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When I first sat down to write this post, the phrase that initially came to mind was a variation of the classic line from The Sixth Sense:

“I see dead people.”

Except in my case, the unusual phenomenon I experience is nowhere near as spooky as Haley Joel Osment’s, only occurs during highly meditative experiences (usually moving/dancing), and the people I see are bursting with life.

Skelton_DanceFloor2

In short, when I am immersed for long stretches of time in meditative activity with other people (e.g., a 3-day 5Rhythms workshop), the faces of those with whom I am moving/dancing/flowing/growing begin to fill my mind whenever I close my eyes. Sometimes it happens when I’m dancing, sometimes during meditation, and almost always occurs in those few moments before falling asleep at night.

It’s a bit like watching a movie but feels more personal, that I am not just an observer but a participant as well. It’s not intrusive at all; in fact, it feels comforting, like I have bits and pieces of each and every one of my classmates downloaded inside of me.

However, before I continue, let me refer you to some previous posts in which I describe these experiences.

Last summer, during a day-long workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Rivi Diamond, this happened near the end of the class:

“I experienced a brief sensation of aloneness as I walked through a ‘graveyard’ of bodies, people spread out in various shapes of savasana. It was as though everyone’s old self was dying, melting into the earth, and I was joining them in this passage. It was a bit sad, but when I closed my eyes I saw all of my classmates’ faces so vividly, each of them crying along with me. It may sound mournful to have that kind of vision, but it was actually an uplifting one, a bit of an energetic reminder that everyone hurts, everyone cries, everyone needs each other.”

During my month at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had all kinds of intense visualizations during savasana and meditation:

“Ever since I came here, I’ve had very vivid images dance in my head when I close my eyes. For example, when in a flowing posture, like standing forward bend or bridge, I’d close my eyes and see random snapshots of people–all Kripalu people. I’ll close my eyes at night or during savasana and see quick flashes of people in bandanas, people with shawls, smiling, happy, introspective, compassionate Kripalu people, like I’m looking in a photo album (in fast forward) of all the residents here. However, there are times (usually during chanting, centering, pranayama, and sometimes during certain poses) that I close my eyes and see us all as a unified group. Amazingly synchronized. Holding hands, or arms raised, our mouths open in Om. I see our group, our tribe, together. So tight, as One.” (source)

“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…. 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.” (source)

Now, I am a writer and have been told I have a very vivid imagination, but I honestly believe these are more than simply illustrations I have consciously planted in my mind. I don’t “conjure up” these experiences; they just happen. I don’t rest my head on my pillow at night and actively direct my brain to recount all the people I have danced with. I close my eyes, and—like a flip book—I see Christina shaking in Chaos, Rebekah swinging her hair around in Flowing, Lana lying in Stillness.

It’s almost as though my brain has been “uploading” media files all day; closing my eyes is the time for the files to play back.

Very often, I can feel this “uploading” process take place. It usually takes a few hours of movement and almost always happens during the Lyrical portion of a 5Rhythms class. I go from feeling me to feeling everyone. My eyes lift from the floor, and suddenly the people I’ve been dancing with are no longer bodies with names but rather energy with faces, and I feel amazingly connected to everyone in the room, even people who might otherwise rub me the wrong way.

It’s usually at this point I stop dancing and begin weaving in and out of the group or around the room, my eyes locking on every face I pass, my arms instinctively rising upward, my palms widening as though to collect every morsel of electric energy that is crackling in the air.

Each time my eyes gaze into another pair, there’s a little energetic camera shutter-like “snap,” that person’s image and energy being stored in my circuitry. Shortly after that, the images go from sharp to blurry, almost as if to say, “There is no separation between us. We are all one.”

Sometimes I’ll even feel like I’m embodying others. I remember one time I swung my loose hair around but “saw” my classmate’s face instead of my own underneath all that hair.

Other times my classmates become hybrids of each other. I specifically remember one moment in Stillness—I was in such a deep meditation—that in my mind’s eye the person I was dancing with had the face of one man but the clothes and mannerisms of another.

And here’s an even more curious phenomenon: There have been times after class when I see the silhouette of a classmate but the “face” my brain is trying to pin on the shadow keeps morphing. I logically know I am looking at Person A, but the face my eyes keep trying to see in the dark changes from Person A to Person B to Person C, almost like Person A is embodying everyone else, too!

The one thing I’ve noticed is that for these experiences to occur, I must be engaging in some kind of prolonged meditative work. And that’s why these “visions” don’t freak me out or make me question my sanity, because they only happen when I am in a heightened state of consciousness. Believe me, I don’t go home every day and see my coworkers’ faces behind my eyelids, although it would be nice to experience my colleagues on that kind of universal level.

Another thing that reassures me that I’m not nuts is Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke and—because of her insight and knowledge about the brain—was able to track as much of the experience as possible, as it was unfolding. In her talk, she describes the two hemispheres of the brain. The left, whose purpose is to function in the “I” voice, and then the right, which is focused on the “we”:

“Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like…. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”

When I heard her describe this, I nearly burst into tears. I felt like she was describing all of my dance/yoga/meditation experiences!

Taylor’s stroke was a huge physical setback, but those hours in which her left brain shut off and her right hemisphere took over contributed to a monumental spiritual and emotional awakening that set the course for her recovery:

“I realized ‘But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.’ I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated me to recover.”

My faces, my visions, my “uploads,” my video montages are all small reminders that we don’t need to have a stroke to experience at least a little part of what Taylor was describing.

How fortunate that I can understand this Nirvana that she speaks of, and that I can get halfway there through the right combination of movement, mindfulness, and meditation.

Sky mosaic

I’d love to hear from people who experience similar (or totally different!) visions during this kind of work. Please share your stories in the comments!

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(In late June, I spent 5 days at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. This is another installment in a series of posts documenting the experience.)

My older friend Carrol shared with me the other day that she feels her purpose in life right now is to be in the moment when someone else needs her help, assistance, or general presence. She doesn’t have grand plans to travel to India or Africa to volunteer; in fact, she finds comfort in being of aid in the smaller moments of need.

For instance, she said, she was sitting next to an elderly woman at the farmers market, who, without warning, leaned on Carrol’s shoulder to prop herself up to standing when trying to rise from a chair. Later, a parent left a small child all alone out in the middle of the bustling market, and Carrol gently ushered the child to the shade, in a chair, where the child wouldn’t be in such an open, vulnerable position. When I first met Carrol several years ago, I was impressed when she came to work one day with a giant black-and-blue welt on her arm; she had gotten slammed by a foul ball during a baseball game but said she was happy to take the hit because sitting next to her had been an older woman on one side and a child on the other, both who could have been much more seriously injured had Carrol not been there.

“I just try to live in the moment,” Carrol said, “And by doing so, I feel that I am there when I am needed.”

Our discussion reminded me of the children’s book The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth, an eloquent, watercolor-illustrated, Zen-inspired story about compassion and living in the moment. Throughout the book, the central character, a young boy named Nikolai, continues to ask the three questions for which he so desperately seeks the right answers:

When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?

