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At The Feet of The Yogi
By Kirpal S. Khalsa, Ph.D.

Chapter Three
Spiritual Beginnings

  
Hanging out at Holy Man Jam, Boulder, CO June 1970

My transition from hippie to yogi started about a year earlier, in 1969, while still a student in high school. The stimulus was partly drugs, partly a deep despair that sometimes engulfed me and partly a frustration with having no direction in my life. Questions that had always nibbled at my mind suddenly took a sense of urgency. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is real? I wanted answers. What’s more, I had a growing sense that the world with which I was so hopelessly entangled was somehow not real. I was missing something, something big, something real and this something was beyond anything I knew. Plus there was a sense of urgency. If I didn’t do something now, I would miss my only opportunity to grab it, whatever it was.

I avoided putting a name on it. But pretty soon I grudgingly admitted, our culture’s common word for this something, this it, whatever it was, was God.

What to do? I knew nothing about God. I considered myself an agnostic, open minded to the possibility of God, but in reality I was as closed down as an atheist. The people I had met in my life that had anything to do with either God or religion were not people I admired. In fact they all seemed deluded, self-righteous, uptight, and intent on converting me. I avoided such people. I certainly did not want to become one. Yet I wanted to know.

So, where does one look when one wants to know about God? Well, of course, the Bible. I found a King James Version and read it cover to cover. It did not speak to me. I found a jealous God who intervened in peoples’ lives with vengeance, who dispersed a justice that favored some over others, who lived on high apart from people. The life of Jesus was inspiring at times, but the idea that he was the sole intermediary between all mankind and God was contrary to my very limited understanding and troubled me greatly.

I cannot say that reading the Bible was worthless. I learned some valuable lessons. Many of the Prophets, Jesus and some of the disciples occasionally talked to God. They would send up prayers at times of difficulty or at other times just have conversations to better understand what was happening. There was a sense that God was close and that He would answer prayers and questions. This seemed like something I should try. So I began a running dialog with God. Maybe I was just talking to myself, maybe one part of my mind was talking to another. I am sure a psychologist would have all kinds of explanations. But when I consciously directed my questions and comments to God, answers came. So I adopted this into my life and I continue today.

In the fall of 1969 my father helped me move into my dormitory room at the University of Arizona. As we drove across town I let him know that I was interested in spiritual things. I also told him that my spiritual leanings had little to do with the Bible. He said he had a book I might find interesting. When we got home he pulled the Bhagavad Gita off the shelves and gave it to me. My father, who considers himself an intellectual humanitarian and who does not have a spiritual bone in his body, gave me the Bhagavad Gita. God works in mysterious ways.

I devoured it. Where the Bible said nothing to my sense of a universal consciousness, the Bhagavad Gita described it beautifully. The whole purpose of life was to become one with God. The technology of Yoga would deliver one. Krishna showed the way. The important lesson for me was that the answers to my spiritual questions would come not from the West but from the East.

I began looking for books on Eastern religions. I read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Autobiography of a Yogi, Be Here Now, Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa and others. Milarepa spent years living in a cave meditating. I imagined such a life for myself. Milarepa had a guru who put him through many tests and eventually gave him enlightenment. I wondered if I would ever meet a guru who could enlighten me.

I also dabbled in Transcendental Meditation, Hatha Yoga and Macrobiotics. In January of 1970 I found a flyer in the local health food store that advertized a class in Kundalini Yoga. It looked interesting. Nothing else was working. So, why not give it a try?

But, why? What was I really looking for? Did I want to find God? In January of 1970 God was an intriguing concept. I had read a lot about this intriguing concept. People who were a lot wiser than me were of the opinion that finding God was the one true purpose in this life. I was miles from that level of understanding. Still the motivation to check out this yoga class was very strong. If it wasn’t God that I was looking for then what the heck was I doing?

I wish I could tell you that my motivation was some deep awakening of my soul to meet my destiny. It wasn’t. What I really wanted to do was get high. I was a stoner. My world revolved around stepping out of ordinary reality. Yoga offered the possibility of a new way to get high, nothing more.

If you interviewed twenty people who lived a yogic lifestyle and asked what brought them to their first yoga class, you would get twenty different answers. Some may have wanted to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. Others might have been looking for simple exercises. Still others may have had various health issues that needed attention. Some might have been looking for peace of mind. Some might be honest enough to say that they were looking for sex. Whatever the reason that brought them to class, if they stuck with the yoga and made it part of their lives, then they found something deeper and more encompassing than what they were originally looking for. This was certainly the case with me.

Kundalini Yoga

      
Yogi Bhajan

The address I copied off a flyer at the local health food store led me to an old single story building in a seedy part of Tucson. An interesting mix of long haired hippy types and short haired seemingly straight people were gathered inside, sitting on the shag carpet or on their own mats or blankets. The room was used as a practice studio for a local rock group. Musical instrument and equipment were stored in a corner. My bell bottom blue jeans were tight in the wrong places and probably the worst pants for yoga. Just sitting on the floor was uncomfortable.

