Creative Arts & Yoga
This issue is dedicated to integrating the practices of yoga and art-making for personal and collective transformation. I interview Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, an artist dedicated to healing through yoga and art, and author of Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life, which I also review in this issue. In addition, I offer links to the Art for Yoga Project and Art Asana.
May this issue inspire you to stretch in new ways with your creative practice.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director, Arts & Healing Network
Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa
“The soul, the source of our art, is ageless and limitless. Every disease has a solution, from your stiff neck to world hunger. Through the creative process solutions can be discovered. Every week I personally witness art as a key element of healing.” ~ Hari Kirin
Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa is an artist and teacher dedicated to healing through yoga and art. She is the author of Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life. She teaches Art & Yoga at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the Antrim Girls Shelter, and the Omega Institute for Holistic Health. In her home town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA, she leads Yoga Alliance- and Kundalini Research Institute (KRI)-approved Kundalini Yoga Teacher Trainings and runs an Art & Yoga Center.
Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson with Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa from October 2011:
Mary Daniel Hobson: Please share some of your art and yoga journey, including how you first begin to connect the two together.
Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa: I majored in art in a Catholic high school in New York City [New York, USA]. There, Christian monks introduced me to eastern meditation and social activism. Thanks to that liberal and intelligent environment, art was always related to spirituality and healing (personal and collective). This was the 1970’s, a time similar to the one we are in now – a time of change – with the opportunities and stress that change brings. In college I experimented with narcissism, drugs and sex rather than yoga and meditation to motivate my creative life, but I discovered it did not work as well. After finishing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I met my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, a White Tantric Yoga master. He gave me the name Hari Kirin, meaning “the light of the creative feminine God.” This was one way he let me know that there is no separation between spiritual practice and creativity.
I went on to graduate school for Creative Art Therapy at Lesley University, and took a Kundalini Yoga teacher training. I began art and yoga groups and individual sessions at our yoga center and at treatment facilities where I interned. My emphasis has always been on the art, rather than using it to serve a psychological process, so I continued on and got an Masters of Fine Art with a concentration in Public Art.
Mary Daniel: How do you weave together art and yoga into one practice?
Hari Kirin: In my workshops and classes we move from yoga to painting and back again. We blend breathing exercises and chanting with dance and poetry. I also prescribe particular practices for creative blocks, fears and anxieties around the creative process. A relaxed mind is a creative mind.
In my own artistic production, the yoga is sometimes literally present, like my performance piece Axis Mundi — a 40 day sitting meditation on a toxic waste site. In this collaborative project, the community was invited to meditate and local teens created site-specific art installations.
Sometimes yoga is the subject matter, as in the Junk Mail Buddha series – images of meditation made from junk mail and wax. I was disturbed by the waste of all the catalogs arriving in my mail each day, and tried to stop them, but still they kept coming. In Buddhism there is a beautiful thought that we all have buddha consciousness, so I cut up advertisements in the shape of the Buddha and made art putting together some of our crasser impulses with images of our innate consciousness and our divine nature.
And then there is work where the process enacts yogic principles, like Wherever You Are is the Center of the World. Through use of the Internet, specifically Google Maps, the artist Susan Q. Brown and I explored the planet visually and painted the earth. We used methods of chance to chart these “maps,” reflecting the way in which a chance email, news story, or hyperlink will sometimes transport us to unexpected corners of the globe. As we painted, the chance operations occasionally forced us to obliterate images we cherished, just as one might occasionally go somewhere she did not intend. In other words, these paintings attempt to imitate the very ways in which we navigate our world today.
Mary Daniel: Could you offer an example of an art & yoga exercise?
Hari Kirin: Any yoga and meditation practice will help you relax, and that will increase your creativity. It will strengthen your body and increase vitality, which is also important — art takes stamina. I work within a tradition, Kundalini Yoga, as taught by my teacher Yogi Bhajan. It takes training to facilitate this yoga, but I find it most effective in supporting a healthy body, creative mind and strong nervous system. There are over a thousand meditations and series of exercises in this yoga – each for a specific effect.