That morning, as I sat in her living room, Carrol was once again following her philosophy and in a way answering those three questions: The best time was now; I—the person she was with—was the most important one; and the right thing for her to do was that which I needed: listen, hold the space, and offer gentle wisdom…not to mention chocolate avocado muffins and then, later in the day, a few beers. 🙂

Me ‘n’ Carrol

While I was away at Kripalu, there were times I got way too lost in thought in an effort to answer those three questions. Sometimes, instead of just allowing myself to sit outside and admire the mountains, I instead became a disengaged analyzer and interpreter, shuffling through the thoughts and words and images stored in my brain and trying to make sense of them, not really being aware of the landscape around me but more so using it as some kind of pretty, two-dimensional backdrop for my mental games.

It’s amazing how hard it really is to live in the moment, even at a place like Kripalu, where being present in the core of the experience!

Despite my fumbles, I did open myself to several moments of pure mindfulness and attention, and I have found those times when I dropped all the effort and just let things be are the ones that I remember most about my experience.

* * *

During a wild, trancey Let Your Yoga Dance (LYYD) class with live drumming, I peel off my saturated shirt and dance in my sports bra. So many smiles! Glow! Unfolding! Celebration! Joy! When I partner up with others, I sense something new emerge from me that I don’t remember possessing when I was here last: Uninhibited connection, a longing to share this experience with others, the drive to make this a mutual experience and not just MY dance. I can feel how I’ve grown, I can feel it in my feet, my hips, my face. My face, I let it shine, I don’t hold back. Sullen eyes don’t attract energy; radiate, shine, and the rest of the world will light up with you.

As the class wraps up, I sit with the large group in a circle, my sweaty calves and thighs plastered to the bamboo floor, the soles of my feet peppered with bits of sand and dirt, remnants from the few minutes we took our dance outdoors and paraded around the parking lot, everyone’s dance quickly becoming a “walking on hot coals” routine as the hot asphalt scorched our skin. Megha guides us in a series of cool-down motions, everyone’s arms floating to the center of the room, then away. Flowing in, flowing out. I think to myself, “This feels like a painting,” and when I turn my head to one side, I happen to notice that the executive director of the LYYD program, Irena, is taking a picture of the group.

(Those are my pale legs cut off on the upper right side.)

After class, I make my way over to see to Megha, who recognizes my name and remembers me and a letter I wrote her in 2006. In that moment, she is the most important one, and the right thing to do is give her a big hug and let her know that her energy and the influence she has on other teachers (Nikki! Suzie!) is omnipresent. We embrace, and our sweat mingles.

So sweaty, so perfect!

* * *

I sit in the dining hall during silent breakfast, refraining from pulling out a book or my BlackBerry because all I really want to do is feel the crunch of my nutty flax cereal in my mouth and watch the way my hard-boiled egg wobbles around my plate any time I move my tray. In silence and without distraction, I am able to witness so much. The slight bow of the attendant’s head as she greets people into the cafeteria. The musical clink and clank of silverware brushing against each other. A couple sitting across from each other, outstretched arms, hands holding, a silent welcoming into their shared meal. A young man pausing before he eats, eyes closed, slight smile stretched across his lips, utmost and sincere appreciation for his food. Shawls, do-rags, Lululemon, Target, sweaters, tank tops, freshly showered, damp with perspiration, so many people to witness.

At my table sits a young girl in a tie-dye shirt and messy dreadlocks in her hair. It is obvious she is part of the yoga teacher training program; her manual is open, notecards spread across the table. I get a sense that today is the final practice teach day. She stands up to return her food tray; I pull an old page out of my notebook and place it atop her materials. It is a letter I wrote when I was last at Kripalu in 2008; also at a time when a YTT was taking place. I remember feeling so honored to be at Kripalu in the middle of YTT, feeling the ebullient energy emanating from their program room, throughout the halls. I had penned the letter as a fellow former YTT student, giving them my well-wishes, respect, and understanding of the monumental experience they were currently going through. But…I never did anything with the note in 2008. It sat in my notebook for four years. So that morning, in 2012, that young girl in the tie-dye shirt was the most important one, and the right thing to do was to pass the letter along to her.

When she returns to her belongings, she looks at the letter with a quizzical expression; I nod, permission for her to take the note. She reads it at the table, her face filling with emotion as the writing unfolds. Her hand comes up to her mouth, her eyes. We exchange word-less namastes, a slight bow of the head, hands on heart. With that, she turns to go about her day. We never once use our voices, but the silent exchange is one of the most profound conversations of the day.

* * *

I am outside, sitting at a picnic table, watching the way the breeze makes the canopy above me flutter, a gentle whooshing sound. The trees lean slightly with each whisper of wind. There is so much green, and above that, so much blue. Tea mug in my hand.

At the table next to me, a chipmunk comes across a left-behind plate and bowl. Jackpot! The chipmunk nibbles on a cantaloupe rind. Pauses. Nibble. Looks around. Contemplating. Plunges its little furry head right into the bowl and drinks up whatever is left.

The chipmunk show causes me to linger. Someone else joins me at the table, a woman named Radiah who has just arrived for a 5-day qi gong program. “I’m so happy to be here!” she exclaims, before we even exchange hellos. She asks what I am there for, and I tell her about the Embodied Meditation program I participated in. I explain how we talked so much about gravity, letting go of the notion to always be “up and at ’em” and instead find time to sink down, find your roots, be OK with directing inhalations downward. Radiah is taking notes; this is what she needed to hear, she says, explaining that she is working with an artist on an installation titled “Gravity and Grace,” and until listening to me had never really understood the use of the word “gravity” in the title.

So, thank you, hungry chipmunk, for allowing me to stay in the moment, for Radiah was the most important one, and the right thing to do was to give her a new perspective on a concept she had been struggling with.

* * *

To close this post, I feel compelled to share something I heard on a podcast I was listening to this morning, before I sat down to write. The program was On Being; the title “Pursuing Happiness.” The following was shared by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks:

“The Sabbath is when we celebrate the things that are important, but not urgent. And I remember once taking…an atheist…to see a little Jewish primary school…. She’s fascinated by this Sabbath, which she has never experienced. And she asked one five-year-old boy, ‘What do you like most about the Sabbath?’…or…’What don’t you like?’ And the five-year-old boy, being an Orthodox child, says, ‘You can’t watch television. It’s terrible.’ And then she said, ‘What do you like about the Sabbath?’ and he said, ‘It’s the only time daddy doesn’t have to rush away.’ Sometimes we don’t need to pursue happiness. We just need to pause and let it catch up with us.

Ardha chandrasana off the mat, in the sky

(In late June, I spent 5 days at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. This is another installment in a series of posts documenting the experience.)

It was hard for me to leave Kripalu on Wednesday afternoon, pulling away from the sprawling green front lawn on which two students were spread wide in Warrior IIs, a woman in a red T-shirt danced through graceful qi gong movements, and another pair of women stood with notes, reviewing their YogaDance practice teach plans. This is my life, this freedom of expression without judgment or fear. How beautiful to be able to throw your arms up to the sky with a glorious Ahhhhhh!, knowing that you are more likely to have people join you in such celebration rather than shoot you sideways glances.

Kripalu is a place where in my mind the green grass becomes an aquamarine ocean, and I dance like a dolphin or orca through a cascade of waves. People walk by me, cars pass in front of me, yet I sense nothing from them but permission to be. Kripalu is a haven for silent, mutual respect—my dance receives neither cheers nor jeers, and that is all I ask. I don’t want to be shunned, but I do not want applause. With this sense of freedom, I become the mover who has always lived inside of me, dancing in the wide open because it is an expansive space of grass and sky and earth and sun, and the voice in my gut says “Dance.” So I do, and when my movement feels complete, a blue bird begins to fly around me in circles, continuous loops not very far from my body, giving me the sense that this little creature can feel the sacred energy that my being 100% pure and authentic has created.

* * *

I attended a concert one evening of my stay; John Bianculli, the musician who supported the Embodied Meditation program I was taking, was performing as part of a jazz trio. The Main Hall was set up exactly the way I had hoped: backjacks in the front of the room, chairs behind them, and then a wide open space in the back of the hall…room for movement, permission to dance.

When I arrived, a woman was stretched out on the carpet, rolling her spine back and forth, sometimes stopping to just lie in savasana, taking in the music the way her body requested it be processed. I sat down on the floor as well, sitting still in meditation first, allowing myself to sink down and feel the pull of gravity, as we had discussed earlier during our program. I let my senses take over, taking time to feel the carpet under my legs, hear the music fill the rafters, see the room glowing with soft beiges and browns, a hint of sensual red and purple from the stage lights. A light breeze came through the open windows; the long drapes danced, looking heavenly in this former chapel, so strong and fortified with its brick walls yet still so serene.

A couple next to me began ballroom dancing, and their connection and smiles and happiness were just more ingredients in this recipe of wonder. Just as people had done with my “whale dance” on the lawn, I did not stare or smirk or clap after each dip, and I did not feel the need to match their intensity or technique. It just was what it was, and having that there with me only brought more richness and gratitude into the slow and steady movement that eventually began speaking from my hips, torso, neck, and arms.

Jennifer, remember this.

Remember that place where you were given permission to roll on the carpet as a jazz trio played, moving freely, looking up at the window, your eyes fixated on the billowing beige against the unwavering brick wall, your left side moving a sweet song, your right side planted and fixed. So rooted on one side; the other half a weeping willow, a firecracker, a horse’s mane, the flow of shakti.

Remember the following day, when you were back in that same room, at the conclusion of a Shake Your Soul noontime dance class, one hand on your chest, the other extended into the center of the room, feeling the warmth of the group radiate through your palm and into your heart and vice versa, a steady loop of loving energy flowing all around you.

You looked up at the vaulted ceiling, the same ceiling you had stared at so intently in 2008 and first in 2006, when you had sneaked into the Main Hall at 1 a.m. during your yoga teacher training program, dancing in the dark, sad to be leaving soon but knowing that these memories would live on inside of you.

And here you are again, 2012, the chapel ceiling so high but feeling just a tad closer to it this time around, because you have grown and there is still room to grow.

Your two worlds—Kripalu and dance—have merged, and the union makes you weep, smile, throw your arms up, and drink in every last drop of the present moment, surrounded by strangers who seem anything but.

This is freedom.

Let freedom ring.

Let freedom dance.

(Last week, I spent 5 days at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. This is the first of what will probably be several posts documenting the experience.)

A week before my planned trip to Kripalu, I received a phone call from the reservations department, reluctantly informing me that the program I had registered for, “Dive Deep and Play,” was being cancelled due to low enrollment. I had looked forward to dancing, playing, and getting serious with two of Kripalu’s most luminous women—Jurian Hughes and Jovinna Chan—and quickly had to come up with a back-up plan. I could have opted to just make my entire stay an R+R, but I was genuinely interested in some structure for the first half of my stay (and as a consolation, Kripalu offered me an enticing 25% discount on an alternative program, plus my room and board for that period).

After some catalog perusal, I decided on taking the women-only “Embodied Meditation with Live Music for Women: Awakening Feminine Rhythm” with Bobbie Ellis and her musician husband John Bianculli. “It’s a technique that explores the moment-to-moment dance between breath and body, heart and mind,” the description stated. “Awaken sacred feminine wisdom at your own pace, developing the skills and trust you need to let the mystery itself be your deepest teacher.”

I don’t know how I missed the listing the first time around—everything about the program sounded like exactly what I needed, and the notion of having live music and ambient sounds to “evoke and entice deeper unfoldings” was a huge draw.

Yet, as I set out on the road late Friday morning to drive from New Jersey to Massachusetts, I began to fear that the last-minute change of plans was a sign that perhaps this wasn’t my time to return to Kripalu. Most of my 5-hour drive felt like some kind of metaphor: Inexplicable traffic on the NJ Turnpike, orange construction cones and barrels everywhere, shifting lanes, some form of roadwork being done on every main highway, the fact that I was feet away from taking the wrong exit and nearly turned toward Newark Airport, getting stuck in not one but two separate downpours and thunderstorms, and then making two wrong turns in West Stockbridge before finally slapping the GPS onto my dashboard, driving down Interlaken Road…and nearly blasting right by the Kripalu entrance. Oops.

However, once I rolled my luggage into the lobby, things began to feel right. The sun was back out; everyone I passed had that trademark Kripalu chillaxed look on their face. While checking in, I squealed, “I’m so excited to be back!” to the staff member, who gave me a big smile and handed me my name tag and room key (that’s relatively new; last time I was there in 2008, dorms were still unlocked). Before heading to my room, I peered at the program board, curious and anxious about who would be teaching live-drumming YogaDance the next day. Please let it be, please let it be, please let it be…MEGHA!! Sweet! I did a happy dance for the older woman volunteering at the front desk, as she knew and understood why I was eager to see Megha again.

I had arrived too late to take the 4:15 yoga class, but I was excited to see another offered at 5:15. Before class, I unpacked in my dorm room. I was pleased to claim a bottom bunk, especially because my first night—the last evening of a heat wave—was uncomfortably hot. Rooms aren’t air-conditioned at Kripalu; I knew that, but in hindsight, I should have toted a cold washcloth into bed with me. See that plush pug on the bed? That’s what I looked like on Friday night, except with a tank top and underwear. It was too warm for even the paper-thin sheet to rest on top of me.

After yoga, I ate dinner outside, taking in the fresh air and stunning views of the Berkshires. My program was set to begin at 7:30, and although the description said to “eat lightly” beforehand, I couldn’t resist a big plate of everything from the buffet: tofu topped with salsa and mango chutney, chard, eggplant, asparagus risotto, creamy bean soup, and banana bread.

The Program

Setting

My program took place in the Lakeview Room, which, unfortunately, is one of the least desirable rooms on campus. It’s in the basement of the building, which means you have to walk down a concrete corridor—past loud HVAC equipment and such—the entire time feeling like you most certainly have to be in the wrong part of the building because what yoga program would take place steps away from the laundry room and hot tub maintenance closet? The room itself is not terrible, but it doesn’t get a lot of sunlight and is one of the only rooms on campus with air-conditioning, which may sound desirable but was actually not necessary and would kick on at all the wrong times, being loud when we were trying to be soft and making us cool when we were trying to warm up.

However, when I walked into the Lakeview Room on Friday night, B Tribe’s Spiritual Spiritual album was playing, and—being that I am currently enamored with that very CD—took it as a sign that despite my original program’s cancellation, the hairy drive to Massachusetts, and the weird basement room, I was supposed to be here.

