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When Bryan and I decided to go to Washington, DC this past Saturday, my #1 priority was to get to the National Gallery of Art to see Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life. It is the four-part series of paintings that inspired Jeanne Ruddy’s Out of the Mist, Above the Real, the dance piece I saw a few weeks ago. The piece moved me greatly, and how fortunate am I that a day trip to DC allowed me the opportunity to see the original artwork behind the choreography?

Once I got that off my chest, we moseyed around the museum and admired Manet, Monet, Renior, and Degas, among others, including a visually striking photography exhibit on the circa-1984 New York City subway. Although snaking through an art museum without a guidebook or plan of action makes me a bit discombobulated (I feel like I need a trail of breadcrumbs to remind me where I’ve been), the act of turning a corner and coming face to face with something surprising, stirring, or moving is what the museum experience is all about.

I hesitate to interrupt this artistic discussion with talk of food, but I feel it is my duty to share with everyone my love for the Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian. If you need to break for lunch at one of the Smithsonian museums, this is the one to do so.

The food court is broken down into stations representing the various regions of the Americas and the foods indigenous to that culture: Northern Woodlands, Mesoamerica, South America, Northwest Coast, and Great Plains. You can mix and match food items, creating one melting pot of a meal. It reminds me of World Showcase in Epcot, but without the need to walk a mile in the central Florida sun to collect your global cuisine.

Our meal, clockwise from upper left: Indian fry bread; buffalo chili; cedar-plank fire-roasted salmon with wild berry glaze; pumpkin cookies; red beets, candied apples, toasted walnuts, cherry vinaigrette; braised chard; and quesadilla with chihualua cheese, spinach, mushroom, and huitlacoche.

So much tastier than chicken fingers and fries!

We did a lot of walking, probably close to a half marathon (13 miles) by the end of the day, including a ridiculously strenuous climb up a non-working escalator in the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro station as other (sane) people watched us from the functioning one. The ascent was steep and loooong; it looked like a fun challenge at first but then just got hard. We further punished ourselves by standing in a 20-minute line at the Zoo to see a panda bear that was dead asleep and then walking through every twist and turn of the Asia exhibit hoping to catch sight of the sloth bear that was nowhere to be found.

One thing I did find, though, was each of the 5Rhythms. Even when I’m trekking around the nation’s capital, my mind is never far from dancing and the rhythms that tie us all together. For example, I witnessed kites soaring high above the National Mall lawn (Flowing), a flock of Canada geese audibly pecking the grass under their webbed feet (Staccato), a group of hyper schoolchildren in matching T-shirts and hats scramble onto their tour bus (Chaos), a young girl in a cream-colored dress run with her same-colored dog up a grassy hill (Lyrical), and a group of veterans in wheelchairs being pushed slowly around the Vietnam Memorial (Stillness).

I think the practice of 5Rhythms, coupled with yoga and meditation, has helped sharpen my senses and my awareness of all the little dances taking place within the larger dance. When you look at a satellite map of a city, everything looks either gray, green, or blue. Look closer, and you see, hear, and feel the rhythms:

Flowing:
National Museum of the American Indian

Staccato:
Washington Monument

Chaos:
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Lyrical:
U.S. Capitol Building

Stillness:
Vietnam Memorial

A completed Wave:
Atrium, National Museum of the American Indian

My work week ended on a not-so-good note this past Friday, and I knew that if I drove straight home from the office I’d end up eating my feelings and drinking too much beer. In fact, on my way home, Bryan texted me to ask what I wanted for dinner.

Stromboliiiii!” I wrote back, because that is what I crave when I am overwhelmed. I mean, stromboli is the perfect food representation of feeling out of control. You’re just a shell stuffed to the brim with crap, ready to expel your guts the moment someone pokes you the wrong way.

Fortunately, instead of listening to the little stromboli devil sitting on my one shoulder, I gave attention to the angel of yoga sitting on the other. She whispered in my ear over and over again on my drive home that I needed to drive to the local yoga studio, change into the spandex pants sitting in my car, and do some yoga.

