My birth name is Jean-Marc, and I was born and raised in the South of France. Jean-Marc never fit me, though, quite possibly because this name that was bestowed upon me at birth was never in tune with my destiny.
My spiritual name, Taj Simrit Singh, was given to me by the 3HO organization and is based upon my full name and date of birth. It means: “The fearless lion who is the embodiment of the splendour and radiance that flow perfectly from meditating on the name of God, with every breath.”
Three and a half years ago, my life changed forever, when I started practicing Yoga every single day.
Meeting Sevak Singh
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Sevak Singh, my teacher, has been teaching Kundalini Yoga for 44 years in his home base of Phoenix, Arizona (U.S.), and in other parts of the world. He’s a Sikh, standing more than six feet tall, impeccably dressed in white cotton apparel with a matching turban, and sporting a long salt-and-pepper beard that gives him the aura of a wise man.
It took me just moments, upon meeting him, to realize that I was in the presence of a dignified man. Sevak’s words instantly resonated with me.
I recall the first time I heard him say, early in his course, “You’re not your mind.” This prompted a sort of epiphany for me, as for as long as I could remember, I’d been operating solely through my mind. I’d always thought that I was uniquely my mind: that strong and stubborn mind of mine, the very one that got me in and out of trouble throughout my life.
Within two months of meeting Sevak, I enrolled in a Level 1 Teacher Training Course in Kundalini Yoga. “Nothing in this world happens by accident,” Yogi Bhajan, the founder of this variety of Yoga, once said. Following that, he continued with, “It’s all part of a master plan.”
Heart and Soul Retreat Center
It’s a short one and a half hour drive from Scottsdale to Gisela, a small community south of Payson, Arizona. I was flying along in my car, headed to my first four-day retreat at Heart and Soul, without a care in the world. At the time, I was working for an on-call agency in Phoenix and sleeping in my Lexus. I thought this would be a great opportunity to change that paradigm.
Heart and Soul is on a two and a half acre property that Sevak purchased five years ago in Gisela, a hamlet of 500 or so souls scattered around an irrigated valley. Gisela is framed by the Black Mountains and Tonto Creek, and is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest.
For the next six months, our group of 10 students would get to call this little piece of paradise home. As a bonus, our four-day retreats each month coincided with the full moon.
There we were, as if we’d descended from the heavens on a zipline and had landed right in the middle of this land. On one side of the retreat, there was a giant mulberry tree with a solitary swing hanging from one of its branches. Beyond that was a gate that led to the River Road; we’d pass this gate many times throughout our stay.
A leisurely 10-minute walk along a dirt road, flanked by an assortment of mainly prefabricated homes, led us to Shanti Om three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Shanti Om is the haven of peace that Ram, a close friend of Sevak, built for his semi-retirement home.
On the west side of the property was our ashram, a cozy house with three bedrooms equipped with bunk beds, a kitchen, a living room and two bathrooms. Right across from the ashram was a renovated Yoga studio covered with corrugated iron sheets. A heater and a swamp cooler helped tame the elements.
There’s just something magical about an immersion course that takes you across the winter, spring and summer seasons.
Practicing Kundalini Yoga
I’d always been in rebellion against the mere existence of God. That was the main reason why I was there in the first place—not to find God or to discover some esoteric formula that would reveal all the secrets of the universe, but to hopefully find myself, plain and simple, lying amongst a pile of long-lost and forgotten items.
Throughout the course, Sevak referred to “the journey of our souls” as the path that our souls take through their many reincarnations, which could include up to 3.8 million different permutations.
During his classes, Sevak was fond of saying that if there was a magic pill that could take you through your journey, he’d be all for it. The fastest way through that he could identify—the “Learjet” that can enable a person to merge with the divine and experience a complete symbiosis of body, mind and soul—was the practice of Kundalini Yoga.
Kundalini Yoga was brought to the U.S. by Yogi Bhajan in 1969. Much has been written about the history of this type of Yoga, including how it was once passed from master to disciple for thousands of years in secrecy, and back then, teaching it would result in the death of the culprit within a year.
Yogi Bhajan passed on his teachings for 35 years, until his death in 2004, and left an incredible legacy for this world. He used to say that you must be a lighthouse and spread your light onto others. He didn’t want disciples, but he wanted to train other teachers to pass on his teachings to future generations.
Kundalini Yoga incorporates asanas, other physical exercises called kriyas, pranayama (breathing) exercises, and mudras that involve placing your fingers and hands in various positions.
The mantras used within the practice are written in Gurmukhi, a language derived from Sanskrit that originated in the 16th century in Punjab, India. These mind projections that can be sung or accompanied by Kundalini Yoga music can actually transport you to another dimension.
When Yogi Bhajan arrived in California in 1969, by way of Toronto, he landed right in the middle of the hippie culture of the West Coast. He quickly noticed that many of the young people were into experimenting with drugs and rebelling against ‘the system’, yet he intuitively knew that drugs were a short-term solution to a long-term problem. He also knew that the real solution to counteracting all the ills of this world was to be found in the teachings he was bringing forth from his ancestors.
The best way to get out of the shadow of your ego and shine like a beacon of light is to be of service to others and show them love, empathy and compassion.
Soon afterward, he founded the 3HO foundation mentioned above, with 3HO standing for Happy, Healthy and Holy. To quote Bhajan, “Happiness is your birthright.”
Kundalini Yoga gave me the road map I needed to be whatever I aspired to be, as long as that was ultimately in sync with seeking the betterment of others. This is called “Seva,” which means “selfless service.”
The best way to get out of the shadow of your ego and shine like a beacon of light is to be of service to others and show them love, empathy and compassion. Otherwise, your life’s purpose won’t be aligned with the purpose of your soul.
Through Kundalini Yoga, I learned that we have 10 bodies, and among them, three minds: the negative, the positive and the neutral mind. It finally dawned on me that the path to prosperity lies in the neutral mind. This is the sacred place a person can only access when they’re not preoccupied with the act of conquering or the reflex of surviving, but with the acceptance of what comes to you without all the permutations and overreactions of the emotional mind.
This is called surrendering, and therein lies the real secret of the practice. It’s not a secret in the sense that it’s hidden or hard to find—it just requires a certain level of awareness and a steady practice. Awareness itself won’t get you there, unless you’re willing to do the heavy work.
For me, however, the real magic of Kundalini Yoga lies in the mantras. Most of these were written by Guru Nanak, a Sikh guru and a travelling musician. There are multitudes of artists who’ve put these mantras to music.
Everything in the universe has been said to originate from sound. In the 1960s, scientists discovered that the surface of the sun is made primarily of sound waves. The sun has up to 10,000 frequencies rippling along its surface.
It’s no wonder that, by tapping along to this sound current, you can develop the ability to cross the gate that takes you to the infinite, or whatever you want to call it. When it’s resonating at its most awesome primal force, you can call it God. In Kundalini Yoga, true to beliefs in Sikhism, there’s one God that can’t be found on the outside but exists inherently in each one of us.
During my first weekend at Heart and Soul, I found God, but not in a born-again sense. I didn’t need to die or be reborn for that. My experience turned out to be more subtle, or more organic, you could say. Little did I know that God was the spark of life and glory that inhabited every organism in the Universe.
I’d always been tuned in to my senses, and in awe of the wonders of this world, but I was missing that supreme intuition—that which needed to be severed from my egoistic self, the very one that lay dormant in my gut. Out of pure rebellion, or possibly out of frustration and pain, I was fighting the existence of God.
Throughout Sevak’s self-mastery course, I realized I was the one who created my own limitations. We spend our entire lives inside a little bubble, populated by the things that hurt us and cause us pain. We end up, by working against our conscious minds, recreating stories and scenarios that take us to what we were hiding from in the first place. No wonder we’re lost in a conundrum of self-victimization and self-sabotage.
Did you know that we have three brains? The ‘mind’ brain, the ‘heart’ brain and the ‘gut’ brain? “You are not your mind,” Sevak’s voice kept echoing through my being, as a reminder of this idea, like the wind hurling through a canyon’s walls.
One morning, we’d just finished listening to Japji (Sikh prayers), doing Yoga exercises and chanting mantras during two and a half hours of sadhana. I wandered outside the Yoga studio, on this cool and moist February morning, in a bit of a trance.
In a flash, I woke up from the inertia that had possessed my physical body. I felt ever so light, with God pulsating in every one of my 30 trillion cells.
It had been raining all night long, and the fields were so wet that it felt like I was walking on a carpet of clouds. The sun hadn’t yet risen, and the light of the full moon had dressed the pale dawn with yellow and orange hues. Blankets of fog wrapped the countryside, and I intuited that I’d been transported inside the pages of a fairytale book.
When I made eye contact with that lost wandering soul in the far corner of the field, I didn’t flinch at all, for I recognized it as my own. It had come back home at last. In a flash, I woke up from the inertia that had possessed my physical body. I felt ever so light, with God pulsating in every one of my 30 trillion cells.
My gaze took me—effortlessly—for a jolly ride along the river, over the hills and into the infinity of the universe. I’d been a monochromatic cocoon before turning into a colourful butterfly. All the nectar of this world was within reach of my proboscis. I felt so rich and so free.
Yogi Bhajan has also said, “Gratitude is the highest form of Yoga.” I felt, for the first time during this incarnation on earth, Great and Full. I’d always had the presence of God permeating inside my being and all around me; I’d just lacked the necessary intuition in my ‘gut’ brain and the love and compassion in my ‘heart’ brain to acknowledge and dwell in it.
The monkey in my ‘mind’ brain could finally go and find himself another host, for I’d grown tired of his pompous act!