Many look upon Bound Lotus as a completely impossible thing to do. “There is no way I can get into that position,” some say and walkaway from the practice before they have even begun to try it. But avoiding Bound Lotus because it is a physical challenge prevents you from having one of the most profoundly healing experiences in Kundalini Yoga.
Harnam Singh, a practitioner and teacher of Bound Lotus and Kundalini Yoga in NYC and Connecticut who has done 31 minutes of Bound Lotus every day for well over 1,000 days, sat down for an interview recently to help demystify this difficult and intense kriya.
RK: “What is Bound Lotus and how does one practice it?”
Harnam Singh: “Bound Lotus is a crucible for consciousness. It’s many things, but most of all and most profoundly, it is a space for deep healing which you are able to enter by putting yourself into an asana. You begin by coming into full lotus pose and then one at a time you cross your arms behind your back and grab a hold of your big toes. Then you bow and stay there for up to 31 minutes. Very few people can just get into the full pose when they begin because there is an extraordinary level of physical flexibility required. Most people have to work up to it. Bound Lotus begins once you get there and stay there, but the physical is only one aspect of it. Both your arms and legs are making the shape of infinity, and by bowing, by putting your head beneath your heart, you are allowing your heart to rule. You are balancing your intellect with your compassion.”
RK: “Is Bound Lotus a kriya or a meditation?”
Harnam Singh: “It’s both. The last thing you do in the posture is place the tongue against the roof of the mouth, which stimulates the acupressure points. The pituitary gland releases hormones that place you into an even deeper state of consciousness and meditation. Bound Lotus is a physical kriya and it is a mental meditation. Once you are in the physical posture, then you begin to address the mind. That’s the hard part. The mind and the ego will think of a jillion different reasons why you shouldn’t be in that position. You will automatically be uncomfortable; the ego wants no part of this posture. The mind is uncomfortable because there is no room for mental garbage. After about five minutes, your mind will try to get you to get out of it unless you can breath and bow to the infinite. The only way to make it through any extended period of time is to breathe through it. Any acrobat could get into Bound Lotus, but you have to be a yogi to stay there.”
RK: “What music do you play during Bound Lotus?”
Harnam Singh: “One of the things Mahan Kirin Kaur, who was first given Bound Lotus by Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga, recommends is to use the Re Man shabad, which adds the sacred sound current to this experience. You can listen to whatever music you want, but she feels the Re Man shabad is the most helpful for maintaining this space. The naad [sacred sound current] in the Re Man shabad supports you. Yogi Bhajan said that it had the capacity to bring total health and vibrancy. The Bound Lotus Manualby Mahan Kirin Kaur is accompanied by a lovely recitation of the Re Man shabad by Snatam Kaur.”
RK: “Why would someone want to do Bound Lotus?”
Harnam Singh: “The quip is, of course, because they are crazy. But really, I think the answer is to find out who you really are and what you came here to do. A lot of messages come in that space; information comes to you. Initially the discomfort and pain can be just like horrible static on the radio. But eventually, if you breathe through it and stick with it, you calm down and the nectar starts flowing from the pituitary, and then the mind relaxes and it becomes a state of bliss that you may never experience in any other way. It is a very personal transformation of consciousness.
I think everyone should try it and have an experience with it, even if they can’t get into the posture itself. You can still receive many of the benefits, because any time you bow and quiet the mind, you have a healing experience. If you really have serious trouble with your knees, you could do Guru Pranam and get the benefits of bowing, but there is something special about wrapping yourself into infinity. Physically, Bound Lotus works on the hips and the shoulders, and Yogi Bhajan said that if you take care of the hips and the shoulders then everything else in the body takes care of itself. Even if you aren’t getting all the way into the asana, you are addressing the emotional baggage stored in those areas when you do Bound Lotus.”
RK: “What is your Bound Lotus experience like and how did you begin?”
Harnam Singh: “I started doing Bound Lotus about five years ago with Mahan Kirn Kaur at one of her classes at Summer Solstice. I was deeply moved by her personal story. When I realized that she had been sick and in a wheelchair and now was sitting in front of me a radiant goddess, I was really touched. I thought that the radiance and power of her aura, which she achieved through this practice, was truly remarkable, and I wanted a similar transformation of consciousness.
Of course when I started I couldn’t get into the position, but I began to work seriously using Kundalini Yoga to open up my hips, shoulders, hamstrings and heart. One day in 2007 when I was doing Teacher Training, I began Bound Lotus as a 40-day meditation for an assignment. Suddenly I realized I could get into the posture. I had opened myself enough. I began in March with 5 minutes on each side. By the end of June, I could do 31 minutes. In just a few months I had worked up to that and it became the core of my sadhana.
I have done well over 1,000 days at 31 minutes a day, alternating legs each day. I did it also for several months before that for less time. The normal markers in the Kundalini yoga tradition of 40, 90, and 1,000 days don’t apply; for me, this is the practice of my lifetime. I can’t envision not doing this as long as I’m physically able. I find it keeps me honest as a yogi, a teacher, and a human being because it isn’t possible to bring emotional garbage into that space. There is no room. No matter what obstacles I encounter during the day, my practice enables me to deal with them, staying calm and graceful in a way that I would not be able to do otherwise. It is like doing White Tantric Yoga everyday. Bound Lotus keeps me honest because I know that I am going back into the pose, and I have to live my life a little lighter. I know how serious that pose is, and if I don’t honor it and respect it, it will kick my butt. Bound Lotus does not begin and end when you get in and out of it. It is a way of living.”
RK: “Does it still hurt?”
Harnam Singh: “Sometimes. I build my life around it, and I choose the food I eat around it. If a food takes a long time to digest, it can be uncomfortable. Some days my hip will hurt, but some days it will be bliss. I’ve fallen asleep in the position and woken up 20 minutes after I should have gotten out of the pose, which is uncomfortable. I did it when I had Lyme’s Disease, which was very difficult. It’s about commitment. I’ve done Bound Lotus in airports, camping in the wilderness, even on the cat walk above the Tantric Shelter during sadhana at Summer Solstice.”
RK: “How do you recommend someone begin a Bound Lotus practice?”
Harnam Singh: “Buy Mahan Kirin’s book and read it thoroughly. It is very good at explaining modifications and giving instructions on how to proceed. You cannot force this posture. I want to stress this: you must be very careful. You don’t want to leave limbs hanging. If you have a knee hanging out or your head can’t touch the ground when you bow, then you must put pillows there so that everything is supported. Ideally you should take a workshop with someone who knows what they are doing and has practiced Bound Lotus for a long time, such as Mahan Kirin Kaur, Guru Prem Singh, or myself.”
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