I was a bit hesitant because I have not taken a studio class in a very long time. I am very self-conscious about my hip situation and generally prefer to move about my own way in the privacy of my home, where I can jostle my leg and pop my sacrum without feeling like I’m disobeying the teacher. But I knew that I needed guidance that night, so I paid the $15 drop-in fee to try a new class and new teacher. Before class, I gave her the whole spiel about my hip and the poses I have to modify and how I sometimes have to stomp like a zebra between postures to get my leg feeling normal again.

As I sat there on my mat during the opening mantra, I realized that I was actually nervous. It has been so long since practicing yoga in public, and I was just deathly afraid that I’d get caught in a sequence of hip-centric postures that I would struggle with. It was such a different perspective than my old days of yoga, when I’d plop down on my mat without the need for a block or strap and just do pose after pose ever-so-effortlessly. But now I felt like a total newbie, not sure what was going to lie ahead and whether I’d be able to do it.

However, once we began our ujjayi breathing, warming up the spine, and eventually rising into easy Warrior sequences, I was in The Zone. I had had work on the brain since 8 a.m., and for once, I was blessed with 75 minutes of just me and my movement. We plastered ourselves against the wall for a supported half-moon pose, and instead of poo-pooing the notion of using the wall for a balancing pose, I allowed my back and head to nestle against the surface like it was a luxurious mattress. How great it felt to be upheld without struggle.

The class felt like it zipped by, and before I knew it I was wrapped in a blanket, doing nadi shodhana before settling down into savasana. The instructor came around and dabbed essential oil on my temples, gently rocking my head side to side before letting to relax in the center. (<—–THIS is why going to a physical class is SO MUCH BETTER than practicing at home. Ahhh, those soothing savasana touches.)

The class was everything I could have asked for—meditation, asana, pranayama, and a few chaturangas but not so many that my scapula ached—but unfortunately the studio was a little cooler than I would have liked for a class titled “Inner Fire.” Studio temperature is often a deal breaker for me, because, seriously, I should not have visible goosebumps on my arms while covered in a blanket during savasana. I may give the class another chance, but this is the same place I broke up with during the summer because they ran the air conditioner whenever the temperature rose above 80. And then this is why I began practicing at home, in my upstairs yoga room, where it gets deliciously hot and humid.

But for someone in need of a quick fix, soaking in 75 minutes of yoga was so much more satisfying than throwing back a shot. In fact, by the time I got back to my car, I wasn’t craving stromboli anymore and instead ended the evening with a delicious mushroom/pea masala from our favorite Indian place and a glass of red wine.

When was the last time you ignored the “stromboli devil” and said yes to yoga instead?

I was supposed to attend an African dance class this afternoon, as I so excitedly gushed about last week, but I ended up on my living room floor doing this instead:

This is what happens when you’re in your 30s. You spend a Saturday shoe shopping–bending down, standing up, lugging a heavy bag around DSW–and the next day your shoulders and back are all f**ked up and you have to decide whether to take the dance class and risk hurting yourself further or stay home and do an hour of therapeutic yoga instead.

While I’m on the subject, let me just say that the above DVDs have my 100% total approval, and if you have any issues with your low/upper back, sacrum, hips, neck, or shoulders, these are most definitely something to have in your media library. My first experience with Gary Kraftstow was about 1.5 years ago, when I was looking for some kind of relief for my bum hip. I was browsing Netflix’s selection of yoga DVDs and read several good reviews about the low back/sacrum/hips workout, and let’s just say that I watched that DVD so many times that I probably have ownership rights to it now. I eventually returned the disc to Netflix and bought the DVD online, later buying the upper body one to complete the collection.

I recommend these DVDs all.the.time. If you tell me you have a back problem, you can bet I will be throwing Gary Kraftstow’s name in your face. The thing about Viniyoga is that it’s designed to be therapeutic, kind of like a physical therapy regimen but with yoga postures. Each of the DVDs has three routines, ranging from 20-something minutes to about 50, and each workout is crafted specifically to help the affected area; the postures are meant to be done in the order they are presented. There is nothing fancy about the workouts, no bells and whistles, no music, no candles, no om’ing in and chanting out, no studio full of yoga models sporting the latest Lulu. It’s either a man or woman doing the postures and Gary’s voiceover giving the instructions. It’s boring as hell…but very effective, just like physical therapy.

