purposefully walking through and co-creating my life…rather than just being a passive and apathetic observer of life. 

I credit this transformation to that chanting.  Chanting mantra is like sending a particular radio frequency out to the Universe.  You can have a profound effect on so many aspects of your life, just by aligning yourself with the vibration of a mantra.  Mantra is one of the parts of Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, that I love the most and one of the elements that sets it apart from other schools of yoga.   Mantras are sets of sounds that we repeat to have a particular effect on our minds, bodies and/or spirits.  Most of the mantras in Kundalini Yoga are in the Gurumukhi language (a derivative of Sanskrit) but we also chant in English occasionally.   There are mantras tailor made for almost any situation: sending healing energy to yourself or someone else, mending a broken heart, grieving the loss of a loved one, inviting a new soul into our family, for even your unknown prayers to be answered…there are so many applications and varieties of mantras. 

Mantra “works” in a few different ways:

  • There are meridian points in your mouth that are stimulated by chanting.  The precise repetition of sounds presses these points to create a precise effect in your body.  Much like, dialing a telephone calls a particular person.  
  • The frequency, or vibration, of the sounds begins to change your vibration as a human being….which changes the way to relate to and attract from the Universe. 
  • The rhythmic repetition of sound has a  soothing and healing effect on the body
  • When we chant as a group we create a group energy that unifies us and elevates us beyond our own perspective.  

Chanting is not signing so it doesn’t matter if you have a ”good” voice….give it a try.  Chanting is a powerful transformational experience…give it a try.  Mantras can have wide ranging effects from healing to prosperity etc…give it a try.  You’ll never know the power of chanting if you don’t just give it a try.  

This article is co-posted with the KundaliniCollective

Sangat = Spiritual Community

Connecting to others on the spiritual path brings me profound joy.  There is something intangible and incredible about sitting down next to someone who totally gets me and my journey and my desires.  I’ve clearly heard the message from the Universe (and my lovely yoga teacher/mentor) that now is the time to create the community I’ve been longing for.  This directive has prompted some internal musings about WHAT exactly community is and WHY I long for it so deeply.  So, here are some musings on Sangat, or spiritual community.

What is community?

Community to me means connecting with people in “real-life.”  By which I mean actually sitting down with them face-to-face, talking together, eating together and meditating together.  Community for me means creating and nurturing bonds with people in such a way that they become part of the fabric of my life.  I care about what happens with them….and they care about what happens with me.  Community is about feeling that my own practice of yoga and attempts to self-reflect has impacts beyond my own existence.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

When we’re in community we’re much stronger than when we’re on our own.  There is a magical, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, thing that happens.  This does not mean that being in community is always blissful and challenge-free. 

A community of people around you acts like the Immune system in your body. 

Through challenging situations both the Immune system and Communities of people learn, heal and grow towards more expansive versions of themselves.  When we get sick, it is actually a growth opportunity for the body.  Each time you get sick the individual immune cells actually get smarter and stronger.  And thus, you as a human organism also get stronger and healthier. 

Being in the world is messy.   There are germs everywhere you go.  It doesn’t matter how many antibacterial wipes you use or how often you apply hand-sanitizer you are going to be exposed to viruses, bacteria etc.  Luckily the body has the amazing Immune system.  So most of the time when you are exposed to some pathogen you’re body gets rid of it without you even realizing it’s happening.  Occasionally something makes its way in that causes you to get sick….but as your body is healing itself it is also learning and preparing to better handle that problem in the future. 

There is no germ free….there is only your ability to respond to your environment.    

Being around people is messy.  Even when we’re trying our best we’re occasionally going to hurt someone’s feelings, have our feeling hurt or in some other way run into the drama of being human.  When we’re intentionally connecting to other people and these challenges arise we have the opportunity to experience the hurt and learn how to move past it.  As our minds and souls are healing we are also learning and preparing to handle ourselves better should that situation arise again.

There is no problem-free community….there is only your ability to respond and grow. 

People are inspiring.

On the other hand being around people on a similar spiritual or growth path is inspiring.  When we feel crazy for wanting to get up at 4am, or sit for 2.5 hours in meditation or give up dairy having people around us on the same path helps to normalize and keep us going.  And we can do the same for them. There are lots of studies that show that having a “gym-buddy”makes people significantly more likely to stick to a fitness routine.  Having a Sangat around you makes you more likely to stick to your spiritual-fitness routine. 

And….people are just down-right amazing.  When we connect with people we get to see the sweet and tender ways that people live in this world.  We get to hear their stories and share in the story of being human.  We can be inspired to be a part of a human community that expressed so much love, compassion and service. 

