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I think there’s some kind of universal phenomenon that when you’re by yourself, wearily and contemplatively driving down an empty road in the middle of the night, whenever you decide to click on the radio, the song that comes to life will be speaking EXACTLY to you. Even if it’s Nickelback or Carly Rae Jepsen or some awful modern-day remix of a song from the ’60s you used to love…somehow, in your vulnerable and delirious state of mind, that song is suddenly the most significant ballad of your current life. You nod along, yelling an emotional “Yeah!” to the deserted road, alternating between laughing giddily at the appropriateness of every word and sobbing between the bridge and the final verse.

I’m really bad at following modern music, so I didn’t know anything about “my” song the other night/morning, except that I had heard it played a lot during the Olympics. Google has since informed me that the song was “Home,” by Phillip Phillips:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

OK, so, in all honestly, these lyrics are nothing amazing. Road metaphors? “You’re not alone”? Song Clichés 101. But again, at eleventy-baglock in the morning, Phillip Phillips had become my personal troubadour. Clearly, he had worked with the universe to get his song to play on my car stereo the very moment my desperate hand reached for the radio button.

A 5Rhythms class with Peter Fodera earlier in the day (a Waves class, too. See line 3 of the song. THE RADIO GODS KNOW.) had put me in this state. Peter had spent some time using new direction with us, material from a “Threshold/Gateway” workshop he’s recently developed.

His description:

Every journey begins with the first step, and often taking that first step through the threshold is the most difficult part of the journey. Gateways are often guarded by challenges or difficulties that we have to overcome in order to continue down the path. Beginnings take a great deal of faith and surrender.

As a way of getting us to take these first steps into each rhythm mindfully and with clarity, Peter abandoned the traditional 5Rhythms structure of transitioning seamlessly from one rhythm into another and instead stopped and started the music for each rhythm, giving us specific instruction for beginning each one. With his use of the word “threshold,” I kept thinking of a house, each room being one of the rhythms. What Peter was having us do was enter each room with a new perspective, maybe opening the front door with gratitude and appreciation instead of flinging it open in a mad rush.

  • For Flowing, Peter scattered rubber snakes all over the floor as a reminder of staying grounded, the way snakes are. We were to dance only with our feet—no arms—with instruction to be aware of the snakes but not to pay attention to them.
  • For Staccato, Peter cranked up a thumping, throbbing, bass-filled song and instructed us not to move. When we were allowed to move, it was only briefly, before we were asked to come to stillness again. It was torture! However, the lesson was clear: True Staccato emerges only when you give it time to speak, when its message is fully developed and ready to scream out to the world. As much as I wanted to shift into Staccato the second I heard that music, being still and giving things time to stir inside made the eventual hip-centric dance more intensely powerful than anything I would’ve done straight out of Flowing.
  • In Chaos, we were encouraged to let go of our heads, maybe even positioning ourselves on hands and knees and just letting the head go wild. I was at first resistant to this instruction, but when the wild music started, I had a vision of me standing in front of an out-of-control train, headlight blinding me, the engine roar growing louder and louder. It was so vivid that it dropped me to my knees, and then there I was, on my hands and knees, giving in to Chaos.
  • Lyrical, a rhythm for which I tend to use my whole body, was initiated with instruction to dance from the fingers and hands. Any other day, I wouldn’t have liked this specificity, but given that Chaos had rendered me a sweaty, sprawled out mess on the gritty wood floor, I was OK with letting my torso and legs remain dead weight and my fingers do all the work. I eventually got off the ground and found myself engaged in a wonderfully lighthearted ballet guided by my hands.
  • In Stillness, the focus is on the breath. Peter instructed us to be mindful of our inhales and exhales, maybe only moving on one or the other. This was a good lesson for me, because sometimes my Stillnesses are so poignant that I hold all the emotion in my throat and forget to breathe.

So here we were, crossing these thresholds in an attempt to come home in our bodies. However, even in a house/practice you are so familiar with, sometimes entering the room/rhythm in a new way or different manner throws things askew. How refreshing it is to step into your kitchen on a Sunday morning, coffee in hand, breakfast on the table? But what if you enter that same kitchen in a distracted tizzy, grocery bags flying everywhere as you attempt to put everything away in 5 seconds before you have to rush out the door again?

