Give Me Some Skin
One of the many distinguishing (unusual!) aspects of Kundalini Yoga is the presence of sheepskins used to practice and meditate upon.
While other yoga students are busy buying petroleum based yoga mats and bags, Kundalini students are investigating what is the optimal material to use for their largely seated practice and deep meditations.
In every teacher training program that I have taught over the last 20 years, students invariably ask: “What’s with the skins? I thought this was about being a vegetarian.”
One of my first memories of visiting Yogi Bhajan was the huge sheepskin that adorned the back of the recliner that he used for his 22-hour workdays. For many years the lifestyle of the Kundalini Yogi was a set (or several sets!) of white clothing and a rolled up sheepskin in a blanket.
So what’s with the skins?
The answer goes back hundreds of years, in a land faraway, where yogis meditating day in and day out in their cave or forest hermitage nestled on top of – an animal skin.
The natural fibers of the animal skin served to not only insulate them from temperature changes as they meditated throughout the night, but more importantly they insulated them from the magnetic field of the earth as they built a meditative energy field around themselves to deepen their journey within.
This was the original meaning of asana – it literally meant where the yogi sat – the seat of the meditation was the asana and the only posture that mattered.
A proper asana, or meditative seat, was of natural fibers (and that could include river grass as well as animal skins) that was instrumental in blocking the earth’s magnetic field from compromising the circumvent force field created by deep meditation.
In reality, any natural fibers can do this job – silk, cotton or wool – and they can be in the form of a blanket or rug. Yet the traditional asana was usually a deerskin or a tiger skin (permitted only for yogis who swore a vow of celibacy).
The yogis meditated on these skins as a way to honor the life of the animal. Its final end became an instrument in a journey toward enlightenment.
Today the skin of choice is the byproduct of sheep who are raised for their meat. Sheepskins have also been used medicinally for burned victims and new-born infants.
Yet they are yogis, and those who practice Kundalini Yoga, who are uncomfortable or even antagonistic toward the use of animal skins in a yoga practice, tradition notwithstanding.
If this is your choice, then using blankets made from wool or mats made from wool felt can fulfill the need for a meditation mat that insulates the practitioner from the earth’s magnetic field.
Yet I do remember the many sheepskins that covered the chairs and couches of our teacher Yogi Bhajan, and even a bearskin over his bed – the best skin for sleeping on he once said.
And while it is important that we sit upon something to meditate, regardless how we justify or practice ahimsa, the most important thing is that we do sit – and meditate.