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The birth of shakti yoga

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Besides the yoga element of my Nia Technique training (a synthesis of dance, martial arts, yoga & somatic awareness practices), the first time I remember taking a yoga class, was when I was 36 and pregnant back in 2001.

It was a pregnancy, then mother and baby class taught by a warm-hearted, gentle female teacher.

And it was a wonderful, nurturing experience to progress right the way through my pregnancy with the same group of women and then continue on together with our newborns.

I loved it most especially for the sharing of our stories and states as women.

Though I do also recall finding the practice itself just a little dry, slow and static, sometimes even boring.

As my Nia Technique teaching took off (6 classes a week at its peak), my yoga practice naturally fell away, even as I continued to study aspects of yogic & meditation philosophy and Nia itself included a distinct element called Floorplay.

Fast forward 7 years – to 2008 - and somehow I got word of a practice called Kundalini Yoga being taught at a fabulous new yoga centre in the heart of Camden – one of London’s trendiest hubs. I knew instantly I had to go and try it.

My fellow Nia teachers had frequently commented on my high energy or “lots of kundalini” and I’d never understood what they meant. Now I had the opportunity to find out.

The very first class blew me away. Something in my soul was deeply touched. I found myself lying on the floor weeping, with no idea why. And when the class was over, I walked up to the teacher and asked how I might train.

He advised me to keep coming to classes for a year and then to begin my teaching training. And so I did.

The KRI Kundalini Yoga & Meditation Level 1 Teacher Training was a revelation. Somehow, even though I was a hard-up single Mum, I managed to find the money and the childcare to make it through the year.

And in my fellow students, I found the most wonderful group of souls I had ever come across. It felt like a home-coming.

The training and practice was demanding; asking me to make commitments to daily meditations and sadhana in a way I’d never done before!

Somehow, I completed meditation practices that were initially so challenging I never thought I’d master them and found a self-discipline quite new to me.

The vigorous kriyas appealed to my inner athlete and the morning chanting set my soul on fire.

I was itching to teach, and so, even before qualifying, I volunteered to teach addicts in recovery at a local rehab centre in Camden, as well as breast cancer patients and survivors at The Royal Free Hospital.

Not long after that, I was teaching a weekly class in Crouch End, which continued for the next 10 years!

Over the course of that decade, I taught further classes and multiple workshops in central London, as well as every summer at Festivals & overseas Retreats, developing a special focus on the Teachings for Women, as well as on conscious relating and the intersection between sexuality and spirituality.

I advanced my studies and practice by taking the KRI Level 2 Trainings in Authentic Relationship and Mind & Meditation: participating in further intense meditation practices, shadow hunting and self-enquiry.

The Kundalini Yoga teachings and practice, as well as the soul family I became a part of, have undoubtedly played a huge part in my personal and spiritual growth. Nor do I doubt the value my classes provided for my students.

That said, there were some aspects of the teachings I baulked at from the start, but gradually adopted, most notably the wearing of a turban.

If I’m honest, I didn’t ever understand the reasoning given for this in my teacher training, but I submitted to what I felt to be an unspoken pressure to do so.

There was certainly a Kundalini Yoga teacher “look”: all white clothing, turban and sheepskin over the yoga mat, that all of us gradually took on, without anyone ever explicitly insisting that we did. (Though I do remember being shouted at for leaving my socks on in class once! LOL!)

This didn't do me or anybody else any harm. I actually loved wearing white. Still do. And indeed, many students swore by the difference it made to the containment of their energy. But still, it was a point of conformity around something that, as I look at it now, doesn't really affect the power of ones practice.

As someone with a deep love of music and gift for creating play-lists, I felt resistance to the guideline that we could only use music with Sikh mantras in our classes - beautiful though though they are.

And I began to feel increasingly restricted by, yet afraid to deviate from, the strict template for warm-ups and kriyas, which did not offer any adaptations for students, who were less strong or flexible.

There was a lot of wisdom in the teachings, but what also didn't sit well with me was the way they incorporated Sikh doctrine as if it were a part of yogic philosophy.

And then there was the whole issue of our lead male teacher (the one who’d introduced me to this practice) being reported for inappropriate behaviour with several female students.

I didn’t like the slow response to this issue being raised, nor the fact that he was allowed to continue teaching for quite some time after it had been reported.

But I felt powerless to do anything and conflicted around the fact that he had been such a gifted teacher, who had introduced me to this life-changing practice.

Several years later, in 2017, I attended the Bali Spirit Festival to conduct a series of interviews with the lead teachers there. One of them was the incredible feminist yogi, Katchie Ananda. (You can watch my interview with her here).

She opened my eyes big time to the patriarchal structures, prejudices and abuse endemic right across all the big yoga schools and traditions. I’d had no idea!

Later the same year, I interviewed Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoni Shakti and founder of Womb Yoga Teacher Training (watch that interview here), who echoed many of these themes.

Of course, by this time, I was already a bodyworker, energy healer, Facilitator of Sexual Awakening for Women and Priestess of Rhiannon teaching my own Dancing the Goddess practice (more on that next time). Ironically though, at the time of those interviews, I was also entangled in an abusive relationship.

The following year, revelations began to come out in the world of neo-tantra about ongoing sexual abuse on the part of many of the leading teachers and gurus, including Shantam Nityama, whom I had also interviewed back in 2017. (You can watch this interview here).

One by one, the stories came out, until, it seemed hardly one male teacher was left standing in integrity. This affirmed for me my instinctive pulling away from that world to focus on the more subtle tantric meditation practices of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra and their translation into