Author, therapist, and Kundalini Yoga teacher Azita Nahai will be teaching two empowering workshops at Sat Nam Fest in Joshua Tree this year. Here, she shares her wisdom on gracefully moving through today’s challenges.

What are some trends you’re noticing in the collective consciousness today?

These days, I often think of Victor Hugo’s words: “Those who do not weep, do not see.” There’s a collective awakening, and there’s a reason they call awakenings rude. The shadowed underbelly of humanity has been exposed, and yet God bless the natural play of polarities. As darkness reared its head, it stirred a contagious global light movement, a true (Kundalini) uprising. As yogis and healers, if we didn’t quite understand our purpose here during these turbulent times, we do now.

Yogi Bhajan spoke of this. He predicted that 1/3 of the population will die, and by die he meant that they would deaden and numb themselves from feeling the collective pain. We’ve all been guilty of this at times. The other 1/3 will go mad, letting their emotions reign and their egos run rampant. And, the other 1/3 will wake up. Yep, we are the ‘woke’ ones. Sage warriors is how Yogi Bhajan described us, anchored in steadied strength and compassion, grit and grace, and holding a spirited space of neutrality and deepened awareness. We are true lighthouses.

And this isn’t easy. Even as practicing yogis, we still feel the polarizing push and pull of our humanness, particularly on the heels of the 2016 election. Our practice matters more than ever, especially when facing emotions that have always been dubbed “un-yogi-like.” Many are stewing in frustration, fear, and anger. This isn’t a time to stew. We aren’t soup. As yogis we tend to deny and resist anger because it’s not an “enlightened emotion,” and so, we try to “love and light” our way around it. Yet, we need to shift our relationship to anger. It can serve us. If we’re conscious, it can fuel our fierce compassion and spirited activism.

So, how can we shift our perspective of anger?

I recently completed a Stress and Vitality training, which spoke to our relationship with life’s stresses and pressing crises, as well as the emotions associated with them. Stress is pure energy that cannot be avoided. Our task is to build the tools (enter: Kundalini pranayams, kriyas, and meditations) to use that energy and produce vitality. In my work as a therapist, many people come into my office saying, “Oh God, the stress is going to kill me.” I always respond, “No, stress won’t kill you. Stress is always there. It is your response to stress that will kill you.”

With yogic tools in my toolbox, I can help re-empower my clients to take ownership of their responses to life’s stresses to awaken their inner-alchemist and learn to transmute and transform that (often disruptive) energy as vital fuel for growth and expansion. That’s what I love about our Kundalini Yoga practice. It’s all about the nature of alchemy. In a short amount of time, we can change up the way we store and use our energy. 

How do yogic tools help you help your clients transform their trauma to dharma?

In the work I do as a trauma specialist, Kundalini Yoga serves as a powerful tool. We spend so much of our time intellectualizing our pain. We read every book, listen to every podcast. We think it through, talk it out, and completely discard our bodies. What is trauma? Trauma is caused by any event or situation that has completely shaken your world and the way you’ve come to make meaning of it. And yet, trauma has less to do with the event and everything to do with our experience of it, how we respond to it. Trauma, like stress, is energy, and when our own stress responses cannot negotiate, discharge, and clear that energy, it leaves an imprint in our bodies. Yes, our issues are in our tissues.

Our bodies are minefields of triggers, and the only way out is in. Our bodies are the way in, our awareness is the way through, and Kundalini Yoga offers us the conscious tools to become active participants in our own healing. Not only does it offer us the empirically substantiated benefits of a somatic (body-based) practice, but it also offers us an experience of Spirit. What differentiates Kundalini from other somatic healing modalities is the spirit piece is critical, and ever present. That manifests through the cornerstone of Kundalini Yoga: the breath. I always say your breath is the entry point and the exit plan. It’s our way into and out of what scares us, and reconnects us to that eternal Spirit that pulses through us.

What personal realizations has your spirit enjoyed?