Here’s a simple practice you can try to free up before a creative activity or to use in the studio when you feel tired or stuck:
Movement Relaxation Kriya
(reprinted with permission from the the Kundalini Research Institute)
- Begin by chanting Om Namo Guru Dev Namo three times.
- Stand with arms relaxed.
Close your eyes.
Begin to sway and move every part of your body.
Dance gracefully, sensing the easy movement of your body.
Play music or dance to the silence.
Continue 3 to 11 minutes, or longer, if you like.
- Mentally scan your body and release any tension.
Inhale, filling your body with energy.
Exhale, releasing any unnecessary tension into the feet and then into the floor.
Inhale vitality up through the feet, filling the legs and pelvis.
Exhale and let it release into the floor, deep into the Earth.
Inhale, filling the spine with energy and color.
Exhale, letting the spine relax and lengthen.
Inhale, filling the lungs and letting the Fourth Chakra heart energy fill the cavities of the shoulders, out through the arms to the fingertips.
On the exhale, let the arms totally relax.
Inhale and let the collarbone lift and extend with the breath, which fills the throat and head.
Exhale, softening the eyes.
Release the jaw and soften the tongue and mouth.
- Stand straight with the eyes still closed.
Feel each part of the body with both hands and don’t leave anything out.
Touch sensitively with both palms.
Continue for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Come into a forward bend with the arms hanging completely relaxed.
Let the breath be normal.
Consciously relax any muscle you do not need to safely hold the pose.
Continue for 3 to 11 minutes.
- While standing, plant your feet on the floor and lift the heart to the ceiling, slowly leaning backward with the arms hanging loosely down.
Relax your breath.
Hold for 1 minute.
- Relax deeply, lying on your back.
Mary Daniel: Do you believe that creative expression and art can heal, and if so, how?
Hari Kirin: Yes. The soul – the source of our art – is ageless and limitless. Every disease has a solution – from your stiff neck to world hunger. Through the creative process, solutions can be discovered. Every week I personally witness art as a key element of healing.
Mary Daniel: How has practicing art and yoga been healing and transformative for you?
Hari Kirin: The silence, relaxation and intuition that come from this yoga help me connect to the world around me. They have allowed me to have a happy marriage, family, friends and to excel in the work I love. Every day I heal myself with my practice. I forgive and explore my mistakes and discover my vitality and intuition. It helps me to become myself rather than just a reaction to whatever is happening around me.
Mary Daniel: I loved learning about the work you are doing with art and yoga at Antrim Girls Shelter. Please share how you got started with that, what the impact of your work has been, and what inspires you most about working there.
Hari Kirin: Someone referred me to the director who knew of my work with teens. She wanted something in addition to medication to help the girls cope with stress and anxiety. This is a locked, court-ordered shelter for girls 13- to 17-years old, moving through the legal system. They are all awaiting court, which is a difficult time. It’s a short-term facility where the average stay is 3 weeks, and the maximum is 3 months. This works for me, as I get to see so many young women at a time of intense crisis. I also work with the staff who tell me that the Yoga & Art group does indeed effect the overall level of anxiety [in the girls I work with]. They note improvement in the way they relate to each other, and have told me “When they come back up on the day of yoga & art they’re a lot more relaxed. I wish we had it more than once a week...they are less likely to snap at each other...” and, “...they seem to interact differently with each other, the other clients, they seem to be more relaxed around each other.”
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?
Hari Kirin: I have been immersed in art & yoga most of my life. Now is the time, with this book and training programs, to share what I have learned. I know there are those out there who will take what I have done and go in new directions, going further than I can go on my own. I am excited about all that we can do together with this synergistic combination.