Introductions

We sat in a circle, settling in, breathing, introducing ourselves by intuiting what was resonating inside of us and describing it in a word(s) and movement. We did this three times, and for most people, by Level 3, we were getting to the meat of things. Some people had very loving, exuberant expressions; others were clearly here to help heal wounds or find the strength to move through a challenge.

Gravity

From the circle, we then spread out and stretched out on the floor, our first opportunity to play with gravity. This is one of the main tenants of Bobbie’s program, to get people to give in to gravity, allowing yourself to be pulled into the earth, releasing everything to the ground below. We are so accustomed to the “onward and upward” direction of life that we rarely give ourselves permission to return to our roots. We spent a lot of time here on the floor, using John’s live music and our own sounds to release downward: shhhhhhh, sa-sa-sa-sa-sa-sa, chi-chi-chi-chi. “Direct the sound into the area that needs attention,” Bobbie said. “Let the sound come into that spot and then out through the ground.”

I focused on my heart, and the visualization of the vibrations filling my chest and then swimming downward through that basement floor into the soil gave me a new sense of receptivity. I felt openness in my hips, my fingers danced their own mudras, my palms felt hot and unconsciously began stroking each other. At Bobbie’s request, I imagined myself falling into the ground while at the same time imagining the ground coming up to meet me. It reminded me very much of the Florence and the Machine song “Never Let Me Go”; both the earth and I were depending on each other and pleading for the other not to let go of her.

And it’s over,
And I’m going under,
But I’m not giving up!
I’m just giving in.

Bobbie encouraged us to always return to this “giving in” when stuck, rather than resort to predetermined or contrived movement. I saw this lesson as important for both dance (take time to stand still and sink in when movement isn’t occurring naturally instead of wasting energy on some token movement) and life in general (when you’re not sure what to do next, hunker down and feel your roots, your body wisdom, instead of just plowing ahead through the motions of what you think is right).

Move Like a Cell

She reminded us that, as humans, we’re mainly composed of water; thus, that is how we should move! Water is our composition, so we need to remember to move like a cell. Bring some flow into life, stop being so straight and rigid. She wrote the word “Success” on the board in front of us, followed by two drawings: a very long and loopy squiggly line and then a straight arrow. Our culture tends to see the second as the depiction of “success,” Bobbie said, but the long and loopy line can be just as effective. Take a magnifying glass to a portion of that squiggle and you’ll see focused direction of attention. Sure, it may look all over the place from far away, but as long as you’re going all over the place fully grounded and focused, then that is what matters.

Feminine vs. Masculine Energies

It’s not to say that the straightforwardness of masculine energy is bad, she noted. Feminine energy is openness, being able to hold; masculine energy is direction. Just look at the sexual organs. They are complementary, and it is this marriage of energies that makes us whole.

Femininity, Bobbie said, is receptivity and openness, an awareness to what’s going around us. Sensuality: open to feeling. The body’s language is not words. So often we stop the exploration because we have already defined it. This was our opportunity to suspend the conclusion, to stop emoting—mixing story with the feeling. Just feel.

She shared a quote from Lynn Andrews: “Power is the strength and ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another. Being able to place a circle around your own feet and take not the power from someone else’s circle.”

“What I love about some of the closest people in my life,” Bobbie said, “is their ability to get out of my way. If I have an urge, they say ‘go.'”

Exploring the Urges

We worked with the notion of urges through movement, using John’s music as a lovely soundtrack. Some movement was primal, some playful, some done by sinking into gravity with the help of soft, pliable rubber balls.

We were all doing our own thing, exploring what felt right to us, but Bobbie reminded us to use sound, open our mouths, let the air move through our mouth like wind in a cave. We moved slowly—“Go too fast and you might miss something,” Bobbie said. “One small feeling could shift your entire being.” We ended the practice lying in savasana, our hands resting below the navel in a triangle.

When we sat up, John continued playing the piano, and we opened our notebooks to journal. I found it very interesting that up until that point, I had been journaling in print, yet when my pen touched the paper after that particular exercise, the words flowed forth in cursive, penmanship I rarely use unless signing my name. My feminine nature was emerging through the pen!

One of things I wrote was a list of the 5Rhythms and how this program was making me focus primarily on the rhythms of Flowing and Stillness. I circled the two words and drew lines connecting them. Later, I realized I had pretty much subconsciously sketched the female reproductive system.

Playing with Sound

Saturday afternoon’s class was John-less, so we made our own music, primarily through chanting the sounds of the chakras, starting with the root: O, Ooo, Ahh, A, Eee, Mmm, and then silence. We chanted them in order and were then encouraged to mix and match the sounds, maybe moving from O to Mmmm or hovering between two and going back and forth. I worked on the sounds of the heart and throat chakras, and I soon realized that combining “E” and “A” sounded a bit like saying “Yay!” over and over again. 🙂

Re-Directing Inhalations

We also talked a bit about inhalations, because I had expressed that I often feel like I can never get a full breath and I’m puffing my chest to no avail. Bobbie suggested directing the inhalation in other directions—maybe even down!—instead of trying so hard to push it upward (“There’s enough of that in society!”). However, I did like experimenting with circular breathing, imagining the air coming up through the spine, out through the forehead, and then down the front of the body.

Pranayama & Asana

Sunday morning we did even more breath work, beginning with color pranayama, in which we breathed in a color that appealed to us then exhaled a color we wanted to expel. I breathed in orange and exhaled gray, the color (or lack of) of cubicle walls. Next up was a pituitary pranayama, in which we envisioned breathing in two slivers of ribbon through the nostrils, up to the space between the eyes and under the brain, and then exhaling in that pituitary space as well.

Well, pranayama is powerful, man, because when I eventually rose to standing, I felt like I was ten times taller, like my head was touching the ceiling and I was towering above everyone else. I had such a sense of largeness and presence. I remember once feeling this same way after a particularly intense massage, and my therapist said it was the feeling and awareness of my consciousness expanding.

From there, we moved right into a very slow but powerful asana practice, sinking into Goddess with some noise, an exalted Warrior on each side during which my back felt so free and my chest so open, a deep squat that my hip didn’t allow me to do, but Bobbie came to the rescue by stacking six blocks under my butt. I had never even thought of this modification, and I was so grateful to be supported, both by Bobbie (realizing I could use some assistance) and the blocks (I could do the pose without straining!).

Supported Bridge

Near the end of the practice, we were encouraged to do any final movement that felt right, and my body was asking for supported bridge pose. We had done this pose the day before with the support of the rubber balls, but I reached out for a yoga block this time. Even when Bobbie came around and asked if I’d rather use the ball, I firmly turned down the offer, sticking to the block. Maybe it was the height I craved, maybe the steady firmness of the prop, but either way, when I turned that brick to its highest level, it was as though the scales tipped and all emotion cascaded from my root straight down into my solar plexus, flooding my heart, and releasing through my throat and eyes. Big emotion, big tears.

This release was a moment of extreme clarity for me; it was brief, but it was a physical and emotional sensation tied to the quote that Bobbie had shared earlier: “Power is the strength and ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.”

