The Telegraph goes on a kundalini yoga retreat in Pune and comes back zen
Former actor Bijay J. Anand, best known for playing Kajol’s ex-boyfriend Rahul in the 1998 hit Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, is now unrecognisable in his long salt-and-pepper beard, man bun and a pair of sparkly bright eyes. He is now a yoga guru who teaches all around the world and claims that stumbling upon the practice of kundalini yoga in Rishikesh changed his life. t2 recently attended a three-day kundalini yoga workshop by Bijay at the Atmantan Wellness Resort in Pune and came back rejuvenated.
The three-day wellness and healing experience organised by Atmantan Wellness Centre and Anahata Retreats was a near life-changing experience for us. Atmantan, that sits atop a unique crystal hill overlooking the majestic Sahyadri range and the Mulshi Lake in Maharashtra, was our home for three days of the workshop. Located a little over a three-hour-drive away from Mumbai, the Atmantan Wellness Resort in Mulshi is spread over 42 acres.
When we reached, it was raining and the ambience was beautiful and serene. We were handed schedules of the next three days, curated to relieve us of stress, depression and ill health and lead us to renewed vigour and vibrancy like the “blossoming of the lotus”.
What is kundalini yoga?
I have done yoga before but not kundalini yoga, so I was intrigued to find out more about this new form. Kundalini yoga claims to heal one from the inside as well as outside. The practice uses mantras, kriyas, and mudras that go deep into your subconscious mind and connect you with your suppressed emotions of grief, anger, pain and toxicity. In addition to that, it aims to heal one’s chakras and realign them to offer a holistic and rejuvenating experience.
Beginning to heal
Our orientation on the first day began around 4.30pm. On the first day, we were taught about the nature of the Anahata (heart) chakra and its connection with our aura. I’m a very anxious and hyperactive person by nature so I must admit that I did face difficulty in concentrating on the first day. But I also felt a sense of calm that was hard to ignore. I finished my dinner by 7pm and was already calmly sleeping by 8.30pm — a first ever!
The next day began early at 7am with an hour-long morning sadhana followed by breakfast. Today, we were learning about how to open our heart chakra. We chanted, we meditated and we tried an exercise where we were taught how to get rid of all the toxicity of our lives. I suddenly realised I had tears in my eyes — this was something I had never felt before, it was a completely different experience. We broke for lunch and I must mention here that we were only served light, vegetarian food during the three days of the retreat.
Atmantan has a private waterfall inside their property and we hiked till there after lunch. It was our very own Mandakini moment, standing under the cold waterfall and feeling cleansed from the very core. We got back in the evening for the Healing of the Heart session.
Our kundalini yoga teacher
Apart from the regular kriyas and mantras that we practised, what really caught my attention was how Bijay was as a teacher. He was completely zen-like and in control — he knew exactly what he was doing. Bijay was certified by the Kundalini Research Institute, Los Angeles, after he learnt kundalini yoga from Rishikesh. The principle philosophy behind Bijay’s teachings is love and its connection with the fourth chakra in our body — the Anahata chakra. He told us all about his life experiences, about ‘enlightenment’ and how even a few minutes of meditation in our busy, daily lives can heal us to a great extent.
He told us that the first 10 minutes of his exposure to kundalini yoga to cleanse the chakras moved him so deeply that he knew instantly that he had found what he had been searching for his entire life. It greatly affected me and I mentally noted that once I got back to my regular life, I’d take up the practice in whatever little capacity I can.
Blossoming of the lotus
The crux of the entire workshop was that we are as beautiful as a lotus and just like a lotus looks beautiful even in muck, we too, can blossom beautifully in this world full of negativity around us. The session on the last day was called the ‘Blossoming of the Lotus’. I don’t know if it was the serene ambience of the retreat, the mighty mountains, the chants or the power of kundalini yoga itself, but I was a changed person after that weekend — my husband could feel the difference once I was back and even asked me why I was being so much quieter than my usual chirpy self.
If you’re stressed with your daily routine or feel like you need a breather, contact Atmantan Wellness Resort for their next kundalini yoga retreat.
A chat with kundalini yoga teacher Bijay J. Anand on the sidelines of the workshop:
How did kundalini yoga happen to you after being an actor and then an art dealer?
I got a lot of fame being an actor, signing a lot of autographs, experiencing the whole whirlwind of being mobbed by 300 people at the airport. Then at some point, I got disillusioned with it. I just had enough at the peak of my career... I was offered 20 films after Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha had released. I didn’t want to work any more and people thought I’ve gone crazy because that’s what every actor dreams of, to get that big hit. But some intuition in me made me stop. I gave it all up and pursued art as a career; I became an art dealer and made a lot of money there. Then, apart from fame, I experienced wealth and luckily for me, I used that for travelling. I travelled to more than 60 countries. That taught me a lot, when you go to a new country you lose yourself in everything. You don’t know the language, the people... you lose yourself and that’s where you find yourself.
Somewhere the seeds of spirituality and enlightenment were sown in all the travelling and experiences that I had. One day, I got done with art as well and gave up everything to pursue spirituality. I devoted all my time in learning vipassana and going for various yoga and spirituality courses. In one of them, I found kundalini yoga and in the first five minutes of starting it in the class, I knew I’ve found something I’ve been looking for my entire life. I was so excited with that discovery that I signed up for the next teacher’s training course and after that I realised that it’s so beautiful that I want to share it with the world for the rest of my life.
How has kundalini yoga changed your life since then?
Our teacher had taught us one thing that I really love — ‘When you want to learn something, study it. When you want to master something, teach it’. Learning kundalini yoga changed a lot about me — my priorities, my energies, the way I deal with people, the whole understanding about auras. But what really helped me was the fact that I teach because as a teacher, you keep working towards improving yourself as a human being. The authenticity and integrity as a teacher lies in being true to your practice in teaching. When I’m telling you to be honest and a good human being and if I’m not a good human being myself, you’d know that I’m lying. When you practice that goodness in your life, that shows in your face. Kundalini yoga changed my life, yes, but teaching it and travelling to all these countries and sharing it has made me evolve even more and made me what I am today.
How would you describe the three-day Blossoming of the Lotus retreat that we just attended?
The lotus is a metaphor for you as a human being, as a soul — how you are in this world that is totally corrupt, volatile, negative and full of violence. Just like the lotus looks so beautiful in a ugly swamp of dirty water, you can shine, too, as beautifully in this ugly, sad world. This three-day programme that we practised here was designed to make you understand what the Anahata chakra is. The connection of the Anahata chakra with your aura and what you need to do to heal the Anahata chakra... it’s only when you heal your heart chakra can you blossom like a lotus in this world.
What made you choose Atmantan for this retreat?
Atmantan has these crystals all over the property that’s embedded in the bedrock, which is part of the geography of the place. It’s because of that there’s an energy here that’s really healing. The nature and the scenery all around is very beautiful and pure. The hospitality and service we get, the way they look after every need, make it a natural choice. I’m looking forward to working with them. The maximum number of events we do from here on will be with Atmantan now.
What would be your message for people who are still on the fence about taking up kundalini yoga?
Start with the first step. You don’t dive into the swimming pool without knowing how to swim. You start with a small step and in this case, it is having the desire to heal. Understand that there’s a heaven on earth now, not after you die. Have a desire to experience that heaven on earth and know that it’s possible to experience that heaven. The first step you take for that is by becoming healthy, by eating right, by exercising, by doing yoga. It’s a small step but it’s the first step to enlightenment. When you clean up the body and mind, that’s when you clean the environment for a clean and beautiful aura. That’s when you polish that aura and make it shine like a diamond.