Nothing moves me like those moments on my mat in between exercises when I fall deeper into that unencumbered space of grace that’s always there. It’s a true act of surrender, and it reminds me of what Yogi Bhajan said, “Whatever you control, you carry.” If you’re a recovering control freak like me, then what a heavy load we choose to take on! I began to recognize how my attempt to control what wasn’t mine to control was the source of so much of my pain. It really does come back to the Serenity Prayer, and Kundalini helps me embody that. It truly grants me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (What’s really in my control?), the courage to change the things I can (How can I consciously and responsibly take action?), and the wisdom to know the difference. And well, the wisdom to know the difference? That’s Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. We access that in that sweet space of Shuniya — the zero point or stillness — where we recognize that it’s not our circumstances (the stresses, the pressures, the traumas) that define us, but how we choose to respond to them. Our responses are what move us into living our dharma — a purposeful and meaningful life that serves the world’s greatest need.

How can we gracefully move through these challenging times?

We can move from pessimist to activist — and harness every challenge as a catalyst for growth. An activist is an alchemist. She takes the stuff that life throws at her (and there’s plenty to go around), and turns that sh** into fertilizer. That’s the Trauma to Dharma™ way.  While we cannot change what has happened to us, we can choose how it will transform us. We can use it to support others. When we endure trauma and survive, that surviving evolves into thriving when we use what we’ve learned to serve. Yes, when you know better, you do better. Our heightened consciousness as yogis and healers and light workers is a privilege. We have an opportunity because we are awake, and with that opportunity comes responsibilities. How are we truly stepping up as lighthouses? Where can we continue to stabilize and neutralize and alchemize these turbulent times? It’s on us and we work better together. We need each other more than ever.

Can you share a personal challenge or inspiring aspect of your Kundalini Yoga practice? 

Recently, I was re-inspired to confront my resistance to cold showers. Talk about ‘coming to your senses’?! They are so invigorating! I’ve been keeping up with my daily cold showers for a while now, and that little early morning victory makes a huge difference. First off, I get out of the shower looking like I just got a facial. And I just feel more vital and alive in my body. My daily sadhana (cold showers included) offers me the perfect recipe to take on these times. Guru Nanak said that our senses on their own are a death trap, and yet, consciousness without our senses is a waste. Our Kundalini teachings and technology (right down to those cold showers!) heighten our sensitivity and our consciousness — and that is a recipe for living a happy, healthy, and holy life.

And the impact of our practice is amplified when we come together at festivals? 

We thrive in tribes. Festivals like Sat Nam Fest matter now more than ever.  We need each other. We know that coming together in group Sadhana increases the effects of our committed practice exponentially.  So, we leave Sat Nam Fest feeling re-inspired, less alone, and connected to our tribe. It’s a reboot. We can then go back into our communities with new revitalized energy and support to be the lighthouses and forklifts when life knocks. And it will.

Word has it that you have a book coming out soon?

Yes! It’s my Trauma to Dharma program in book form. The book is birthed out of my two decades of understanding trauma from the inside out and lays out a new template for healing that marries science and the soul. It’s a practical, step-by-step plan to dive deeper into your recovery to authorize yourself as an active participant in your own healing and to awaken and strengthen your capacity to help yourself and others.

Offering key tools and concepts from both science-based research and Kundalini yoga, coping strategies, and exercises including journal questions, meditation, and breath techniques, the Trauma to Dharma book just like the program guides you in releasing, resolving, and refashioning your wounds into wisdom and, yes, turning whatever sh** life has thrown at you into fertilizer.

Please join Azita Nahai at Sat Nam Fest for her workshop Kundalini UpRising: From Pessimist to Activist, on Thursday April 6.  She will also co-teach a class with Wah about empowering the divine feminine on Sunday morning.

You can also spend more time with Azita on April 29 and 30 in Topanga Canyon, CA for her Trauma to Dharma™ Weekend Immersion. She invites everyone to bring whatever they’ve got to transform: “If you’re alive today, you’re struggling through something. This is an invitation to alter your relationship to your pain, to transform it into purpose.” Learn more and register here.

Share your light and transform your trauma to dharma at Sat Nam Fest and beyond.

Sat Nam!