The teachers arrived and the room grew silent. They busied themselves making the room ready, dimming the lights, lighting candles and incense, setting up an altar in front. They unrolled sheepskins and sat like perfect yogis, dressed in loose white clothes, silent, majestic and spiritual.

On the left was a tall man with long blond hair, parted in the middle, full bushy beard and intense blue eyes. He had not even said a word and I was sure he was a highly evolved yogi.
On his right was a girl or a fairy, I was not sure. She was tiny, enormous eyes, pixy nose and a bright smile that covered half her face. She wore colorful scarves around her head, neck and waist.

I wondered where they got their very cool clothes.

Sat Nam,” the teacher said with a strong voice, bringing his palms together in an Indian style greeting. “Welcome to Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.” He motioned reverently to a black and white picture on the altar. A turbaned, bearded man stared out with an intense glare. I wondered why they had to settle for such awful picture. “He brought Kundalini Yoga to the West,” he continued. “It is the yoga for the Aquarian Age.”


Yogi Bhajan
Gaze into these eyes for 3 minutes for affect.
Gazing upon a particular image of a teacher is called Guru Yoga.

“The yoga for the Aquarian Age”, what did that mean? The impression was that this yoga would somehow contribute to a global change in consciousness; yeah right.

“We’ll begin class by tuning in to the Great Invisible Teacher within each of us. The mantra is 'Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.’ I bow to the One Creative Energy. I bow to the Divine Teacher.” He sat with a straight spine and his palms pressed together at the center of his chest. “With this mantra we tune into Yogi Bhajan and his teacher before him and to all of the teachers in this ancient lineage, the Golden Chain of Masters of Kundalini Yoga.”

I imagined a line of yogis, looking down on us from ever fading levels of eternity.

He inhaled deeply and let loose with a loud foghorn type of sound Oooonng Naamoooooo … It penetrated with a physical sensation to my very bones. The class quickly joined in, creating a harmonious chorus that enveloped the entire room. I had never heard anything like it before. It vibrated every cell in my body. It resounded to the deepest regions of my mind. What was happening? It was powerful. It felt like an initiation into some sacred and ancient technology. Truth is, that is exactly what it was.

By the third repetition my voice joined with that of the group and I allowed the vibration to enter my heart. I opened up to Yogi Bhajan and the ancient lineage of teachers and to my own inner wisdom. I became another link in Golden Chain of wisdom.

And so began the first of a lifetime of Kundalini Yoga classes.

I’m not sure what I expected at this class, but it was a difficult physical workout with powerful breathing. The teacher pushed us hard. My body was out of shape, tight, full of tension and I did not know the first thing about relaxing. I couldn’t even sit straight. Through the pain I tried to imitate the posture they did so effortlessly.

He offered encouragement. “It’s not how well you do the exercise. It’s the energy and focus you bring to it.” That helped because I certainly was not doing the exercises well. He also said, “Keep Up and you will be kept up.” I tried to keep up. I was so grateful for the relaxations between exercises. “Deeply relax and feel the life energy circulating to every nerve and cell of your body.” Maybe it was my imagination or maybe I really did feel this energy. Either way, it helped me relax.

What a class! We ended with chanting, silent meditation and the “Long Time Sun Shine" song.* When we finished all I could do was laugh with tears in my eyes. It was real, it was powerful and it was spiritual. I felt like an idiot sitting there with a stupid smile on my face and nothing to say. The teacher said it all, “You know it when you’ve found it." See Kundalini Yoga For Beginners.

*May the Long Time Sun shine upon you,
all Love surround you, and
the Pure Light within you
guide your way on.

I was high but without the distortions of drugs. Even better, I felt cleansed and in tune with myself. Perhaps the most powerful emotion was relief. The end of the drug chapter in my life was in sight. Quite simply, I would never have to take drugs again. I found something better.

Later that evening I discussed the class with my best friend and fellow spiritual seeker, Andy. I gushed about the Kundalini Yoga class and the yogis who taught. I told him we could reach higher levels of consciousness without drugs. We were free. It was such good news that we went out and smoked a joint in celebration.

Yeah, I know. Knowing truth is easy. Living truth is something entirely different.

Andy and I became regulars at yoga class. We embraced it with the giddy enthusiasm of the newly converted. We loved a good hard work out. We kept coming back for more. Getting high had never been so legal.

Our teachers were Dawson and Karen. They were two of Yogiji’s earliest students. They had a Kundalini Yoga teacher training center in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Maharaj Ashram. YogiJi asked them to set up the classes in Tucson and build a core group. They would eventually return to Santa Fe with an open invitation to all who attended their classes to come live at their ashram. Classes in Tucson would then be taken over by Patrick who had recently arrived from Los Angeles.

