Five years ago on this day, I packed a month’s worth of black yoga pants, long-sleeved tees, and sports bras and headed to the Berkshires in Massachusetts for the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health’s 200-hour yoga teacher training monthlong intensive.
I had been counting down the days until Bryan and I took off for the 4.5-hour car ride from New Jersey, eager to spend my mornings and nights om’ing and downdogging. I sat nervously in the car as we headed north, the trees along the highway getting thinner and more bare, the bright and fiery red, orange, and yellow leaves gradually shifting into more browns and naked branches as approached the Massachusetts state line. Every time we stopped the car to stretch our legs, the air that hit our face felt cooler than it did at the last stop.
When we finally pulled into the parking lot in front of Kripalu’s main building, I burst into tears and sob into Bryan’s sweatshirt, feeling like a youngster being dropped off for her first day of kindergarten.
When I check in, I get a nametag that has a star on it. I later find out the star designates me as a “newbie,” someone who’s never been to Kripalu before. Those without stars are like the 6th graders of elementary school. The do not cry when they walk into the lobby for the first time, and they walk around campus with their heads high, secure, smiling. They are adjusted. I only know one other person here, but not very closely. When Bryan leaves to head back home, I feel utterly and completely alone and begin to regret my decision to stay here for a month.
It’s a bit like college at Kripalu, I notice. People walk around in slippers, barefoot, wearing robes, shawls, dreadlocks, bandanas, do-rags. Our dorm door does not lock, everything is Open. People leave their yoga mat, shoes, whatever outside the rooms and alongside their bed without fear of it being stolen. It’s safe here.
At 4:15, I take a gentle yoga class with Evelyn. She reiterates the obvious, in a good way. I am speaking. There is noise below us. The heat is coming out of the vents. The soft music is playing. You are here.
I come in and out of crying. I close my eyes for the first half of class and realize I am trying to hide the fact that I’m here, away from home. When I first open my eyes and see the ceiling, the giant stained glass Om symbol, I am lost, scared. By the end of savasana, however, the lost feeling is slowly fading.
Cell phones are not permitted in Kripalu’s common areas, and I must use the luggage room to call Bryan. I am told there is a lights-out rule in the dorm rooms by 10 p.m. Crazy rules that would seem absurd at home are completely reasonable here.
Tension. I am still scared, even after gentle yoga and talking with Bryan. My jaw is tight, my eyes burn with residual tears, I cannot relax. Every moment is awkward, from figuring out when I should shower, where to get coffee, when to use the gym.
Dinner that night is warm and nourishing. Country fried tofu, salad, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, organic bread, soup, orange juice.
The training program officially begins that night, after dinner. Our facilitators are Megha (vibrant! energetic! bold!) and Rudy (soft, subtle, gentle). We sit in a circle, say our names, where we’re from, and three words. Jennifer, New Jersey, Breathe, Dance, Release.
We got to a personal altar that has been set up for us, where there is a candle, training manual, mala beads, and a card with a yoga posture on it. I am parighasana (gate). We reflect on what yoga means to us. We write it down:
Light! I am illuminated from the inside out–I can dance without inhibition. An energy that was once dormant is able to run through my blood, my veins, and out through my heart, arms, and legs. Peace! I don’t get angry so quickly. I respect others’ feelings and opinions. I am drawn to the human race. I feel we are one.
And then we chant, about inquiry. Atha Yoga Nushasanam. We do this in three circles, gradually. Walking in closer and closer. The sound is amazing. We are a choir. It gets louder and stronger as we come closer. I feel like crying, it’s so beautiful! We Om three times, stronger each time. Some people harmonize. Instant peace. I find myself smiling like a goofball, so awe-inspired, filled, in love with everyone around me. We make eye contact with our classmates and there is joy in everyone’s eyes.
We flow from goddess, warrior I, warrior II, reverse warrior, extended side angle, back to warrior I to music of chanting. The flow is alive. I am smiling!
Our assistants are Jurian, Roger, Leila, and Helga. They tell us over and over again that they are here for us, the wind beneath our wings. I feel so encouraged. No one is trying to trick us, play with our minds. Honest, caring, open, trusting.
It’s nearly 10 p.m., and I am emotionally drained. This is my bed for the next month: