THE FLOWERING OF KRISHNA KAUR KHALSA
“Don’t lose faith, don’t lose heart, don’t lose faith, and never surrender,” sings the lovely Krishna Kaur Khalsa on her album “Looking Up”, described in the liner notes as “…like the beautiful, aged skin of a grandmother, imprinted with the stories of her travels…” Beaming into the camera during our recent Zoom call, past 80 years in age, radiant and queenly (her name Kaur means queen or princess in Punjabi, and is also used to denote a lioness) in pristine white turban and robes, she refers to Yoga as a science: “It’s natural to our existence and comfort to practice the art and science of Yoga.” Kundalini Yoga is Krishna’s specialty, and she adds, “It’s not a quick fix, because there isn’t one. This practice is a way to initiate a long, deep, meaningful relationship with you and yourself.”
What’s in a name? It’s worth mentioning that the Sanskrit name Krishna means Black, dark, or dark-colored (the Hindu god Krishna is traditionally depicted with glowing, deep-blue skin), as well as magnetically attractive. She opened the first Yoga center in South Los Angeles, where she continues to teach and train Yoga teachers. She’s dedicated to bringing Yoga to underserved populations around the world and is the founder of Y.O.G.A. for Youth, a nonprofit that trains Yoga teachers to work with at-risk youth, students, and young people in juvenile facilities. Her work also includes bringing Kundalini Yoga to Africa. She also serves on the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance Advisory Council. The Hindu beliefs and images through which Yoga rises like a lotus may be off-putting to many Christians, notably the concept of reincarnation. However, when viewed as science versus religion, Yoga may offer many benefits to any practitioner, regardless of a spiritual path. Krishna says, “I think it’s a blessing for Black women to find a place where we can comfortably practice this science.” She describes her practice as a way to “See the unseen, hear the unheard, and know the unknown,” and helps her and those she teaches become more proactive and less reactive.
Kundalini, like many words associated with Yoga, is often used casually, and even incorrectly in today’s world. The term specifically references the energy of consciousness coiled, serpent-like, at the base of the spine. Releasing this energy up through the seven chakras is blissful when we are truly prepared. The Kundalini practice integrates many aspects of other yogic forms, from breathing and meditation to the asanas (postures or positions). Krishna says, “The idea is to find something that makes you feel truly like yourself. There’s no one way that’s better than another.”
In her life before Yoga, growing up “as a tomboy, so I know about the ‘warrior stance’” in Los Angeles as one of five kids, she recalls “All I wanted to do was dance. I never thought we were poor. I just knew that as mom would say, things were sometimes a little tight or a little tough at times.” Perhaps a late bloomer by modern standards, she began dance lessons as a gifted 14-year-old. Not too many years later, she departed for New York City to dance on Broadway, a passion that cast her in Bob Fosse’s “Sweet Charity’” alongside Gwen Verdon, and other major productions. And by 1970, life had led her from the footlights to a year in Europe, then to a year in Africa, then to a visit with her brother in Boulder, Colorado, an artsy, granola-and-Ginsberg college town where Yoga was taking off as part of the Rocky Mountain high. “I suppose it was an accident,” says Krishna. “I was trying to figure out who I was and how I was supposed to worship and serve my people in a meaningful way. There was a Yoga class on the lawn, and the experience had a beautiful effect on me energetically.” More than a half-century later, she often describes that energetic effect as a feeling of inner spaciousness.
Another element of her name, Khalsa, is often used to designate a community of initiated Sikhs, but the word also translates as liberated and free. “I see more elders getting involved in Yoga, says Krishna. “Older people in particular can recognize how much the body appreciates the teaching, starting with breath. Everything you experience in your being-ness is held in your body, including trauma. And breathing, followed by movement, can be a way to release pain and restore peace, strength, and clarity.”
In her role as a cherished Black elder, Krishna’s teachings also offer a form of activism, starting with kids in trouble. She says, “Our youth have every right to be healthy, happy, and productive in their lives. Yet many of them have inherited an environment that doesn’t support such longings. By teaching and training other yoga teachers to reach this very special population, I help plant seeds of greatness that will feed this country and the world for many generations.” This mention of seeding takes us to the Greek word we use so often, diaspora. Especially when used in reference to Black people, the term is used to mean scattered, desolate-sounding. But a deeper dive into the origin of the word diaspora actually links it to planting, to sowing seeds. One is reminded of the legacy of ancestors secretly coiling seeds into their tresses with intention, even as they crossed by force into hostile lands. Granted, some seeds fall on barren ground. But many of those cherished, carefully guarded secret seeds will germinate and flourish in surprising places, in surprising ways, at surprising times.
CHECK OUT THESE INSPIRING VIDEO MESSAGES FROM KRISHNA: