Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Snatam Kaur. Snatam is an American artist, raised in the kundalini yoga tradition, schooled in kirtan meditation, and Gurmukhi, the Sanskrit-based language of Sikh scriptures from northern India. She has released eight records and is the lead singer for the Celebrate Peace Tours. With Sounds True, Snatam has released a compilation of her favorite sacred chants for healing called The Essential Snatam Kaur. Snatam was also a featured presenter at Sounds True’s inaugural Wake Up Festival and is a confirmed presenter for the 2013 Wake Up Festival, which takes place August 14-18 in Estes Park, Colorado. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Snatam and I spoke about her bottom line in terms of daily meditation practice, and the mantra that has been the go-to mantra for her in her life. We also talked about her experiences of being chiseled down in her relationship with her spiritual teacher and how being a mother and a wife keeps her ego in check. We also talked about the experience of kundalini awakening and we listened to excerpts from three songs from The Essential Snatam Kaur. Here’s my conversation with a woman whose voice is so pure and truly touches my heart, Snatam Kaur.
I want to begin, Snatam, with talking about devotion and what devotion is for you. I think a lot of times when people hear that word, it has all different kinds of associations. Some people connect directly at the heart. They have a sense of being devoted in their lives. I think other people have some idea that it’s like “Oh, that’s for lost puppies who have to be devoted because they don’t know where else to go,” or something like that. And I’d like to know more from your experience, the inner experience of devotion for you.
Snatam Kaur: I feel like devotion is a choice. You know, inner light is, we have the opportunity to connect to the divine or to connect to the earth plane, and while it’s important to have that connection to the earth plane, sometimes we can get caught in it too much, as the emotions of life and the kind of the aims of the earth—having a house, having a home, having food and money and cars and it just kind of goes on and on and on. And having the earth elements balanced is great, but f we don’t connect to the divine, then that existence can just revolve around the earth elements and the desires of the world.
So to me, really, devotion is having the consciousness to connect with the divine. And the more that you connect with that divinity, the more devoted you are. And it’s an incredible practice. I feel like devotion definitely exists within religious rituals—and many times it doesn’t, we get too caught in the rituals—but we can bring devotion into our religious paths, we can bring devotion into our churches and temples and synagogues. And also, we can bring devotion into our daily lives so that we are connecting to the divine as we are making lunch for our daughter, or working, or cleaning the house, or driving, or all of the things. To me, the ultimate ideal is to just be in devotion, in a state of devotion all the time. I by no means am there yet, but I’ve had really great teachers in my life show me that it’s possible and I work towards that goal.
TS: What do you mean, Snatam, “connecting to the divine?” What does that mean to you?
SK: It simply means that you’re realizing that there’s spirit, that there’s divine, that there’s grace, there’s light. Often times for me, it’s a matter of closing my eyes and taking a deep breath and remembering the presence of God. I know that especially in yoga as we expand it out to more of the mainstream audiences, people have taken the word God out—which I understand, it’s not a religion in that sense, and for people of all walks of life. However I feel like that is the key element is with God, with a capital “G”, a capital “O”, and a capital “D”. That God is real and for people of all walks of life, it’s that space that you come to realize that everything is connected. And when I do my meditation practice in the morning, and in the night, I definitely connect with that sense of consciousness where everything is connected, where everyone’s lives in some way [are] connected, where all events are in some way moving toward bringing us into more consciousness of God, of divine grace, of the perfection of our souls and what we came on this Earth to learn.
So for me, this connection is really like a breath of fresh air, because to me, I find in the separateness, in feeling that we are alone, and in feeling that we are not connected, that that is where the real anxiety exists and the frustration and everything. So connecting in this way, in this larger sense, is really what keeps me afloat. It keeps me in a state of positivity in the struggle of life. And you know, we all have to live on this Earth, we have to deal with gravity, deal with the fact that we’re growing either as children or as adolescents or early 20’s and then experiencing the gradual decay of falling back into the Earth as we get older with our physical bodies. But in no sense should any stage, any physical stage, bring us down, in terms of our spirit and our positivity.
So for me, connecting with the divine is the absolute way and technique to remain young at heart, young in spirit, through all of the transitions and phases of life.
TS: Now, you mentioned your morning and evening practice. And in preparing for this conversation, I was reading some interviews with you online, and in one of them you mentioned that you practice 90 minutes a day and that it’s something that you really stick to. And it’s not something that you often miss. I’d love to hear you talk about that because I think for many people, that’s very hard—sticking with a daily practice. Here you are, you’re a mom, you’re a traveling musician, under a lot of stresses, I’m sure, with your career and the demands on you. How do you do it, Snatam?
