For those of you who know me personally, I think it’s pretty obvious that I am not a “woo-woo”-type person. I don’t hang dream catchers over my bed. I own not one pair of Birkenstock’s. The only crystal I own is in our kitchen cabinets.
So why in the world am I writing about Yoga?
A couple of reasons:
- I enjoy trying new things.
- I like sharing things I’ve found useful in my personal or professional life with all of you.
So, let’s jump in.
For 40 days this summer, I ran a personal experiment practicing Kundalini Yoga. You could call Kundalini a hybrid of a variety of Yoga practices. I was introduced to the practice while listening to Ben Greenfield’s Podcast with phyisotherapist and Kundalini practitioner Dr. Somer Nicole. I was fortunate enough to experience the 40-day free trial Dr. Nicole offered to expose a variety of Kundalini Yoga methods (her website, Yoga Doctors, now offers a $1 14-day trial).
Two things have caught my attention in the realm of breathing and mindfulness practice. First, the “chakras” that practitioners of these ancient physical arts identified, are in areas that overlap with the body’s major endocrine (hormone) and neurological systems. Input such as movement or diaphragmatic breathing into these areas has been well established as a stimulus to the autonomic nervous system. This can be useful at the beginning of your day to wake your nervous system up, and at the end of the day (as detailed on our YouTube channel) to help you get a better quality sleep.
Second, research* has demonstrated that practitioners of meditation, Yoga, or daily prayer actually create changes in the volume (mass) of particular areas in their brains. Given my family history, this was reason enough to give Kundalini Yoga a crack.
The actual practice of Kundalini was surprising in several ways. At a base level, the practice is focused on position (or posture) and breathing. Many of the practices are seated while some are in traditional standing Yoga poses like Warrior and Archer. The names of some of the practices are, well, interesting. For example:
- Enhance your aura
- Emotional balance meditation
- Strengthen your nervous system
- Energy boost and clarity of mind
- Rid internal anger
- Self-hypnosis to develop intuition
Titles like this are usually enough to make me change the channel, but given what I’d already studied about the practice, I thought the experiment was still worth proceeding on with.
By the end of Day 2, I realized this was going to be more challenging that I originally assumed. After 3 minutes of trying to “enhance my aura” my shoulders were on fire as the fatigue of raising my arms overhead and lowering them crushed my ego and opened my eyes.
Learning the “Breath of Fire”, the breathing practice taught during day 5 was a profound moment. I had barely slept the night before as my son Connor thought the party started at 11 p.m. and didn’t end until 5 a.m. the next morning. My mind was foggy and anxious as I sat on my basement floor and wondered how I was going to survive day one of a 2-day certification course to teach self-defense that I had signed up for, let alone this 3-minute meditation. I recall that by the time I was driving to the course that morning, my mind was clear, I was in the moment, my breath was measured, my heart rate under control. I wasn’t in a trance, I was completely present and comfortable in the moment.
A bit more frightening, four days after finding presence of mind, I revealed a darker part of my heart. The practice was titled “Rid Yourself of Internal Anger” and was composed of a 7-minute Kirya (a repeated phrase, chant, or sound) followed by 8 minutes of calm breathing. I finished before anyone was awake in my house. And as soon as J.C. and the kids woke up I was became a prowling, hungry bear. I was irritable, for no discernible reason at the time. I fortunately had the presence of mind to tell Jess what I’d done earlier and we realized that I probably have some deeper heart issues that I need to address.
By the time I was three weeks into the practice I was noticeably calmer, more present, and less reactive to the inevitable stress and unexpected challenges that pop up from day to day. I had several patients of mine make unsolicited comments that I seemed more energized and alert-not something the dad of a 2-month-old, a 2 year-old, and a 4-year-old typically hears.
My 40-day experiment ended in mid-September but the impression that it made has been lasting. There are not many of my mornings these days that start without some time working on my breathing practice. I notice the difference when I start there versus when I don’t. I’m more focused. I’m more present. I haven’t become some sort of Zen master who reacts with stoicism to any and all life situations. Rather I’ve gained a greater measure of perspective-I can take an extra breath before I jump into the latest fire my kids have started. I can engage my emotions and the emotions of others with a presence of mind that allows me to hear my own thoughts and the words and emotions that the people around me are sharing. For many of you, that probably sounds like no big deal. But for dudes like me, that counts for a lot.
- Luders, E, Toga, A.W., Lepore, N., Gaser, C. (2009). The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. NeuroImage, 45, 672-678. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811909000044.
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