If you are diligent about the practice and do the workout(s) regularly, I can almost guarantee you will feel progress/relief (however, I am not a health care practitioner, and this is just my 2 layperson’s cents). I did the low back one almost daily for about a month, because at the time my hips were all kinds of crooked and my sacroiliac joint was always popping one way or the other. I didn’t always feel relief immediately after doing the workout, but throughout the day I would feel things settling into place. Like today, I do a workout anytime I feel “out of sorts,” when my body feels like a car that’s driven over one too many potholes. Nine times out of 10, something in my sacrum/neck/spine always gives a desirable pop or crack of relief when I rise from savasana.

So, no African dancing for me this week but I had a nice, long date with Mr. Kraftstow (did both a low back AND shoulders routine!) and did these dancey-dance things instead:

• Subscribed to Conscious Dancer magazine.

• Discovered Nia and Dharma Dance teacher Susan McCulley’s blog, on which she posts some excellent playlists that have made their way to my Grooveshark menu.

• Discovered the music of Cryptex, which made me dance so much that now I’m certain the floor in our 80-something-year-old house is going to fall through.

I blame my friend Jaime for planting the shopping bug in my head. On Friday during our lunchtime walk, she had mentioned the desire to go shopping that afternoon. The notion excited me as well; I’ve been trying to give my credit card a break since Christmas and so the majority of my purchases these past two months have mostly been for gas and groceries.

It wasn’t until I was walking through Philly yesterday afternoon when I started to get the itch…bad. It was a sunny, mild afternoon…I had just come from a really fun dancehall class + postclass meetup (more on that to come!), the streets were full of dog walkers and musicians and happy shiny people, and I just so happened to be walking down one of the trendiest retail districts in the city…and, before I knew it…BAM!

• My heart skipped a beat when I realized that Athleta was in town. They used to be an online-only retailer, and I only knew about them because I have an Old Navy credit card and all of my coupons are also good for the Gap, Banana Republic, and Athleta. When I went to Athleta’s website, I died. It’s like Lululemon but without the cultish undertones and overly wide-eyed salespeople. Beautiful yoga/dance/sporty wear, beautiful dresses, beautiful scarves and tote bags and everything I want my wardrobe to be. Picture a luxury health and wellness cruise to the Bahamas for a surfing lesson with a stop at St. Maarten for some hiking, followed by an on-ship yoga class, a modern dance party at night, and green smoothies for everyone. This is Athleta. I never bought anything online because I don’t trust sizes until I physically try stuff on. Today was that day. I limited myself to only two items, because–just like a luxury health and wellness cruise to the Bahamas–it’s expensive. I got a lightweight gray jacket that I envision myself wearing on those somewhat-chilly May mornings at the farmers market and The Best Pair of Pants in the World. I used to think L.L. Bean’s Perfect Fit Pants held that title, but they have now met their competition.

• On the left are some duds from City Sports, which I had never been to before either. I tried on a lot of things, and most looked great but, seriously, how many pairs of black yoga capris do I really need? (Even though I swear they all feel different and carry a story of their own, but Bryan will never understand this.) So I skipped the pricey capris and opted for pricey prAna instead; that would be the pair of black pants on the left. But they are full-length pants with a little flowing skirt attached. I saw those pants, and they whispered to me: “5Rhythms.” As did the purple shirt on top, which luckily was on clearance. It’s a relaxed fit, longish lightweight hooded shirt that has the perfect amount of give for a 5Rhythms class. The Toesox are also intended for 5Rhythms, mostly for the classes in Princeton in which the floor is always somewhat slippery. I do own a pair of Gaiam yoga socks, but I felt like the rubber nubs on the Toesox were a bit more durable and hardier.

• The other half of my City Sports loot is on the right, but it’s all swimming stuff: a pair of hand paddles so I can work on my stroke technique, a Lycra cap that won’t tear out my hair, and a nose clip so I can declare myself Geek of the Pool (and do flip turns without inhaling nasty pool water all the time).

• A trip to Center City isn’t complete with a stop at the Rittenhouse Barnes & Noble, where I picked up a new magazine (for me) to give a shot: Spirituality & Health. Something I flipped through but did not buy was this:

You know how there’s always some creepy dude sitting in the corner of B&N flipping through a girly magazine? OMG, I was that guy but my p*rn was a periodical about Boeing 777s. What is my problem?? I can’t help it; I love planes!

