International yoga teacher Maya Fiennes tells our editor Rosalind how she’s used Kundalini to spread positivity throughout the world
“How can you free your mind if you have loads of these books to read and boxes to tick?” was one of Maya’s first questions for me during our Zoom call. It’s a good question, and one we would explore in detail in our hour-long chat (5pm for me, 9am for her in LA). “I give that positive outlook to people in their fifties. They often say, ‘oh my god, if she can look like this, we can look like that.’ I like to always uplift people and give them that idea that anybody can, you just have to look after yourself with breathing and yoga. That’s what yoga does. So I’m a good representative of that.” I certainly agree, which was why I couldn’t think of a better cover girl for the first ever yoga issue of Soul & Spirit.
An expert yoga teacher specialising in Kundalini, the ‘mother of all yogas’, Maya has gone one better by incorporating an energising mixture of movement, breath, mantra and meditation, chanting, singing, laughter and many other intuition-led modalities to energise and inspire her thousands of followers through her trademarked yoga empire Kundadance. It’s a truly modern take on the 5000-year-old yoga technique, and one our modern world desperately needs. As I transcribe our interview, I thank Goddess we have someone so down-to-earth to lead us through more potential dark times ahead, a woman who knows a thing or two about channelling joy out of thin air, even under socialist rule during her childhood in Macedonia.
Dalai Lama doc
“There’s a new documentary movie on the Dalai Lama called Never Forget Tibet being screened in 800 cinemas here in the USA on 31st March, and I’m in the closing ceremony! I’m lifting people up with breathwork and the divine ‘Waheguru’ mantra, but the coolest thing is all the viewers will be doing the breathing and exercises along with me, and that’s never been done. Look out for it in the UK later this year!”
Author of 2011 book Yoga for Real Life, the audiobook read by her daughter, actress Shanti Fiennes (Maya is in the famous Fiennes family, her former brothers-in-law including actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes), she also has a new book The Bigger Picture coming out soon. “The new book is all about me taking groups and different teacher training courses in seven different countries, which correlate to seven different chakras. It has been such a beautiful journey. I started writing it when I was in Rishikesh, India two years ago. I was invited to Sattva Yoga Academy, the big ashram. I was teaching there opening a festival, and we did my Kundadance. Everyone had been asking me for years ‘where is the new book?’ so I’m sitting on the Ganges at four o’clock in the morning, you know, we’re all wrapped up, and I say ‘God, tell me if there is anything I must do’. Immediately the message came in, just like that. Now, two years later, I’ve come back to that project, and finished it off with a different consciousness, because I’m a different person. My expansion is different. And it’s even going be a TV show, as there’s so many locations included in it. I even filmed some of it in Somerset and Ireland!”
Maya in MexicoI was invited to Mexico City and I led 6000 peopl – here’s the little video! It was really well organized by Deepak Chopra. So I lifted people and then we went deep into meditation, and I’m very good personal friend with Deepak. So we did it next to each other together! Even Hilary Swank was there. I mean, there were a lot of actors there, it was a big event. So it was really great, because that’s how I kind of launched Kundadance! You can see in the audience all the people, younger and older, dancing together, and even the VIP section was so empty, you know! But within five minutes, it was full. They were jumping around, it was so great.
In this two-year expansion period during the last two years of the pandemic, Maya tells me her business doubled, with more people than ever signing up to remote virtual teacher training. “The fact that we had actual breathing time to actually stop gave us that new expansion. All the structures and systems are becoming different, and people are breaking out of their boxes. Unfortunately, we had to be forced into this due to the virus, but our consciousness has expanded in ways that we never expected. So I see a very positive future ahead.
“For years I would travel for two months in the spring and two months in the autumn, always in Europe, to new places and to retreats. But due to the pandemic I had to completely restructure my whole business and also who I am as a person, someone who is now easier and calmer with technology. We were all at home, and then we are trying to find that expansion within that stillness. So now I incorporate those moments of stillness and meditation within my movement. I really went deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper within. When I teach now, I even feel light on me, and my students take pictures because at some angles, I look all white, glowing, glowing, glowing in the sun. Oh my god, in the last webinar we had 750 people! I find that now I’m much more approachable and much more present. I’m there for people; they can call, text or email me anytime.”
The breadth of her knowledge is so expansive I can already feel energy coming through the Zoom screen from 5,000 miles away. “I actually teach Qigong and standing meditation, slow movement, with the hands completely slowing down your body, slowing down your mind, slowing down your emotions, like the whole thing. Qigong has been a very big component for me, as well as Tai Chi. So I’m always expanding in my education. When I was in Beijing and teaching, I also wanted to be taught by the best Qigong Master, Master XU [pronounced ‘Choo’]. I love sharing knowledge, anything I learn, I share pretty much immediately.”
Sign up for free to Maya’s newsletters at her website and feel the joy and happiness reverberating off even her emails. “I really focus on joy,” she tells me. “During the lockdowns, I was not giving in to fear, instead I went into love. I was committed to positive thinking, and that’s what I was teaching people, so I had to do it myself. I’m one of these experiential people. I’m my own biggest guinea pig, because I experience everything before I share it and I see the first-hand effects of it. I asked people a few years ago when I was redesigning my website ‘How do you see me?’ and I got this name of ‘guru of joy’. So, access to joy. That’s what we’ll put on the website. Kundalini Yoga can be very heavy, it’s all the old ways of learning through pain and suffering. This way is uncomfortable, and it was the way of learning in the Age of Pisces. But now we are in the Age of Aquarius and I want to learn through joy. So enough of the past, it’s a new future! To design Kundadance from traditional Kundalini, I combined the Tai Chi and Qigong, the feminine side, with technologies and modalities, the masculine action side, which really suits my personality. Before I know it, I made a whole hour of us standing and jumping into a system. It became like, ‘okay, let’s go through the system of chakras and every movement, and let’s do seven minutes of each.’ I’m an open channel receiving all the time, and I say to Spirit, ‘I allow you to use me as a vehicle, a pure channel, for whatever you want me to say. Whatever you want me to do, I allow that. I give permission’”.
