"Why do you use a sheep skin?" "what is the purpose?" These are questions I commonly hear being asked as Kundalini Yoga has become more popular. And, whether to use a sheepskin or not has become quite the controversy these days, particularity, among the parties of vegetarians vs carnivores.
Let's start with why some instructors and students use a sheepskin, where did it all come from? Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the West in 1968, recommended the use of sheepskin for meditation, as it creates an insulation between the yogi and the magnetic pull of the earth. Indeed, many feel they experience deeper state of connection to their self and the universe when they are using a sheepskin as compared to a sticky mat or cushion. This includes wrapping the head in white to contain the energy, enhancing one's state of meditation. Yogi Bhajan believed when one mediates on a sheepskin it helps to liberate the soul of the sheep as well. Mind you, he also stated, "you are free to use other things to meditate on" if you are uncomfortable with this method.
Now, most Kundalini yogis are usually lacto-vegetarian, so you wouldn't think they would be using an animal skin to sit on. Er-go controversy, to sheep or not to sheep. But this is not just a prop, as described previously. These sheepskins are treated more as a sacred space like an altar, rather than a rug. Those who have experienced this depth of meditation may understand this.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are the general framework for all yogic practice. Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas of the 8-limbed path. Ahimsa means non-harming of oneself or others. Sounds contradicting, right? However, it doesn't say anywhere in the Yoga Sutras not to eat meat or not to use a sheepskin. Yogi Bhajan recommended his students eat vegetarian, mainly for health reasons, being that plant life is lighter energetically and much easier to digest, making it ideal for those who meditate. But Ahimsa goes much further in terms than just animal rights. Everything you say, do, use and touch can have a level of harming effect. One who meditates is likely to be more aware and harm less.
"So, you do not eat meat but you still use a sheepskin?" This is the hard one for most people to understand, yes. I, myself being pescetarian if you care to label, can relate with the party who do not believe in killing animals carelessly or selfishly, and I do not in any way support factory farming. But I can feel the sacredness of this practice, so I personally use one.
My feelings are if you choose to use a sheepskin, be sure to give thanks often in prayer and hold the highest form of gratitude for the sacrifice of that life, and do your best to find your sheepskin from the best ethical source available.
Some alternatives to an actual sheepskin are sacredfeltcollection.com and kusha mats; hand-woven mats made of kusha grass.
By Pamela Raymond, Kundalini Instructor
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