SK: Well, I kind of figured out what my bottom line was in my life. And actually my bottom line was a lot less than 90 minutes. My bottom line was that I, no matter what, I need 30 minutes of yoga and meditation. This was about two years ago, after I had experienced having a baby and being on the road as a touring musician and my daily practice just kind of, you know, evaporated. You know, in that sense of experiencing it evaporating, I also had to kind of let go and as I was holding my baby or nursing, I would then take the opportunity to chant and meditate and as I was making my daughter’s meals or fixing meals for my husband, or cleaning the house, I started to integrate the chanting in my daily practice into that.
So in that sense, I did experience a loss of control. That’s, I think a lot of new moms, new parents, talk about that, but in the sense of that, it was a total spiritual experience because then I realized that having this child was divine, and that I could incorporate my practice in many new ways. But then after my daughter was about 2, I said, “Oh my God, I need this.” And I figured out my bottom line. And it was, I’ve got to have a half hour of yoga every day. And it was amazing. I made the choice in my mind, and then I was able to do it. I have to have a half hour. And then it was like time and space moved for me.
Whatever it was, my daughter would not wake up and I was able to wake up before her and I got in my half hour, or I was able to do it while she was playing. And then from this experience of, “Oh my God, time and space can move once I make a decision in my mind,” then I was able to move my daily practice back up, up and up, and now I’m back to the 90 minutes in the morning and a good practice at night as well.
My family and I don’t go to sleep without chanting. It’s like more of a practical thing for me. I don’t do it because I think I should. I do it because it’s a cleansing experience. It’s like brushing my teeth in the morning. I just don’t go out of the house without brushing my teeth, and likewise I don’t go out of the house without doing my daily practice. My spiritual teacher used to talk about it a lot. He said, having a meditation practice is like—sorry for saying this, but he said it first and it makes a lot of sense— it’s like cleaning the toilet bowl. You’re literally cleaning out your subconscious, and whether it be from traumas and dramas of the day before or that night or 20 years before or maybe lifetimes before, God only really knows—that you are cleaning out the subconscious and this is now not only a service to your own soul, and your soul’s experience on the planet, but then a service to your family and then to your work and to everything that you do.
So it’s incredibly important in that sense to wake up, to have that experience, to clean myself out on a subconscious and a conscious level. Then at night, to go to sleep at night, you know you asked me as a touring musician with a career and everything, I mean, yeah, the stresses are definitely there, as they are with just life. But that’s how I create a home for me. If I’m traveling on the road, I chant until I absolutely feel surrounded and protected by love and light in some hotel room in God knows where. And it works. I do feel that sense of sanctuary and sanctity.
Then at home with my family, we chant every night. It brings such a sense of relaxation. It allows the mind to turn off and allows you to go to sleep. So for me, it’s all very practical. Some people talk about a daily practice like, “Oh, I should be doing this, or I should be that,” and it’s more of once you’ve experienced the lightness and the joy that a daily practice brings, you’re addicted, you’re hooked. Why would you want to live life any other way once you’ve experienced that? So that’s really where it comes from for me.
TS: Now one thing that I’m curious about, and in just a moment, we’re going to hear an excerpt from one of your songs from the Sounds True release, The Essential Snatam Kaur but before we do, I just want to hear your answer to this question which is the connection for you in the voice as part of your practice, the chanting part. What happens for you when you’re chanting in terms of this connecting with the divine—sort of the internal experience?
SK: Yes. Well, I’ve always really connected with my voice as a part of my spiritual practice. It kind of engages my entire being, engages my mind especially with the chants, with the mantras. It’s a way for my mind to turn off and for me to experience, to get into that state of devotion. And it’s also in that same sense as a mother sings to her baby, it’s like when we chant we sing to our souls and we bring comfort to our souls.
My teacher Yogi Bhajan talked about this often, that your most healing technique for yourself is the sound of your own voice chanting sacred mantras. We listen to our voices throughout the day in conversation or whatnot, but when you listen to yourself chanting these sacred mantras, it just resets the frequency of your life, I feel. It brings you back again to that state of devotion.
TS: And if you could introduce for us, if you would, “Jap Man Sat Nam,” which is the song we’re going to hear a piece of.
SK: Yes. That’s perfect, just given what we have talked about. It means, “O my mind, meditate on the name of God, let this be your vibration.” So you know, our minds often have thoughts going on— sometimes they can be negative thought patterns, sometimes they can be destructive thought patterns, and what’s really amazing is to discover that our minds are truly just filled with these thought patterns and if we can change the frequency of those thought patterns and bring in positive vibrations, then we can essentially change the frequency of our lives and live in more positive energy and more grace and awareness.
So this chant is saying, “O my mind, meditate, and vibrate in God’s name.” In this sense, it’s attracting the energy of love and light into your mind. So that’s what this whole chant is about. And asking for the grace of the divine to really give you that vibration because to break the hypnosis, the cultural hypnosis of all those things we should be thinking about, and to break our ancestral hypnosis, to break the karmas that we come into this life with, what our souls has come into this life with—to change that frequency, that’s huge.
So this chant is really a prayer and asking the divine, “OK, I’m ready. I’m ready to be in that state of grace—you know like the Dalai Lama, like Mother Teresa, like any enlightened being that has graced this planet.” It’s really essentially a frequency of the mind where the mind is connected to the divine all the time.
TS: Let’s listen from The Essential Snatam Kaur. [Music plays.]
TS: Amazingly soothing. You made that comment that your teacher, Yogi Bhajan, described chanting as a way of soothing the soul, something like that. What were your exact words, Snatam?
SK: He talked about chanting, meditation, all of these things as way to really cleanse the subconscious, and you know as we chant we are definitely relaxing our brain frequencies on a very scientific level. A lot of studies [are] being done at MIT and other institutions [that are] showing this. And then also on a subconscious level, we’re releasing a lot of energies, bringing us back into divine grace, divine state. He described chanting and meditation as like cleaning the toilet bowl!
TS: Right, yes.
SK: You know, and really bringing yourself to a clean slate. In the sense that everyone—he used to say that everyone has the birthright to be happy. So chanting, I really feel, has a capacity to bring you back to a state of health, a state of happiness, a state of being whole.
TS: In your own practice, Snatam, is there a mantra or a chant that is your sort of go-to mantra, the one that you return to at this point in your life?
SK: At this point in my life, and probably my whole chanting life, the first mantra that I really connected with [and] is the major forklift to bring me out of any kind of negative energies or struggles with life, that just did the job no matter what. And that has been the mantra, Guru, Guru, Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru. Just after my parents got a divorce and I was in my early teens, I remember chanting this every night, and it was just so powerful for me in that time. So from that point onwards, I just really connected with this [mantra]. I chant it every night. I chant it every morning, actually. It’s probably the most chanted in my house, all the time. It’s like one of those chants that kind of just takes out the nightmare, takes out the anxiety, takes out the sense of disconnection.
Guru, Guru, Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru means connecting to the ecstatic experience of God’s name and bringing us into the infinite grace of God’s name. God himself or herself comes back to serve you, to serve the need of the time. That’s kind of the main, essential core of this chant. And it works. It’s like, you know, my vitamin C, my daily vitamin in terms of mantras.
TS: Well it’s interesting, you’ve talked several times in different ways about frequencies and kind of getting out of despair or nightmarish[ness] and moving to a different frequency, and I wonder, being someone who is so attuned to sound, how you experience the world in terms of frequencies or sound vibrations.
SK: I really, really connect with sound. It’s totally my teacher. I really go back to the time, I don’t how it happened, but by some great miracle, I got to sit down next to my teacher after one of our religious services called Gudwara, as we have them in our Sikh practice. I got to sit down next to him. And everybody was being served food—that’s how we finish our practice, everyone eats together and we serve food. And everyone was sitting down and eating and I was sitting down next to him. And you know, this is a spiritual master, with literally thousands and thousands of people across the planet who would call him every day or he’d travel that looked to him for advice.