Reflection

After our final sharing circle and goodbyes, I tried to find time to let everything from the past day and a half sink in. I felt a bit vulnerable but incredibly open, as though the program were timed just as so, waiting precisely until 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning for the big A-ha! moment to occur. One of my favorite places to reflect at Kripalu is the second-floor lounge, directly across from the Main Hall and overlooking the front lawn and the mountains.

I thought more about this concept of embodied meditation, not putting words to the sensation. I realized that recently I’ve had trouble journaling about some of my most intense dance/5Rhythms experiences; I feel absolutely exhilarated/raw/blissed out during class but then struggle (and get mad at myself) when I sit down and try to write about the experience here. Maybe I don’t want to assign words, I don’t want definitions, I don’t want the upper chakras to talk and explain and dialogue and dissect these very deep lower chakra experiences. I want to sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” not “Can You Discuss the Matter of Love Tonight?” I just want to feel. Suspend the conclusion.

Shortly after that, I made my way to the Healing Arts center on the fourth floor for a reflexology appointment. If femininity is being receptive and open, then my feet are very feminine, because for me, reflexology work is like transcendental hypnosis from the toes upward. I saw colors, I saw very light and white objects in my mind’s eye (bathroom tile, steam, soap), I felt an incredibly warmth in the ball of my right foot. Fifty minutes later, when the therapist concluded and left the room, I sat up and immediately burst into tears, not sad, no emotion tied to it—just a very welcome release.

My feet had never felt so fixed and firm on the ground; it was as though electricity was buzzing from my soles straight into the earth. I looked in the mirror, and my eyes were fierce and open, dilated, the kind of wildness that I remember shining from Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa’s eyes when she visited Kripalu. Kundalini eyes. Shakti eyes.

Cleaned, massaged, stroked, and set ablaze, my feet somehow managed to carry my noodle-like legs out of the room, down four flights of stairs, and outside on the grass of the front lawn for my first steps into openness and abandon.

Today I am reuniting with two sacred spaces: Kripalu, and myself.

It’s no secret that Kripalu means a lot to me: I was there in 2006 for my monthlong yoga teacher training and then returned in 2008 for a Let Your Yoga Dance weekend. When I checked in during the latter program, the woman at the front desk smiled, handed me my name tag, and said, “Welcome home.”

Kripalu is home because it brings me back to my foundation, strips off all the mumbo jumbo of everyday life, and allows me some time to see what’s going on deep inside this 31-almost-32-year-old body. It’s a bit of an anthropological endeavor, taking this corporeal being, dusting it off, peeling away layers of guck and grime, and examining the raw treasure that has always resided within me.

Last time I was at Kripalu, I tried to reconstruct my prior experience there, wanting so badly to trace my old footsteps and routines, but quickly realized that who I was in 2006 was not who I was in 2008, and Kripalu itself had changed dramatically in those two years.

This time, I come in ready to breathe in the old recollections of how I was in 2006/2008, how I grew while there, and how much I’ve grown since then.

I have a new skin, a richer self, and I am ready to live in the inquiry of yoga.

Atha Yoga Nushasanam~
And now, the inquiry of yoga.

(Also, this is what I’ll be doing there.)

Back in the fall, to commemorate my 5-year anniversary of graduating from the 200-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training Program, I took on a very extensive and revealing blogging endeavor of transcribing and posting (most of) my journal notes from the experience. The posts were well received, and—judging by my WordPress site stats—I can see that they are being read by others out there interested in learning more about the Kripalu experience.

At the end of the month-long documentation, I promised I’d do a reflection post about YTT at Kripalu to summarize the pros and cons of the program. I loved my experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but there are certainly some things about the program to consider if you’re on the fence about where to study.

(Background: I completed the month-long, 200-hour YTT program in October-November 2006, led by Megha [Nancy Buttenheim] and Rudy Peirce.)

PROS

Exposure to a variety of teachers and styles. Our curriculum included twice-daily 90-minute yoga classes, which meant we had a lot of guest teachers who specialized in a variety of styles. Kripalu yoga can be gentle, moderate, or vigorous; we had mornings where we’d be squatting in utkatasana for a minute and others where we’d be nearly drifting off to sleep during a 6:30 a.m. yoga nidra practice. Where else does your day start with a playful and fun vinyasa class led by a grown man with pigtails and then conclude with a sensual and deep journey into asana and meditation led by a tantric master? Our classes were led by both senior and newly minted teachers, meaning we got to see where we hoped to be ourselves in the near and distant future.

Nothing to do but focus on yourself. When living in a yoga community in the mountains for a month, all of life’s everyday routines are removed: washing the dishes, feeding the cat, changing diapers, commuting to and from work, deciding what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner, checking your e-mail, putting on makeup, changing the burned-out lightbulb. When the mundane necessities of life are no longer in the picture, the only thing remaining is…you. This can be scary but oh-so therapeutic. After a few days, the void normally filled by these little distractions fills with time for honest self-reflection. It is why every room at Kripalu contains a box of tissues: When deep issues are unearthed, they have nowhere to go but out; no running off to vacuum the living room or rearrange the condiment shelf in the refrigerator. Opportunities like this don’t happen often: Take the time away from “real life” to get to know the soul inhabiting that often-frenzied body you carry around.

It’s the yoga of life. Kripalu yoga teacher training goes beyond the asanas, the pranayama, and the meditation (all great thing, though!): You learn and apply the yoga of life, taking time to engage in conscious listening/communication, find and strengthen your voice, and practice compassion and lovingkindness. Several small group discussions in YTT went well beyond just mat-talk; people talked openly and honestly about past experiences, traumas, current struggles, and fears of the future. Everything you learn at Kripalu will follow you home and constantly remind you to live in the inquiry.

The food. It’s fresh. It’s natural. It’s chopped and diced and prepped lovingly by volunteers. Best of all, it’s there for you three times a day, along with a 24-hour tea stash. I could have my usual bowl of high-fiber cereal with walnuts and raisins and rice milk, or I could have a slice of frittata with a rosemary biscuit (or all of the above). If you’re there in the fall, THE SOUPS. A simple slice of toast with peanut butter and jelly becomes a special treat when your realize dessert is only served once or twice a week. Warning: It’s easy to go overboard, especially when you’re all vulnerable and shit. Let me eat my feelings along with this third helping of country-fried tofu, why don’t I?

Modifications a’plenty. Kripalu yoga is all about making yoga right for you. Kripalu teacher trainees are taught numerous variations on a pose, including different stances, prop usage, or just plain substitutes for certain asanas. What works for your body? Do you need a rolled-up blanket? A cushion? How about a block with a blanket and an eye pillow? I was super flexible 5 years ago and didn’t really consider limitations, but now that I have a hip thing, I am ever-so-grateful for my Kripalu training and the assurance that it is 100% completely OK to modify a pose or just not do it when something hurts. My training gave me the gift of creativity, so in my own practice I have the knowledge to play around with props or different forms of a pose when my body just doesn’t feel quite right. The “perfect pose” is the one that offers you openness and joy without pain.

Daily dance parties. Most of our daily sessions began with music thumping and bodies moving freely into the open space. Hey, if you’re going to be sitting for 3 hours straight learning about the yamas and niyamas, best to start the classes by getting the blood flowing and endorphins rushing. How I would love to start each work day with 5 minutes of booty shaking in the hallway!

Integration. After each session, we’d close with pranayama, meditation, or a round of co-listening with a partner. It was a way to take all the huge concepts we just learned and give them time to settle into our bodies, complete the download, so to speak. We crammed a lot into those 28 days, and it would have been easy to get overwhelmed. Even mini deep-breathing pauses in the middle of a class helped ground us and bring us all back to the same wavelength.

Quick turnaround. One of the main reasons I chose Kripalu was because I knew I’d be certified in a month. I was so gung ho on becoming a teacher that I was just too impatient to enroll in a program that only met one weekend a month and took 8 months to a year to complete.

International flavor. Studying yoga at a nationally renowned center attracts people from all over the country…and the world. My class included students from Hawaii, California, Florida, Ireland, Japan, Australia, and even a woman who lived just two towns over from me. The diversity at Kripalu is much greater than anything you’d get at a local YTT program, and even people’s backgrounds were simply fascinating: I mean, I shared a dorm room with a Cirque du Soleil aerialist!

CONS

An insular utopia. Yes, I mentioned above that being holed away in a retreat center allows your true self to emerge, but this can also be problematic once you try to leave the bubble. Kripalu tends to attract only kind, compassionate, mindful folks; step outside into the real world, and no one’s wearing nametags and giving you a silent Namaste when you pass them in the street. I only left the campus once or twice during my month there, and so even things like the sound of cars on the road and Christmas music piped into stores jarred my senses and made me feel very uneasy. If feasible, I suggest a day or two of re-integration, maybe getting a hotel room off-site and gently easing yourself back into reality instead of just hopping directly onto the Greyhound bus and heading straight into Manhattan.

All conditions are ideal. Ideal, not necessarily real. It’s why people get upset at shows like The Biggest Loser, where contestants live on a ranch, have world-class trainers by their side, eat only the best foods prepared by the best chefs, and work out 4 hours a day without having to worry about jobs or kids or mowing the lawn. Yeah, it’s great, but then it comes time to return home and try to apply everything you just learned in a shitstorm of deadlines, bills, morning gridlock, and insomniac toddlers. I went from doing at least 3 hours of yoga each day to maybe 1 hour three times per week…and consequently went through honest-to-god yoga withdrawal, my brain craving the biochemical reactions that daily yoga provided. Although it’s not always financially do-able, the 2-part monthlong program (split into two 12-day sessions) may be more realistic in terms of taking what you learn and applying it to real life.

Lack of post-graduation support/community. You eat, sleep, and study with a wonderful group of people for a month, share with them your deepest and darkest secrets, cry on their shoulder, massage their calves, declare that This Group is the circle of friends you’ve been seeking your whole life…and then after 28 days, *poof* Everyone boards their plane, train, bus, or car and heads home, back to Ireland, back to Australia, back across the country. Of course, technology makes it easy to stay in touch with a group, but it’s simply not the same as studying in a local yoga studio and being able to take class with a core group of mates from your YTT class. People who stay closer to home and do a local YTT have such a greater opportunity to keep that bond alive by, for example, meeting up for coffee or registering for a weekend workshop together.

Leaving your YTT teachers is also difficult, as they just don’t have the time to keep in touch with every student under their tutelage. With a local YTT, you may get to see your teachers weekly and rely on them for advice, suggestions, and support; at Kripalu, once your group of 60 graduates, the next group is waiting at the door. Kripalu teachers are generally fairly busy folks with rigid teaching/training/travel schedules and simply cannot offer the personal support you may need post-graduation.

Heavy responsibility. You’re training not just to be a yoga teacher but a Kripalu yoga teacher. The name carries a lot of weight; Kripalu has a history, a reputation, and prestige. This freaked me the hell out—people would expect me to be a Super Awesome Compassionate Yoga Teacher, but what if I couldn’t pull that off? In addition, the premise of Kripalu YTT is that you can change the world. Be the change! Spread the love! Take this knowledge we’re imparting on you and do something with it. Man, talk about pressure! I got home not knowing whether I should teach yoga, join the Peace Corps, or live in a leper colony in India. For me, I was so overwhelmed that I just sat in a relatively catatonic state for about a week afterwards, trying to process everything.

Practice-teach fail. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest downfalls of the Kripalu YTT: No opportunities to practice-teach real-world students. Many local YTTs have “practice-teach” weeks, a stretch of free or discounted classes—open to the public—where trainees can get guided experience in working with a variety of bodies, abilities, and personalities before they go solo. At Kripalu, the only students you teach are your fellow classmates…who, ahem, are already pretty adept at yoga. Try going from that to teaching a class with mixed abilities, where one woman has trouble sitting on the floor and the other is a seasoned yogi with ripped chaturanga arms. During our training, we had one opportunity to assist with a public class, but that was maybe 15 of us assisting all at once as a senior teacher led the class. We did our best to take on “beginner’s” minds for our fellow classmates during each of our three practice-teach sessions, but this is still minimal preparation for the task of leading actual beginners.

If you completed the Kripalu YTT, I’d love to hear your take!
And good luck to all the trainees headed out there this summer (::coughcoughLiberezVouscoughcough::). 🙂

In an effort to explore some of the things “stirring” me lately, I have done what all people do when they are petrified of looking to the future: Look at the past, of course.

Source: Allie Brosh (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com)

Right about this time 5 years ago, I was grappling with the decision to “retire” from teaching yoga after doing it for only half a year, as documented in my old journal:

“My personal practice has suffered greatly because of this new role I’ve placed upon myself. Before I was ‘teacher,’ I was a sponge. I voluntarily soaked up every ounce of yoga knowledge I could find, and I loved it. I loved reading Yoga Journal, I loved reading Iyengar’s books, I loved taking class from master teachers and learning just to learn. But now that I’m ‘teacher,’ doing all of those things feel like work, like I’m preparing from some huge exam.

“I can’t sit back and read Yoga Journal just because…. I read it like I have to download every article into my brain and remember the key points so I can recall them back to future students. It’s like required reading in high school. Remember all those great books we were forced to read that weren’t so ‘great’ at the time because it was required? And then in college, maybe you picked up The Scarlet Letter just for the heck of it, read it at leisure, and then were like, ‘WOW! What a great book! I didn’t want to put it down!’ The practice of reading is wholly different when there are expectations vs. no expectations. And that’s kind of how I feel, in a nutshell.

“Yoga is very complicated… it’s not just about teaching down dog and savasana. There are so many facets of yoga, very deep concepts that even I can’t into words sometimes. I just feel it. I can’t recite it back to anyone. And I had only been practicing yoga for about two years—seriously practicing it—before becoming a teacher. When I signed up for the teacher training, I thought two years was enough. Yoga had changed my life in two years, so obviously I got it and was ready to spread the love. But…I don’t think it’s turning out how I expected.

“I feel so inexperienced, not just compared with other teachers, but I feel like I’m a little girl trying flop around the house in daddy’s huge work boots. I haven’t grown into this role yet.”

However, just days after I declared that I was done with teaching and requested my name be taken off the teacher list at the studio where I worked, I taught one final, last-hurrah Friday night “happy hour” class. It is the class that has haunted me since, not because it marked the poignant end of an era or that it flat-out sucked.

No, quite the contrary. It haunts me because it was possibly one of the best classes I ever taught, and one in which—possibly because I knew it was my last one and all pressure was off—I stood at the front of the room as Me, Jennifer, Lover of Yoga/Movement/Dance, and not a lofty mental fabrication of what I thought a yoga teacher should be. I took what I loved about Kripalu yoga, blended in some of the things I learned during all the DansKinetics classes I took during my month at Kripalu, and topped it off with my own personal touch.

For once, the shoes on my feet were no longer “daddy’s huge work boots”; I was wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers.

Here’s what I wrote after the class:

“I led a really great yoga class tonight for Yoga Happy Hour. It’s after classes like this when I wonder why I ever doubted my abilities and passion. I planned the class last night as I was listening to some tribal drumming music. I was all set to teach one of my regular gentle classes, but then I thought, Hmm, this is Happy Hour yoga! I need to develop something upbeat, incredibly fun, and rockin’!

“So I based my class around specific songs and music styles, using the tribal drumming, of course (KDZ for all you Kripalu folks out there), trippy Peter Gabriel music from Birdy, and hula songs by Iz. I even managed to incorporate some Stage 3 Meditation in Motion elements in there. I found a really hypnotic song, led everyone through some basic sun salutes, and then opened the floor for some prana response. Man, what fun to watch! They did it!

“I think my plan of integrating several dance elements throughout the practice really helped, too, because I work really well with good music. I had everyone rolling their shoulders and hips and doing some intense hara moves like Breath of Joy and Pulling Prana. I even threw in a few minutes of walking meditation! I was on a roll!

“The best was hearing some feedback from Joe, a guy from Tuesday night Kundalini, who said the class snapped him out of the depressed/withdrawn funk he’s been in for the past week. And he really appreciated the chance to just sway to the music and hop around to the tribal drums and just get in tune with himself. Dude! That’s my main objective. I just want people to feel free.”

I guess what I’m getting at is that these feelings of “wanting people to feel free” are creeping up on me again, becoming especially intense nowadays since all I do in my spare time is dance. I dance before work, after work, every weekend, even in my dreams. I hardly go to the gym anymore; I wear myself out enough doing a self-led 5Rhythms practice in my living room.

The question is: Does this passion need to be a career? How formal do we need to be about something we love for it to feel validated? I remember back in 2007, I was all set to attend a YogaDance program at Kripalu, but I ended up having to cancel due to my husband’s 10-year high school reunion being the same weekend. At first, I was utterly devastated to miss out on this Very Important Dance Program, but as it turned out, going to the reunion gave me the opportunity to be a dance teacher in a different, real-world context:

“What I loved about this event is that I actually DID, truly, let my yoga dance. The music was pulsing all night and stirring the dancer inside to get up and move. Absolutely no one else, though, was on the dance floor, and I withheld. But the second I saw some random guy approach the floor, bopping with a beer in his hand, I leaped on the opportunity and bounded up there to draw him on the dance floor. It worked, and soon D., D., and I were dancing like crazybirds, just the three of us, in front of a group of classmates.

“It was fabulous music, the stuff I love, so I was totally into the flow. Before I knew it, I really was kicking off my shoes and letting my hair down. The wife of one of Bryan’s friends said that I looked like I was having so much fun that she couldn’t help joining me on the dance floor. She looked like an otherwise stiff person, and I was happy to see her moving and flailing and sweating and shaking. At one point we were even slow dancing together to some R&B song, because everyone else had left the floor. We twirled each other, tangoed, waltzed, me guiding her along the entire time.

“It dawned on me then that what I was doing there was what I would have been doing at Kripalu: dancing with others, being free, helping others let go and let their bodies take over. I didn’t have to be 5 hours away in a Massachusetts yoga ashram to let my yoga dance. I had brought Kripalu here, in the real world. I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly, and had incredibly dirty feet, but I felt so content and happy for following the call of music and dancing. Just dancing.

One of my favorite “in the moment” dance floor photos.

When I started this blog a little more than a year ago, my vision was to reach out and connect with other like-minded individuals but it wasn’t necessarily my be-all, end-all goal. I had been blogging about yoga, dance, and related mind-body activities for years, but I restricted my posts to a limited audience, and I always felt guilty for plaguing my friends’ feeds with my contemplative posts about Kripalu, kundalini, and chaotic drum circles.

So when yogi/blogger Liberez Vous contacted me to let me know that she was gracing my blog with the Liebster Award (German for favorite, dearest, or beloved) for inspiring her through my words, I did what makes me me: I stood up from the kitchen table and did the happy dance around the ceramic-tiled floor. I write mostly for myself, but I love knowing there are other eyes out there taking in my oftentimes quirky collages of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Even cooler, Liberez Vous digs me mostly for my musings on my month-long yoga teacher training experience at Kripalu, that weepy/emo/euphoric series of 29 posts that recounted each day of my wild journey to becoming a yoga teacher. Bless her for following along and not getting freaked out, especially when I discussed having visions of a garden full of eyeballs or the time I swore my yoga mat was turning into a Magic Eye book. It must’ve sparked something in her, because she’s applied to the Kripalu YTT program as well. Wish her luck!

What I’ve learned about the Liebster Award is that it is awarded by bloggers to other, newer bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers, to spread the word and help the “new(er)bies” gain wider recognition. The award comes with four conditions that each recipient must satisfy when accepting:

1. Choose 5 up-and-coming blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) to award the Liebster to.
2. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
3. Post the award on your blog. List the bloggers you are giving the award to with links to their sites. Leave comments on their blogs so they know about the award.
4. Share 5 random facts about yourself that people don’t know about you.

That said, I’m ready to spread the Liebster love! Please welcome…


Eating From the Earth. Emma, one of my nearest and dearest friends from high school, is essentially a 21st-century Laura Ingalls Wilder. She’s a full-time pharmacist, wife, and mother of 2.5-year-old Gabriella (cutest toddler ever!), yet somehow finds the time to cook everything from scratch and make by hand nearly everything she wears. It’s sickening! 🙂 I once ate a meal at her place in which the noodles in the butternut squash lasagna were made at home, and the bread we broke started as yeast and water in her oven. Emma doesn’t post often, but clearly that’s because she is outside stomping grapes for wine or de-feathering a chicken or something.


VeggieVinyasa. I don’t know Angela personally, but her posts—usually about food or yoga—are refreshing (both visually and mouthwatering) and so clean and sleek, like a center spread out of Whole Living magazine. The inside of her refrigerator looks like a miniature farmers market, whereas mine is housing beer, leftover baked beans, and a box of tomato soup that I’m fairly certain has turned into a solid by now. Go read her recipes, and learn some Sanskrit while you’re at it, too!


Hour 23. Join California native Jessica for her touching posts about motherhood and learning the delicate balance of being a full-time working mama. I first connected with Jess via our old blogging stomping ground, and we actually had the chance to meet several years ago when she was in New Jersey to visit family. Jess’ posts about raising Charlie V are honest, hilarious, and chock full of photos, both tender (like the one of her son mesmerized by garbage trucks) or downright silly (like the one of her mom trying to take a self-portrait with her iPhone in the bathroom mirror).


Me vs. Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. I stumbled across Nicole’s blog after it popped up in my Google Alerts for “Kripalu,” because I love reading about others’ experience at the yoga center in Massachusetts. She had been there for a retreat with her husband, who was just getting acquainted with the practice. She writes openly and down to earth about the process of turning her solo yoga practice into a shared experience with her spouse. Nicole has a unique medical condition that she occasionally discusses in her posts, but for the most part she simply blogs about what keeps her sane—yoga—and the solace it brings to her often-aching body.

Adventures of Flapjacks. This little lobster has some big adventures, which all started in 2003 when my husband and I “rescued” him from a cruise ship gift shop. He’s became a 3-D version of Flat Stanley, traveling wherever we travel and always finding new ways to charm his followers (especially when he wears his miniature Mickey Mouse ears in Disney World). He’s been to Detroit, on ski trips, to Kripalu (twice!), both Disney World and Disneyland, the Jersey shore, the Franklin Institute, plus he’s run for office several times. His obsessions are Starbucks lattes/Frappuccinos, motorcycles, the teacups ride in Fantasyland, and operating the laser gun in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Flapjacks apologizes for all the random Cyrillic on his blog; he’s getting a bit frustrated with the LiveJournal platform and plans on upgrading to a WordPress blog soon.

Congratulations, Liebster inductees!

Finally, to fulfill the last requirement of being a Liebster blogger, here are 5 random facts about me:

• My sister and I both have mild forms of trypophobia, a “fear” of holes, clusters, and repeated patterns. For example, honeycomb, crumpets, and wasps’ nests make us want to hurl.
• I have never pumped my own gas. (I live in New Jersey, one of only two states in the country where it is technically illegal to pump your own, and anytime I’ve been in other states, I’ve had someone else with me who’d do it!)
• I’ve been to China/Tibet and Egypt but never to Canada, which we could drive to in about 8 hours.
• I haven’t eaten beef since I was 14.
• If I hear the Wishes soundtrack (fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom), it will take me approximately 0.64 seconds to start crying on the spot.

Oprah always made “aha!” moments sound so inspiring and colorful and uplifting, but sometimes an “aha!” moment makes you feel like crap.

My depressing “aha!” moment happened the other day, as I was expressing to a friend my great interest in airplanes:

“The funny thing is, I am obsessed with big planes but I’m actually afraid of flying.”

The enormity of this sentence hit me as soon as the words escaped my mouth. Was I actually talking about Lufthansa and FedEx jets, or was I just exposing a deep, shameful layer of my inner being, that I am obsessed with grand ideas but too much of a scaredy cat to get them off the ground?

After all, “planes” is “plans” with just one extra letter.

The parallels are almost frightening. Take the airplane thing. I love the structure of planes, their sleek design, the technology that allows them to take off and land, to straighten themselves out on a windy day. The choreography of flight patterns, the ballet of metal birds in the clouds, a giant football play sheet in which the Xs and Os are instead 737s and DC-10s.

I learn the lingo, expand my vocabulary, noting that the call sign for U.S. Air is “Cactus” and how the final three steps of an airplane’s arrival are termed “downwind,” “base,” and “final.” My Netflix history shows that I’ve watched documentaries about American Airlines and Air Force One, and I’ve confessed to hiding in a corner in Barnes & Noble, a magazine about commercial airliners between my legs.

But when it comes time for me to fly, I clutch Bryan’s hand as we barrel down the runway and dare not breathe when the plane’s wheels leave the ground. I don’t get sick over flying, but I don’t necessarily enjoy it, either.

I wish I could say I plaster myself against the window and spend every moment in the sky being utterly amazed that, well, I’m in the mother f****n’ sky, but the truth is that I peek out the window with trepidation, afraid that me shifting a few inches to the right will somehow cause the whole aircraft to lurch, and soon we’ll be spiraling out of control through the clouds, all because of my natural desire to fully enjoy the moment of being in flight.

My real-life planes plans are not much different. I think of yoga, how when I was first introduced to it in 2005, I fully immersed myself in all things asana. I subscribed to Yoga Journal, reading each article several times in an effort to memorize the lingo, the Sanskrit that holds the practice together. I attended workshops and master classes, admiring the instructors and their effortless poses, taking notes, itching to become an expert.

I was in love with the details, the schematics. I went to flight school (yoga teacher training). How I loved being around all these seasoned pilots! My fellow students and I talked the talk, stayed up late into the night to share notes and fantasies of flight. We doodled our own flight plans, imaging how one day we’d soar to new heights.

But then when it came time for my test flights, I always felt like I was sputtering and swinging aimlessly between clouds. The feeling of ascending was not as gratifying as I had envisioned. The moment I got my pilot’s license, I already knew deep inside that I didn’t want to fly.

It’s not much different today. I think, I could organize a lunch-hour dance party at my office, I could learn to teach dance to older adults, I could do this training and make movement my second career.

I have surrounded myself with books and blogs and images of dancing, scurrying off to class after class, fascinated with the details, colors, and nuances of movement, painting pictures in my mind of my body as an airplane, a bird, an angel far above this earth. Sometimes during a class I rush across the studio floor and take off, but the flight is never more than an out-and-back.

I feel like somewhere in my notes and doodles and vocabulary there is a flight plan for a trans-Atlantic journey, but the question is whether I’ll ever work up the courage to sit down in the cabin with courage and allow myself to look out that window without fear of falling out of the sky.

Descending into Lhasa, 2006

It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap…

It’s time to try defying gravity
I think I’ll try defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down.

~ “Defying Gravity,” Wicked

(Note. This post is dedicated to Meg from Spirit Moves Dance, who is already on her way to 35,000 feet and has no intention of lowering her landing gear anytime soon. :-))

My favorite dance blogger Meg used to do a series called “Inspiration Tuesday,” and each week she’d post a collection of interesting/beautiful/inspiring stuff from the internet.

Her blogging focus has since changed and the series is no longer, but there is still inspiring stuff out there! I have links and I want to share!

(1) The video “Gestures,” featured on the Colors in Motion® “Experiences” website. It’s dance, watercolor, and music all meshed into one beautiful experience.

I found the site through (2) Kripalu’s blog, Thrive, also a link worth bookmarking. A note to whomever moderates this blog dedicated solely to Kripalu-related endeavors: You have my dream job. If you ever hit the jackpot, retire, or move on to a new career, please shoot me an e-mail, PLZOKTHX.

For more videos like Gestures, see Colors in Motion’s Touchstone page. (I’m particularly fond of August’s “Light Dances.”)

(3) Another video that has pleased my neurons is “Moments,” featured on Everynone.com, which I gave a shout-out to previously for their “Laughs!” video.

“Moments” is slightly longer and a bit more emotional. It reminds me of a miniature version of Life in a Day, a full-length movie compiled from YouTube clips from around the world. They are both reminders that ordinary moments are extraordinary when you look at them with mindfulness and awe.

(4) The next video I found via the Let Your Yoga Dance Facebook page. Never, ever say you can’t dance because you have two left feet.

(5) Finally, I am tipping my proverbial hat to Lucia Rose Horan, a 5Rhythms master teacher who I am ecstatic to be taking class with next weekend. Watch her let loose here.

Comment with an online video/website/photo that’s been stirring your soul lately!

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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