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The other day as I was driving to work on a particularly cloudy, drizzly, and ho-hum morning, I experimented with flipping the car radio to one of the local stations that’s currently broadcasting Christmas carols around the clock. I do not normally condone such pre-season holly jolly activities, but I figured that since Christmas songs are associated with mirth and merriment, perhaps just a song or two about Santa Claus and a few merry gentlemen would stir up enough warm and fuzzy feelings to get me into the office with a smile on my face.

What's cuter than Grandmom playing with the train set?

However, after just a few seconds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I had switch back to the traditional hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today. The holiday music felt wrong, so out of place for that early November morning, like someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me on June 10 instead of July 30. Yet, in a way, I was disappointed about not being receptive to the music. I spend so much energy resisting this early onslaught of Christmas in stores, in TV commercials, and in people’s homes (walked by a house on November 14 with a tree already set up), that I thought to myself, Why resist, Jen? Just welcome it in, let the Christmas spirit flow through you as it is elsewhere around the country. Don’t wrinkle your nose at the fact that Santa made his debut at the mall on November 5, giving out candy canes even though pumpkins filled with candy corn and bite-size Three Musketeers are still sitting on the kitchen counters of every American household. That’s not a good attitude.

But as soon as I tried to welcome it in, the door slammed shut. I just did not want to hear about one’s experience rockin’ round the Christmas tree on November 14. And as much as I love Starbucks, I do not love getting my pumpkin spice latte served in a red cup. The resistance returns.

But there’s a reason for the resistance, and it all has to do with nostalgia. I can thank Kathy O’Connell from WXPN’s Kids Corner for this realization (yes, it’s true that I sometimes listen to the made-for-kids radio show), as she pointed out that, for her, the Christmas spirit is not allowed to creep into her system until Santa arrives at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only then will she begin listening to Christmas songs, consider dressing in red and green, and pick out greeting cards, because that’s the way it used to be growing up.

Dress appropriately for Thanksgiving...

...and then for Christmas.

Now, Kathy is much older than me, but even back when I was a kid in the ’80s, the same theory applied. There was never any talk of Christmas before Thanksgiving, and even then I remember being confused why Santa Claus participated in the Thanksgiving parade. My hometown had a holiday parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and for me, that‘s when Christmas could begin. The turkey was carved, pumpkin pie consumed, Black Friday shopping done. That’s the way it used to be. Those were the good ol’ days, when Santa’s Village at the mall didn’t open until after Thanksgiving ended, when candy canes were handed out only after all of your Halloween peanut butter cups were fully digested and eliminated.

So it seems that as great of a holiday Christmas is, most of us are programmed remembering the way it used to be, and that’s the way we can’t tolerate Bing Crosby when the trees are still covered in yellow and orange leaves. Perhaps the younger generations of today will be A-OK with mistletoe and fake cobwebs being sold side-by-side on the same shelves when they become adults, but for most of us right now, we’re just trying to hold onto a little magic from our youth, upholding tradition, and doing everything in our power to prevent orange and black M&Ms from ever mingling with the red and green ones.

Creepy dead Haunted Mansion flowers first...

...then the Christmas tree may follow.

(In honor of the 5-year anniversary of my monthlong yoga teacher training at Kripalu, I am documenting the experience as it unfolded in my handwritten journal. Day 1 can be found here. Fun fact: I just realized today that somewhere along the way I must have messed up the dates, because the events below actually happened on November 16, and now everything is off by one day. HOWEVER! Now the actual days of the week match up, and my graduation will be on a Friday, as it was in real life.)

Five years (or so) ago on this day, it is the Final Full Day. I have no sentences, no complete phrases–just raw, intense emotion.