So I was like, “Oh my God, this is my [guru], I’m sitting down next to him, what should I ask him, what should I ask him?” And I had had all of these questions prepared and in his presence, his spiritual presence and who he was, I couldn’t think worth a darn. I couldn’t formulate any of my questions. And he just looked over at me—and you know, at the time I was like, gosh, 19 years old, and he’s a very tall yogi, six feet tall—[he] kind of looked down at me and he must have known what I was thinking and he said, “Just stop.” Because, my mind was going, “Oh my God, I don’t have a question, I need a question!” “Just stop and listen.”At that point, I listened. I got into this meditative state, probably, as I was sitting next to a master. And I was listening. And all around us—there was about 60 people in this small little temple all eating, having their food together, talking to each other, you know, neighbors, friends, whatever. They just come to the weekly religious service and they were all talking and eating and talking and eating. I suddenly could hear that it wasn’t just people talking and the clinking of forks on the plates and all of this, but it was actually the flow of people’s lives. And at that point, my teacher looked at me, and I don’t know if he said this to me, I don’t know if I had my eyes open or not, it kinda didn’t matter, I was in just a state, by his grace.
And he said, “Listen. It’s all like a flow. It’s a river.” And I suddenly just felt that flow and how people’s lives are just flowing like rivers and how we choose to flow. And we flow through our voices. We flow through our lives in that sense. And it was such a beautiful, beautiful experience at that point to experience the flow of everyone’s life. And this happened through that act of listening, and of course I was in the presence of a master, but since then, I have been able to get back to that state and I think that we can all be in that state of just listening. And when we really listen, we really understand that everyone is experiencing their own flow and their own lives, and in essence when we do listen, we realize that we’re all in flow together, and it’s such an incredible experience—an experience of forgiveness, an experience of understanding and of grace, to truly listen.
TS: I’m so glad you shared that story, because one of the things that I’ve noticed in listening to you sing and also in listening to you speak, is that there’s an interesting silence in between your words. And that I seem to hear as much in the silent spaces as I do in the words and sounds. That’s interesting to me.
SK: Yes. I had a really nice opportunity to listen to Ram Dass—he’s the author of Be Here Now—when I was a teenager. He was one of the founders of a youth organization that I was a part of called Creating Our Future. One of the things that he notably did—and still does, and even more so these days as he’s had a stroke and his life has totally changed—but he would have these pauses, you know. Really long pauses, actually. And it was so beautiful. It really taught me a lot about that state of listening and how we can do that for each other. It’s a gift, a real gift.
TS: We’re going to listen, Snatam, to another song from The Essential Snatam Kaur called “By Thy Grace.” And I wonder if you can introduce this song to us and in that, maybe tell us a little bit more of your direct experience with your teacher and how that fits into this song, “By Thy Grace.”
SK: Well, you had mentioned, you know, the term “career,” and then there’s the term “musician,” and then there’s the term “singer,” and all of these things are really important and I identify with them. But my teacher he had me— [pauses] —I was sitting on the floor, he was sitting on the couch. He looked at me and said, “What, you wanna be a singer?” At that point in time, I had just started recording some of the chants and I had been working for him at the Peace Cereal Company, a company that he founded where 10% of the profits went to peace organizations across the United States.
So he had me there working as a cereal food technologist, and my music had just started to get out there and people were saying, “We want you to come [sing],” and “Oh wow, this is great,” and I was writing him regularly saying, “Can I please go and sing and do this thing with so much positive energy coming?” And he kept saying, “No, no, time’s not ready. Time’s not ready.”
So I was sitting there and he looked at me and said, “So you wanna be a singer, huh?” And you know, he was kind of teasing me, in a teasing way. “That’s all you wanna be, is a singer?” I closed my eyes at that point because I knew well enough that he was teaching me something. I realized, he didn’t have to say anything more, I realized that I could be so much more than just a singer. I could be so much more than just what the surface of my life was saying, “This is what you should do,” that I could go beyond that singular identity—that I could teach yoga, I could teach meditation, that I could serve in such a more expanded way than my limited mind was offering.
So from that experience, I took that consciousness into the concerts as such, and it’s an interesting energy with the concerts, because with CDs or concerts or whatnot, people have never heard these sacred chants before and they see your picture on a CD or they see your picture on a concert poster. They hear the CD or they go to a concert and they suddenly connect with their heart and soul and have this amazing transformative experience. And then, they put the credit onto that picture of whoever was on the poster or whoever was on the CD cover.
And at first it really, really, really, freaked me out. [Laughs] People were saying, “Oh my God, I had this amazing experience, and thank YOU so much.” And I knew after years and years of getting hammered by spiritual teacher, and life itself, it was by no means me at all. And if I were to even take credit for it, I would probably self-combust!
