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  Pretzel Logic

Yoga is Enlightening

"Ooooooooooonnnnnnnggggggg naaaaaaaaaaaaammmmoooooo guru dev naaaaaaaaaaaaammmmoooooo!" It's a strange sound to be emanating from a house in suburban South Knoxville. But the women in Ajeet Khalsa's Tuesday night kundalini yoga class are intoning the chant in unified earnestness. So begins every kundalini yoga class at Ajeet's homestyle ashram; so begins every kundalini class everywhere, with a chant to the golden chain of wisdom teachers through the ages. Its meaning, roughly, is this: "I bow to the creator, and to the divine teacher within."

This chant, called "tuning in," immediately sets the tone for a kundalini yoga class, which is about physical exercise, yes, but so much more besides. From the get-go, kundalini employs every trick in the yoga bag—poses, chants, mantras, hand postures (called mudras), and breathing exercises (called pranayama)—to help move the spiritual life force called kundalini through the chakras and up the spine. It sounds terribly esoteric, and philosophically speaking, it is. In practicality, however, the aim of kundalini is simple: to get energy flowing.

"Most yoga classes teach postures and breathing and mudras as different things, and they all come together over time," explains Seva, 41, the mono-monikered husband to Ajeet and a sound-engineer who's a kundalini teacher himself. "In kundalini, they are all used together. You don't have to practice for seven years to get results; it can happen in one class. It's a fast-acting yoga for a fast-acting society."

Kundalini yoga was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1960s by Yogi Bhajan, an Indian sage who stirred up quite a controversy by introducing these "secret" practices—heretofore, they'd been handed down in secrecy directly from master to chosen disciple—to a general audience, and a Western audience to boot. In 1969, Yogi Bhajan founded 3HO (the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) to promulgate his teachings throughout the U.S. Today, there are more than 300 kundalini yoga centers across 38 countries, and thousands more teachers—including Ajeet and Seva, and several others right here in Knoxville.

Kundalini classes can be quite strenuous, featuring challenging postures and breathing techniques like "breath of fire," in which you breath in and out rapidly and forcefully to raise energy, increase lung capacity, and cleanse the lungs and blood. They can also be relaxing and centering, focusing on gentle postures, meditation techniques, and chanting. One thing's for certain: Although there's no religious aspect per se, there's a pronounced focus on spiritual growth.

"It's a technology of oneness," explains Ajeet, a former professional dancer. "I've had yoga students say they enjoy the communion with themselves. It gives them a real sense of their soul."

Aside from being an accomplished yogini herself (one who has studied with Yogi Bhajan directly, and is a level-one certified kundalini yoga instructor) Ajeet, 41, is a teacher at Nature's Way Montessori School. As such, she has a special interest in teaching yoga to children.

"Yoga is great for rechanneling aggressive behavior into positive fun," she says. "It's amazing when you see these four-year-olds who can sit down with their hands over their heart in meditation, and concentrate for four minutes. It teaches them to listen to their own inner teacher. And it teaches them kindness to each other."

Benefits that might be well applied to adults, too.

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