In Shadowbrook, we do a beautiful “dance” routine to a Cherokee version of “Amazing Grace,” a circular formation with gentle hand gestures and welcoming new partners. We cry, of course. Later, the recording crew comes into the room to record and film us again, this time chanting “Ganesha Sharanam.” The product is sweaty, exhilarating, exhausting, lively, energizing. There are more people standing than ever, instruments, twirls and whirls, stomping, clapping. E. and I hold hands and twirl each other around the dancing room, our faces standing still as the world unfurls madly behind us. It’s a perfect example of my practice teach, finding the stillness among the chaos. We are spinning wildly within a crowd of wild people, but I feel so still, frozen in time. At one point, H. grooves on a cowbell, and I tune into his rhythm, just me and the cowbell–no chanting, no clapping, no harmonium. I am able to look closely.

Someone finds a box of colorful silk scarves, and they erupt into the air like a theatrical volcano explosion. Everyone rushes to grab one, and we dance with our new toys. Mine is indigo, the crown chakra. I fan it around the space, leaping through the cushions, showering the seated chanters with my silken touch. I swirl around them, fanning A., who is off to the side playing a drum. When the music slows and eventually ends, I intuitively fold my indigo scarf into a little square and hold it tight in my hands, a single tear rolling down my cheek.

Megha cranks up “Bootylicious,” and we all rub out buttocks and form a “soul train” line, each taking turns in pairs, grooving among our friends. My brain goes on slo-mo, and I immerse myself in the activity, my eyes zeroing in on each person, each face, each smile, as it parades down the line. I look at each person singularly and feel a deep connection to everyone who wiggles, shakes, and glissades past me.

We start a chanting/sadhana/out-of-this-world experience, starting with “So Hum Shivo Hum,” my affirmation. The passion I hear at the front of the room, both Megha and Rudy chanting, is sweet and beautiful and enchanting. I literally roll in it, coming to my mat and spreading my limbs in sound. I sway, crawl, squirm on my mat, the tears and snot and pain and delight coming out everywhere. It is almost torturous, like someone is dying in front of me. I am dying in front of me. The chants change, Rudy and Megha singing almost a lullaby of sorts. A dirge, a prayer, a worship celebration, a funeral, a birthday…everything. My movement just rolls and stops and rolls and pauses. Why do I continue to move, in spite of the agony? BRFWA to its extent. Roger begins leading us through asana, and I try to follow him, but I end up first just sitting, then curling into a fetal position. Sobbing, breaking, dying. Someone comes up from behind me, brushes my hair back, and props a pillow under my head. To this day I have no idea who the witness was.

Savasana. What a wild ride that becomes. My eyes are filled with pools of tears, and I ever-so-slightly crack open my eyelids to have slits of light come through. The effect is something incredible, a swirling, glowing, lake of light–all in my head! It was so brilliant, so fluid and heavenly and golden that I thought maybe I had reached samadhi. I felt crazy. I felt like I was high on drugs. Glowing swirls of liquid light, in my eyes, in my brain. I saw several visions: a Buddha figure, then a vivid image of the Dalai Lama. A mental image of F. and L. standing by the ocean, looking out at the beach from the boardwalk. I got the sensation I was sinking into the ground as the ground rose under my heavy limbs. How many times have I lay in savasana, and this is the first time I get this wild sensation of simultaneous rising and falling, the soft earth greeting my back with a gentle nudge. I sink and the whole class sinks with me, my friends, all gently sliding into the ground, kind of like the wave vision I had weeks ago. At the end of meditation, we chant Om, and I envision our entire class in white clothing. As the sound swells, I so briefly and vividly feel like we’re back in the ashram, our gurus at the front. It’s very beautiful.

All of the above is labeled as “Completions” on our schedule. Before it had started, I asked Rudy what exactly “Completions” meant, to which he responded, “We’re going to be exploring some unearthly terrain.” Huh. Touché. I emerge from the experience in a complete daze, unable to make eye contact or speak.

We end with what Megha calls a stereophonic affirmation exercise, where one person sits in the “Hot Seat,” one person serves as the Witness, and the two other people whisper into the “chosen one’s” ears good things about them. It’s jarring and reassuring, so many words and concepts. My brain went on overload trying to process the affirmations I received from my third aditham group, C. and B., as K. watched. The one moment I recall from this exercise is when all I heard was mumblemumblemumble in each ear, and then the word “grace” came out of both C.’s and B.’s lips simultaneously. K. noticed it too, and B. got overly excited, exclaiming, “Oh wow!!! That’s your new name!! Grace! Jennifer Grace!!” [Author’s note: Coincidentally, my cousin’s first child, born only a few months ago, was named Jennifer Grace.]

***

During lunch I take a leisurely stroll outside, but it feels very lonely and sad. It’s extremely mild, but the effects of late fall are evident, with most vegetation browning or dead. The difference even in one week since our silent nature walk is huge. Almost no yellow anymore. Dead trees, fallen limbs, fallen trees scatter the road I walk along. It reminds me of the Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King, but with bare tree limbs instead of elephant bones.

But I witness it all–a fallen evergreen or spruce, maybe–looks like a rejected Christmas tree. I walk behind Kripalu, on the hillside visible from the dining hall. It’s my first time seeing the place from behind. There’s the Main Hall, Shadowbrook, Marketing and Development, the dining hall windows, so small-looking from here. I stand by the trickling waterfall and fall in love again with the soft sound of dripping water. I am thrilled to be outside, in Massachusetts, in November, hardly needing a coat and not wearing socks.

I come inside and make a deep tissue massage appointment for tomorrow morning.

***

Our Celebration party kicks off at 7:30 p.m.; everyone is dressed up (jeans, blouses, makeup, jewelry) or DRESSED UP (saris, flowing ensembles). There is awesome drumming, almost KDZ-like, that gets me energized (and keeps me dancing through the night, lured onto the floor by such earthy, deep sounds. I end up dancing till 11:15, even though I’m utterly exhausted).

There is a giant (real) chocolate cake, to which we sing the birthday song, replacing “our dear friend ____” with “our dear tribe Kickasana.”

Cookies from the Kripalu Cafe (like, the real cookies), dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, and hot cider. A talent show of music and poetry follows, some humorous, some serious.

A. leads a chant, L. sings the Awesome Song, G. reads poetry, a group sings together, D. belts out a stunning “Amazing Grace,” L. sings a teary song from Wicked–a cappella–that gets everyone crying, and M. shows a DVD from her Cirque du Soleil show, Quidam. M. and I perform our Stage 1-Stage 3 yoga dance, which we choreographed in about 15-20 minutes the night before.

It’s amazing how well it is received, with loud hoots and hollers. Megha pulls me aside and tells me that the performer persona in me needs to “play” some time. M. and I get so many compliments, so many people approach me and tell me that I am amazing, that my movement is beautiful–so many compliments that I feel awkward a bit. M. was just talking about this, how it’s nice to hear people praise what comes naturally to you. All I did was dance my heart out, do what I do when I hear music, and so many people were blown away. I had a difficult task of accepting praise with grace and not belittling my talents.

And now, without a doubt, I know I have to move more. Everything here has pointed me to dance, to movement, to standing on my own two feet and expressing myself through my body. Even Jurian comments about the wild movement, and I am flattered. I feel like I am being praised by a professional Rockette.

We present Om mandalas to our teachers, and so then we gather around all six of them and chant Om, a continuous loop.

Rudy looks intensely serious, and I wonder what goes on in his curious, quiet mind.

The event ends with us all in a circle, singing “We Are the World,” led by A. He sings his heart out in his thick Japanese accent, and we sway while holding candles.

***

Back in the dorm, people begin packing, except me. We are hyper from all the sugar at the party, we are all friends now. We talk like we’ve known each other for years. We compliment each other, ask each other if everything’s OK, joke about snoring, burping, pooping, and D.’s expanding closet of doom. Tomorrow night I will among a new set of strangers.