You know, to be able to manage that kind of energy [by myself]—forget it! It was the sacred chants that we’re connecting people, that it was this energy of the divine, who I was chanting to—the energy of God himself or herself. And so, my soul really wanted to communicate the power and the energy and the realness of chanting God’s name. And you know, just the fact that somebody came across a CD and you know heard a chant and suddenly had a healing experience. There was somebody who wrote in and said, “My husband went to Iraq, and experienced the dramas and the traumas there and was so messed up from that experience, and couldn’t cry, couldn’t even cry. And then [he] heard “Ra Ma Da Sa,” this chant for healing, for the first time on your CD, the chant for healing that calls on the essence and the name of God and the energy of God, and he was able to cry for the first time.”
So I realized that from that story and from others, from my own life experience, just having the opportunity that this veteran was even to hear the chant was a miracle in and of itself. And given our planet, and given what humanity is experiencing right now, and the reality of life on this Earth right now, and our culture, and all that we’re experiencing, that if somebody were to actually hear these chants that it’s a miracle in and of itself. And it’s a grace, because even if you don’t consciously have a healing experience, and you don’t actually cry, or you don’t actually have some monumental kind of shift of consciousness, there’s a little shift of consciousness, always—no matter what. And that’s the beginning of a major shift in consciousness. I truly believe that these sacred chants serve that role.
So if somebody tells me, “Oh my gosh, you know, your music got into American Airlines’ relaxing music to listen to while you’re on the airplane,” it’s like, yes, because that means that somebody is going to pick it up and hear these sacred sounds and have an experience for sure. And so this became my prayer, to be able to communicate to people the real deal, what’s really going on. And so this song was actually born from a concert experience where, with some really beautiful musicians, we just started kind of creatively doing this particular tune and I creatively came up with these words, probably out of the prayer of my own soul, and wanted to communicate, essentially, “It’s by Thy grace, that I sing your holy name.”
And then the bridge is “Someday the day shall come when all the glory shall be thine. People say it is yours, and I shall deny not mine.”And that’s exactly what I try to communicate to people who communicate all the time who come up to me after concerts and say, “Oh my God, you are an angel of light, or you are so wonderful, or you have brought me healing.” And I say, “Actually it’s from the divine. It’s something much greater than me.” And I give that glory, I give that gratitude to that one who’s really, really the one working here.
TS: Let’s listen.
TS: The humility in that song is so heart-opening, so moving to me. It makes me wonder, Snatam, do you ever find yourself getting caught in its opposite—seeing yourself on the cover of a yoga magazine or something like that, and saying, “Uh yeah, but you know, I kinda got it all going on here. This is all coming through me!” I mean, something like that.
SK: Oh yes, it’s just ego. It’s a daily process. It’s not even just on the cover of some magazine. It’s like, “Oh I made such a good dinner for my family. Tonight is good night.” I think it’s a real daily process. I love, I love, being a wife, being a mother, because it’s such a chiseling of the ego in many senses. I think a lot of times when people see the cover of me, or a picture of me on a CD or something, or a newspaper article, they may not always relate to [the fact] that I’m a mother, that I’m a wife. And this is a huge, huge thing for me in terms of keeping my ego in check, and keeping grounded on the earth.
You know also, being a student of Yogi Bhajan, a spiritual master, he really was tough on me. He must have seen what was to happen, what was going to happen, because he was, Oh God, tough as anything. I mean, I would hear stories of my friends who would go and see him and have counseling sessions with him, and so sweet and so loving, and it was never like that for me. I got hammered. And I think my soul really needed it, to really stay real with it. You know when things kind of come my way and successes, I always take a deep breath beforehand and pray, “Dear God, please, keep connected to thy will, to thy grace, to thy love.” It’s a continuous process. I have by no means made it to the end of that journey, but I have had enough experiences that are literally just pain, to know, to know to keep my ego in check, to remain connected to my soul.
And that’s my life. That’s the way, how God wanted it. I got chiseled in that way. so that I can serve in this way now. It makes a lot of sense. While I was going through my difficult times in my early childhood, and then getting chiseled by my spiritual teacher after that, I didn’t understand, but now I do. You know, I feel like in life when we have—it wasn’t just kind of my spiritual teacher kind of chiseling me, it was you know, my parents going through a very painful divorce, having a first marriage that was really challenging, it was life itself that many of us experience that brought pain into my life that I navigated through with the power of chanting God’s name, with my yoga and meditation practice. It gave me that sense of compassion, that sense of knowledge of what pain means.
And that touch of pain, that I honestly feel to this day—I can’t say that I don’t remember the painful experiences. I remember them. It is through that, honestly, that I keep my head bowed, in service to the One. You know, because pain can come at any time, to anyone, no matter how successful you are. And really what it comes down to is the state of your mind. If you are in a state of grace, and joy, and happiness in your mind, you’ve got it. You’ve got the day. You’ve won the day. If you are in a state of pain and separateness and victimization, and all of those things, then you’ve lost the day. And it’s as simple as that. It’s really a day-by-day process for me.
So through enough painful experiences of life, I’ve learned the importance of remaining connected in my mind to the One. And that that One will carry you across any challenge.
TS: Snatam, before we end our conversation, I want to play one more excerpt, actually from the chant that you mentioned, the chant for healing Ra Ma Da Sa. We’ll play an excerpt from that, but before we do, there’s just one more topic that I’d like to bring up with you which is, here you are, you’re part of a kundalini yoga tradition. I think there’s quite a bit of confusion that a lot of people have about what is kundalini? What is kundalini awakening? Has my kundalini awakened, or not? Is it something that once it happens, it’s forever open and awake? And I’m wondering if you can shed some light on this from your experience as a kundalini yoga practitioner.
SK: Yes. I mean kundalini yoga really works with the energy of the spine. If somebody were to kind of ask for a really short synopsis, it would be to raise the energy of the spine and purify the energy of the spine. This is where the kundalini awakening really happens. And we practice a lot of movement postures utilizing our entire body, a lot of breath work and chanting. Essentially, it comes back to the spine, where all the chakras, all of our energy centers, sit.
The chakras, you know, relate to the first chakra, which is your capacity to eliminate, right at your anus; the second chakra is the sexual organs and the creativity and the element of water; the third is at the navel center, just being grounded on this earth, being present, being courageous, the energy of fire; fourth chakra is at the heart center, opening up to compassion and kindness; fifth chakra is at the throat center, our capacity to communicate; sixth chakra is your intuition, at the third eye point, the point between the eyebrows; the seventh chakra is the crown chakra at the top of the head. And so kundalini yoga, when you practice a specific set—and what we practice are sets, thousands and thousands of sets given by Yogi Bhajan— when you practice, I experience any set as taught by Yogi Bhajan in this kundalini form, and it awakens your kundalini.
It’s an interesting thing, because a lot of people have kind of the fireworks idea of, “Oh my gosh, you awakened your kundalini, and you know, it comes in a big light show,” and all of this—to me it’s a very gentle, sweet experience. Kundalini actually means “the lock of the beloved,” as in a curl, a lock, a strand of curly hair of the beloved. It’s a very gentle energy in the sense that it moves up your spine. It’s a very sweet, sweet, energy. I walk out of a kundalini yoga class feeling light. I feel healed. I feel elevated. I see into people’s eyes in a state of clarity. I’ve released emotions—oftentimes in a kundalini yoga class, I’ll just start crying and releasing these emotions that I’ve had for months and months. And I just needed to go through this experience of a class to release those emotions.
It works a lot with the energies of the mind and the psyche, because when you move up the chakra system, and you move up the spine, you’re connecting with all of these energies that I just mentioned, and something’s got to heal, and something’s got to move in order for you to move on with your life. These are incredible exercises and techniques, and it’s not a mix and a match. It’s very clear, exactly as Yogi Bhajan taught it. They were exactly recorded. And you have the experience like clockwork. And I, as a teacher, have experienced this as well, where I just follow the set, and it happens. People’s kundalini energy awakens, the sense of consciousness.
To me, kundalini awakening, rising, kundalini, is really opening your eyes to the reality and seeing the truth in your own life, having an elevated sense of consciousness so you can see your life clearly and then re-approach it with more compassion, more kindness, more presence, move love. So yes, it’s a practice, a yoga practice meant for people of all walks of life. Yogi Bhajan was really clear, this is not about a particular religion, but he taught to wear white.
White, he said, is an inclusive color that in actuality includes all colors of the spectrum. So in that sense, you become universal, and it also attracts positive energy and allows you to project positive energy. So we wear white. We cover our heads and wrap our hair up at the top of our heads because through the chanting, through the yoga experience, the energy rises up from the base of our spine to the top of our heads so the hair, wrapped in that same sense, allows for the energy to flow in the way that it’s naturally flowing and connect with the divine.
