Hariprakash, left, and Theresa Widmann lead a class at Shuniya in Kingston. Kundalini yoga includes mantra, meditation and sound healing.
The Healing Song of the Gong
A Kingston meditation center offers kundalini yoga with an aural twist
By Deborah J. Botti
Photos by Michael Bloom
The ability to bend like Gumby is not required. Nor must one be in search of a celibate retreat from the world. Rather, kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan is for the householder – someone who has a job and a family – with the goal of awakening his or her full potential of human awareness.
Put even more simply, this practice can lead to a happier, healthier lifestyle – and quickly, say Hariprakash and Theresa Widmann, owners of Shuniya in Kingston.
Rub your palms together to activate the nerve endings. Close your eyes. Place your hands (in a prayerful position) firmly in the heart center. Take a deep breath. Let us begin with the Ong Namo Guro mantra … Then the protective mantra. Picture a bright, white light around you, protecting you … inhale, exhale.
John Mallen of Kingston found himself at a birthday party a few months ago. Also in attendance were a couple of Shuniya’s teachers.
“There was a class in honor of the birthday,” says Mallen of the first that he ever attended. “But it’s saving my soul, transforming my life. Even though I’m 70, I’m not ready to put my feet up.”
Mallen, the owner of JMC Marketing, Communications and Public Relations, considers this a transitional time for him.
“What’s next isn’t in the playbook. I don’t have a model … but now I’m more able to navigate and discover all the possibilities,” he says. “I know it sounds wacky … but it’s working for me.”
The Breath of Fire. … Hold your arms up in the air at a 60-degree angle and curl your fingers. Your thumbs are pointed out. Close your eyes. Inhale and exhale evenly and quickly … Repeat (silently) the mental mantra “sat nam,” “sat” on the inhale, “nam” on the exhale. It means “Truth is my identity.” …
Shuniya sessions range from three-minute meditations to 2½-hour practices, says Hariprakash. Pictured are Elissa Mastel and Joe Fliss, performing the "Breath of Fire."
Hariprakash has been practicing yoga since the age of 16; she’s 34 now. A good number of those years were dedicated to hatha yoga; still, she was searching for something she could really sink her teeth into.
“If you’re alive, if you’re breathing, you can do this yoga,” she says, referencing students with mobility challenges, even an amputation, who adapt to the session perhaps by using a chair rather than a mat.
“I took my first kundalini class and went right into teacher training. The more I taught, the more in love with it I fell,” she says.
Bhajan came to the United States in 1969, and brought to the West with him kundalini yoga. The Kundalini Research Institute was founded in 1971. According to Bhajan’s website:
Shuniya is also committed to being a presence in the community.
Hariprakash and Theresa Widmann met at an O+ Festival three years ago, long before Shuniya was a reality – or solar-powered, another recent achievement. And that festival, of which Widmann is the director of operations, still fits snugly with their core beliefs.
“It’s about enhancing the wellness for a whole community,” says Widmann particularly of the ExplO+re venue that gives festival-goers sporting wristbands the opportunity to get a taste of a bevy of wellness entrees.
Shuniya offers “The World’s Largest Gong Bath,” a name that’s now up for debate as Shuniya has evolved.
“There’s no water,” says Hariprakash.
“Yes, but that’s what people know,” says Widmann.
Regardless, it’s an opportunity for attendees to sample a gong meditation class.
“Last year, we had 1,500 square feet – and the room was full – and people were laying three-deep on the sidewalk,” she says.
“Our studio also does charity events for Washbourne House,” says Widmann, referring to the 17-bed shelter in an undisclosed location in Ulster County for abused women and their children, as well as community acupuncture events.
“It’s a most important time in the universe,” says Hariprakash.
“ ‘Kundalini’ literally means ‘the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved.’ This poetic metaphor alludes to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each of us, and enables us to merge with – or ‘yoke’ – the universal Self. Fusing individual and universal consciousness creates a divine union, called ‘yoga.’ The Upanishads, dating back to the fifth century B.C., describe the kundalini, although the oral tradition reaches back even further into history. For thousands of years, this sacred science and technology was veiled in secrecy, passed along verbally from master to chosen disciple.”
Widmann began practicing hatha yoga after traveling to India in 2010 and became acquainted with Hariprakash at the O+ Festival three years ago.
“I came late to practicing yoga … but when I began practicing kundalini yoga, I could feel something powerful changing,” Widmann says. “My life before versus now is so different.”
Before, she was a practicing lawyer working in software; today her creative endeavors, including teaching kundalini yoga as taught by Bhajan and working on a book, are priorities. Although she enjoyed them, she no longer eats cheese or drinks wine.
“When my vibrations were lower, they muted me. When the vibrations are higher, you feed yourself naturally and don’t need other things such as alcohol to make yourself happy.”
Hariprakash recalls a woman in a teacher training class whose habit was to have a turkey sandwich for lunch every day.
“She went to class in the morning and planned to have her turkey sandwich for lunch. But when she brought the sandwich to her mouth, she couldn’t take a bite,” says Hariprakash. “It’s almost magical, and beautiful, to see the transformation.”
“It’s almost like the yoga is purifying you,” says Widmann. “The body knows what to do if unadulterated.”
Bring your thumb to the mound of your pinky finger. Close your fingers on top of your thumb. Make an O shape with your lips. … Inhale and exhale quickly in an O breath. Rapidly do the backstroke with your arms, making sure to cross the arch line – earlobe to earlobe – and for women, be sure to begin each “stroke” below the breast. Think about what makes you really angry. … The people who have hurt you … Bring up all the commotional, emotional stuff (as you continue the synchronized quick breaths and rapid backstroke for three minutes).
Hariprakash and Widmann opened Shuniya on Jan. 1, 2014 – on the new moon and in a building owned by Widmann – to teach the applied technology of kundalini yoga as taught by Bhajan that includes mantra, meditation and sound healing.
“This yoga was built for the Aquarian Age,” says Hariprakash.
And while there are differing opinions as to the official astrological launch of the Age of Aquarius, Widmann references the shift occurring on 11/11/11, the shift to an attitude of gratitude where the Universe is looking at the Earth.
“While the polarities are stronger, there are more pockets of movement toward a cleaner life,” says Widmann. “There are more people practicing yoga, less ‘me,’ more compassion. Look at what’s happening in communities – like the O+ Festival.”
Hariprakash and Widmann say that by practicing kundalini yoga, a person has the power to reach a state of their own personal truth, the place where they are balanced and pure – a challenge in today’s world where there are no shortages of unhealthy relationships, unhealthy or unfulfilling work environments, and unhealthy physical and mental states.
“This practice is so powerful that it can break through whatever patterns exist,” says Hariprakash, emphasizing that she is not a medical professional. “People are pulled here when they have an issue because the class has a profound effect. …There are countless examples of individuals who have overcome addictive and unhealthy habits, who have worked through depression, have found fulfilling work, lost weight, reduced blood pressure, or simply taken on new and inspiring activities that feel better suited to their life.”
White is the preferred color of their spiritual attire, or bana, which is either made of cotton or silk to increase vibrations and enhance the magnetic field.
“We cover our heads because of the energy coming through us,” says Hariprakash, her spiritual name which translates into “the one who has awakened to the light of God within.” She was granted and assumed this name at a teacher training a couple of years ago.
“My parents still call me by my birth name,” she says, which she prefers not to divulge.
And when they are not teaching or practicing, the effects are still present. Their frequencies have been raised, and the people around them benefit from the higher frequency, they say.
“It’s a daily discipline that we carry through,” says Widmann.
“A person’s magnetic field carries that frequency, and just by being in someone’s presence you can help to heal, or simply feel better,” says Hariprakash. “When we raise the vibration from within we raise the vibration around us and we help to raise the vibration of the planet.
“Wherever the person is at in their life, we ask them to just keep doing what they are doing. Just add the yoga. It is as simple as that,” she says.
Sit. Your left hand is in your lap. Your right hand is stretched out on top. Your thumbs are touching. Your eyes and mouth are open. Your tongue is hitting the roof of your mouth. Breathe through your nose: (Silently) “sat” on the inhale; “nam” on the exhale. You are resetting your brain, the master computer.
“We offer a huge buffet, from three-minute meditations to a 2½-hour practice,” says Hariprakash.
Lie flat on your back, palms up. Hear the gong. Let it speak to you …
Although not a required component of kundalini yoga, Yogi Bhajan taught that teachers can use the gong. Hariprakash and Theresa Widmann, co-owners and teachers at Shuniya, the only all-kundalini yoga studio in a commercial building in Ulster County, incorporate the gong – actually four gongs – into just about every class.
“Whatever comes through us is amplified while using the gong,” says Hariprakash.
Her spiritual name even has a reference to the gong, the center of which is the sun and the lines
stretching out from there are the prakash, or rays. Before playing the gong, she prays that what she channels will be pure.
“I am mentally vibrating a mantra while playing,” says Widmann. “You don’t want to smash the gongs; that would be penetrating to people.”
The sound emanating from the gong is soft, but rich. And while there are two playing, they are not reading music or playing a previously orchestrated arrangement.
“Like attracts like. That is why the change process is so difficult. We can add information. We can add knowledge. We think we know more – and we do. But we have not really changed. … New information does not change us. An energetic shift of our magnetic field changes us. … Regular listening to the gong will repattern your magnetic field,” from the Shuniya website.
There’s even a “gong nap” – a shortened 30-minute class where students experience gong sound healing.
“The way in which we play the gong is based upon Yogi Bhajan’s teachings. That is what sets us apart from other sound healing or other gong playing ... The way we play has an effective way to move the energy through the mind and body fast, to promote healing and well-being,” says Hariprakash.