***

It is so late–so late–but after I shower, I head to the second floor and dance alone in the Main Chapel because the doors were open and the carpeted floor and vastness called my name. I am beyond tired, but I soak in the old carpet scent of the hall and find myself leaping and crying and anjali mudra-ing. I feel so at home, so peaceful, so hum Shivo hum. The wind is intensely wicked, and I swear a tornado is going to bust through this place. Being in the chapel during a whirlwind is pretty scary, and it’s probably been the scariest and most blessed moments of my time here. The lights are not on, but there is illumination from outside and I can see shadows from the trees dance like ghosts. The wind creeps in this silent chapel so intensely that it sounds like someone is snoring in the corner. I’m reminded of Egypt and the way people would sleep in the mosques. I roll around a bit on the floor, my eyes on that wood-paneled ceiling. I leap, I cry. I imagine myself with a headset on, leading a DansKinetics class. I wonder how many people have rolled around on this very floor in ecstatic movement. I stand in the chapel, awed at “Wow, here I am.” This “foreign” place with the giant Om symbol and vaulted ceiling, the place I only once knew from pictures in the catalog, here I am. I am here.

When my body says that I am done, I head to the second floor lobby to write. A security guard named Dave W. checks out my little nook across from the chapel, and suddenly we’re talking for 30 minutes about his dragon tattoos, the howling wind, the animals outside (bobcats, owls, deer, coyotes), campfires, tattoo bias, the safety of Kripalu, the nice people at Kripalu, the stars, the darkness, the silence, and how many people from the cities are frightened by Kripalu’s darkness and silence. He describes to me a thunderstorm that once passed over the grounds, the rolling, low clouds flickering with lightning. I am fascinated, hungry for more stories about this place, but so achingly tired. He comes back to tell me that I am welcome to write in the silent dining room because there are newer windows in there and it’s not so noisy.

But I am too tired to continue staying awake any longer, and I head back to the dorm around 2 a.m. for a nice 3.5 hours of sleep.

(In case you haven’t been following the series, I am honoring the 5-year anniversary of my Kripalu 200-hour yoga teacher training experience by transcribing my journal notes from my time there. The first post is here. Also, a disclaimer: The posts get significantly longer and more intense as the month progresses.)

Five years ago on this day, I am ready for the morning’s round robin sadhana. I actually planned something last night, staying up till 11:15 in Shadowbrook, developing a Warrior I vinyasa with prayer hands. I had planned a Warrior II thing as well, but I never had the time to teach it. But nonetheless, I got up “on deck” and followed C. I wore the headset for the first time! I think I went too slowly, but it felt good. I would have loved to have talked more through the posture, anatomy-wise, but the chime was waiting. Several people approached me afterward and said they loved my variations. 🙂 I know I’m not supposed to seek praise, but I am happy to receive these comments from my peers and not the authorities.

***

Our morning session got highly–HIGHLY!–emotional. We co-listened/reflective listened about our silent day, and some really deep thoughts were shared. A. said that the silence made him realize we are all animals–we don’t need language to connect, because we are all the same. S. brought up some great comments about not having to act–everyone is so inclined to react, to form opinions, to speak up, but sometimes it’s OK just to be. Just be. Just observe. So that was pretty intense, but then Megha brought up our celebration party, how after our last practice teach, a “dying process” would begin, culminating with our party. “One week from now, one week from this moment, will be the last time our group is together like we are now.”

We do the “Heart and Soul” exercise, which was beyond emotional. Picture 62 people intertwined and connected, breathing together as a single organism. At one point, L. was bent over her knees, and I supported her from behind, interlacing my arms around her torso and hugging her from the back. I rested my face on her back and just cried. My palms could feel her stomach rising and falling with breath, and my breath began to synchronize with hers. After a few rounds of Heart/Soul/Heart/Soul, we were invited to stay in place and move breath by breath–move an arm here, turn around there, and our static garden of grace began to swell with love and support, people reaching out and grasping and leaning and caressing. We gathered in a circle afterward to discuss the experience, and everyone was sobbing. Megha ruffled D.’s hair, and D. lost it, breaking down. Desperate for a hug myself, I took D. in my arms, myself in hers, and we cried together. I broke down too, a loud “breakdown” sob.

