Opera singer Kathryn McCusker talks to In The Moment about discovering Kundalini yoga and how it has changed her life…
Tell us about yourself! What is your official title? Where are you based?
Most people know me as Kathryn McCusker or Kanga (a nickname I have had since I was about 10 years old!) When I studied Kundalini Yoga I was given a spiritual name, Sarb Sewak, which means to serve creation.
I was born in Perth, Western Australia and have been a professional opera singer for over 20 years. I graduated from the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia majoring in voice and piano. I then won a scholarship to sing at the Sydney Opera House and spent seven years as a principal soprano with Opera Australia. I was curious to see more of the world, so I decided to move to London and go freelance, travelling the world singing and performing.
In 2000 whilst on a retreat in Yucatan, Mexico I discovered Kundalini Yoga, and I was so inspired by my experience that I decided to do the teacher training in London and France.
After eleven years of living in London and working as a singer and yoga teacher, I then moved back to Sydney in 2010 with a dream to open a yoga studio. I founded KMYOGA, Sydney’s only dedicated Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Studio, on 11.11.11 and ran it for three years, until the birth of my daughter.
I am now based back in London and have been teaching Kundalini Yoga for over 15 years throughout the world. I have written ‘Everyday Kundalini’ and produced several mantra meditation CD’s.
How did you first discover yoga? Had you had any experience with yoga before you discovered Kundalini?
I first discovered yoga when I was at high school, however I became more curious and committed to exploring yoga and meditation when I started studying music, voice and performing at University. I soon realised it was a great tool to awaken creativity focus the mind, discipline the body and bring more awareness to the body, mind and breath.
Before discovering Kundalini, I dabbled in a few different yoga styles, mainly Hatha, Yin and Ashtanga, however none of them inspired and moved me as deeply as Kundalini Yoga!
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Tell us about your career as an opera singer – how did you get into it? Has it helped at all with your experience with yoga?
I enjoyed music and singing from a young age and was exposed to different styles of music throughout my childhood, with classical music as a strong influence.
I discovered early on that I had a natural and mature voice and I realise now that singing was like meditation and it was a way of expressing my creative energy. My first singing teacher was an inspiration and I am grateful to her. She recognised I had a natural talent, nurtured my voice and encouraged me to study voice and performance. I wasn’t particularly focused on becoming an opera singer, it just seemed how my voice developed.
My second singing teacher at University was an opera singer, so she introduced me to the world of opera and felt that my voice was more suited to that style of singing. She suggested I audition for Opera Australia in Sydney before graduating.
I was then offered a scholarship, so that is how my career as a professional opera singer began! I was with Opera Australia as a principal soprano for seven years, then moved to London to further my career. I have sung in lots of interesting places in Australia and Europe and I have been fortunate enough to be involved in some exciting productions. Singing Titania in the opera ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, directed by Baz Luhrmann at the Edinburgh Festival has been a highlight.
As a singer, you spend years studying the body, breath, voice, languages and voice. Kundalini focuses a lot on breath and chanting mantra, so the experience didn’t feel foreign to me as a singer. Chanting is different to singing, however both are expressions of the voice and energy.
Performing and teaching yoga require a deep understanding and an awareness of the body, mind and breath and it takes a certain amount of confidence to perform in front of thousands of people and teach a group of students, so both compliment one another.
We saw that you are interested in the connection between Kundalini and creativity – tell us more! Is there anything in particular that we can do that links the two?
I have been surrounded by creativity for most of my life and I am always curious about anything that inspires me creatively. Kundalini Yoga directly channels your creative life force and opens the mind and body. This is one of the reasons it resonated with me.
Kundalini Yoga combines asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), movement, stretching, mantra (sacred sounds), mudra (hand positions) and relaxation to create exercises, kriyas (sets) and meditations. These components make it very creative, in the sense that you have to trust in the process, let go and open yourself to a new and different experience. Some Kundalini kriyas can seem very strange, however these are usually the ones that fuel creativity!
I feel that Kundalini is a powerful practice for everyone, especially those in a creative field. You will find a lot of actors, musicians and artists practice Kundalini as it helps to clear blocks relatively quickly, build inner confidence and awaken more creative energy. I have taught major international popstars and Hollywood actors who practise Kundalini precisely for these reasons. It opens your mind and body to spark your imagination, which is important to nourish as a creative. I have had so many creative ideas and insights through my Kundalini practice and the energy propels me into action.
In my book ‘Everyday Kundalini’, you will find a Meditation to Awaken Kundalini and Creativity . Practicing this meditation gives you an awareness of Kundalini and creativity. It is a great way to clear blocks and channel creativity.
Tell us about an average day in your life – what’s your daily routine?
I like to wake up by 6am and walk our labrador. I then do my yoga and meditation practice for about one hour, either at home or in our local park, depending on the weather! I enjoy having breakfast with my husband and 3 year old daughter, chatting about our day ahead. This is our focused family time, as we don’t usually have dinner together during the weekdays, as I teach most evenings. I have yoga classes and private sessions throughout the day, so I like to set aside one to two hours in the mornings to prepare for my classes, before taking my daughter to nursery.
If I have time later in the afternoon, I usually focus on answering emails, preparing for future workshops and retreats, as well as any future creative projects. At the moment I am in the middle of producing a series of Kundalini Yoga Detox and Cleanse videos as well as planning another Mantra Meditation CD, so there is always plenty to inspire me creatively!
I am usually home late in the evenings and I am fortunate that my husband enjoys cooking, so he usually prepares the dinner. If there is time, I read a book or listen to music and do a short meditation with breath, and then it’s usually time for bed!
What’s the best part about being a Kundalini teacher and writer?
One of the joys of being a Kundalini teacher is witnessing how the teachings have benefited people and hearing their stories of how the practice has impacted their lives in so many different ways – mentally, physically and emotionally – whether it is helping people living with cancer, or coping with a hectic life schedule.
Being an author has been a cathartic and creative journey. From an early age, I loved expressing my thoughts through writing, so writing is an extension of me and I enjoy the whole process. With my book ‘Everyday Kundalini’, my objective was to demystify these ancient teachings, making the practice more accessible to everyone, no matter what your age, background or beliefs.
Photography by Karen Yeomans and Jules Selmes. Read more in In The Moment issue 13 – out in the UK on 29 May 2018. Images from Everyday Kundalini: Yoga, Meditation, Mantras and Breathing to Empower and Transform Your Life by Kathryn McCusker (Watkins, £14.99)