Caroline Bénézet is a Paris-based Kundalini yoga instructor. Often dressed in white, she teaches "yoga of awareness" and believes that this energetic practice has the power to develop our latent potential and capacities.
As Kundalini is fairly unknown in France, we asked Caroline to introduce this lineage and decontruct the mystery of its teachings.
Inside/Out: How would you describe your genesis story? What brought you to yoga?
Caroline Bénézet: My yoga story began in New York, partially in 1994 and fully in 1997. It took me 3 years to go into a classroom. I was seduced by this magic potion with no clue of where it was leading me. A friend told me about a great yoga class. I loved it, the postures felt so good and were really do-able for me, and from the get go the chanting really struck a cord. I felt like Astérix! I started going 3 times a week; it was the 1st time that I had tried something that really led me to an organic engagement. I hate to force myself to do things and I am terrible at staying disciplined. I felt so good after these classes and kept wanting more. It was a huge reconnection with myself. Over the course of 6 months, I felt awake – my life had completely changed and there was no going back.
I/O: Tell us about your Kundalini teaching trajectory?
C: In 2007, I studied in New York and then in France. I started teaching in 2008 in New York in my home. That’s where the name Sweethomeyoga comes from. I had just given birth to my son Adel. It truly was a sweet, sweet home with yoga. Today, I teach at Rasa, Tigre and Keller, I also host sound baths with a gong and intimate Sunday night chanting gatherings in my home to keep that spot sweet here, too.
I/O: What is the philosophy behind this type of yoga?
C: We all fantasize about what we want to do or be. To achieve our dreams we need energy, inspiration and creativity. In the yogic tradition, the energy in which our greatest potential is immersed is called the Kundalini. It’s a force that resides in everyone. Once awakened, it allows us to develop all our latent functions. Kundalini offers a technology that helps us to be at our very best, by bringing a balance between the body, the soul and the mind. You are in the right place at the right time. Kundalini is a contact with oneself, an elevation of self-consciousness. It allows you to better know yourself intuitively. It connects the body with the mind as well as with their different energy networks. It releases the energies by using breathing, rhythm, dynamic or static postures; sound, relaxation, singing and meditation, all in order to awaken the inner energy that lies deep within us. It is called the yoga of consciousness or awareness, for its power brings immediate effects.
I/O: What can one expect from Kundalini? It’s said to be transformative?
C: From the very first session, you can feel the energy moving through the body. It improves the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, lymphatic and glandular systems. Kundalini recognizes the importance of the glandular system in relation to physical and mental health and the direct consequences that this has on emotions. It strengthens muscles, although this physical force is only a small part of our strength. Our true depth lies in endurance, flexibility, determination and self-confidence. This practice provides a direct connection with your deepest truth and knowledge. This is the awakening of the Kundalini, the awakening of awareness. These are not energetic flashes. It sharpens all of the senses, combining the fresh feelings of a child with refined adult experiences.
Kundalini also helps eliminate addictions and bad habits. It helps us to free ourselves from our mental and physical reflexes, our reductive ideas; directing us instead towards a more positive universe. I have seen this practice transform many people, physically, emotionally and spiritually, through techniques that aim to make us masters of our mind, and thus our decisions. In a state of calm and serenity, we open ourselves up to something other than what we see. It is important to realize that this teaching is a discipline in that it bears fruit only if it is practiced on a regular basis.
Additionally, it is accessible to everyone. It includes meditation, observation of thoughts without the intervention of judgment. It is a moment in front of oneself, listening to one's body and one's mind. To observe without judging is to become aware, and it is through this awareness that one can break away from the cycle of physical and mental automatisms. Sometimes meditations are sung and amplify the work of breath. Life’s beauty depends upon breath. It is the place between you and the universe. This is what gives you the ability to feel what is around, everywhere and in direct relation with the soul.
I/O: What distinguishes Kundalini from other types of yoga?
C: Russell Brand addresses this point very well: "Kundalini is the crack cocaine of yoga. If Hatha is a mild weed high, Iyenger is a deep hash glow and Ashtanga is amphetamine, Kundalini blows the f*ing doors off".
I/O: Why the all white dress code? And covering one’s hear?