OK. Whew. Let’s move on. Onto relaxation techniques. However, the teachers put on “Amazing Grace” as the relaxation song, and then everyone was dropping like flies, like newborns in a hospital nursery, sobbing, tissues, hugs, tears. D., on her back, was a mess, and I ruffled her hair, trying to comfort. But then I broke down again, and Megha had to go around the room to distribute tissues. Luckily, Megha’s relaxation techniques were pretty good, and five minutes into the guiding I felt pretty calm. I went from quivering to collected, and then after about 15 minutes we got to guide each other in relaxation.

***

Jurian and Leila were teaching DansKinetics that afternoon, and although I usually keep my lunch break free, on a whim I decided to go. Not only did it feel good to support my two teachers, but M. was there, dancing for the first time ever. It felt great to see her and the other new DansKinetics people evolve in just 45 minutes. The joy in that hall was infectious and beautiful, and we were encouraged to make eye contact with the other people and spread the energy. Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” “Seasons of Love” (with scarves…aahhh, so beautiful), and “Unwritten,” twirling in the “rain.” I ended up sweating up a storm and thoroughly enjoyed listening to Jurian’s very sensual aahs and oohs. Her movements are exotic and graceful and mesmerizing and gorgeous. How attracted I am to movers and shakers!

Jurian!

***

Our afternoon program was about yoga and various conditions such as insomnia, obesity, depression, etc. It was very informative, but slow and tiring. We took a mid-session break, and it was absolutely delicious. Sun, breeze, air, oxygen! Very hard to go back indoors. M. called people who get emotional during yoga “wackadoodles,” and I announced that I, then, was indeed a wackadoodle.

***

When class gets out at 4 p.m., the lobby of Kripalu was a madhouse. Ugh–the weekend! Such intrusive energy, hustling, bustling, loudness, messiness, newness. Someone new is placed in our dorm room. There is new luggage, new stuff in the bunk above me. Reverse culture shock.

***

Afternoon sadhana is led by Roger–grueling, tiring, draining. SO MANY downdogs. Something is wrong with my head, because going into standing forward bend feels like my head is 25 pounds, full of pressure, like my eyeballs are going to fall out. I modified a lot, puppy instead of downdog.

“Do your own vinyasa to make your way down to your sitz bones,” Roger instructs. Says I: “Here’s my vinyasa…(plops butt onto ground).”

During shoulderstand, I develop an intense interest in my feet. My toes are spread wide, and I fan them from the inside out, outside in, and they look so cool against the purple lighting. Suddenly, I snapped into Devarshi’s “baby mode,” completely absorbed in my wiggling feet, my spread-out toes, my swaying, extended legs. Whee! I think I may have even smiled out of pure fascination.

But after a grueling workout, savasana was divine. I was in the front row, and it felt so peaceful being up there, right next to the towering Shiva, which always looks bigger at night, illuminated under the red and purples, the five candles, surrounded by bunches of flowers and our personal objects. As I lay there, I become overcome by emotion. It was perfect. Something to remember. Me in the front row, exhausted, M. at my right, L., completely passed out on my left, the dark room, deep hues of Shiva, the flickering candles that I could see dance through my closed eyes. I blinked several times, my glasses-less eyes seeing the statue and altar as a whimsical blur. Soft. Warm. Deep. Here. Now. Peace. You Are Where You’re Supposed To Be.

We sat up–I found myself still crying. A single tear escaped my left eye, and I sat there, trying to remember. What is your intention?, Roger asked. Pull your heart toward that intention. Remember. That was my intention: to remember. Remember this moment, this feeling of security and warmth. Remember the candles, the soft music, the single tear, the Shiva, the blanket around my legs, the faint smell of dirty feet, Roger’s voice, M. and her overly pointed toes, L. and his passed out body splayed all over the mat. Remember. Remember this moment like you remembered La Sagrada Familia in Spain, like you remembered hanging over the balcony in your Madrid hotel on election night, like you remembered the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, like you remembered sitting on the deck of the Chinese cruise ship crying with the rain.

