Kundalini Yogini Nancy Zabaneh, Founder of The Red Chair tells Viki Shah how the fundamentals of the Kundalini Yoga practice mirror the essence of The Red Chair platform on diverse levels…
WHAT IS THE RED CHAIR?
Having lived in the Middle East for 18 years, with a varied educational and professional background such as mine, I felt the calling to extend my capacities across different avenues and give service in the widest possible way. In 2015, I founded The Red Chair as a community-platform for raising awareness and bringing people together around topical issues. The essence of this platform is to push boundaries, raise consciousness and strive to make a difference. The Red Chair has, for instance, worked with filmmakers to facilitate screenings around challenging socio-political issues. The platform has also coordinated numerous talks, events and trainings in the realm of social impact, emotional intelligence and wellness.
If we deconstruct the core of the Kundalini Yoga practice, it mirrors the essence of The Red Chair platform on diverse levels. The primary objective of Kundalini Yoga is to awaken the full potential of human awareness. By extending the tools to listen deeply we cultivate inner stillness, thereby delivering our best.
Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, is a sequence-based practice where no two classes are ever alike, mirroring the unpredictability of life and catapulting us out of our comfort zones. These sequential movements help practitioners manage stress by challenging and extending endurance. Having survived and adapted each movement, a healing response is elicited so that we are ready for the next challenge.
I practice Kundalini because I see the benefits of greater mental, emotional and spiritual flexibility. The physical postures are just vehicles for the agility and mind strength training. It is an exquisite technology, which offers tools to develop the grit, grace and endurance necessary to navigate the challenges of our time and realize inner harmony.
WHY THE NAME ‘RED CHAIR’? HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?
The name essentially began with the colour red, reflecting the passion with which I live my life and the energy I dedicate to consciousness-building initiatives. Red is also the colour of the ‘root’ or ‘first’ chakra, and, together with the chair, reflects a grounding energy. The energy of the root chakra is based on the stability of the earth-element, laying the foundation for opening the other chakras positioned above in the body. Working to live a more expanded existence is key, and nothing emblemizes this focus better than sitting under the spotlight on a red chair in centre-stage of your own life.
SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, SUSTAINABILITY. WE HEAR THESE WORDS TOGETHER A LOT; HOW DO WE MAKE IT HAPPEN?
Anybody can make it happen via there own inimitable ways. From my standpoint, there has been no greater tool than Kundalini Yoga to fuel my energy, foster my empathy and ignite my discipline. This inner balance propels me toward opportunities, people and experiences that reflect what I need to do and where I must serve to the best of my ability.
My work has led me to disadvantaged parts of the world, including to Palestine, where I trace my roots. As a political scientist who has worked in strategic communication and public affairs, I have a calling to collaborate with people across the war-torn countries of the Middle East, to foster conflict resolution, healing and empathy for the other. I am currently working on community projects that will take me to those disenfranchised environments. I realize now, more than ever, that I can’t wait until conditions are perfect to begin. I know that just beginning my work, however seemingly ‘small’, carries within it, it’s own perfection.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO CREATE A COLLECTIVE AWARENESS ON THE ABOVE ISSUES?
Vietnamese poet and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said that “When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” I truly believe this. The ‘collective’ is but a collection of individuals, each one contributing to something bigger, something greater than themselves.
The real work begins by making our own hearts a place of peace and integrity first. When this flourishes within so does our compassion and respect for the other. It takes practice but under such circumstances, collective peace has a chance to thrive. Living a conscious life is about seeing the humanity in all; that mistakes and suffering are universal and that forgiveness is the only true conduit to peace.
It sounds like a platitude but creating awareness is as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. The beautiful thing about Kundalini Yoga is that it strengthens discipline. Even in a class, there is often a point after three minutes where the mind becomes restless, frustrated and ready to ‘give up’. If we transcend that moment of discomfort and rise beyond the limitations of the ‘monkey’ mind, the dividends exceed the mere physical. For me, this translates into my greater ability to set seemingly unachievable goals and meet them. Challenges become opportunities in disguise.
WHAT ARE MAJOR TOPICAL ISSUES THAT ACCORDING TO YOU NEED ATTENTION?
Everything needs attention in life. Peace and justice, not allowing the heavy hand and darker aspects of globalization to destroy communities. From climate change, gender equality, racism and the global refugee crisis, to poverty, HIV/ AIDS and other public health issues, the list is endless but not hopeless.
HOW DOES RED CHAIR PROMOTE WELLNESS?
The platform has helped pave the way for numerous talks, events and trainings in the realm of emotional intelligence and wellness. This year for example, we ran the second ever Kundalini Research Institute (KRI) Level 1 Teacher Training in the Gulf, to assist more teachers to share the jewels of Kundalini Yoga regionally. We will also be helping to facilitate Beyond Addiction, an internationally-recognized recovery program for addiction. The platform has supported mindfulness initiatives for Dubai schools and worked with holistic facilitators, nutritionists and wellness coaches across a myriad of topics.
Going forward, I am working more closely with platforms throughout the region, including with Integrative Health platform, Wellness World. Together, we are set to embark on a Lightness of Being holistic retreat that combines Kundalini Yoga, group sharing activities, massage and site-seeing in a blissful location in Sri Lanka. Retreat dates are already fixed for November 2018 over the UAE National Day weekend (November 27 – December 2). My commitment is for participants to return home refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated.
CAN YOU GIVE US 10 TIPS TO PROMOTE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE?
1. Become more self-aware: To become aware of others’ emotions it is vital to be aware of your own. Rediscover what is comfortable for you to do and to be. There is no need to prove anything to anyone by forcing yourself to be someone you are not. Live more authentically.
2. Respond, Rather Than React: Reacting is when we instinctively experience an emotional trigger and behave in an unconscious way. Responding is when we observe how we are feeling, and consciously decide how to respond. Identify your triggers.
3. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: Empathy is a powerful emotion. The more we understand ourselves, as well as the perspective of others, the easier we can gauge any resistance or issues that may emerge.
4. Be flexible; get out of your comfort zone: We get into trouble when we resist change, stop learning and address challenges in a repetitive unsuccessful loop. New experiences and opportunities often unveil tremendous personal and professional fulfillment.
5. Be vulnerable: When we demonstrate vulnerability, we foster empathy with others. We have all made mistakes, experienced shame and endured failings. Own these aspects of yourself and share them freely.
6. Know your strengths: Knowing yourself well allows you to make sound choices in life.
7. Serve: Social responsibility is not a vanity project; it is about how we can support, help and elevate others. I consider this to be one of the highest expressions of emotional maturity.
8. Praise More: While it’s true that flattery won’t get you everywhere, praising others when appropriate, definitely helps. We all thrive with validation, and what we recognize gets repeated. Be alert and praise people that are doing a good job.
9. Do something for your body: Yoga, Tai Chi, dance, walks in nature or whatever you enjoy, ground the spirit. Experience different practices and stick with what feels best. The physical body is the vehicle that carries us onwards and upwards.
10. Create a Positive Environment: Connect with friends on a similar wavelength, be motivated by one another and discover inspiring mentors to connect with. These meaningful relationships are precious. Spend more time smiling as well. Smiling is contagious!