It is a fantastic time to practice. Everything is changing. The changes are difficult even for us artists and healers, but we have solutions within our work and ways to refresh ourselves. Everyone doesn’t have those skills, so we are needed to share our experience and knowledge. My teacher Yogi Bhajan, commenting on the era beginning in 2011, said “Our creativity will be our sensory system.” Too much is shifting for us to find our way with instinct or rational understanding. It takes a strong and lively imagination to deal effectively with this fluid, changing reality.
This past summer  I had a major museum exhibition about healing ourselves through art – expanding imagination and our experience of oneness. I spent many years finding this opening in the “art world.” What seemed impossible 25 years ago — to bring together spirituality, healing and art in a smart venue — is now possible. Now is the time.
Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Hari Kirin: I’d like to say to people reading this that I am grateful for all of your efforts. I’d love to hear from you and support you on your own journey in any way I can. My prayer for you is that you may have the time and space to practice your art and find your dharma there so that you may have the deep joy of manifesting it in the world. That will be healing for all.
To find out more about Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa's workshops, paintings, public art events, or to read her blog, please visit www.artandyoga.com. For more information on her latest museum exhibition, please visit whereveryouareisthecenteroftheworld.com.
Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life
By Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa Foreword by Thomas Moore
Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson
“If art is going to reach to the into the deepest strata of our souls and climb to spiritual heights, it requires a spiritual and soulful context. One good way to achieve this, one I’ve witnessed for many years in my home is through the union of art and yoga....I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. It represents a shift that I hope will become more evident as our new century progresses; a shift from separating matters of soul and spirit – images and practice, the poetic and the well defined, the intuitive and the carefully reasoned – to uniting them.” ~ Thomas Moore
This book is a wonderful resource for anyone seeking to integrate yoga and art practices together for personal and collective transformation. Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa offers specific art & yoga practices for enhancing creativity, tuning into one’s body, balancing the chakras, and engaging nature. There are also guidelines for leading art & yoga groups and the author shares her experience leading art & yoga practice with at-risk teenagers. It is well illustrated, sharing artwork as well as pictures of yoga poses. As Hari Kirin says herself, “The complementary practices of yoga and art create a place where both the rational and the mystical can work together.”
To learn more about this book and order it online please visit www.artandyoga.com/order-books.
FEATURED LINK: Art of Yoga Project: Healing At-Risk Girls with Art & Yoga
From The Art of Yoga Project’s website: The "Yoga & Creative Arts Curriculum for at-risk teen women offers a multi-dimensional approach to building the self-awareness, self-esteem and self-respect necessary for young women to make healthy lifestyle choices.” Their curriculum includes breathing, meditation, and yoga practice followed by art-making as tools to build self-esteem, empathy, positive relationships, self-control and accountability to self, others and community.
To learn more about this Palo Alto, California, USA-based organization, please visit www.theartofyogaproject.org.
FEATURED LINK: Art Asana
Please visit yoga teacher, writer and artist, Eliza Lynn Tobin's web site and blog to learn more about her yoga-inspired art process. She also offers an e-course called Dancing in the Fire: Ignite Your Creativity Through Yoga & Art. As Eliza says on her web site, “Come along with me as I explore the unique connection between art and yoga. I’m a yoga teacher, writer and artist inspired by the life-affirming practice of yoga. Here on Art Asana, I will help you uncover the beautiful and creative being that you truly are through yoga-inspired art, words and teachings.
ARTS & HEALING PODCAST:
Art Saves: An interview with Jenny Doh
Jenny Doh is the author of Art Saves: Stories, Inspiration & Prompts, Sharing the Power of Art. Jenny is the Founder and President of CRESCENDOh, a company that inspires creative passion, authentic community, and focused compassion. She also works with publishers to create books about art, crafting, and inspiration. She is also the author of Creative Pilgrimage, Signature Styles, and she co-authored Where Women Create: A Book of Inspiration in the Studio & Behind the Scenes with Extraordinary Women. Prior to her current work, she was Editor-in-Chief of Somerset Studio Magazine for six years.
You can learn more about Jenny and her work at CRESCENDOh.com and follow her on Twitter at @crescendoh and @jennydoh.
Click here to listen online.
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