It will be sad to leave, but the memory will always be with me. Kripalu and this past month of Shiva, these people, Dorm 129, that crazy satsang with Mooji at the end of our hall, the outdated gym equipment, the cafeteria smell on our clothes, the silence of the Sun Room, the exhilaration of going outside, Angela Farmer floating through the halls (and me spying on her in her room from outside), the 24-hour tea access, the STARS!, the silent breakfasts, the poop and farting sounds in the bathroom, the “Oprah Winfrey” microphone being passed around the room, the cafeteria greeter guy with the short-term memory, the taco/pizza/brownie nights…it will all be remembered.

And, aside from the people, Kripalu is always here. It’s not like Santa’s village in the North Pole, which disappears after Christmas. It’s here, 5 hours away. It will never carry this same feeling, this feeling of evolution that I encountered, but it is here. For DansKinetics, for a workshop, for an R+R…whatever.

When I arrived here on October 22, the leaves were yellow and orange. I have photos to prove it! The mountains were a village of colors, and now, November 10, it has vanished, blown away. In one week, when we go on our separate ways, the land will be bare. Just like us, this tribe, here together, vibrant, thriving–it will end. The change of seasons parallels our experience. But the color will return in the spring. The same leaves won’t be here, but our lives will continue to glow and flourish, to become beautiful and whole and picturesque. The colors will return. Life isn’t ending; it’s just changing. New colors, new experiences will emerge.

My workplace has a plate of leftover Halloween candy sitting out for all to grab at, and I was super-excited to see that it contained Reese’s Pieces, one of my all-time favorite candies (thanks to the Conehead sundaes from Friendly’s that defined my childhood dessert experiences).

Just as I keep returning to the plate to grab an extra piece of candy or two, November (what with Thanksgiving and all) is a good month to remember that life is like a box of chocolates leftover Halloween goody bag, and each day has something amazing to grab at and devour.

What am I thankful for right now?

• That Monday being Halloween meant all the local youth were out trick-or-treating, so the gym pool was completely child-free during my lap time. I could actually use my ear plugs for their primary purpose–to keep out water–rather than as a means to block out the sounds of high-pitched squealing and excessive splashy-splashy.

The sound of silence.

• For using my sister’s birthday as an excuse to carb-load during the most amazing brunch buffet of crepes, French toast, potatoes, waffles, and made-your-way omelettes.

• The mutual love of breakfast sandwiches I share with my husband, and the fact that he does not mind having “brinner” once per week. Related: That Bryan won’t eat his sandwich until I give it my trademark little sandwich hand press. Also related: The amazing parmesan/spinach/roasted red pepper (“Popeye”) bread from Great Harvest Bakery that I use on either side of my egg whites and turkey bacon and that melts ever-so-wonderfully in the toaster oven.

• That my mother has taken a sudden interest in proper footwear and is encouraging me/providing financial assistance to purchase foot-friendly shoes. However, I’ve been doing this for years; “Old Lady Orthopedic Shoes” is practically my middle name.

Dolled up weirdo in orthopedic walking sandals

• The magical $20 bill I found in my wallet this morning that prevented me from having to buy overpriced “credit card” gas. “Twenty bucks regular…CASH.” Yeah, you better give me the $3.15 rate. Related: OK, the $20 wasn’t actually magical. It was the “Here, treat yourself to something nice” grandma-secretly-shoves-a-$20 bill-in-your-palm money I had totally forgotten about receiving during the aforementioned family brunch. Ahhh, adulthood. Where “something nice” = paying cash for gas to avoid an extra 10 cents per gallon.

• Even after digging into all that leftover Halloween candy, a dentist check-up that ended with the relieving “No cavities!” exclamation from the doctor. Related: The hygienist’s comment on the marked improvement she noticed from me finally taking her advice and getting an electric toothbrush already.

What’s something you’re thankful for today?

Earlier this week, I re-connected with a dear old friend…kundalini yoga!

My relationship with kundalini has been a bit off and on, but my interest in this unique style of yoga began during my yoga teacher training at Kripalu, where we learned about the founder of Kripalu yoga, Swami Kripalu, referred to by his followers as Bapuji. Bapuji practiced kundalini yoga, the most ancient style of yoga (kind of how ballet is to the dance world), which incorporated very regimented sequences of breathing, movement, chanting, and meditation. The Kripalu style of yoga is derived from kundalini; hence, why Kripalu yoga is very heavy on the pranayama (breathwork)-asana (postures)-dhyana (meditation), and why I came home from yoga teacher training very interested in trying out this mysterious style.

