About Hari Karam Singh
I’ve had a lifelong interest in the mysteries of the universe and esoteric practices and have been experimenting with meditation techniques since I was an early teen. After obtaining a degree in physics from Princeton in 2002, I came to London and became an avid Kundalini Yoga student after my first class. I was certified as a teacher by KRI in 2007.
I maintain a strong practice, always looking to go deeper and also furthering my understanding through studying this tradition as well as others.
I'm also a musician and a creative technology consultant. I deeply value this professional experience as it is a “proving ground” for the things I have learned through my spiritual practice. This is a valuable perspective that continually informs my teaching.
In my classes I aim to maintain a good balance of healing and physical strength building, meditative focus, self-reflection and just plain fun. Life's not that serious after all! :)
What is Kundalini Yoga
The modern world has brought with it many new exciting opportunities but they come at a cost. The mental burden of the constant decision making, endless amounts of information, and so much knowledge of all world events can leave us feeling isolated, powerless, confused, alone in the quest to make something of ourselves, to find fulfilment, sometimes even just to cope and survive and to embrace the ones we love.
In these environments we need new tools to develop our inner world and give us strength and calibre sufficient to handle the pressures of the times. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. It is no coincidence that people are turning to the ancient ways of human spirit such as yoga, tai chi, meditation.
Kundalini Yoga is a spiritual technology, a potent practice developed over thousands of years that strengthens the body, heals traumas, hones the mind, and helps us to know ourselves deeply. It is a system of personal discovery and transformation that prepares us to handle the ever increasing strains of life and excel through them gracefully, with a smile :) It gives us deep clarity about our relationship with others and the very important and oft neglected one with ourselves. It is a lever to open the vaults of knowledge within us and to explore our very nature as humans and that of the universe itself.
What Happens in a Kundalini Yoga Class?
Kundalini Yoga is quite a bit different from the other forms of yoga you may have encountered. It is not just "stretching" or physical exercise, but it still contains all the aspects that were originally part of the yogic traditions of the East including asana (posture), mudra (gesture), pranayama (breath), mantra (sound), and meditation (mind). Each of these is a vital tool to work on subtle aspects of our spiritual anatomy. Together they form a powerful cumulative effect that far exceeds any isolated practice.
Kundalini Yoga was originally brought to the west from India by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. He was a visionary man yet down-to-earth and very pragmatic. He saw the coming of the Information Age and the challenges it would bring to humanity. He taught extensively about all aspects of life from health and wellbeing to relationships and business. He worked tirelessly to empower us to claim our self-authority and to serve to uplift the world.
All classes taught in this tradition follow a similar format. We first prepare ourselves by chanting a "tuning in" mantra, then do a set of exercises/meditations called a "kriya", each of which has a specific effect. We then have a relaxation and possibly a gong bath, and finally "tune out" by singing an old pagan farewell blessing "Long Time Sun" and a mantra "Sat Nam" ("ultimate truth is the core identity of the universe" - similar to "Nam-a-ste").
Kundalini Yoga rarely makes the distinction between "beginner", "intermediate", "advanced". The nature of the practice is such that everyone takes part the best they can. Yoga is not a competitive sport! Your body's limitations naturally protect you from experiences you aren't quite ready for. Over time this style of yoga gently (though not necessarily easily!) releases tension from the body. You'll be challenged, but in a way you are more than capable of succeeding through and as you do, you'll begin to see the positive impacts in all aspects of your life.
The gong is a tool of meditation and healing. It's complex layers of sound dance and interweave creating echoes of ocean waves evolving to a lions roar. Angelic harmonies and heart strung cries arise and fade in a vast metallic sea of crystalline sound. The sound is like no other — said to resemble that of our very core consciousness. It washes through you, removing dis-ease from the body and causing every cell to vibrate in harmony. The feeling is ecstatic and the effect is deeply healing. The gong purifies the mind, cutting through thoughts and leaving us in the original tranquility of the pure experience of simply being.
The gong is one of the technologies taught by Yogi Bhajan and he would frequently play it during the relaxation after yoga "kriya" (see above). In his words...
"The Gong is the spirit song. It is the primal whisper of the soul. It's sounds is the echo of the Original Word that created the world, the sound within all sounds. Listen with outer and inner ears. Feel its pulsations and let the millions of vibrations dance and flow through your senses. You will become fearless, relaxed and awakened."
“This is the first and the last instrument for the human mind; the human mind has no power before it. This is the only thing that supersedes the human mind, because this is the basic creative sound. Mind was created out of it; it’s like the father and mother together.”
— Yogi Bhajan
What Happens in a Gong Bath?
Today, dedicated gong and sound healing baths are becoming more and more popular, akin to yoga in the 1990's. They are very accessible requiring little-to-no physical ability. Participants generally come and lie on the floor, cover up with a light blanket and simply enjoy the experience.
The gong itself is a specially crafted large bronze disc which is played with mallets and various other instruments. It's not struck with a big bang in the centre (as commonly thought) but gently coerced and teased which reveals many wondrous, evolving layers of tone and timbre.
There are many different types of gongs some of which are tuned to the orbital periods of various planets. Each type has a particular flavour and slightly different effect on the body-mind-spirit.
Some sound bath sessions may also mix in other sound instruments such as wind chimes, mouth harps, crystal bowls. They may also incorporate voice, mantra, and traditional instruments. Sometimes there may be light warm-ups and breathing exercises to prepare as well.
Below are descriptions of some of the basic techniques employed in a kundalini yoga practice. They address many misconceptions people often have when they are new to yoga...
Mantra & Chanting
Mantra literally means the "projection of the mind". It is the sacred science of sound and how sound stimulates the body and the mind to create a desired effect in our psyche and surrounding world.
Spoken sounds are broken up into consonants and vowels. The roof of the mouth has 84 "meridian points", like the keys on your keyboard, and when you chant, the consonant sounds stimulate these points in a very specific way. The vowel sounds between the consonants resonate and create vibration in the body cavities. They reach and stimulate parts of the body that no amount of movement can.
It is said that when mantra is done in the proper rhythm with correct pronunciation, your 30 trillion cells will vibrate in harmony. This is a very real and sublime sensation and it doesn't take long to experience…
Mantra has no meaning unless you have the meter of it. The moment you know how to play an instrument, music will come out of it.
— Yogi Bhajan
Newcomers are often worried about what the mantras "mean". While translations do exist for them, the primary importance in mantra yoga is the sound itself and the effect that it has. In fact, recent research has suggested that mantra existed in the rituals of early humans before language and meaning were even developed (see Dr. Frits Stall on Wikipedia).
Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan uses many different mantras from a variety of sources including ones in Sanskrit, Gurmukhi and English.
Asanas & Mudra (postures)
The body is not simply a mechanical machine. There are energy bodies, subtle bodies. You could say there are "bodies" of the mind. There is an aura, an arcline (you've seen them painted on old religious murals). Health and wellbeing require that these many components are functioning correctly and in balance with one another.
Kundalini yoga includes the 84 postures of Hatha Yoga. These postures represent the natural state of a healthy human body and when we align ourselves to them the body's energetic systems begin to correct themselves releasing deeply trapped tension. It is said these postures are derived from those done in the womb by a baby during its development cycle.
Kundalini Yoga kriyas also involve additional postures based on the science of "angles and triangles". For instance holding the arms up at 60deg has the effect of stimulating the heart centre in the middle of the chest.
Asanas and mudras are in a sense similar. Asana literally means "seat" where mudra means "gesture". The most well known mudra perhaps is Gyan Mudra where you curl your index finger to touch the tip of your thumb. But mudras can include the whole body, arm positions and even movement. In the end it doesn't really matter what you call it, only that you do it!
Idiots think. Saints do.
