The Breath Is Key

"The greatest education is the science of self. The science of self and self-awareness is the highest knowledge a man can possess." -Yogi Bhajan

By Irene McLaughlin Narissi, Contributor
August / September 2013

An introduction to Yoga.

My introduction to Kundalini Yoga in 1982 was a game changer. My type A personality  changed to a more patient and certainly chilled out A-. When asked how I stay so calm and centered I’m clear that the three-days-a-week practice is contributing and I consider it my health insurance. Other than a slight cold every couple of years, I haven’t had any illness, pain or discomfort for decades. The list of very real benefits from regularly practicing yoga is long. Yoga itself is a practical, methodical, and systematic discipline or techniques that help us to become more aware of our nature. An experiential science of self-study.

Practicing yoga is not only an effective stress reliever, but also a way to ease symptoms of anxiety. By transferring focus and attention to the body and breath, yoga can help to temper anxiety while also releasing physical tension. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting roughly 40 million adults nationwide, or about 18 percent of us. My anxiety went out the window and has not returned. By focusing on your breath as you move through the poses and closing your eyes, you relax and go within to achieve a more meditative state.  Meditation also is a tool that has been practiced in some form since antiquity. It is often used to clear the mind and ease many health issues, such as high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.

Many types of yoga are being taught.  Hatha, Jivamuhti, Raja, Kriya, Kundalini yoga have become more mainstream.   After experiencing Kundalini yoga, I chose this 5,000-year-old yoga that was kept secret in India (for building strength of Sikh warriors) until 1969 when it was freely introduced to the West by Yogi Bhajan. After 30 years of determined effort under his leadership it has widespread acceptance in the West, and featured articles have graced the covers of Time, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal.

This form of yoga works on the glandular system, strengthens the nervous system, and enables us to harness the energy of the mind and the emotions. The kryas (sequence) have been created to work on various parts of the anatomy to achieve specific outcomes and are designed for all (beginners to advanced) and all levels of physical fitness.

Yogi Bhajan called yoga an exact science, meaning that specific sets and meditations can be “prescribed” for a specific outcome, including relief from addictions.

In the turbulent drug culture of the 60s he recognized that youth experimentation with “altered states of consciousness” expressed a deeper desire for self-awareness and connectedness. And he showed them that through the practice of this yoga, you could experience a holistic and liberating sense of awareness and inner euphoria without the damaging effects of pharmaceuticals.

Although yoga is an increasingly popular form of exercise in the U.S., there are those caught in judgment and fear that it is a religious practice. Usually these are people who have never experienced yoga. “Despite the quasi-spiritual trappings, yoga, as it’s widely practiced by millions of Americans of all faiths, is no instrument of religious indoctrination,” says Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times. “It’s exercise.”

Medical doctors are becoming more accepting of certain complementary and alternative medicine therapies, such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, than they have been in the past. And recently a California judge allowed that a school could accept a half-million-dollar grant to introduce yoga instruction to students.

Integrated is the umbrella word. In today’s fragmented society, where high-tech living has created isolation instead of intimacy, and has caused increasing physical ailments such as carpel tunnel, computer addiction and overstimulation, yoga and meditation have the ability to balance the disharmony and strife that is accepted as normal every day living. To quote Yogi Bhajan, “The greatest education is the science of self. The science of self and self-awareness is the highest knowledge a man can possess.”

Bottom line: healthier bodies, and mental and emotional well-being add up to a happier population.

I invite you to increase your mental and physical flexibility, and try something new that’s been around for ages – yoga!


Irene has been practicing Kundalini Yoga for 30 years and teaching the science for 15.

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