Kundalini Yoga

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Kundalini Yoga
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Swami Sivananda Radha (1911-1995) was one of the foremost spiritual leaders of our time. Her knowledge of the Kundalini system was based on personal experience and direct teachings from Indian and Tibetan masters. She later verified and broadened her understanding through research into the original texts. Her own foundation in yoga was based on character building, courage, and awareness, and her special gift was to convey the teachings in a concise, expansive form - providing a flexible structure for aspirants to discover their own path to awakening their potential.

Swami Radha was born in Germany in 1911, moved to Canada after World War II, and traveled to India in the mid-fifties to meet her spiritual teacher, Swami Sivananda. Initiated into sanyas in 1956, she then returned to Canada and spent the next forty years passionately committed to teaching, living the ideals of yoga, and updating the ancient texts. Swami Radha wrote ten books and founded Yasodhara Ashram, a thriving yoga retreat and study center in British Columbia. She established Ascent magazine, timeless books, and a number of urban centers called Radha Yoga Centres. These centers and publications continue to present her work in the spirit it was created, maintaining the quality and integrity that were the essence of her life.


Swami Radha is my guru. Through the stories she told me, I learned how life can be transformed and made purposeful through Kundalini Yoga. She was a wonderful storyteller, but always the stories reflected the wisdom she had gained from using the Kundalini system as a structure for self-examination. For me, her stories had a higher purpose of challenging the conventional ideas and concepts of my upbringing, which I had never questioned. At the same time they inspired me to think about alternative ways of responding. Because she used the Kundalini system to make sense of her life, I was inspired to do the same for myself.

At the time of our first meeting, I saw myself as a guarded, cautious person, not one to open his heart to just anyone, and so I was surprised, even a little shocked, by the warmth and honesty I felt during our exchanges. Today I can see that I was unconsciously responding to her Light. After many years of working with the Kundalini system, I also understand that speech based on personal experience can be trusted. In workshops and in less formal settings, when Swami Radha asked me questions about my life, no matter how personal they might appear, I could sense that they came from a place of deep caring that was inherently trustworthy. I trusted them because I knew from listening to her that she had looked at the same issues in her life and had learned from them. Simple, yet profoundly precious. She had the power of one who is very aware over one who is not, and yet she exercised that power with the care and respect of a loving mother toward her child. Her guru, Swami Sivananda, had said to her, "Be a spiritual mother to all. The mother has all the milk the baby will need before the baby is born."" And that was my experience.

Swami Radha often spoke of the brief and intense time she had with her guru, and of her own introduction to Kundalini Yoga over fifty years ago. Because of visa restrictions, she had just six months in India. Her guru could give her only a taste - a fleeting glimpse - of the yoga system that was to become the foundation of her teaching in the West. That she has done so much with that tenuous beginning is proof that Swami Sivananda knew what he was doing when he asked her to return to the West and update the ancient teachings of left India and return to Canada to begin her work. As soon as she could, she ordered the complete sixteen-volume set of Sir John Woodruff’s classic translation of the Kundalini Sastras from the publisher in Bombay and had the books shipped home to Montreal. Titles like The Serpent Power, Slate and Shakti, Garland of Letters, and Ananda Lahars would become a constant source of daily reflection in the years ahead.

Swami Sivananda had demanded a lot of her. What would it mean to truly update the teachings? She knew it wasn't just a question of transposing the language of one spiritual tradition to another. To be meaningful and lasting, the teachings would have to be based on personal experience. She started with the spiritual practices she had been given in India - the Divine Light Invocation, the Mantra, Hatha Yoga, plus she developed the meditations and exercises that accompany each chakra in this book - and she worked steadily with them until she knew their power as it applied to her life. She practiced the Divine Light In-vocation for two years, for example, before she felt ready to teach the practice to others. Working with translated texts of the ancient Kundalini Sastras, she was amazed to discover that speech was originally called the goddess, the Devi, the power manifest. After chanting the mantra for five hours a day for two years, she could speak of this power of speech from her own experience.

Whenever time allowed, she turned to the verses and scriptural translations to see how they could relate to her life. Through this intense period of study and practice, the hidden, esoteric teachings of the Kundalini system began to reveal themselves. Today, going to her library and picking out any one of these sixteen volumes, I cannot help but feel something of her presence through the quiet wisdom that vibrates in the texture and beautiful language of these old texts. Little bits of yellowing paper, each with a keyword or two, or a comment in her handwriting, are still in place marking passages that were particularly important to her. The knowledge gained from her work came together in the first edition of Kundalini Yoga for the West in 1978, over twenty years after her return from India.

In the early 1990s, Swami Radhananda and I started a weekly reflection on the mantras and verses from The Serpent Power, one of these old texts. We decided to do the reflections in a manner similar to the way we imagined she had done them. One of us would read the verse aloud and then we would chant a mantra for a few minutes, sit quietly, and watch the thoughts and feelings arising in the mind. When we wrote down our thoughts, it was like creating our own personal commentary. But there was something more. Almost immediately a whole new world began to open up to me. Through the voice of Shakti, the feminine intelligence, the verses came to life and spoke directly to what was happening in my life. To my delight and surprise, I found Her at home right in my own heart, and the discovery was exhilarating. When Swami Radha heard what we were doing, she was thrilled. "That's how you discover the deeper meaning," she said. "Keep going and you'll get there." I think for the first time I had an insight into the spiritual dimensions of this fascinating yoga. But it had to happen in its own time, and only after I had built an ethical foundation based on self-knowledge. Swami Radha calls this process character building. Kundalini Yoga for the West provided me with a structure for this personal work.

Awareness increases power and power has to be handled responsibly. Having taught many classes in Kundalini Yoga, I often see myself in the experiences of those taking the class. This can be painful but it is also the beginning of healing. Appearances create the illusion of separation but awareness dissolves the illusion bit by bit until finally there is a basis for true compassion. I can see why an ethical foundation is so important and why the reflective techniques that I've learned must be kept up. After more than twenty years, I continue to discover more about myself through weekly reflections in my Kundalini group.

In the introduction to the first edition of Kundalini Yoga for the West, Stanley Krippner remarked that the book was destined to become a classic in the field of yoga. Now, twenty-five years after its original printing, that prediction has clearly been fulfilled. For a whole generation of yoga practitioners, Kundalini Yoga for the West has become a deeply personal and meaningful guide for living their lives. Swami Radha describes a path that makes sense to the Western mind without compromising the inspiration and joy that come through personal discovery. She has created a precise blueprint for building the foundation for a practical spiritual life, and she has shown the way. The rest is up to us.

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