• Finally, with nothing in my stomach since a Clif Builder bar at 2 p.m. (and now it was going on 8), I stopped at Fuel for dinner to go. The Hulk juice (spinach, cucumber, lemon, and apple) was a refreshing companion for the train ride back to Jersey, and I devoured the Fuel Stacker panini like a ravenous bear once I got home. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in a while: portabello, eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomato, house-made mozzarella, and pesto. The fresh mozzarella was the key ingredient; I’m so used to a slab of deli cheese on my sandwiches that the gooey white blob protruding from the wheat bread was a welcome sight. I urge Fuel to come to the other side of the river soon…this girl can’t afford to always go into the city for a decent sandwich!

Did you indulge in any retail therapy this weekend? Alternatively, tell me what classifies as your Best Pants in the World!

I usually go to bed on Saturday night feeling guilty about all the errands/chores I never got to and all that I’ll need to cram into Sunday, but ya know what? NOT THIS WEEKEND.

It was 60-something degrees this Saturday, a rarity in the Northeast in January. After a few days of an “Arctic blast” in the region–complete with snow on Thursday morning–this kind of meteorological surprise was permission for anyone with Christmas decorations still up in their house (::cough::me::cough::) to just let it go. Tree in the living room, stockings still hanging? Let ’em stay…I’m going outside to play!

Inspired by Meg from Spirit Moves Dance, yesterday I gave myself permission to:

• Wake up naturally, without an alarm clock.

• Do yoga in my pajamas for an hour.

• Cut back on the chaturangas in the yoga podcast when my sore scapula began speaking to me.

• Feel ever-so-content standing in a super-steady and grounded dancer pose, even if my lifted leg doesn’t go as high as it did 5 years ago.

• Add not just almond butter but pumpkin butter, raisins, prunes, banana, and a handful of Kashi GoLean Crunch to my bowl of oatmeal.

• Sit on the computer for two hours, but do so writing meaningful blog posts.

• Download Foursquare on my new BlackBerry, use it to check into a handful of places, decide that I hate the application/concept, but then later reconsider its usefulness (i.e., to remember what I did/where I went over the course of time, because my memory sucks).

• Go on a long and leisurely 5-mile walk with Bryan, occasionally bumping into him as I stared skyward to look at planes.

• Decide to take the “long way” on our walk home, because it was just that nice outside.

• Stop at the Pooch Park to watch strangers’ dogs frolic and romp, secretly hoping someone would come along with a pug. (We’re satisfied with the two puggles we saw, though.)

• See the giant orange sun set on one side of the sky as the nearly full moon began to glow on the other.

• Go to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner, even though I swear every dish must have bacon fat folded into it, considering their calorie counts. (Roasted veggie salad = Amazing, and probably not so bad if you get the dressing on the side.)

• Ask my dining companion for one of his pizza crusts to fulfill my need for some kind of carb to accompany said salad.

• Use my new BlackBerry for entertainment/diversion when waiting for a table at CPK, even though minutes earlier I had blasted society for being so obsessed with their smartphones.

• Spend an hour at a music store that’s going out of business listening to/selecting discounted CDs (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack, Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, Radio Retaliation [Thievery Corporation], Empires, Automatic [VNV Nation] <— thanks to Meg for introducing them to me!!).

• Get frozen yogurt in January from our favorite self-serve place.

Honestly, that last one is the most accurate barometer of them all. If I’m OK eating a frozen treat in the middle of winter…yeah, it’s probably a good day.

A short tribute to my favorite part of the morning:

Dinner in China, 2006.

Yesterday afternoon I ate my weight in Chinese food, gorging on the greasy contents of those familiar little white take-out boxes until I began burping after every bite.

I felt guilty for about 5, 10 minutes. But for the most part, the overindulgent feast warmed my heart as much as it did my belly.

I don’t normally chow down on take-out food, and if and when I overeat, I usually fall into a depressed slump and berate myself for the next several hours, slapping my bloated belly like I’m a disgruntled Santa Claus. But yesterday was different: Several of my family members were gathered at my grandparents’ house, and just when everyone was about to leave, my grandmother, trying to keep people nearby for as long as possible, suggested going out to lunch. I shrugged OK; my sister had to run out for a few minutes but said she’d consider returning; and my parents turned down the offer and said they really needed to go.

