The world needs our creativity, compassion, and intuitive intelligence. Today it is essential that we sense the interconnectedness of our world. Whatever happens to any one of us — human, animal plant, or ecosystem — happens to all of us. This sense of connection requires a departure from the individualist, introverted, and competitive approach often found in the modern practice of yoga. We need to move away from seeing yoga as gymnastics and return to seeing it as a way of compassion, community, and awareness.
The simplest way to return to this ancient awareness is to literally draw what we experience, just as ancient yogis did. Of course, this process goes both ways. As a lifelong artist and Kundalini yoga practitioner, I have found that yoga provides an ongoing awakening of creativity essential to my art practice.
The following series of movements — adapted from my new book, Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life — helps to cultivate awareness and to translate sensations and feelings into your unique visual language. This practice calms, heals, and brings insight. It is especially helpful for students new to meditation or those who have trouble focusing or sitting still.
This is a very simple practice, and anyone can do it. But as simple as it is, by noting sensations and representing them visually, you shift from the concrete to the poetic or symbolic. This transition increases your ability to perceive. You will notice more about your sensations and gain insights into what’s happening in your body and mind. Perceiving and representing these patterns guides you in noticing when those patterns shift. The images you create help develop intuition.
As you work from your sensations, listen to them. Make room for what you don’t know. A relaxed mind is a creative mind. Experiment and watch everything. You are cultivating an embodied neutrality that will be an asset to you in any endeavor.
1. Trace the figure below into your journal or, if you prefer, make your own outline. If you’re tracing, make changes in the shape so it looks more like you.
2. Sitting in Easy Pose (seated, with legs crossed, as pictured above), scan your body for sensations. When you find one, spend a few breaths just noticing it. If it were a color, what color would it be? What shape? What texture? Soft or hard? Hot or cold? (Note: If the Easy Pose is not easy, try sitting on a pillow. A good guideline is that the knees should not be higher than the hips, so use a pillow or pillows to raise the hips to the height of the knees. If it is still too painful, sit in a chair. Either way, keep the spine straight and the posture balanced.)
3. Take your oil crayons or colored pencils and mark on the seated figure the color and shape of a sensation. I like to mark the figure as if it were a mirror. For example, if I feel sensation in my right shoulder, I mark it on the right side of the paper in the shoulder area. Be expressive. Is the sensation in a circle or a line? Is it many small marks or a big blob? Is it light or dark? Cold or warm? How will you express temperature, tightness, looseness?
You can use this drawing exercise with any kriya or meditation. You also can adapt it to a daily practice. Each day, make a small drawing of where you observe your energy and its quality. You can do this after each exercise or at the beginning and end of your practice.
Heal Your Self Now
This is one of my favorite series for maintaining a healthy, strong, pain-free body.
To begin our Kundalini yoga movement series, chant this mantra, designed to connect you to wisdom and creativity, three times: ong namo guru dev namo.
Art Process: As you begin the series, remember to pause after each exercise to note your sensations and mark them on your drawing of the seated figure.
1. Sufi Grind to the Left: Sitting in Easy Pose (or on a chair, if necessary) with hands resting on the knees, make a large, smooth circle, with the spine going to the left, hinging from the waist. Keep the chin level to the ground in both positions (neck lock). Breathe deep and let the breath coordinate with the movement. Continue for 90 seconds.
2. Sufi Grind to the Right: Continue the same movement but in the opposite direction for 90 seconds. Then inhale and, while suspending the breath, engage the Root Lock by contracting the pelvic floor and drawing your navel in and up. Relax the breath and remain sitting in Easy Pose, noticing all your sensations for one minute. What color or shape are they now? Mark them on your drawing.
3. Spinal Flex: Still in Easy Pose, grasp the shins firmly with both hands. As you inhale, flex the spine forward, keeping the chest high. Exhale and flex the spine back, rocking back on the sit bones. Continue this rhythmic movement with the breath. Keep the chin level as you continue for three minutes. Inhale, and while suspending the breath, increase the Root Lock. Exhale and sit in Easy Pose with a relaxed breath, noticing everything for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Add them to your drawing.
4. Forward Bend, Left Leg Extended: With the left leg straight out in front and the right foot against the inner thigh of the left leg, stretch forward and down, bending from your waist like a hinge. Hold onto the shin or foot with both hands. Keep the left foot flexed and pointed to the sky. Hold with long, deep breathing for 90 seconds.
5. Forward Bend, Right Leg Extended: With the right leg straight out in front of you and the left foot against the inner thigh of the right leg, stretch forward and down, bending from your waist like a hinge. Hold onto the shin or foot with both hands. Keep the right foot flexed and pointed to the sky. Hold with long, deep breathing for 90 seconds. Inhale; while suspending the breath, increase the Root Lock by strongly contracting the pelvic floor and drawing your navel in and up. Relax the breath and sit in Easy Pose, noticing everything for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
6. Rest Lying on Your Back: Lie down on your back with arms by the sides, palms up, and feet slightly separated. Allow the body to breathe in a relaxed manner for 30 seconds.
7. Yogic Sit-Ups: Still lying on the back, bring the knees up with the feet flat on the floor. Contract the Root Lock and feel the lower spine flatten against the floor. Make the hands into a basket by interlacing the fingers and placing them behind the head. This is a six-count movement both up and down. Lift the head off the ground and support the head with the hands, but do not pull on the neck. Inhale; then, to a count of six, exhale as you slowly curl up, tightening the abdominal muscles. Then inhale and slowly loosen the abdominals as you exhale and go back to a count of six. Keep the head up and the lower spine in contact with the floor in both positions. Imagine breathing in and out through your navel. Continue for two minutes. Sit in Easy Pose, noticing everything for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
8. Cat/Cow: Place the hands on the ground directly below the shoulders and the knees directly down from the hips, heels touching. Inhale as you tilt the pelvis forward, arching the lower back slightly downward. The head moves up and back. Exhale as you arch the back up, tilting the pelvis the opposite way, the head toward the chest. Push up through the shoulders, chin on the chest. Alternate between Cat and Cow for two minutes with deep breaths. Keep the eyes closed and gazing at the brow point. To end, inhale into Cow with your head up as you lengthen the tailbone up and away. Focus closed eyes between the eyebrows. Inhale and come into Easy Pose and meditate for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
9. Half Spinal Twist to the Left: Stretch the legs straight out in front of you. Bring the left knee up. Cross the left foot over the right leg, placing the left foot flat on the floor. Place the left hand behind you on the left side. Wrap the right arm around the left leg. Inhale and lengthen the spine up. Keep the chin in Neck Lock (see page 63), level to the ground, as you turn the chin all the way to the left. Keep the chest high and the left shoulder and chin all the way left. Hold with long deep breaths for one minute.
10. Half Spinal Twist to the Right: Begin with both legs straight out in front of you. Bring the right knee up and cross the right foot over the left leg, placing the foot flat on the floor. Place the right hand behind you on the right side. Wrap the left arm around the right leg. Inhale and lengthen the spine up. Keep the chin in Neck Lock, level to the ground, as you turn the chin all the way to the right. Keep the chest up and the right shoulder and chin all the way right. Hold with long deep breaths for one minute. Come back into Easy Pose and meditate for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
11. Shoulder Teeter-Totters: Hook the hands together in Bear Grip at the heart center. (In Bear Grip, the left hand faces out and grips the right hand.) Begin with the arms parallel to the ground and hands four to six inches from the chest. Use the heart center as a pivot point for your teeter-totter. Inhale as you lift the left elbow and lower the right elbow; then exhale as the right elbow goes up and the left elbow goes down. Continue. Let all the motion happen in the shoulders and the arms, without leaning from side to side. Continue for one minute. At the end, inhale as you bring the arms parallel to the ground, still in Bear Grip. Pull on the Bear Grip and hold the breath, then relax the arms. Sit and meditate for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
12. Shoulder Shrugs: Gently grasp the knees with the hands. Inhale as you shrug the shoulders up to the ears. Exhale as you drop the shoulders down. Continue this motion for one minute at a rapid pace.
13. Shoulder Rolls: Roll the shoulders together up, back, down, and forward in big, slow, smooth circles. Continue for one minute with relaxed breathing. Relax and meditate for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
14. Neck Turns: Sit tall in Neck Lock and Root Lock, with chest high and shoulders relaxed. Place the hands on the knees. Inhale and turn the head to the left; then exhale and turn the head to the right. Keep the chin level to the ground and continue for one minute. Inhale back to the center. Relax and meditate for one minute. What color or shape are your sensations now? Mark them on your drawing.
15. Deep Relaxation: Relax on your back in Corpse pose, arms by the sides and palms facing up. The eyes are gently closed; breath is soft and normal. Totally relax for 3 to 10 minutes.
16. Coming Out of Relaxation: Take a deep breath. Wiggle the toes and the fingers. Rotate the ankles and wrists in small circles one way and the other way. Take a Cat Stretch to each side. Rub the soles of the feet together and the palms of the hands together. Roll up to seated position.
Meditation: Breath Awareness Exercise
1. Sit in Easy Pose, with eyes closed and gently pressed up, focusing between the eyebrows. Hands are resting on the knees, with the first finger and the thumb touching in Gyan Mudra. Lift the chest and elongate the spine. Lift the crown of the head as the chin relaxes down and in. Let the shoulder blades relax down the back. Feel yourself sitting without effort as you become aware of the breath. Notice the quality of your breath and where in your body you feel the movement of your breath.
2. Bring your attention to the one-inch square area above the root of the nose between the eyebrows. Then focus your attention through the brow point (that space between your eyebrows) to the navel point (the area three fingers below your navel inside your body). Feel the motion and energy of your breath. Visualize your body as luminous. As you inhale, imagine the light getting brighter, growing bigger, and going deeper within you. Let the breath and light merge with the entire cosmos. Feel you are a part of the vast cosmos. Notice any color or images that come to you.
Art Process: Now, return to your drawing for the last time. Make any additions or adjustments to your drawing. You may also want to add words or a title. Look and notice what the colors and shapes are offering.