Changing up the manner in which you approach a rhythm can make the whole house feel like it’s falling down. I’ve always seen Stillness as the sturdy foundation of my dance but during Saturday’s class I felt more like I had descended into the heart of my home, the basement, without a flashlight. I was still in the same place—the deepest spot of my home, an earthen room of quietness where heat and electricity originate—but without that flashlight I felt lost in my own home. I got scared. The breath didn’t flow as easily, and I could feel my body tighten and tremble. I tried to feel my way around and remind myself where I was; every now and then I got glimpses of daylight, but I allowed the fear to overcome me. My Stillness shifted into uncontrollable shaking and sweating, an unnerving vibration coursing through my center like a furnace ready to blow.

It was one of the few times during a class that I wanted to exit the floor. I was facing so much resistance; emotions and thoughts were getting the best of me. However, two things kept me planted:

1. Like the song lyrics from above, I knew that everyone there with me was on an unfamiliar road. None of was alone; we were all there for each other. It was a safe place, a space for openness and exploration, a metaphorical group home for our souls and spirits to grow, heal, and learn.

2. As a Kripalu yoga teacher, I am very familiar with the practice’s philosophy of “BRFWA“: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow, the five steps to handling any kind of strong emotions or physical sensations. I dealt with a very similar situation during a yoga class in 2006; the recommendation is to simply ride the wave.

So I stayed in the basement that Saturday afternoon in Stillness, BRFWAing through the unease rather than running out the cellar door. If I ran away, my dance—my home—wouldn’t be complete, despite its internal tremblings and instability. I simply wanted to be there to the end.

Five years ago on this day, I wake up to clouds. It’s our first overcast, drizzly day in a while, yet not too cold, not too gloomy. Not gloomy at all, actually. The heavy white clouds linger over the mountaintops, moving in slow motion. Nature’s ghosts inhabiting the Berkshires.

Rudy leads a soul-soaking morning sadhana, exactly what we needed after yesterday’s anxiety and fatigue. We do an extra long savasana and pranayama meditation. I “wake up” feeling like he was leading just me, that it was just teacher and student alone, so caressed and blessed. I ask for a hug afterward, to seal the practice. I feel so at ease but at the same time so vulnerable. Always a paradox between comfort and fear, rawness and openness. The desire of being cared for, the fear of being cared for.

After class, a group of us stand outside to soak in the picturesque panorama, all huddled by the doorway to avoid the puddle-filled walkway. Our group, standing silently, mesmerized at the view. The gatekeepers of peace, defending our right to be content, our right to just be and just be. Silence, but so loud and clear. We are here. We are allowed to just be silent and still enjoy each other.

***

For our morning session, Patton (Dinabandhu) Sarley [then the CEO of Kripalu] speaks to us about the essence of yoga. “What happens in the body happens in the mind. What happens in the mind happens in the body.” To emphasize this point, he describes how a glove doesn’t move without the fingers moving, and the fingers don’t move without the glove moving. “The body is a gross mind; the mind is a subtle body.” His talk is chock full of great points:

• Narcissism: When you believe the way you feel is the way it is.

• Everything arises out of undifferentiated nothingness, therefore we all come from the same thing. We are One.

• What you say, think, feel, and do are the same. When they are not aligned, it’s not focused and less effective. For example, imagine chopping wood with the wrong side of an ax versus using the sharp side, with all momentum and pressure on one concentrated point. It’s more effective. When there is integrated action, all cells the endocrine system start to produce a certain chemical “soup” of consciousness.

• Intelligence is detected with creativity engaged with an aim. For example, when a lawnmower is left on its own until it hits something it will just starting spinning its wheels, whereas when a person is walking to the back of the room, he avoids people, furniture, takes detours. Life’s aim is survival, more life.  Intelligence of life force = quest for more life. Yoga is the science of life, belonging to the mystery.

• All mammals have the mammalian brain (limbic system), and all humans and higher beings also have the neocortex, the “new brain.” Yoga is becoming a human on the animal and human level, getting the limbic system and new brain integrated. When the limbic system and neocortex don’t connect, there is cognitive dissonance. During yoga, we are allowed to explore these feelings, but we keep hitting the ceiling (ie, new brain). The point of yoga is to develop the chemical for lifeforce, and do yoga often enough so you can be aware what integrated function tastes like, smells like, feels like, etc, working from the inside out. Do yoga to know when you’re “on,” when you’re “off,” and how to get back on when you’re off.

• Yoga is the force that holds together the four elements of our existence: You, Others, Spirit, Life. All four of these need to work in harmony. Examples of them not working together are those involved in codependent relationship (just You and Others), ashram residents (just You and Spirit), or martyrdom (just You, Others, and Life [no inner spirit]).

• Yoga is the practice of tolerating the practice of just being yourself.

***

It has been an emotionally intense day. My gut, my solar plexus is burning, heavy, like there is a brick inside of my belly, making its way to my throat. Our afternoon session started off with a conscious communication program, during which Megha and Rudy did a darling, intimate skit about conducting a conscious conversation with someone stating just the facts, what you need, etc. “When you…,” “I imagine…,” “I need…[not “I need you to yadda yadda”].” The words are so simple, so basic, non-inflated, but imagining actually saying these things to someone seems so difficult. Probably because saying “I feel” and “I need” seem selfish, but all in all, these types of conversations are kinder than the defensive/arrogant ones we/I usually have.

The program turns into a highly emotional one, as many people started thinking about their own relationships and how they don’t communicate effectively. We end the session with spinal-soaking supta matsyendrasana assists and savasana assists, during which I partnered with M. Ahhh—ecstasy! Rudy conducts a lying-down relaxation mediation, during which I cry (again) because I had the sensation of falling, letting go (my hands struggling to unfold, my fingers gradually unfurling).

***

During Helga’s afternoon sadhana, we started with a body scan. Lots of body awareness generating. Stillness and observation. Think of a part of your body that feels strong and confident. Go into a pose to support that feeling,  a pose that allows that strong point to shine. Since my pelvic region was feeling pretty intense, I went into setu bandhasana. That felt wonderful. Of course, we then had to do the opposite–find a weak spot and do a pose to give it a little attention. I immediately thought of my chest and heart, so I went into Camel. There was tightness. Then we chose a pose that combined the two; I went into Warrior I.

After this, well, I felt a bit vulnerable, shaky. Helga had us go on our backs and do this core strengthener, lifting both feet to the ceiling, flex them, and push our feet up, like the ceiling is incredibly heavy. Flex those feet! Push, push, push! Everyone starts complaining about the ab workout, but suddenly for me the act becomes intensely challenging due to the physical act of flexing my feet and pushing something away, forcefully. Here I am, studying aparigraha, and I’m being asked to Push Away-Flex–Forcefully! My legs quiver, get warm. My abs were fine, but my legs and feet were struggling. Don’t push away! Keep it here! Keep it close! Pushing away was ridiculously hard, painful to the heart. I broke down, cried. Right there. Oh man, it hurt. The tears, they just came without warning, but I kept going. I kept pushing. I was riding the wave, Breath/Relax/Feel/Watch/Allow (BRFWA), and I didn’t even realize it. I was exhausted. Later we did navasana, probably my highest and longest ever, but the descent sent me into another wave of emotion. That act of letting go, caving in, sinking into the ground, falling to my mat, not holding on anymore–terrifying. My body trembled. It was physical, so emotional. Not collapsing because the pose was hard but collapsing because I was tired of holding on psychologically. I lolled in this terrifying, relieving feeling for a while, wringing it out with a twist. Another pang of emotion. The sponge being wrung out. Ugh. Ahh. Good. Bad. BRFWA, I was doing BRFWA and I didn’t even know it until Helga told me that’s what was going on.

Santosha. Santosha. Being OK here. Being OK. Loving what I have now, here at Kripalu. Using it wisely for my own happiness and knowledge. Use it to free myself, be joyful, be at peace.

***

Random observation: We have a production team for YTT that decorates our Shiva alter with fresh flowers every other day.

Another observation: K. saw me dancing last night as Linda Worster sang, and she loves talking about it: “You were so beautiful–I didn’t want you to stop!” That means a lot to me.

***

Our evening session is about lesson planning, but we start with a YTT dance party, something that has become quite a trend before class. If there’s music, we’ll dance, even if we’re exhausted. Rudy puts on “Hot, Hot, Hot” and we jam until we sweat, doing a conga line and limbo using a yoga tie. Our third and final ahtitam groups were formed as well, another sneaky maneuver. Rudy paired us up for shoulder and neck massages, and suddenly new groups were formed. K., B., C. and I are the YamaMamas. This is it! 60-minute class coming up.

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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