That said, “lunch” started out as just me and my grandmother, sitting on the couch, deciding where to go to eat. Then my sister eventually returned, and we contemplated a “girls only” outing, just grandmom and her two granddaughters, leaving grandpop at home to watch the Army/Navy game. Soon after that, my mom called and said she was just about done with her errands and would be able to return for lunch. My sister suggested staying inside and ordering take-out instead; my grandfather, who just moments ago denied being hungry, chirped in that some beef and broccoli would be nice.

So, what started out as no one really wanting to hang around for lunch turned into my sister and I returning from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant with $60-something worth of food and a house full of salivating relatives.

In the few minutes we left to pick up the order, my grandmother had reconfigured the breakfast room table to fit everyone, setting the tabletop with Christmas-themed paper plates, napkins, and silverware. We unloaded the greasy brown paper bags, filling the center of the table with cartons stuffed with shrimp, broccoli, beef, rice, and lo mein. Everyone got a shrimp roll; a Chinese pizza–something I haven’t eaten in a long time–was passed around the table. My sister allowed others to taste her General Tso’s seitan, which everyone admitted really didn’t taste much different than chicken. My “I’m-not-hungry” grandfather devoured everything he spooned onto his plate. Midway through our feast my father entered the room, making a surprise return to the house. We pulled up a chair for him, and everyone began loading his plate with various carton contents, exclaiming how great everything tasted: “This garlic broccoli is amazing!” “The shrimp are really tasty!” “Here, take some of this lo mein!”

My family gathers for the holidays, but the impromptu and informal nature of yesterday’s at-home buffet gave this gathering a different feel. We weren’t dressed up in our nice Christmas clothes; the table was set with paper plates, not china. There were no champagne flutes or fancy wine glasses; we cracked open cans of soda at the table, and we jostled with the various boxes between us, trying to figure out which contained the shrimp and broccoli and which contained the broccoli alone with that really good garlic sauce. We snapped fortune cookies in half for dessert, reading our messages aloud and attempting to read the Chinese words on the back. Clean-up was easy, with no dishes to wash or silverware to soak. No one had slaved over the stove for hours; no one slunk into their seat exhausted after having been awake since 6 a.m. to baste a turkey. It reminded me a bit of that scene from Home Alone, the night before the family leaves for the airport. There is take-out food spread everyone over the table; everyone is digging in, chowing down, laughing. Good times. As my sister said earlier in the afternoon, “Let’s just get take-out. I don’t want to have to sit down at some restaurant and look nice. I just want to kick back and burp at the table, you know?”

Aside from some gas and indigestion, there was something else bubbling inside of me after I left my grandparents’ house: contentment. I walked the three miles back to my house, the chill of the December evening air giving me a bit of a buzz and the Chinese food lining my arteries keeping me relatively warm. There was a full moon that night, and when I began my trek home, it hung low in the sky, huge and golden. When I crossed over the creek, the moon shined directly above, its glow lighting up the ripples in the water like a spotlight. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! When I finally entered my neighborhood, I passed houses lit with reindeer, Santa Clauses, LED snowflakes. The smell of burning fireplaces complemented the Christmas visuals. When I arrived home–after popping a Tums–I found myself doing something I’ve longed to do for quite some time but had never actually got around to doing: napping under the Christmas tree. I pictured myself as a cat curling up in a warm spot; in reality, the configuration I worked myself into looked more like a burrito.

Secret snapshot of the sleeping burrito.

Burrito, Chinese…OK, so it wasn’t the healthiest of foods we indulged in that afternoon. But we don’t eat like that every day, and one afternoon of some take-out–and yes, some burping (and farting) at the table–may actually have done our hearts a little more good than harm.

One would think that having 4 days off from work would lend itself to large chunks of time devoted solely to blogging, but I seem to have been too busy eating my weight in various forms of carbohydrates to sit down and commit myself to the keyboard. I’ve had blog post ideas stored in my brain for the past week (things I’m thankful for! 5Rhythms recap! yoga weekend!), and now they are all just melding together like the sweet potatoes, corn, and stuffing on my holiday dinner plate. That said, consider this my “Thanksgiving plate” post–a whole bunch of everything, all mashed together (and hopefully you’re not one of those people who can’t stand their food touching).

