Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 135: Kundalini Yoga and Sikh Dharma

April 1, 2009
Keval Khalsa

Keval Khalsa. Credit: Les Todd

Keval Khalsa rests her bare toes on the base of her office chair. "Yoga means union," she says, "union of the finite self and the infinite self."

Khalsa, associate professor of the practice of dance, developed "Kundalini Yoga and Sikh Dharma" as a union of practice and theory.

The class begins with study of Kundalini yoga's history, its relation to the Sikh religion, and its role in Asian and Middle Eastern culture. Yoga, which originated in India, was generally passed down through a select few people in high castes and was used by Sikhs to consciously maintain the body.

Twice a week, Khalsa's students practice Kundalini yoga together. Through deep focus on the body and the "self," they attempt to reach complex mental states Khalsa calls "full presence and awareness." These yoga sessions always involve a group chant.

"Sound current is very important," Khalsa says. "It acts as a bridge to the infinite."

She adds that students find that Sikhism also embraces the power of sound, specifically through recitation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This sacred poetic manuscript wasrecorded from the utterances of gurus during their "highest states of consciousness." By reading it aloud, students can become closer to the gurus' levels of awareness, Khalsa says.

Students are required to do yoga individually for forty consecutive days. They reflect on their intellectual and physical progression during this process in detailed written responses. If a student misses one day of individual yoga study, Khalsa calls for a fresh start. "It takes forty days to change a habit," she says.

Khalsa's class builds knowledge to bring directly to their yoga practice by researching pranayam, the science of breath, and the body's nervous-energy centers. Students also address the theory behind yoga and Sikhism by reading and discussing articles on everything from Sikh philosophy to scientifically demonstrated medical benefits of yoga, and trace Kundalini yoga's transformation into a popular Western practice. Yogi Bhajan, who single-handedly introduced Kundalini yoga and Sikhism to the U.S. in the 1960s, is a central figure in the course, Khalsa says.

Combining studio time with traditional lectures, the class is conducted in a relatively new style now promoted by the Dance Program. "True learning is composed of not just the mind but all of our elements," says Khalsa. "We have to honor the intelligence in our cells. It is a rich and well-rounded experience when we utilize all of our faculties."

Professor
Keval Khalsa graduated from the Ohio State University. She choreographed, performed, and taught dance in New York for eight years before moving to Durham. This is her nineteenth year teaching at Duke.

Prerequisites
None

Readings
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power
W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices
Articles on the history and philosophy of Kundalini yoga and Sikh Dharma

Assignments
Weekly readings and discussion
Class presentations
Visit to local Gurdwara
Final research paper