The problem is that it’s pretty hard to find a kundalini teacher–let alone class–in Small Town, USA. Kundalini is totally different from “regular” yoga. There’s a ton of chanting, crazy-fast breathwork, and lots of repetitive movement, at times which can look very silly and feel somewhat awkward or weird (say, hopping on one foot with your eyes closed?). The objective is to unblock the energy from the base of the spine and allow it to rise through the chakras and all throughout the body.

Each session has a specific objective (e.g., heart opening, liver detox, mental clarity) with a prescribed set of “kriyas,” the postures/chants/movement. These kriyas are arranged in a specific order with designated time limits for each move or meditation; sometimes a set will call for the same move for 30 minutes; other times, the set will include several moves that last 2 or 3 minutes each.

I first started kundalini back in 2007, when a local studio offered an introduction series and then included it as a regular weekly class on the schedule. I was a kundalini junkie and experienced some pretty intense visualizations and post-class energy shifts. I was a regular student until the teacher stopped working at the studio, and then no more local kundalini classes existed. 😦

A different studio began offering the class last winter, and I immediately dove in. However, this teacher’s style was a bit different, and I felt like class was one third kundalini, one third the teacher talking about her life, and one third sitting (im)patiently on the floor post-start time, waiting for class to begin already. I couldn’t stand paying money for that and again had to depart from kundalini. 😦

But here we are in 2011, and to my delight, a teacher with whom I studied Tai Chi Chih last summer is offering a short kundalini series that began this past Tuesday. 🙂

I love this woman’s teaching style, with her soft, gentle voice; her attention to detail; and the way she can break down such a complex style of yoga to a hodge-podge group of students who are at all different levels and from different backgrounds. I mentally groaned to myself when she said that the first part of class would be more of a background of the practice but was surprised when I found myself eating up her words and really coming to understand the meaning of not just kundalini yoga, but yoga in general.

The physical practice that night was somewhat abbreviated but still powerful. We did all the basic warm-ups (lots of spinal rocking/twisting), the opening invocation, and worked our way into a short series for aura enhancement. I loved how she described our aura: the extension of our physical body, a kind of force-field surrounding our corporeal mass that we need to keep strong so we are able to block negative things (e.g., germs, bad energy) before they get to our physical bodies and cause sickness, disease, and mental negativity.

Strong aura, strong body!

We ended with Sat Kriya, which is usually included in every kundalini class. It’s a very simple but intense kriya in which you sit in hero pose (or rock pose, as it’s called in kundalini), with your heels under your rear; hold your arms above your head with hands clasped, pointer fingers extended and touching; and vocalize a sharp “sat” (pronounced more like “sut”) that draws in the belly, followed by a relaxed and soft “nam” during which the belly relaxes.

Hold the pose and repeat the sat-nam sequence for 3 to 30 minutes. Like most kundalini movements, this feels a bit tiring at first but then out of nowhere shifts into a very strong gesture and meditation. I’ve added 3 minutes of Sat Kriya to my morning routine and already feel the benefits: more alert, focused, and confident throughout most of my day.

The thing about kundalini is that sometimes its effects are not immediately evident; like, I didn’t leave class on Tuesday night feeling like my aura was all shiny and clean. However, the next morning, during my morning walk around the park, everything felt illuminated. The oxygen I breathed in, the sights I saw, the people I passed…I wasn’t necessarily labeling them as “brilliant” or “beautiful”; I simply felt like I was really noticing everything I passed, like my awareness was heightened. Especially with it being fall and the leaves changing color, the landscape around me felt like an artist’s easel with various shades of autumn pulsing from the canvas.

Crispy around the edges

Have you ever tried kundalini? If you ever have the chance, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s definitely different at times, but generally it makes me feel pretty darn good.

This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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