In these early days everything was physical. Our bodies were out of shape, our muscles were tight, we were inflexible and in pain. Many of the exercise seemed impossible. With Dawson encouraging us to keep up we struggled and forced our bodies to comply. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted more. Not only were we supposed to keep up but we were supposed to be relaxed doing it. Wait a minute. Do you want us to keep up or do you want us to relax? Make up your mind!

I thought I knew something about relaxation. It meant going to sleep, right? Wrong. Many in our society cannot even relax while sleeping. Usually when someone told me to relax it was because I was pushing too hard or straining. When I relaxed I stopped pushing. It did not make sense to me that I had to push hard and keep pushing hard and at the same time relax.

It turned out that there was a lot about relaxation that I didn’t know. Relaxation was the foundation of all the conscious technologies from the East, including the many forms of meditation, Tai Chi, martial arts and of course yoga. Relaxation was a conscious process of releasing tension. It had nothing to do with sleep. In fact relaxation could lead to enhanced mental clarity, physical strength, increased energy and prolonged endurance. Much to my surprise I learned that focusing on relaxing and breathing worked much better than trying to force myself to keep up. In fact, the more I relaxed into the exercise, the more strength I had to keep up.

I had no idea how much tension I carried around. Without knowing how, I had become an expert in building up tension and storing it in various parts of my body. I thought that it was a cool to be anxious and uptight. It held me together and helped me meet my responsibilities. Little did I know that it was also killing me? I was only eighteen but I was well on my way to high blood pressure, blocked arteries and heart disease.

I learned early in my yoga practice that tension was the enemy and relaxation was the remedy. It was not force or power or strength that gave me the energy to sustain an exercise. Paradoxically, it was conscious relaxation. The physical challenges of Kundalini Yoga were the perfect training ground for learning the art of relaxation. The benefits were immediate and obvious – I could stretch easier, I had more strength to hold the more difficult exercises and I could sustain a position for longer periods of time.

This art of relaxation was really quite a revelation. It was not just my physical body that held tension. I was pretty uptight in most areas of my life. I was wound up mentally, I was on an emotional roller coaster and I tended to attack challenges aggressively. How much tension do we need to carry around before we crash? How deeply into worry, anxiety, fear, anger and despair need we go before we realize there are better ways to do things? Yoga was teaching me a better way to deal with my physical body but the lessons were seeping into every aspect of my life.

And, I thought I know how to relax.

Another area where the lessons of yoga began seeping into my life was through food. Both Dawson and Karen talked often about food. They extolled the virtues of a vegetarian diet. I was already into Macrobiotics so I needed little convincing. On a couple of occasions they discussed cleansing herbs and spices such as garlic, onions and ginger; red and black pepper, cinnamon and cloves and others. They gave the recipe to Yogi Tea and encouraged us to drink it all the time. I immediately bought the spices and began cooking it in my dorm room. At one point my resident dorm manager burst into my room convinced that the exotic smells wafting down the hall were something illegal. I gave him a cup of Yogi Tea and we were friends forever.

I mentioned all of these herbs and spices to my Macrobiotics teacher. He was appalled. “It’s way too yin,” he warned. “If you combine a stimulating diet with all that yoga, you’ll get fried.”

Oh, dear, what a conundrum! I had been doing a Macrobiotic diet for a few months and appreciated the balance of Yin and Yang. This teacher had really impacted my life and helped me to leave behind a meat based diet. He introduced me to books by Michio Kushi and taught me the relationship between diet, health and consciousness. I respected him greatly and I owed him a lot. But now he was warning me away from what I thought was the next step in my spiritual path.

It seemed I had to make a choice: Two spiritual paths beckoned. In order to walk one, I had to leave the other. It didn’t seem fair. Both were good. Both were real. I had practiced both and had grown and experienced both. I knew that both were right but they were not both right for me. If I wanted to grow, I had to choose.

I could stay with my Macrobiotic diet and work on being centered and balanced. This had a lot of appeal. I liked my teacher, I liked the diet. But it was not challenging. It was comfortable. Kundalini Yoga, on the other hand was positively challenging, exciting and held the promise of rapid transformation, even with the danger of getting fried.

I chose Kundalini Yoga and never looked back. The beauty was that Kundalini Yoga not only energized me but at the same time it helped me stay more centered and balanced than the Macrobiotic diet ever did. In spite of the warning, I did not get fried.

Dawson encouraged us to fast once a week or do mono fasts like only Yogi Tea, or only vegetable juice, or a blended drink of almond milk and grape juice, or simply lemon, water and honey. Tuesday was Mars day, high energy day, we fasted on Tuesdays. Yoga classes on fast days were very spacey. Very spacy meant very high
. -- Chapter Four is next.

      

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