We cover our heads to protect and sanctify that energy that’s passing through us. We wear cotton, as a natural fiber, or just natural fibers in general to have the energy around us clear and free and in a natural state. And we are also vegetarian, to maintain the clarity within ourselves, because as Yogi Bhajan taught us, you can’t digest anything within 72 hours, then it just begins to putrefy and rot in your system. And he taught that meat, we’re not able to actually pass it through our system. So there’s a lot of really practical life kinds of things that are also involved in kundalini yoga. That’s why it’s more of a lifestyle kind of yoga practice—oh, and the other main teaching as well, is to have a daily practice as I talked to you about. A friend of mine who runs a yoga center in Vancouver was telling me that as the yoga center became very successful and people were coming—it’s a kundalini yoga based yoga center—people started coming to her, she was the director of the center, and started coming to her asking for advice for counseling, for things on a more personal level. And she began to really engage with people that way, but then there were too many people, she didn’t have the time, given all of her responsibilities so she began to just tell people, “Go to the morning practice, do the morning emsadhana.” And one by one, people went. And their problems were solved, through the practice and meditation.
So kundalini yoga is really a lifestyle yoga. It’s really about transforming your entire life. Like, you can’t just go once a week and have a yoga practice that is really far out and amazing and then jump right back into behaviors and patterns that are negative and hope that your life will shift. Yogi Bhajan was really clear about that. He wanted people to be able to have life transformations, not just to have somebody go to a yoga class and pay their money and leave but for their lives to actually transform. And it he wanted it accessible for everyone.
He would give advice to airline stewardesses on the airplanes who would just come to him and say, “Help me.” He wanted it to be accessible. So this kundalini yoga has got sets—and I talk about him in the presence tense even though he’s left his physical body, but I feel him very much—but there are thousands and thousands of sets, and I kid you not, specifically for women, specifically for men, specifically for meditations for couples, specifically for children, specifically for teenagers, specifically for women experiencing menopause, for premenstrual situations, for digestion, for kidneys, for being more intuitive, for clearing mental energies, for clearing your past karmas. It’s a really, kind of like I [sometimes] say, a diamond faceted type of yoga that has so many aspects, because he wanted the transformation to be whole and complete—not just for the individual, but for the entire community and for people of all walks of life. So that’s the best I can do in a few minutes to try and convey what kundalini yoga is.
TS: And Snatam Kaur, to let our listeners know, will be at Sounds True’s Wake Up Festival, which is taking place August 14-18th in Estes Park, and she’ll be offering a pre-festival intensive in sacred chant and some teachings and practices from kundalini yoga that takes place August 12-14th. And then she’ll be helping us open the festival on opening night on August 14th and you can go to wake up festival.com for more information about that event.
Snatam is also coming to Boulder, where we are here at Sounds True studios, and she’ll be offering a chanting workshop on Feb. 3 and she’ll also be in concert for two nights with Peter Kater, Feb 1st and 2nd at the Unity Church. And if you’re interested in more information on either that chanting workshop on the 3rd or the two evenings with Peter Kater, you can find out more information at spiritvoyage.com.
Snatam, we’re going to end with hearing a little bit from “Ra Ma Da Sa” and maybe you can introduce this chant for us here at the end of our conversation.
SK: Great, yes. This is a healing mantra that you can do for yourself or to heal anyone in your life, or to send healing to anyone in the world, entire countries, as you wish. It’s a really powerful mantra that I’ve used throughout my life. The words are: Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung. “Ra” is the energy of the sun, “Ma” is the energy of the moon, “Da” is the earth, “Sa” is infinity, “Say So Hung” is, “unto infinity in every cell and fiber let there be healing.”
TS: Snatam, your voice and your work, it just so touches my heart. And thank you so much—by Thy grace that it is flowing through in such a way. Thanks for being with us on Insights at the Edge.
SK: Thank you for having me. I feel really honored to be able to serve Sounds True and be part of your work. Thank you.
TS: Again, Snatam Kaur will be at Sounds True’s Wake Up Festival, August 14-18th, in Estes Park, and offering an immersion in sacred chant, a pre-festival workshop August 12-14th. She’ll also be performing right here in Boulder, Colorado for two nights, February 1st and the 2nd at Unity Church with Grammy-nominated pianist, Peter Kater, as well as offering a sacred chant workshop on February 3rd. For more information on those events, you can visit spiritvoyage.com. The three songs that we heard excerpts from as part of this episode of Insights at the Edge, are all available through the CD, The Essential Snatam Kaur, available through Sounds True. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices. One journey. Thanks for listening.