Prescription: Kundalini Yoga Therapy
Why I want to work in Kundalini Yoga Therapy after working as a Physician
by Dr. Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD
At sixteen I set aside a vague dream of art school for the strong pull to serve others, nudged gently by the words of Emily Dickinson:
I shall not live in Vain
If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.
I set off into the world of bedpans and backrubs as a nurse’s aide in 1976 at small local hospitals and the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse Infirmary, caring for 8 elderly nuns. (lots of great stories there!) I went off to nursing school. At 21 years old as a senior nursing student in Palliative Care, I learned to be present with the dying. I would have stayed on in this field had I not already secured a position as a new graduate nurse in Maternity. I worked in Washington DC and then Boston: labor-sitting in the world of natural childbirth of the early 80’s, when hospital nurses strived to be like doulas. Long before I had ever heard of yogic philosophy, I found both of these human processes to be very related: struggle softened into surrender brought the baby forth, and permitted the soul to move on gracefully.
Since my nursing instructors were radical feminists in the late 70’s, I was empowered to seek expanded practice. I thought about becoming a nurse midwife, and I also loved the operating room. Art, science, and the delft use of hands. I wanted to give all I could to the people I would serve. Why not do so as a physician? Didn’t those feminists tell me to go for it all? So off I went to prem-med, then medical school, husband and children in tow.
Over 14 years as an obstetrician-gynecologist, I saw and heard so many stories of triumph and suffering. I listened to the hopes and fears of countless women of all ages. I loved the operating room, I loved attending the miracle of birth. Most of all, I relished the really really authentic moments of communication, of just talking –but more so, listening -meaningfully with people. I wanted the pace and the external pressures on these encounters to slow down. Hard to do in a busy medical practice!
During this time I had sought stress reduction from the long hours on call at the hospital, and had found Kundalini yoga: becoming a teacher, and offering a class by donation once per week. I noticed the subtle realm of communication opened in the Golden Chain of each Kundalini Yoga class. I began to appreciate this realm and its miraculous capability for positive change. Of all the ways I had been present with people, I loved this the most. I began to downsize my medical practice to allow more time. I wanted to see where yoga would take me. When new family issues invited my participation, I retired from medicine, focusing on community work in my Unitarian Church, teaching more via our local Kundalini Yoga for All- Worcester (Massachusetts) and eventually coming now to serve at Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, Massachusetts.
After several years of teaching regular classes, my yoga sister & colleague, Shiv Antar Kaur and I began to offer a Kundalini chair yoga class to a mixed health population. In this setting, we discovered that the technology of Kundalini yoga could be slowed down, honed down into its subatomic parts.
Dr. Shanti Shanti Kaur Khalsa had been teaching us about bringing yoga into health care. She advised us: “A little goes a long way.” Finally, the world slowed down for me. We began to experience a very beginning taste of what it might mean to work with individuals and groups as a yoga therapist once fully trained. We noticed that a person could be in a leg cast, or elderly and on oxygen, can have a full yoga experience.
Our love and commitment to Kundalini Yoga deepened in the face of these gifts. I joined the International Association of Yoga Therapists and began to support the 1000 hour, 3 year International Yoga Therapy Professional Training Program under development by Shanti Shanti Kaur’s Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine & Humanology.
In the altruism of my youth, part of me wanted to save the world and “fix” everyone who needed healing. Now, in middle age, yoga and medicine have both taught me what my first patients did: surrender is the only path to liberation & joy. In the practice of surrender to what is, also known as Sat Nam, right now, on every level, we are in touch with true healing. Kundalini yoga is not a magical potion to fix someone. It is a subtle shift that the individual creates for themselves in the safe presence of a teacher. Yogi Bhajan teaches us that it is self directed and self initiated. Only participation is required.
I firmly believe that the recent decades of alternative health and mindfulness movements have set the stage. Subtle yet potent interventions via undiluted Kundalini Yoga are poised to complement traditional Western Medicine, deployable in all clinical settings and “doses” by certified Kundalini yoga therapists. The world is ready for Kundalini Yoga to help bring health care into its next great stage. I am thrilled to be a part of this. I am ready to see where we can go: when we give all we can, to the people we will serve.
The International Kundalini Yoga Therapy Professional Training Program is offered by the Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine & Humanology, under the direction of Dr. Shanti Shanti Kaur Khalsa. The east coast location for this program is at Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, Massachusetts and begins August 1, 2015. Shanti Shanti Kaur Khalsa, PhD brings the ancient teachings of Kundalini Yoga into modern medicine. She has taught Kundalini Yoga since 1971 and began to teach people with chronic or life threatening illness in 1986, under the guidance of Yogi Bhajan. Dr. Khalsa directs the Guru Ram Das Center for Medicine & Humanology, founded to bring Kundalini Yoga and the teachings of Yogi Bhajan into healthcare. She is a Medical Family Therapist, Yoga Alliance E-RYT 500, and a KRI Certified Kundalini Yoga mentoring lead trainer for Levels 1 and 2. Dr. Khalsa is a charter member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and served on the team that developed IAYT Educational Standards for Yoga Therapy Teacher Training. She directs the 3 year 1,000 hour International Kundalini Yoga Therapy Professional Training and provides continuing education for health professionals and yoga teachers. Her Kundalini Yoga program for people living with HIV is featured in the book, Yoga as Medicine by Timothy McCall, MD. And her groundbreaking work as a Kundalini Yoga Therapist is featured in the book, Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine