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By Dev Suroop Kaur
Yogi Bhajan would frequently talk about his particular style as a spiritual teacher. He commonly expressed that the relationship between the student and the teacher was like that of a stone and a chisel where, when the pressure was applied, the sparks would fly.
As one who had the privilege of studying and working directly with him for many years, I frequently experienced this ego confronting aspect of the student/teacher relationship. While it certainly made me squirm, I agreed to and was committed to that relationship.
Despite the discomfort I frequently felt, I valued his input and redirection. I knew Yogi Bhajan could see, in ways that I simply could not or would not see for myself, how I was limiting myself. He would challenge me to move beyond whatever limitations were up with me at the moment and I, in turn, would strive to figure out how to do so. This was ‘Poke Provoke Confront Elevate’ in action. While I didn’t really think about it that much, I now realize that I attributed this dynamic to a direct relationship with Yogi Bhajan and assumed it went away when he left his body.
Recently I had a powerful teaching experience where I saw that ‘Poke Provoke Confront Elevate’ was not limited to direct interactions with Yogi Bhajan. Rather, this process of chiseling that commands us to go beyond our limitations happens every time we engage ourselves in the practice of Kundalini Yoga. Here’s how my eyes were opened to this reality:
In late November of 2013, a team of us—me and a group of women in Iceland—were delighted to hold our second Kundalini Yoga women’s camp in the countryside in Iceland. The first one that we held in northern Iceland in June 2012 was a wonderful success and we wanted to do it again—and we plan to keep on doing it.
In offering these camps, it is our priority to fashion them as traditional Kundalini Yoga women’s camps where Yogi Bhajan’s teachings about women, men, relationships, and humanology are freely presented and explored. That being said, the women’s teachings, while revolutionary and very helpful for women, families, and communities, can be provocative and challenging.
As these teachings are relatively new to the Icelandic Kundalini Yoga community, we wanted to show a Yogi Bhajan lecture that was great but didn’t push too many buttons. We were looking for an ‘introductory’ women’s camp lecture. Over several weeks, I screened more than 12 women’s camp DVDs looking for one that would be ‘just right’. [As a side note, I later told one of my experienced teaching colleagues about this process and she drolly asked, ‘How’d that go for you?’]. With all my careful effort, I picked what I thought was the perfect lecture. In my mind, it was playful and light and not provocative at all. I remembered the class from attending it in person in 1990, loved my experience of it back then, and have referred to the concepts he brought forward many times over the years. The perfect lecture.
During our camp in Iceland, we viewed the DVD on the second afternoon of the four-day camp. We did some exercises around the concepts of the lecture and then broke for a late afternoon break. I went back to my room to take a rest. It turns out that, as a group of women soaked in the hot pot during the break, some of them expressed that they were angry about the material that Yogi Bhajan presented and how he presented it. To them, Yogi Bhajan seemed cavalier and his presentation of information was too simplistic.
It sounds like it was a lively discussion. As it was nearing time for dinner, my colleague came to our room and informed me of the happenings in the hot pot and that we would need to address it that evening. I’m not sure what I said to my friend, but I remember thinking “Darn! I soooo don’t want to deal with this! I thought I picked the perfect DVD! I tried so hard to get it right!” I had my own internal lively discussion.
After dealing with my own emotions, I took a deep breath and, during the evening session, invited open discussion about the lecture. We talked about the concepts, what was challenging about them, and moved into even more rich discussions about being a woman. It was really great. Ultimately, the lecture was the ‘perfect lecture,’ but not in the way I expected.
As I continued to reflect on that experience in the following weeks, I realized that any time—ANY time—we do Kundalini Yoga, ‘Poke Provoke Confront Elevate’ happens. Whether it’s a kriya or a meditation or a weekend retreat or a Teacher Training, the technology of Kundalini Yoga and the connection of the Golden Chain demands that we break up limited ego patterns and shift from where we are in the moment to become more of who we really are.
Kundalini Yoga challenges us to change. We are poked to wake up. We’re provoked in some way and become a little (or a lot) uncomfortable. We are confronted with and have to face something we would rather not face. And, provided we keep up, we break through to the place of elevation. Fortunately, elevation always follows.
I also realize that as teachers, we do not need to consciously figure out how to poke, provoke and confront students. Clearly, in the example presented above, I was trying very hard NOT to provoke students and it happened anyway. The technology of Kundalini Yoga provides exactly what needs to happen in the moment. Our responsibility as teachers is to prepare ourselves, tune in, relax, and teach with integrity. The proper effect will happen. Then we honestly, clearly, and fairly address the results from the neutral space of the teacher.
I am very grateful for this teaching—that ‘Poke Provoke Confront Elevate’ is a beautiful pervading reality in every practice of Kundalini Yoga.
Blessings to you,
Dev Suroop Kaur
Music * Naad Yoga * Kundalini Yoga
Dev Suroop Kaur Khalsa delights in sharing the pure practicality of nurturing a successful and deeply authentic life. An accomplished musician, recording artist, and Lead Trainer in the KRI Aquarian Trainer Academy, Dev Suroop Kaur strives to break it down, keep it real, and guide students to their own empowered authenticity.
Blessed to study directly with Yogi Bhajan for most of her adult life, she gratefully shares what she has learned—and continues to learn—about how to love, work, and live better in the world. She deeply enjoys training students and teachers of Kundalini Yoga in the science of Naad Yoga, women’s teachings, and how to access the beauty and power of their personal voice. She currently lives with her husband in Espanola, New Mexico and, in addition to her teaching and music activities, works to maintain a peaceful mind as a business executive.