When we connect to like-minded souls we see the light of our souls mirrored back to us.  That mirroring allows our own light to shine brighter.  And for me, anyway, that is the purpose of this life.  If I can go through the challenges and find the joyous moments of life I become more fully me.  If I can strengthen my connection with others and with my own truth, I can do what my soul came here to do.  If I can be steady in the midst of the craziness of life I can shine a light for those who may have forgotten their own.  I can be a light for all.

“Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.” Yogi Bhajan

This blog is also posted at KundaliniCollectiveMN.com

My First Winter Solstice*

From early on in my Kundalini Yoga journey I heard people quote Yogi Bhajan saying that if you “revolve you life around Summer and Winter solstice everything will be taken care of.”  But for many years I resisted attending the Solstice celebrations.  I can’t even remember what my resistance was to going to solstice (too much money?  too far/inconvenient to travel?).  Whatever shape it took, I now see that it was really my egos resistance to completely surrendering to this path of awareness.  

Winter Solstice 2008

When I finally attended my fist solstice (winter 2008) it was an amazing experience of homecoming.  I felt like I was with “my people”  (for lack of a better term).  I remember tearing up when I drove up to the site and saw the signs saying “Welcome Home.”  This community was my home in a way that I had never even known was possible. 

I spent 7 days in Florida, taking yoga classes, meditating, practicing White Tantric, serving others, eating weird spicy soup for breakfast and just being with other people on the path.  At the time it felt sweet and nice.  The impact of it though was so many times more powerful than what initially met the eye.  Those few days with the Sangat (spiritual community) awakened in me the desire to devote my life to connecting with people using the technology of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. 

Kundalini Yoga had been shaping me from the moment I took my first class but it was really this event that opened me up to embracing the totality of being a Kundalini Yogi.  After attending that first solstice 4 years ago: I have become an Associate Trainer in the Aquarian Trainer Academy.  I have worked and volunteered for the mother yoga organizations in New Mexico.  I have switched to completely using my spiritual name.  I have grown in my understanding and respect of the entirety of Yogi Bhajans teachings.  I have had a major healing of early-life resentments I was carrying around with me.  I have surrendered parts of my life that were not moving me towards my destiny.  It had been joyous and challenging.  And I absolutely know that all of those things have been fueled by my participation in the solstices.  And that each one of those things are a critical step on my path to my souls purpose. 

As I drove away from that first winter solstice I remember very clearly thinking, “I cannot imagine not attending every solstice for the rest of my life.”  And since that time I have been blessed to be able to attend every Summer and Winter solstice.  And while there are elements to solstice that seem to be the same routine (and have been for decades)….each time I gather together with “my people” and do yoga and serve with them it is profoundly healing and inspiring in a new way.  I get a little soul tune-up every 6 months.  If I’ve strayed from my path, if I’ve let my ego win….well, lets just say, there’s no hiding it from Solstice. 

As I spend this week gathering items, doing laundry and packing it is with a great sense of happiness in my heart.  I look forward to and open myself completely to the healing and transformation of this years Winter Solstice experience.  I am deeply grateful to each person who works to create solstice and to each person who shows up to be a part of our little yoga tribe. 

*Solstice:  Refers to the 3HO Winter Solstice Sadhana Celebration

My Guru Ram Das Miracle

About 5 years ago I was living in Italy with my yoga teachers.  It was a huge time of personal transformation for me on many levels (living the yogic lifestyle, getting comfortable with myself as I am etc).  The transformation I want to talk about today is my relationship to miracles and faith.  I love the Yogi Bhajan quote “I don’t believe in miracles, I rely on them.” It takes a HUGE amount of faith in the Universe to trust that the miracle you need will manifest in your life at the right moment. And that was something that while I always wanted to believe… in my deepest places….I didn’t. 

While I was living in Italy my older sister called with the exciting news that she was pregnant with her second child.  I wasn’t at all surprised by this as I had had an intuitive insight before I left that she would be having a little girl soon.  We were all excited to hear that a new soul had chosen us to be her family.  A few weeks later my sister got the results of a test, which indicated the baby may have a serious developmental condition that would effect her ability to grow and develop in a “normal” way.  This was, of course, very unsettling news. 

When I heard this news I knew right away what I needed to do.  I started chanting 11 repetitions of the Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru Mantra every day.  I’ve heard people say that this mantra will make miracles happen.  After all it is a mantra in celebration of Guru Ram Das, the Lord of Miracles, and I felt like we needed the miracle of a healthy baby.  The first few days I chanted I was really hoping it would help….but felt it my heart that it was a lost cause.  By the 20th day (or so) I noticed that while I was chanting I really (really!) felt that this baby would be totally healthy.  But at other times of day the fear or anxiety of the thought of the challenges this soul may face reared their ugly heads. 

Finally, by the 40th day I realized I had completely dropped my fears.  I had connected during the meditation to the new soul and I knew, absolutely, that she would be perfect.  That she would come into our family and bring joy and that she would live out her destiny exactly as it was written.  And that, in and of itself, felt like a miracle.  That I was able to drop my fear and feel peaceful felt miraculous to me regardless of the health of this child. But Guru Ram Das wasn’t done…

Flash forward to a few months later:  I watched as my beautiful, perfectly healthy niece came into this world.  She has no signs of developmental disability and in fact is incredibly smart (This week in school she’s learning about words that rhyme…so she often comes home chanting things like “Lama, Mama.  Rhymes!”).  While I don’t lay any claim to creating the miracle of a healthy kid…I do feel that I connected to  Guru Ram Das in a very meaningful and personal way during this experience.  I feel the miraculous love of the Universe more and more each day.  And while I still, sometimes, have trouble truly believing that my miracle will come true…. I find it easier now to remember that my prayers have been answered and to rely on God, Guru and/or the Universe to keep answering them. Sat Nam.

  

Spiritual Name Introduction

Many of you have known me as Kelsey.  For a few days, months, years….or the whole 28 years I’ve been on this planet.  While I like the name given to me by my parents it is clear to me that now is the time to make a change.  10 years ago I was given a Spiritual name that is very dear to me.  From now on, I will be known as Nirmal.  Read on to find out more about this tradition: 

In the Kundalini Yoga tradition there is the opportunity to request your spiritual name.  When Yogi Bhajan (the master of Kundalini Yoga) was alive he personally meditated on each request for a spiritual name and would send you a letter with your new name.  I requested (and received) my name from Yogi Bhajan in 2002.  I remember clearly opening the envelope, standing outside in our driveway and feeling completely pleased and connected to the name. 

Even though I felt an immediate resonance with the name ‘Nirmal’ I was hesitant to use it right away.  For a while it felt to personal and sacred to share with others.  And then I was concerned that others would think it was weird or it would be confusing in my various school or work circles.  More and more over the years I have become aligned with my identity as a Teacher and Trainer of Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan.  The more I follow that path the more people call me Nirmal.  And the more I like it and crave that name to be my whole identify. 

Why would a name have such an impact on me?  For one the beautiful and sweet meaning, Nirmal can be translated in many ways.  In the letter he wrote to my Yogi Bhajan translated it as “the Flow of Harmony.”   A more literal translation (Nir= No, Mal= stain) is stainless.  I’ve also heard “immaculate.”  A spiritual, or destiny name, is both a signifier of who you are in this lifetime and a call to live your highest destiny.  While I think the idea of “flow of harmony” pretty neatly encapsulates who I am I also feel that it is something I will strive towards my whole life.    

So more and more over the years I have been called Nirmal.  It is to the point that I very much associate only with the name Nirmal.  And I am transitioning to using this name in all arenas of my life.  I would like to humbly request that you all make the effort to switch over to calling me this name.  I know there will be times you forget and I will try to gently remind you until it is just the name that rolls off your tongue when you see or think of me.

But this brings up a good point….how do you pronounce it anyway?!?  The first syllable ‘Nir’ sounds just like the word ‘Near.’  The second syllable ‘mal’ sounds like the second half of the word ‘normal.’ So, there you have it….Almost Normal, but not quite (sort of like me, wouldn’t you say?)  J

Each time you call me Nirmal you are not only making me radiantly happy you are also offering a blessing and a prayer for me that I might fulfill my destiny on this planet.  Using someone’s spiritual name is a loving act of service and I very much appreciate your kind efforts in this area!

If all of this talk of spiritual or destiny names has piqued your interest you could consider getting your own!  Before he died Yogi Bhajan trained Nirinjan Kaur in his system of numerology and meditation to select spiritual names.  I know people who have gotten their names from Nirinjan and feel a similar resonance and connection.   There are no requirements to get a spiritual name.  To learn more or request your own:  http://www.3ho.org/spiritual-names/

 If you still have questions about this tradition, pronunciation or my decision to be known as Nirmal I am more than happy to discuss with you…just let me know! 

And here are a few more lovely articles about people who’ve taken on their own spiritual names: 

http://www.karmicecology.com/body/environment/patty-kikos/change-your-name-change-your-life/

http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/raise-your-vibration-with-your-spiritual-name/