Four Days of Consumption: 2 pumpkin spice lattes, 1 hot chocolate, 2 green juices, 1 full Thanksgiving dinner, 2 mini cupcakes, 1/2 giant chocolate peanut butter cupcake, 1 full diner breakfast + 1 full homemade breakfast, 2 glasses red wine, 1 margarita, 1 mimosa, pumpkin pie, plus a burrito thrown in to make it an international weekend. A random slice of pizza, too. And several Tums.

Looking Forward To: going back to eating soup for lunch. And not feeling like I have to walk 3 miles after every meal to keep my pants from popping.

I’m Thankful For ___: the random stranger who pulled over as I was walking to inform me that I dropped my glove a few yards back; road-widening projects that require the cutting-down of the PITA sycamore tree outside our house whose roots back up our sewer and whose gangly limbs scare me ever since one fell through my car window; not being in college (a thought that crossed my mind as I watched Felicity via Netflix); the New Guy at work, because as much as I loved working with eager-to-learn interns, their impermanence in our office was a bit tiring; closely reading our new car insurance paperwork, during which I discovered that instead of taking Bryan’s old/dead car off our policy, they took off MY car, you know, the one I had been driving every single day (all fixed now–whew!); choosing to skip swimming in a crowded gym pool on Tuesday and going on Wednesday instead, because Evening Before Holiday = Empty Pool.

One Geeky Thing I’m Totally Not Doing Right Now: Tracking PHL arrivals via FlightStats.com as airplanes fly over our house.

Before Setting Up FlightStats, I Totally Wasn’t: Planning out a hypothetical 2-day solo getaway to Disney World at Christmastime for next weekend.

Living Room Conversation Piece: This guy:

Buddhst dharmapala, whose terrifying appearance is actually meant to frighten forces of evil.

I Fear: that my cellphone is dying. I hate getting new phones, especially because they’re all smartphones now, and I’m 80 so that scares me.

TV Series Recently Completed on Netflix: Twin Peaks.

TV Series That Will Forever Give Me Backward-Talking Nightmares: Twin Peaks.

Appropriate decor for a Halloween party

Non-Edible Products That Smell So Good I Kinda Want to Eat Them: pumpkin-scented soy candle from the farmers market (seriously, it makes the living room smell like a bakery for two days after it’s extinguished); gingerbread-scented Method countertop cleaner.

Approximate Weight of the Newspapers + Black Friday Circulars Sitting on the Kitchen Table: 3 pounds.

Gatherings and Meet-Ups This Weekend: Thanksgiving dinner with Bryan’s family; breakfast meetup at the diner with 3 high school friends; holiday tree lighting with my favorite toddler ever and her parents; burritos and margaritas with our favorite double-date couple; and Thanksgiving weekend breakfast with my family.

Silly Photos From Said Meet-Ups:

Silliest Emma picture EVER.

Sisterhood is serious. Or we’re just super-bloated from four straight days of non-stop eating.

Nonsensical Notes From Last Friday’s 5Rhythms With Some Explanation in Parentheses: synchronicity (I asked the universe for a certain dancer to attend class, and the universe obliged); traveling amoeba (we all huddled as a group, back-to-back/side-to-side and just allowed our little jumble to move around the room on its own accord, like a traveling amoeba); tipping point from subtle to full-blown run-around-the-room Chaos, unleashing! (because sometimes I start Chaos with very small and subtle movements and then out of nowhere, there’s a tipping point of energy, and I go from standing in place to leaping across the studio as though I’ve been thrown over the edge of a cliff).

One Day I Will Totally Write About: the yoga workshop I took last week with Rudy Peirce.

Five years ago (or so) on this day, I wake up in Dorm 129 as a certified Kripalu yoga teacher.

And here I am. Nearly packed. Showered. $1 coffee mug refill. Cereal, yogurt, banana, egg frittata, chai muffin (which I think I’ll save for later). The lentil/cumin cafeteria smell isn’t as strong, and there is no music coming out of the speakers. I see S. at the bread corner; she looks like she has been crying. L. walks in to get a drink. The remaining geese, not quite ready to spread our wings and take flight.

