When Dance PhD and mom Andrea (Andi) Berger decided to take yoga teacher training, it wasn’t sunsalutations she was after. She wanted something that moved completely different from what she knew as a dancer -- something intensely meditation oriented. After first hearing of Kundalini from a friend, a teacher at Golden Bridge Yoga, she did what anyone seeking information would do — she googled it. Elysha Lenkin sat down with Andi to learn more about what happened after she clicked into Kundalini.
Andi Berger: I found a tester class online – it wasn’t a traditional class. It was with some woman who wasn’t wearing white, and her head wasn’t wrapped. I think she had training from Kripalu.
And then I went to my friend’s class at Golden Bridge Yoga, and I asked her about the teacher training because one always wonders-- is this a cult
Elysha Lenkin: Do you think Kundalini is a cult?
AB: Basically, what I have come to understand is that humans have a propensity for cult mentality, and it can manifest in different ways. This was something I was thinking about when I was going into teacher training.
I’ve never been pressured into believing something. It’s Kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. It’s a set of tools for your own growth. It’s not a doctrine. You can have communal experiences if you choose – attend workshops, take class, do teacher training. But you’re in control.
EL:So tell me about wearing white and the head wrap.
AB: When you deepen your meditation experience, you’re opening the crown chakra and it gets sensitive -- it actually can hurt. So you wrap your head to protect it.
White is the combination of all colors. It has the function of clearing and allowing for energy to flow, along with attracting positive energy.
In teacher training we were asked to wear white. It was one of the tools offered intending to connect us to the experience. But I didn’t have a lot of white clothes, I’m a New Yorker! I had green leggings and a pale yellow tank because it wasn’t in my budget to go shopping. So the white was something I grew into, just like the practice itself. I didn't suddenly snap into the teachings, which were entirely new for me at the start of teacher training.
EL:What was your initial reaction to some of the teachings in Kundalini yoga?
AB: It took me awhile to open up to the chanting -- it was new to me in the context of yoga except maybe OM in a Sivananda class. Reciting text in a congregation setting was not new, having grown up attending services at synagogues with my family. Still, I wasn't comfortable using my voice out loud publicly. I didn't yet understand the function of chanting in this yoga practice, and questioned its religious implications. I became more comfortable as I understood and experienced the effects of chanting as a science, as having a physiological impact on the brain-- shifting thought patterns, behaviors and emotions, as well as physically opening places in the body.
EL: How do you approach your practice these days?
AB: For me it’s a dance of how do you meet the ideal in the practice, and put your commitment into practice to meet that. My daily practice shifts and changes according to the demands of daily life. I wish I had hours to meditate each day, but at this time in my life, I simply don't. I'm not a perfect yogi, but I don't know anyone who is. There are teachers who inspire me to become stronger and more effective about putting the practice into daily life continuously. And I'm grateful to have them -- that's an important function of what a community can hold for individuals.
EL: What is your ideal practice?
AB:I have about 10 meditations I want to be doing every day. I would love to wake up early, and do a kriya for 90 minutes, and then start all the meditations which could take another 90 minutes. So that’s a 3-hour practice.
EL:What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
AB: How critical breath is. Raising your energy to create consciousness, opening your heart and being in neutral mind will not happen without breathing.
EL: How do you apply this lesson on the breath to your everyday life?
AB: It’s been amazingly powerful in dealing with challenges because if there’s one thing I can do everyday through out the day, it’s calling on the breath, and that immediately shifts energy. For example, Mahan Rishi talked about how important and powerful Long, Deep Breathing is. And this has been my experience over the past 4 years. The next time you’re angry, do Long, Deep Breathing, and see if you can maintain your anger. It’s impossible!
EL: What do you hope your students will take away after your class?
AB: Tools that they can use at home because that’s really what it’s about. There’s amazing spinal work that we have in Kundalini. I wish everyone could do it because they can really benefit. Spinal Flexes, Sufi Grinds and Spinal Twist – if you did those three a day you would probably open up to doing more, and you’d really see shifts in your energy, your mind, and your life.