— Yogi Bhajan
Many people think meditation is where you sit still and do nothing, but there are, in fact, many kinds of meditations and in every one of them you are doing something. Many people confuse relaxation with meditation. They are pretty much opposites. Both are very important.
Most people are familiar with the kind of meditation where you sit still and observe your thoughts and become detached from them. We call this "shuniya" meditation, literally, "deep listening". Many find it boring and indeed when the body is restless or tense it is very difficult to achieve a very deep meditation this way. In fact, one of the main reasons for a physical yoga practice is to prepare for meditation. The difference between meditating after a good yoga session and one where you just sit down from a cold start, is the difference between night and day.
There are many other kinds of meditations in Kundalini Yoga. There are breath meditations called pranayams whose purpose and effects vary as widely as can be imagined. There are meditations which open the chakras, affect the subtle non-physical bodies, heal the wounds of love, release stress, heal various organs, expand the intuition. There are silent meditations, meditations with chanting, meditation with silent chanting (in your head voice), standing meditations and dynamic meditations where you move in rhythm. In Kundalini Yoga, these many meditations are an intrinsic part of the class often intermixed with the posture sequences themselves. This is what is called a kriya.
In the mid-late 60s a customs officer in Delhi watched as young spiritual hopefuls flocked to India with all they owned having read Autobiography of a Yogi or seen the Beatles with Maharishi. They were abandoning the growing conflict and consumerism in the Western world and sought a "Guru" who would teach them the ways of the ancients. He watched as most of them returned, disappointed, swindled out of their money by fake "gurus" and other opportunists. He saw in them a courageous heart and an earnest desire to unite with their spirit. He himself was a yogi and he began to question the age old maxim that kundalini yoga is a secret and guarded tradition, not to be taught openly, especially to the Westerners, upon whom Indian spiritual adepts frowned heavily, feeling that they were too shallow and irresponsible to teach the sacred arts.
Meanwhile in North America, there had been a steadily increasing interest in the Eastern spiritual traditions since the late 1800s (see Swami Vivekanda's speeches at the Chicago World Fair). In 1968 a Canadian academic went to India in search of a "yogi" to fly back home and have teach a course to the university students. When she arrived at the airport, she asked some of the attendants, "Where might I find a 'yogi'?" They informed her that she need not even leave the airport! They introduced her their boss, Harbhajan Singh, and an arrangement was made for him to fly to Canada and teach the students at her University. So in 1968, the man who would become known as Yogi Bhajan came to North America, first in Canada and then eventually LA where he was based for 20 years before moving to the sacred Native American lands in Española, New Mexico. (The full story of what transpired is really quite an amazing one. Listen to one of his early students recount it https://www.facebook.com/Gurusinghdaily/videos/10153814757973148/).
Yogi Bhajan openly taught the technology of Kundalini Yoga to all who were keen to learn. Unlike many other spiritual teachers who came to the west, he declared from the onset "I am not here to gather followers. I am here to create teachers". There was no secret initiation, or guarded levels of knowledge. He taught that we are self-initiating: "Keep up and you'll be kept up!"
Yogi Bhajan's teachings extended far beyond just the original physical/meditative techniques of kundalini yoga. He was a master of communication (about which he would later obtain a Ph.D) and a keen and deeply insightful observer of people. He taught extensively about diet, many aspects of health, the anatomy of the mind, communication, sleep, relationships, parenting, prosperity and business. Under his guidance, his students created 3 multi-national businesses including the globally famous Yogi Tea brand who's tea bag labels still have snippets of his inspiring quotes on them. He also left a legacy of over 3000 hours of lectures, yoga sets and meditations, freely available at http://libraryofteachings.com/.
There are many kinds of yoga and in the West we have many thoughts about them, but as far as kundalini yoga is concerned, it is the yoga of awareness. The total potential of the person becomes known to the person. Every known has an unknown potential and that unknown potential is your right to know. Why don't you know? Because you do not have the technical know-how and that technical know-how is available to the man through the learned great teachers who have left that for us
— Yogi Bhajan