***

It’s getting a little easier to transit into departure. I go to Megha’s Grace-in-Motion class, and J. and L. are also there. It feels like a safe space among the new, buzzing, ungrounded energy. We do a medley of activities–dancing with scarves to music from Chicago, doing the “Car Wash” shimmy dance, dancing with wooden dowels (to create the feeling of safety), a Lion King dance, the Amazing Grace circle dance, and eventually the Grace Sculpture Garden (“Where am I needed, and how can I serve?”). I cry again, even among strangers. I still crave connection. I’m a newly certified Kripalu yoga teacher, brimming with love, ready to give, ready to serve. We end the garden back to back with a partner, feeling their spine, their movement, their breath, “the motion within the stillness,” Megha says, reflecting the theme from my final practice teach. I continue to cry, cry for my partner B., cry for others in the room who had experienced a moment of transformation, cry for Megha, cry for the death of this month-long journey and the inquiry that lies ahead. We huddle in a “puppy pile” and discuss our feelings, and I am amazed at how many people speak up about how they cried during Amazing Grace or the Sculpture Garden, how they felt uninhibited, childlike, free. One person, one safe space…look at the power of one person, some music, and some scarves. Pass it down, pay it forward.

After class, Megha gives me a brief mentor talk about how to proceed with this, how to s-l-o-w-l-y integrate all this movement into my life, to stay in touch, to use others as a sounding board. Final hug. Thank you. Goodbye. Hand on heart. Hand on heart. Anjali mudra. I’ve been doing that a lot here, holding moments close to me, cherishing moments. Grateful. Namaste. Remember.

***

I say goodbye to Dorm 129, taking one last look out the window, the now empty trees, no color, the mountains, the clouds, the sky that gave me sunrises and mist, furious wind, and falling leaves. The window I often forgot about at night as I undressed for the entire parking lot.

***

Do I have any more energy left? I have emotions to unleash, so I head up to the Main Hall for Toni’s DansKinetics class. I’m ridiculously hot from Megha’s class, so I wear just my sports bra and pants. Holy crap, I feel free–again! So much dancing this morning. Dancing with the musicians, a give-and-take relationship. Sweat, ecstasy, gyrations, samadhi. Starting the final dance prayer in complete silence and suddenly having a drum beat break the quietness. Slowly, deep. Testing the waters, testing my body. Riding the wave, finding the edge. Blowing past the edge. Stage 4 Kripalu yoga. I collapse at the end, slow movement, rocking, sashaying, savasana. The tinkling music and rain drops surround me, and I feel like I’m in limbo–caught between a crazy dream of living at a yoga center for the past month and waking up from that dream and having a real life.

Where am I needed? How can I serve?

***

Before Bryan arrives to pick me up for the 4.5-hour drive home to New Jersey, I shower in the sauna locker room. A voluptuous black woman next to me starts singing “Take Me or Leave Me” from RENT, and I join along, naked, in the communal shower as we lather up. Only at Kripalu, man. Only at Kripalu.

Author’s note. Thanks so much for reading along for the past month! It has been wild to re-visit this period of my life, and I am still Remembering, as I constantly told myself during the program. I intend to write a brief reflection post, a little then-and-now, about the Kripalu YTT program and how it worked out for me. If anyone else out there in cyberland has a blog of their YTT experience, let me know! I love reading about others’ experiences.

Five years ago on this day, I feel like crap. I can’t breathe; my chest hurts. I can’t do half of Rudy’s morning sadhana. I take pity on myself and eat not just my cereal, yogurt, and banana at breakfast but also two pieces of blueberry cake and a slice of the delicious potato and cheese egg fritter.

***

B. teaches at 9 a.m.; Megha facilitates. The class is fun, despite my coughing, because Megha is totally into everything, oohing and aahing in and out of every pose. One of the most profound moments for me was having to lie on my stomach during savasana, my head turned to the side, staring at Megha’s feet. As a dancer and with Megha being a dancer, feet are really amazing windows into the soul for me, so I was honored to stare at her flawless extremities. Knowing mine are dry and cracked and bleeding and tearing, it was pleasant to see such dandy feet. It was another moment of “Remember.” Remember lying on my belly in savasana, staring at Megha’s feet as she lay in relaxation.

