PORTSMOUTH, Va. —Jai Gopal Khalsa’s yoga teachings include terms more apt to be heard in a science class —”technology,” “quantum physics,” “white hole.”
But this is kundalini yoga, and the Los Angeles-based instructor thinks the lessons of kundalini are important enough that he has been traveling to Portsmouth once a month to teach.
“If you do kundalini one time and you don’t run for the hills,” Khalsa recently told a packed class in Portsmouth, “you come back a second class and you’re a pro. It’s just a different practice.”
Kundalini combines the mindful breathing and poses that are central to yoga in general, but kundalini is much more stylized. An Indian teacher, Yogi Bhajan, introduced the practice to Canada and the U.S. in the 1960s. His yoga required more energetic breathing techniques, chanting mantras and poses that are more angular and specific, such as holding arms or legs at an exact 45-degree angle for a particular amount of time. The sequences of breath, movement and sound are called “kriyas” and practitioners say they can be used to help with a variety of ailments from depression to improving liver health.
Students are more likely to wear head wraps or turbans and white clothing, which is supposed to expand a person’s “aura or electromagnetic field,” Khalsa said.
He realizes that kundalini might sound odd to newcomers. He’s a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a former Army captain who once dismissed yoga as a “woman’s thing.” He has since built a life around kundalini.
His wife, Jamila, is a Hampton Roads native, and they return to the area regularly. Here, he explains some of the mysticism around kundalini:
Q: Why should someone consider studying kundalini yoga?
A: It’s a technology of the mind-body system. People are starting to see that many things in our world are mathematical. Think of the brain as a personal computer that connects to a master computer on a network of energy called consciousness.
So, yoga is a way of using the body, the sound that you can make with the physical body and regulating the breath, consciously, to make a connection with this master computer.
We are constantly bombarded by thoughts and feelings, which is magnified in this information age. Everything is sped up, and so we need to stop the mind-stuff in order to get to the spirit.
Kundalini yoga, with the use of breath and sound in the form of mantras and angular postures, is a fast-acting yoga that can help alleviate the problems of the technological age.
Q: You mention the angular postures. Why is it so important for arms or legs to be posed at precise angles or certain degrees?
A: We generate energy with the breath and sound and we use the angles to sort of direct it to different places. For example, we can concentrate the energy to the glandular system to stimulate the glands, which will then balance the blood chemistry and hormones and so on.
Q: So, if someone isn’t in the correct posture or doesn’t hold a pose just so, the yoga isn’t going to be as effective?
A: The better the angles the more effective it will be, but just because the angles are not perfect doesn’t mean that you will not get an effect. Modification is really emphasized. You don’t have to be flexible to do this or any type of yoga.
Q: What was the appeal for you?
A: I took a class at a YMCA and I didn’t like it at first. It got me too spaced out. I had gone through military training and I thought of relaxation as something wrong, something weak.
I had been studying all the types of yoga and eventually gave kundalini another chance.
It made me happier and people around me were happier as a result. Then I just wanted more of this stuff. Your energy becomes light and people benefit from that light.
Also, this isn’t different for a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim. It just makes you better at whatever faith you practice.