I’ve been going to Charanpal’s classes for some years, and I’ve watched them bloom and grow, and overflow! They’re consistently fun, soulful, big-hearted and a bit bonkers – true to the essence of kundalini yoga. Here he is on his yoga practice, beards and mung beans…
How did you get into yoga?
Kundalini yoga was the catalyst that brought me to a conscious understanding of my spirituality. All my life, I now realise, the Universe had been gently nudging me towards this; whispering in my ears, creating signs until finally it decided to give me one big kick and I hurt my lower back while twisting and lifting a heavy box. It was a painful experience and slow to get better. The osteopath told me if I was to avoid it happening again I would need to do yoga. I had so much resistance to the idea that it took me months to actually get myself to a class, and at first I really didn’t like it. Kundalini yoga held many challenges for me and confronted many of my prejudices. I felt out of my depth and unsure of what I was supposed to be doing but when I relaxed and began to feel the benefits then I began to take a deeper interest and developed a daily practice, and before long I was training to be a teacher. So it has changed my life comprehensively.
What does your practice look like now?
My personal practice varies, and of course is not confined to my sheepskin. Right now, I have begun a 40 day diet of only kitcheree and water. As a yogi I know that diet profoundly influences how I feel, how I think, the quality of my life so I try to stay conscious and periodically take special care to look after myself. I have chosen a series of kriyas and mantras to accompany the diet.
For the first 10 days the mantra (or shabad rather) is Rakhe Rakhanahar. There’s a meditation that uses the shabad and which involves a set of arm movements for each line of the verse (instructions below). I wanted to remind myself that the diet is not a punishment but a profound and fun journey of purification. For the beginning of that journey I’ll be doing some root chakra kriyas and, doubtless, some nabhi kriya to strengthen my determination and ground myself. Working from the ground up seems a sensible approach.
For the last month or more I’ve also been doing a morning breath walk on the mantra: Sat Nam Wahe Guru. I walk at a steady, quite slow pace, silently mentally repeating the mantra. It’s been an interesting challenge to keep my inward focus in a city that even at 6am is waking up and demanding that everything be done in a hurry.
What’s been the most life-changing 40/90/etc-day practice you’ve ever done?
There have been many, but I tend to experience and love kundalini yoga not in a prescriptive, cause and effect way, but for the way it gradually broadens and deepens consciousness. I find this very beautiful and inspiring. Reading Japji every day is uplifting. I had several false starts before doing two years or more of daily reciting the rayman shabad. Nabhi kriya is something I will always go back to. I know when I need it and I know it works quickly and effectively for me. I had a long relationship with Stretch Pose, too.
How long have you been growing your beard and hair? How has it affected you?
This kriya had been waiting for me, but I put it off and put it off because I sensed, accurately, that I wasn’t going to find it easy. The length of time I initially chose for not cutting my hair was three years – the length of time it is said that it takes for the ends to become sensitive.
Leaving hair uncut is supposed to be very good for strengthening the radiant body, the number 10, an area I’ve struggled with all my life. But I knew, when I did it, I would have to face some truths about myself along the way, to see myself, really, for the first time. And it was a shock, as my beard grew, to not recognize myself. My ego rebelled, and I think I experienced a little of something similar to grief – for the person who I’d known and loved. It took a long time to come to terms with this new man but I have, and now I see that this is what I was supposed to become and I now have a strong feeling of growing into myself, of Destiny.
My beard is now almost exactly 2.5 years old – no trimming. I’ve been growing my hair for longer.
Has adopting your spiritual name changed you?
For me a spiritual name is something to grow into. It represents a method to observe and learn about myself, and this doesn’t happen all at once. Charanpal as a name seems quite open to interpretation – Charan being the lotus feet of the guru, and pal being friend, or protector. It has been my journey to learn more deeply about the meaning of the words, and then to see where that matches who I am, what aspects reflect from the name to me, and from me to the name? So I wouldn’t say my spiritual name has changed me particularly, more that it has shone a light onto my path.
I am the light of the Soul. (But I’ll have another favourite tomorrow, I expect)
Charanpal teaches in central London on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Visit kundaliniyoga.london for details