For the past week I have been working on getting supplies to make a riser or platform for our Kundalini Yoga Workshop this coming Saturday. It has been a lot of work trying to find what I need without spending a fortune while also making it portable and easy to assemble. At moments I have asked myself, is this really necessary? But in the end I felt it was. Last night we were able to get it all set up to make sure it will meet our needs, and I think we’re good to go. So why do Kundalini Yoga teachers often sit on a small platform when teaching?
Our Kundalini Yoga teacher training manual encourages teachers to sit on a platform, particularly for large classes, but it is actually optional. I have attended and taught a few informal classes without platforms. During my teacher training, our lead trainer explained that the main purpose of the platform is to bring the instructor’s heart in line with each student’s third eye. The teacher wants to project from the heart. So a small platform is sufficient for this purpose.
A teacher’s job is also to hold space for the class and to monitor the students to ensure that everyone understands the instructions and is performing the exercises safely. A platform gives the teacher a slightly better vantage point to give support to everyone present. Additionally, having the teacher slightly elevated provides students sitting toward the back with a better view of the teacher’s demonstrations.
On a related note, Kundalini Yoga instructors are expected to briefly demonstrate the exercises, but we are instructed not to complete all the exercises with the students. This confused me when I first attended a Kundalini Yoga class. Why didn’t the teacher do all the exercises with us? It seemed a little unfair, especially when the postures were difficult. If a teacher stops doing an exercise, it doesn’t mean she’s lazy or unable or that the students should stop. It just means she is finished demonstrating and will be holding space and monitoring the class for the remainder of the exercise. Many Kundalini Yoga exercises require closed eyes, and an instructor needs to have her eyes open and her mind-body-spirit fully present and grounded to fulfill her role properly.
Being on a platform isn’t about status or hierarchy or self-righteousness. The same is true in Mormon churches where Bishops, Relief Society Presidents, and other auxiliary leaders often sit in front of the room or elevated, facing the audience. It’s not because they are “better” somehow, rather it is because they have accepted a calling to serve us, and being able to see us is an important part of that calling. It is because they are, like yoga instructors, holding space for the group.
I keep talking about “holding space,” but what does that really mean? Here’s how a variety of people on the Internet define it. Holding space is…
Removing the ego is a big part of teaching Kundalini Yoga. The Kundalini Yoga teacher’s oath says, “I am not a woman. I am not a man. I am not a person. I am not myself. I am a teacher.” When we step into the role of Teacher, we set aside our egos, our selves, our personal issues, and we allow ourselves to become vessels for Truth and the teachings that have been passed down throughout the ages. In a lecture titled “The Purity and Power of a Teacher,” Yogi Bhajan said:
The first principle of a teacher is, “I am not.” If you cannot practice shuniaa, you cannot be a teacher of Kundalini Yoga. Shuniaa means zero. The moment you become zero, then all powers will prevail through you. The power of a teacher of Kundalini Yoga is in his zero, in his shuniaa. In shuniaa you become zero, you reduce everything to nothing: “I am nothing.” . . . The moment you become that, then everything radiates from you. Second, you are a servant. The moment you become a servant, you automatically become a master. You can never become a master if you want to be a master.
And in another lecture titled “Turning Loneliness to Oneness,” Yogi Bhajan said:
That is the one thing in life you have to do. Forklift. Spread the light. Be the lighthouse. So every journey, every destiny, every distance can be safe.
We don’t sit on a platform because we want people to follow us or call us “master,” we sit on a platform so we can, like lighthouses, illuminate the way to safety and peace and the True Guru. As guru Nanak said, “All paths lead to God.” I am simply a short rest stop on your way.
When I sat on the platform at Yoga Phoenix in front of my teacher training classmates to teach my practicum, it was an incredible experience. For so many reasons. But one of the best things about it was how incredibly beautiful my classmates all were. So, I must confess, for me sitting on a platform is also slightly selfish… Because there is no sight in the world quite as beautiful as a room full of souls in meditation. That’s a view I wouldn’t want to miss.