More sharing circle followed, more tears and profound statements. I admit it was about at this point when I got sick and tired of listening to people talk all emotionally and slowly and blah about love and support and wow and blessings, I Love My Atitham, yadda yaddda.

***

Turkey sloppy joes for lunch (which I later joke about during my practice teach for garbhasana/digestion), tea, OJ, cough drops, chocolate, belching. I start practicing in Shadowbrook at 12:55. My facilitator is Catherine from Cape Cod, who turns out to be absolutely incredible, sweet, thoughtful, and thorough.

I felt it today, for real. After greeting Catherine and settling into the class, I immediately forgot about all of my worries and self-doubt and just became…myself. A little shaky at first, but growing into it. Moving steadily along with my stillness/motion theme, unconsciously bringing my dancerly ways to the mat, which everyone said they enjoyed watching. The best part about ending this class was actually remembering it. I was present. I Remembered. I remembered watching K. doing one hell of a cobra face, B.’s eyes drifting all over the place, Catherine completely immersed in Stage 3 after bridge. I remember being there, watching the students and being intrigued by their interpretation and movement. I remember my voice crackling and having to take several sips of water. I remember C. being nearly speechless because she saw my notes with modifications for her bad knee. I remember B. commenting on how she loved the way I stepped back into Warrior I. I remember breaking down to Catherine about FINALLY finding who I was, crying, being HAPPY, learning what “I speak through my body” really means. So much emotion afterward, and finally I had something deep for the sharing circle. K. made me cry (sob, actually), as did E.

It is at this point we come up with our YTT group name. Says Megha: “You guys are one kick-ass group!” Says L.: “There’s our group name!!” And let it be noted, the Fall 2006 YTT class name is Kickasana, Sanskrit for “Kick-Ass Group.”

***

Our evening session is a restorative class with Sudha; lots of blankets and pillows, lots of crying, lots of ecstatic sighs and moans. Dinner, then celebration party preparation with E. and M.; we’re dancing to some chanty yoga music. We find a free space on the 2nd floor, a yoga studio complete with mirrors on both walls. We compare our enlarged asses, our bellies, our sweat/cafeteria stink, and our reduced ability to dance quickly after a large dinner (and a celebratory Kripalu cookie for me).

***

I sit alone at night in the empty cafeteria, tea by my side, and ruminate on Kripalu’s past and future. How long will Kripalu maintain its Indian/Sanskrit heritage? People here from Amrit’s days are slowly fading away, and there’s something so strange and sacred about having these people here like Dinabandhu, Devarshi, Megha, Rudy, Vandita, etc, who remember the guru-disciple days, the intense schedule, the honor, the duty, the sacred, the revered. As preposterous as all those things seem (e.g., Relationship Programs, wearing white for the guru, meditating for hours, waking up at 4 a.m. for yoga), they give this place a very peculiar and sacred feeling, a deep sense of history. What happens when all the Sanskrit folks fade away? What will Kripalu be like when there’s no one here with three names? I hope Kripalu never becomes glamorized as a spa, a luxurious place of manicures and Pilates classes and glossy magazines. I like its earthiness, even if I complain. The monastery feel of the building, the outdated gym equipment, the bunk beds, the hippies, the enema bathroom stall, the picture of Bapuji at the exit, the simplicity of the Main Hall and our Shadowbrook room. I hope that years from now the KYTT program is not some posh, superficial program of sweat and asana. I hope BRFWA is always the underlying theme here.

Side note: I just wrote the above, and who walks in to get water but Devarshi?! I ask him about my concern, what will Kripalu be like when the ashram folk disappear? He gave a great analogy about Kripalu being like a dandelion, that someone had to come along and blow the plant in order to get the seeds to disperse, and now the seeds are planted all over, and they’ll keep on spreading. And even as time goes on, Kripalu has a mission–yoga is not just about the perfect posture (as it is in Iyengar, for example)–it’s about the yoga of life. And Kripalu is accessible to everyone–those who want to stay in forms of 20, and those who want a private room with bath. It’s here for us all.

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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