By: Sara El Gendy
Our minds are the perfect storage space for the plethora of emotions we keep compiling as we move forward in our lives. But they get lost in the sea of responsibilities and daily errands that it’s impossible to figure out why they remain in our heads or how we can let them go.
A while ago I had the opportunity to go on a wellness retreat where I learned about Kundalini yoga and met lifestyle consultant, Sandra Shama Kaur. Her immense knowledge of Kundalini yoga is the result of a series of challenges she faced throughout her life while coping with the painful loss of her mother. Shama Kaur means ‘the one who shines the light of her inner soul,’ it is the mission she tirelessly carries as she helps students look for their own.
Her enthusiasm inspired and made me curious that I ended up signing for her weekly Kundalini sessions. I struggled to hold the poses, breathe correctly, and shrug off the endless questions that came to my head as I sat on the yoga mat for my first class. However, I was soon comforted and encouraged by a supreme sense of calmness and commitment to the process.
I talked to her about the misconceptions people have about yoga & meditation, her visit to the Syrian refugee camp in Greece, the biggest challenge she faces as an instructor, and more…
What’s the main purpose of meditation?
It helps you clear your subconscious. We’re created in a way that we store all previous experiences, ever since we were children, in our subconscious. This is why many people grow up with certain phobias of things like loud noises, small rooms, or people yelling; our bodies store all memories and emotions we’ve been through, and they need to be released.
Meditation helps us go inside of our bodies, become aware of these memories, and through the process you gradually release everything until they no longer impact your life. It’s like clearing your subconscious from all of that emotional garbage you’ve been storing.
It doesn’t have to happen the first time you meditate, it could be a tough memory and won’t be easily released before you do it over and over, and after many sessions, you’ll be able to leave it behind, it’s a process.
When you don’t clear your subconscious it starts to fill up, then that emotional garbage will need to go somewhere, so it begins to pour in your unconscious, and when that happens, you react without even thinking. It changes your personality because the real you, with all your traits, is caged.
We are very used to being external, so whenever someone has a problem, the first thing they’d do is go and ask a friend to look for a solution, or find a consultant. We figure out that a lot of the times we want something because we see that advertising is telling us to buy this and wear that, or that my friend has this or has that, we end up becoming very external.
What meditation does is that it trains us to become more internal so that when I have a problem I wouldn’t look for a solution by asking someone else, but actually more by going within myself and figuring out what’s right for me.
If I want to figure out what I want to do with my life, I go within myself and it becomes clear; what’s the right path for me, it’s the shift from external to internal.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about yoga?
Of course that yoga is boring, that we have to stop our thoughts, that we sit and do nothing. Some people say things like “yoga and meditation are not for me because I’m very active.” It’s normal that you’re active, that you have excess energy and heat in your body, you need to release those before you sit down and meditate, because if you try and meditate without letting out all the excess energy, you’ll be restless and wanting to move.
That’s why you do yoga first, so you move and get the excess energy out of your system, and then you meditate, now that you’re more relaxed and able to.
That’s also why we do different breathing techniques that help calm us down, they help us control our senses more. Not many people realize the power of our senses; what I see, smell, taste, hear can be extremely powerful.
So with the practice of meditation and yoga your senses don’t have control over you and you’re able to withdraw; you can be sitting at a train station with trains coming and going, children screaming, but you’re totally withdrawn, you can just sit there and be okay.
How can meditation affect us and our productivity during difficult times?
The autonomic part of our nervous system has two parts; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Our culture has made us over use the sympathetic and under use the parasympathetic.
When the sympathetic is on overdrive you only think of 3 choices in the time of danger; flight, fight, or freeze.
Flight means no confrontation, avoiding certain people and not wanting to be near them. Freezing is not being able to do anything or think properly. And the last is fight; some people get very VERY stressed out under pressure they start to scream at others, they get extremely angry that it’s hard to understand why this person is doing that. It’s because their sympathetic nervous system is over active and they think they’re in danger.
So what meditation actually does is it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system so that when you’re facing a challenge, you’re able to be more calm and open. When you’re open you can see more solutions to the problem, your productivity is better, and you’re more creative.
What is the first thing a person should do when stress takes over?
What’s very important in that moment is to slow down your breath.
You know, if there’s one thing people who have never taken or done any yoga/meditation can remember is to be aware of your breath when you’re under stress and try to slow it down.
You can slow it down by counting, for instance inhaling in 10 seconds, holding the breath for 10 seconds, and exhaling for 10 seconds. You can do that when you’re driving a car, in front of a computer and your brain is about to explode because you just got a horrible email. You can do this any time, the idea is that you need to observe your breath and slow it down.
Your breath is like your traffic signal; red, green, and yellow. Red is danger, and when you’re in danger your breath is fast and that means your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which is a cue that you need to shift.
You visited a Syrian refugee camp in Greece back in 2016, what impact did yoga & meditation have on the lives of the people you met there?
I think it was just listening to their stories. It’s amazing how I felt that giving them this time to tell their stories made them really feel like they were worth something.
Everyone they tried speaking to resorted to “okay, so what do you want?”, “show me your papers”, or “come back in two weeks.” I’m not blaming the organizations because I realize they’re busy, but the fact that I was there to just say “okay, tell me what’s going on with you?” and that they were able to share and find someone who’s willing to spend time with them, I think was key.
“They needed someone who listens, uplifts, and validates”
I would go into the rooms and have tea, sit, and eat with them. They were really surprised because at first they felt that I was only part of an organization who’s supposed to get them something and leave.
Also, I noticed that doing breathing exercises and meditation really had an impact on them, they were more calm and relaxed at the end of the session, they had clearer minds.
I let them understand that I know what they’re going through and that I can really feel the pain they’re in at the moment, and reminded them of their strength and that they’re not there by coincidence, nothing is a coincidence, that they’re there for a reason and whatever they’ve gone through will make them stronger and better people.
That validation and encouragement was really appreciated because they got to share individual problems, things that the media doesn’t deliver to us. They feel so humiliated by the conditions surrounding them, they literally told me “we feel like we’re treated as animals.”
I’m still in contact with some of them and we Whatsapp every now and then.
What is the ultimate goal that you want to reach as an instructor? And what is your biggest challenge?
It would be incredible to have every student that I had walk into a class and become a better teacher than I am. To empower the student to become their own teacher; self initiating and being able to answer their own questions.
“Making it more clear that happiness is not related to what I have and don’t have, but it’s really an inner state that anyone can cultivate at any moment in time”
It doesn’t matter what job you have, what kind of relationship you’re in, anyone can obtain a state of happiness and inner peace at any moment in their life, but of course, you need guidance and tools. Being a good teacher means you become very sensitive, you feel when it’s not your role to say something, you feel what a person needs and doesn’t need when they walk into a room.
My biggest challenge actually is my family, which is ironic. I respect that they’re on a different path but here I am doing all of these things; I’m teaching and I have many students and people listening, it would be great if they can apply an eighth of what I’m doing to their lives. Not for the sake that I think that how they chose to live heir lives is wrong, but just so they can have a better health and quality of life.
I didn’t have that sensitivity when I was first done with my training because I was trying to change everyone in my family, which was very arrogant, I had a lot of passion, too.
It’s not about that, it’s about being sensitive, humble, and being more prayerful and asking for the best for them. But I can see that we are very different, that we’re operating the world from different lenses, so there’s no point to go there.
Another challenge is that many people who know yoga think that Kundalini is a form of yoga where you’re stretching your body and getting stronger, while Kundalini technology takes heart from Chinese medicine and Ayurveda then combines techniques together in order to make you excel in today’s world, to become an excellent version of who you are. But of course people who come to a yoga class either come with the idea that ‘oh, that’s so boring,’ or ‘I want to get stronger, I want to do headstands.’
The technology of Kundalini yoga brings out the best side of you in every aspect of your life; relationship with yourself and with others, your productivity, your success, goals, everything.
When I come across students like that in my class, I don’t explain anything, I just start the class. Afterwards they find the difference and they state how effective it has been for them, and they come back.