My coworker/5Rhythms classmate left yesterday for a yoga nidra workshop at Kripalu. A whole week of savasana…now that’s a relaxing retreat!
Instead of being insanely jealous about her vacation, I decided to bring a little bit of Kripalu into my own Sunday morning. About a week ago, Kripalu uploaded a video of a full-length moderate yoga class to its YouTube channel. This was a wonderful surprise, because up until then most of the videos were just short yoga breaks or interviews with staff/experts. This class was an hour long; led by one of Kripalu’s leading men, Devarshi (Steven Hartman); and had all the elements of an authentic Kripalu yoga class offered at the actual center. I spread out my yoga mat on the living room floor, opened the blinds to let in the sunlight, and began.
The class started with one of my favorite pranayama exercises: alternate nostril breath. Sadly, not many classes I attend at home dedicate time solely to breathwork, so I was thrilled to sit and focus on my inhalations and exhalations. I honestly believe that starting practice with focused breathing brings everything to center and really gets the mind, body, and spirit connected before moving on. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a Kripalu yoga class that doesn’t start with pranayama, and some end with it as well!
Many of the pratapana (warm-up) movements involved hara breaths, which means taking deep inhalations through the nose and strong, forceful exhalations through the mouth, while saying “Ha!” We did this during the “empty coat sleeves” twist, monkey arms side bends, and while sweeping the arms overhead (inhale) and then collapsing down (Ha!). The breath, the vocals, and the invigorating movement warmed me up instantaneously, and I felt a nice, warm juiced-up vibe flowing within me. At one point, I even remember thinking, “Man, I feel good!”
Another Kripalu trademark is long posture holds, which made its appearance during a simple standing position. Devarshi instructed us to hold our arms to the side in a T, palms facing out. Sounds simple, right? But then we held it. And held it. And continued holding our arms out. We made small circles going one way. Small circle in the other direction. Devarshi encouraged us to think positive thoughts (“My arms are strong!”) rather than the negative thoughts that first come to mind (“This is haarrrrddd!”). We breathed through it, relaxing and smiling into the stretch. There is such a fine line between wanting to give up and finally getting over that mental block of a hump and being OK with the warm sensations running through the chest, shoulders, arms, and hands, maybe actually enjoying it.
One of my favorite postures of the practice turned out to be one of most dreaded poses: utkatasana, chair pose. But the way Devarshi eased us into it–first just a slight bend at the knee, add a little bounce, arms loose, wrists relaxed–felt natural and tolerable. The best part was when he adding a little “snap” to the pose, guiding us to snap our fingers and sway our hips side to side, like a number in a Bob Fosse show. Holy crap, was I actually enjoying this rather long hold of utkatasana?!
There were no fancy poses, not even a single downdog, but the sequencing, languaging, and contemplative/meditative nature of the Kripalu practice made me remember why I trained in this style in the first place and that a yoga practice doesn’t need 25 sun salutations to feel “real.” After savasana, an om, and a triple shanti, Devarshi closed the class with a “jai bhagwan,” which totally brought a smile to my lips because it reminded me of every single yoga class at Kripalu, where “jai bhagwan” totally trumps “namaste.”
So if you’re ever stuck at home and don’t have time for a studio class, I wholeheartedly recommended this little gem of a YouTube video, especially if you’re familiar with the Kripalu style or curious about what a typical Kripalu class is like. The only thing missing was being able to roll up my mat; step outside for a deep breath of that cool, crisp Berkshire Mountain air; and enjoy my silent breakfast surrounded by other blissed-out yogis.
Instead, I poured my morning coffee in the black Kripalu mug that got me through all 28 days of training and enjoyed my breakfast next to the sunflowers from this weekend’s farmers market. Not quite a mountain retreat but I felt just a little closer to home.