It’s her next spiritual self-care tip that really influences me. “Every night, for 20 minutes before I go to bed, I light incense and a candle and I shake. I literally just do this [rigorously shakes her hands and arms and head, and I join in]. It’s the best exercise for trauma. Any negativity, anything you collected during the day you might not be conscious of, is in the memory cells in the body. At the same time, I do a Kundalini spiritual prayer and crack open a window so all the negativity can leave. Then I go to sleep like a baby.”
“Now we are in the Age of Aquarius, I want to learn through joy!”
My own experience of true Kundalini has not been extensive, although I remember enjoying the classic Breath of Fire pranayama [breathwork] technique. There is so much spiritual scope to the practice, so much potential for fun and frivolity, I am not surprised Maya wanted to add the ‘dance’ element to it. “I say, ‘let’s make it fun!’ I tell my class what they’re going through, every process in every minute. It’s like motivational speaking. That’s my force. I do not like rules and regulations – I grew up in communism and socialism, so now I run away from anybody who tells me what to do. But any kind of yoga can be very strict. I understand breaking through pain – there is a big benefit there. You can get through temporary pain with a smile, and decide ‘I’m going to get through this’. So there’s always the option in life to say ‘I’m not going to react, I’m going to respond’ so that you don’t build up karma. Any choice you make through fear, it just builds more karma that you then have to clear – there’s no other way. You have to go through those lessons. The same things will keep coming back until you cross that river, and yoga helps to release and find joy. I’m a musician, I compose the music for it too. I know for each position what emotion it brings out, and that emotion has a specific sound. So I make that sound for it, and they match, and the yogic experience becomes bigger.”
Maya’s musical intuition became apparent when she was six years old and always wanted to play piano. “In Macedonia, there is lots of music, almost every house has a piano. Instead of playing with the kids at parties, I would see the piano and start imitating playing it. I got weird looks but eventually I was tested for my talent and started learning how to play. When I read the chords and musical notes all vertical like this [gestures up and down], you realise chakras are vertical too. Horizontal is a 3D world, but vertical is where you go into different dimensions. That’s how I see life now, my thoughts and everything go vertically. Anyway, when I was younger, I was also at nursing school and doing gymnastics, I was winning competitions, but then I got a scholarship to do a Masters Degree at the Royal College of Music in London. I was 20 years old, and London opened my eyes in a completely different way. I was signed up to play piano scores for big companies like Warner Brothers and I was getting so nervous about it. Then somebody told me to start yoga. That was 30 years ago! My breathing became so much softer, so now, based on my experience, I say to people that it doesn’t matter why they start yoga. I didn’t start it from any spiritual aspect! But one of my teachers, Shiv, is a numerologist. He told me “You have a master number, you are a master, you have to teach yoga, this is your vocation. Put all your skills into yoga. Just trust and it will definitely happen.”
Teacher training dates & tour
18th March-20th June 200 hrs Online Teacher Training
22nd May – London 200 hrs Teacher Training
25th June-3rd July – Ibiza Workshop, Retreat and Kundadance Training
And happen it did. These days Maya has thousands of happy customers and teachers in training throughout the world. “We have trained about 500 people now. There wil be another 500 this year, and throughout the years people are doing it and spreading joy. Some people who have already qualified want to do the course again, and I let them at half the usual price. Some people from my teacher training even work for me now because they truly understand my work. Somebody even said the training was ‘better than 10 years of therapy’. When I hear that, that my heart is in the right place, that I’m giving back to humanity, I’m in service, it makes me so happy.”
With a packed set of offerings online, there’s loads for beginners to try. “First, sign up to my website and get a few things for free: De-stress and Detox is for the adrenals and it’s the first video I ever did and still the most successful. Then you’re onto the next step, such as enrolling on a bundle of six classes. Then you go a little further; we have the 777 program, which is seven minutes a day, but you have to do it every week for seven weeks. That’s a very good taster for people who are busy, like for my corporates. I’m trying to get them to be disciplined about it.”
Now try something new
Easy breathwork for joy
Try this five-minute ritual when you are feeling frustrated and closed up, or when you want to become more open to the world. Kids love this one too!
1 Sit in easy pose [crosslegged] or on a chair and close your eyes. Keeping your arms close to your sides, bend your elbows so that your hands and palms face each other. As you inhale, bring your right arm up into a sixty degree angle, then continue this movement with hands up and down. Inhale when the arm is up, exhale when the arm is down, and continue for five minutes.
2 It’s easier with some fun, rhythmical music in the background. The challenge is to keep it up, and not stop moving. You will find halfway through that your arms start to ache and you will long to stop, but after about two and a half minutes it will start to get easier. You have to believe in yourself and trust the process, as endorphins will rush in and you will experience real joy. You have to persevere, remembering that sometimes struggle helps us grow stronger.
3 When you finish, shake your hands and rest for a few minutes to allow the integration of body, mind and spirit to happen.
Maya Fiennes is a former music composer and now an international yoga expert and founder of Kundadance. She resides in LA. Visit mayafiennes.com
Pick up our first ever yoga and breathwork issue of Soul & Spirit, the April 2022 issue, in all major supermarkets and newsagents across the UK, Ireland, United States and select stores across Australia and New Zealand. Alternatively, read us online via Amazon Kindle, Readly or Pocketmags. Read more about the issue here.