C: I dress in white, it's soothing. I often cover my head. Energy – as heat – leaves quickly through the top of the skull. When we practice we generate energy; it’s a shame to lose it. With the head covered, the energy remains and then nourishes, heals, and pampers where it is needed. This is also rooting, because the energy from this practice can make us lightheaded and even provoke headaches. I also love to cover my waist around my kidneys, as this keeps vital energy warm there, giving strength to my center. In this way, I feel like a warrior.
I/O: The practice seems so fluid and yet the training to become a teacher is extremely tough. Tell us more about this?
C: It takes iron-clad discipline to change. The Kundalini training offers a sustained rhythm. This is an opportunity to go deeply into oneself, because the chances are rather reduced on a daily basis. The training is very different than the classes. It is very rigorous indeed.
I/O: Tell us about your teaching? How did you learn to share what you had learned?
C: I took 10 years of Kundalini classes before ever doing a training. I teach from my experience, my understanding. I try to remain neutral and not to convey my point of view, but just the realities of the laws of the universe and by giving the tools of autonomy.
I/O: What do you teach your students?
C: Hopefully I am transmitting autonomy, acceptance, following one’s rhythm, adapting to change, commitment, rigor, respect, the ability to truly listen and hear, joy and a bit of daring.
I/O: What does the word energy convey to you?
C: High frequency, envy, courage, determination, joy, love, creativity, unconditional sharing, fluidity.
These are the teachers who inspired me most and with whom I learned the most. Of course Yogi Bhajan, the master who has transmitted this practice to us. He was deeply inspired and through living in the Western world, in Los Angeles, managed to share relevant tools by measuring what was needed, here and now. Of course, all of these postures exist, as well as logical philosophy, but the physical practice of Kundalini, the sequences, the music and the mantras were developed by him. The first young American followers in Los Angeles in the 70s wrote all of these albums of sacred music. Then over the next decades, the music and mantras were integrated into musical trends and further developed. We can really talk about co-creation here!
Also, as a reference, for joy and depth and continued practice, I recommend the 3HO: Happy Healthy Holy Europe Festival, a gathering of 2500 yogis who every summer in Sologne. Together we apply the codes, the tools, bring together people from all over the world, and finally the practice and the mantras become a universal language shared with the Russians, the Chinese, the Spaniards, the Italians, the Germans, and it all makes sense. Children come and play, the parents too ... We are one!
I/O: Your biggest illusions, misconceptions, mistakes?
C: The great illusion of being liberated at the moment of the Great Discovery of Yoga. It’s not that easy. There are several stages... it’s a process and it can take a long time.
I/O: What kind of retreats or other gatherings would you recommend?
C: The 3HO: Happy Healthy Holy Europe Festival in France. The Sat Nam Fest in the States. And my the workshops that I host in Maroc, France and India 2-3 times a year.
I/O: A mantra?
C: The mul mantra. This one has saved me on numerous occasions. It restores faith and direction, helps to manifest dreams. I find that it’s has the most power of attraction.
I/O: A hashtag?
C: #satwomen #40daychallenge #kundalini
I/O: Hidden talents you’d like to share with us?
C: Guitar and singing. I started surfing and I’m a big fan. I admire this practice that requires confronting fears and connecting with the elements! It’s very much of the present moment, very spiritual. The ocean is the guru in the sense that guru means shadows and light – life is made of this. But be careful with the word guru. It can be off-putting, misleading. The meanings attach to words can hold us back and prevent us from discovering.
I/O: What about Kundalini for stress management? How is this manifested? Is it more on the basis of regular practice that it is effective or does it give you tools that can be used in a moment of anxiety? Do you have any SOS tools?
C: For stress, breath of fire. For sleep, stretching out for 5 minutes before sleeping. Or some yin yoga postures, another practice that I cherish, very relaxing. You can follow this on my Instagram.
I/O: A reading list?
C: Marsall Rosemberg, Tich Nhat Hanh, Eckart Tolle and Osho.
I/O: A secret recipe?
C: The yoga festival soup that we have every day for our post-practice breakfast. Ilove this soup! It alkalizes the blood and improves mental balance.
Cut up equal parts potatoes, celery and onion.
Boil in water with a bit of salt.
Heat up some vegetable oil in a pan and add the following spices in power form: red pepper, Cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin and coriander.
Add to the broth with some fresh crushed garlic.
I/O: One last tip?
C: Be kind and be yourself!
Thank you: Le Tigre Yoga.