Talking Shop with Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Khalsa is board certified in anesthesiology, pain management, and anti-aging medicine and is president and medical director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Foundation. But the real elixir he prescribes is yoga in the Kundalini tradition. He shares the empowering effect of his Kundalini practices in his new book, Meditation as Medicine, coauthored with Cameron Stauth (Pocket Books, 2001), in which a number of medical meditations that heal physical and emotional maladies are described. We caught up with him in Tucson, Arizona.
Yoga Journal: You were already a practicing anesthesiologist in Albuquerque when you met Kundalini Master Yogi Bhajan. How did that meeting change the way you practice medicine?
Dharma Singh Khalsa: I was practicing yoga in medical school with Richard Hittleman's book 28 Days to Yoga. When I went to San Francisco, I took the Transcendental Meditation program. I figured if it was good enough for the Beatles, it was good enough for me. After completing my medical training, I took my first hospital job in New Mexico, started studying Kundalini Yoga with a few teachers, and had the opportunity to meet Yogi Bhajan. Meeting him accelerated my exploration of alternative medicine.
YJ: What next?
DSK: Having a spiritual practice actually improved my business. It gave me a certain peace that people recognized. Surgeons began requesting me to do their anesthesia, and I found that I could teach patients to relax before surgery. Later, in 1987, after studying acupuncture, I began working with people suffering from severe chronic pain.
YJ: Is there a big difference between the Kundalini practices as taught to you by Yogi Bhajan and the medical meditations you describe in your book?
DSK: No. The practice is undiluted. This is the way it was taught to Yogi Bhajan. This is the way he taught it to us. He's a master of Kundalini Yoga and Mahan Tantric. Don't forget that he's been studying yoga since he was 3 years old, and he's 70. He became a master at 17. When we went to high school, he went to yoga school. The practices were taught in secret to one worthy disciple at a time. When Yogi Bhajan came here in 1969, he broke that tradition of secrecy. He said, "I'm in the desert, I have some water, and I'm going to offer it freely."
YJ: How is medical meditation different from other forms of meditation?
DSK: It's more specific than other forms of meditation, and it's faster because it combines five unique attributes: breath, posture, mantra, mudra, and focus.
YJ: Why is mudra, or placing the fingers in particular positions, important?
DSK: If you look at the map of the brain, the homunculus, you see that the nerve endings on the fingertips correspond to more areas of the brain than any other area of the body except maybe the tongue and the lips. Each fingertip has a different spot in the motor sensory area, so when you touch them, you light up that part of the brain, and when you do that in combination with a sound, you not only release information from the command center of the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary, but certain neuronal pathways are switched on and off. The combination of the sounds and the fingertips, along with the breath, activates neural pathways to give you a feeling of spirit, or transcendence or being close to God, and stimulates the various healing properties of the brain.
YJ: How can medical meditation slow down the aging process?
DSK: By stimulating the endocrine system. The glands wear out as we age, producing fewer hormones. You're as young as your spine is flexible, your hormones are active, and your nervous system is strong.