In Shannon’s words...
In my home and yoga classes, I am continuously creating an environment promoting healing and growth. Tending a garden is an exercise in patience, discipline, commitment and contemplation, all of which parallel the Kundalini Yoga tradition. To fully experience Kundalini Yoga, you apply these elements through Sadhana, a spiritual discipline and daily meditative practice.
By definition, the word “kundalini” represents the latent, creative energy present in all beings. You possess this energy and direct it through the chakras by the use of breath linked with mudras (hand positions) and mantras (both silent and singing aloud). Directed awareness and movement ascends the energy up the spine through the chakras, balancing and strengthening, and then spirals back down. While many types of exercise naturally activate kundalini energy, Kundalini Yoga specifically works to light the fire and distribute it throughout the body promoting circulation, flexibility, longevity and healing.
Kundalini Yoga is called the “yoga of awareness.” It is a science and technology. It works to strengthen the nervous system and the glandular system, the guardians of our health. We practice with the eyes closed, maintaining an internal gaze at the 3rd eye point or crown of the head to activate the secretions of the pituitary and pineal glands correspondingly. Holding the arms in specific postures to work the heart chakra and thymus gland may instill compassion, relieve grief, and build immunity. It’s all about the glands!
We begin class by “tuning in” and singing together the words "Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo.” The translation is “I call upon the teacher within.” The guru is the teacher within, that which moves you from darkness to light. I lead class but ultimately you are your own best teacher. “Tuning in” also allows students to link up with the Golden Chain, which is the lineage of all the Kundalini teachers and practitioners that have come before, present, as well as those who will come in the future.
In class, we warm up the body with a kriya (a specified sequence of postures linked for a desired effect), pranayama (breathwork), meditation and always close with an extended gong relaxation. There are thousands of kriyas handed down from centuries of wisdom—kriyas to alleviate depression, help combat addiction, improve sleep...you name it. Tell me what you want to work on and I'll give you a kriya to practice!
The leitmotif in yoga is breath, the signature of the soul. When you tune into the song of the soul with your breath, you can elevate. To sit still and simply breathe with the soundtrack of your breath will clear the mind and polish your intuition. Begin with three minutes a day of breath of fire and you will notice a genuine shift. Stay with it and witness the magic.
Sound is an integral element in my classes. Mantra means “mind wave.” We use mantra, both silently and chanting aloud, to set the frequency of your mind to a certain vibratory effect. Many students really enjoy the mantras. Singing is a wonderful and effective way to open the throat chakra. It’s excellent for opening pathways of communication with oneself and others.
The gong relaxation is the icing on the cake. The gong lulls you into a suspended state of reality. It is transcendent. It solidifies all of the physical work and allows for integration. I could spend hours talking about the gong and the myriad benefits of sound healing, but it’s something to experience.
To close the class, we sing the "Longtime Sunshine Song." It is a lovely reminder to use the “pure light within” as your guiding force. People often weep during this song. They just open up...water works. For me, it’s beautiful to allow people the space and freedom to feel that they can truly let go.
I am a trained classical ballet and contemporary dancer. I danced from age three into my early 20s. I am always dancing. As a performing artist, movement is my medium. It remains a huge part of what defines me now. Once I was introduced to yoga in college, I transferred the physicality of dance into yoga and I immediately resonated with the spiritual nature of yoga. It was the missing link for me. I studied at the Center for Yoga in Los Angeles, the first yoga center in the West, and earned my Hatha Yoga certification. I really enjoy choreography and a Hatha Flow class can be quite playful.
Eventually, I wanted to sit still more, meditate, and delve into Savasana. After many years of a steady Hatha practice, I read a book by Dharma Singh Khalsa, Meditation as Medicine. Then, I took my first Kundalini Yoga class and it completely blew my mind. It was intense but subtle. Tapping into my subtle body and awareness truly opened me up to the Infinite.
I’ve always possessed a strong internal knowing. I grew up in Victoria, TX and was educated in an Episcopal environment. I love church, a temple, indoors or outdoors, really, it can be anywhere. I am constantly creating altars and vignettes for a space to meditate. I do not subscribe to a single organized religion. I honor and respect all forms of worship. Yogi Bhajan said, “If you don’t see God in all, you don’t see God at all.” For me, this is it! When I found Kundalini Yoga, I was thunderstruck, “I'm home.” It makes me weep with joy thinking about it.
I completed my Level One Kundalini teacher training in Austin, TX. Now, I'm working towards my Advanced Level Two training which takes five years or more to complete. I've completed three out of five modules. I spent two weeks in Vancouver for training earlier this year and I will be in Ojai, CA for Gong Therapy training in August. Basically, I'm always practicing and yearning for more. For me, that's imperative. I’m constantly engaged intellectually, physically, and most importantly spiritually. I hope to grow the Kundalini Yoga community here on Bainbridge Island and beyond, and I plan to begin my own teacher training program. Oh, I have such vision for more.
Many people inquire why I wear white when I teach yoga. I have mentioned that Kundalini Yoga is a technology. We have many tools in our toolbox to expand ourselves: breath, mantra, mudra, kriyas and the gong. But there are other tools too, like covering your head (to contain the energy at the crown chakra) and wearing white to strengthen the aura.
Your auric field is your electromagnetic field, your protective and projective space. Wearing white magnifies your aura. It helps to inspire brightness in both yourself and in others. It’s the beauty, the radiance that everyone possesses, that you celebrate by wearing white. Teachers also wear white to honor the Kundalini Yoga tradition.
I practice another yogic technique daily called Ishnaan; a daily cold shower or cold plunge in the water. I go to the dock and jump in the water every day. Seriously, I want to make t-shirts that say, “Plunge in the Sound!” It immediately flushes a rich supply of blood to the organs. Such goodness. Essentially, it prepares the body to meditate. And, my the kids go; my husband goes; the whole family.
Traditionally, you wake up, take a cold shower or plunge, and then meditate. If you do that, I can assure you for the rest of the day you are on fire! You have already won the battle before your day begins from the moment of facing the cold water. It’s an act of bravery.
I highly encourage people to do Ishnaan. I know it can be scary and even painful for some people but the benefits are amazing. To ease into it, stand in the shower and let the water hit your third eye point to wake you up, or start the day by splashing cold water in your face. It wakes up the body, activating the pituitary, and gets you going.
I think the people who are most likely to be attracted to my class and to Kundalini Yoga are people who are spiritually open. In a way, you are an archeologist, and yoga is a dig. You're excavating a little bit each time; moving beyond your consciousness and into past lives; you're clearing your karma. It's deep work that requires a commitment to one’s spiritual journey. You will discover the gem in yourself.
Really, if you can breathe, you can practice Kundalini Yoga. All levels are welcome, beginners and experienced yogis alike. If you are confined to a chair, you can practice. There are kriyas for the aging population with simple hand movements and mantra together. A real doozie is alternate nostril breath; closing off one side and then changing sides to balance the hemispheres of the brain, to activate both lunar (calming) and solar (active) aspects of the self. Boom, this gives you a focused and clear mind.
One of my favorite meditations that I suggest to all, adults and children, is SA TA NA MA. It contains the primal sounds. SA is infinity; TA is life; NA is transformation; and MA is rebirth. It’s the cycle of life. Infinity, life, transformation, rebirth. Infinity, life, transformation, rebirth. When you chant these words -- SA TA NA MA it links you into sensing you are a part of this extraordinary cycle. We sing it out loud for a few minutes, then whisper it, then sing it silently, and then whisper it, and then sing it aloud again. It's called Kirtan Kriya. It's one of the most effective kyrias for everyone to practice. It's easy to do before bed and when you wake up. Any time. It’s a powerful mantra for people who are grieving, healing, or sending out healing energy to other people, too.
I believe everyone can access the infinite within with Kundalini Yoga. You distill the essence of yourself to excellence. I see it with my students. People say, "I feel like I'm home" when they come to the class. That's the joy of the practice that I teach.