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Several months ago, one of my Kripalu yoga teacher training classmates, Kristen, asked me if I’d like to write an article about yoga dance/expressive movement for the local magazine she edits.
Asking a writer/dancer if she’d like to write a piece about dance? Um, yesplease!!
Here’s the link: Yoga Living, Summer 2012. (My article is on page 22.)
In the article, I give a brief description of some of the more well-known styles of yoga dance/moving meditation/conscious dancing/insert-your-descriptor here, a general primer for someone curious about becoming a real-life Nataraja but not sure exactly what goes on when the yoga mats are rolled up and the music thump-thump-thumps.
The fourth one, Journey Dance, I’ve only done a handful of times. I feel very fortunate to have danced with Journey Dance’s founder, Toni Bergins, while at Kripalu, but other experiences closer to home have been…different. Like the time we started class on our hands and knees, instructed to crawl around like cats, purring and everything, even guided so far as to brush up sensually against our fellow felines.
Getting people to do yoga is hard. Getting people to try some form of yoga dance is even harder. Instructing students right off the bat to drop to all fours and coo and purr and crawl like cats and tigers and lions (oh my!) may not be the most appealing selling point, in my opinion.
So it’s been a while since I’ve Journey Danced.
But that has all changed, because last weekend a new class started in my neck of the woods!
We started the class with sounds, but fortunately not those of animals. I used to be afraid of making noise but have grown accustomed to it over the years, especially after studying Kripalu yoga (which is ALL about audible expressions like sighs and ahhs and ooohs and haaaaa), and even more so now after taking Bobbie Ellis’ workshop, in which we rolled around on the floor whispering sa-sa-sa-sa-sa.
Wendy, this class’ instructor, started with three distinct sounds: Oooo, Sthhhh, and one that kind of sounded like J-zhow-J-zhow. The first, which sounded a bit like Om, was all about grounding. Finding that base, the foundation. The second, very snake-like, we did while lying on the floor, and I felt like it was filling me with air and breath and the beginnings of light movement. The third was the start of movement exploration, and Wendy encouraged us to move our bodies along to this somewhat unusual sound. I’m so used to music being the movement instigator; this time, using the breath inside of me, the vibrations from my throat, and the facial expressions on my lips and cheeks and eyes gave my first “dance” a more authentic, from-the-inside-out feel.
Once I was on my feet…well, it’s hard to remember the rest. There was a great group of women dancing, from fellow 5Rhythms dancers to someone who stuck to very private, internal movement to a girl who was off the hook with happiness and exhilaration; the smile on her face was something everyone should see every day, because there would never be any wars if people saw that expression. Her movement was pure joy, and I was amazed to learn that this was her first time dancing in public like that.
Wendy admitted that a lot of her music revolved around a “praise” theme; not about praising a specific god or spirit, but just praising our time together right then and there, praising the freedom to dance and express and be. We moved across the floor with our expressions of praise, sometimes grand (jumping to the ceiling! spinning in circles!) or very introspective and reverent.
Midway during class, the props were pulled out—this time, scarves. I selected a silky one with a summertime color combination of reds, oranges, and yellows. Wendy instructed us to dance as though the scarves were our hearts, and I was surprised to find my movement incredibly subtle at times, caressing and stroking the fabric so delicately as though I were a lab student in the middle of a dissection. Precise, exact, utmost attention, so careful with this fine piece of imaginary muscle. It surprised me because, well, give me a scarf and I am usually all over the place with the thing, flying it from corner to corner like it’s a kite.
But I didn’t want to be whimsical and ethereal in that dance; no, I wanted to treat that scarf like a beating organ on the operating table—chest open—veins, arteries, and, blood vessels expanding and contracting; me, the surgeon who needs to find the dance of life, the pattern of movement that will keep this thing beating. I felt like both a curious anatomic investigator—exploring this mysterious muscle in front of me—and a very dedicated surgeon, instinctually knowing all the right moves but just needing to build up the bravery to take the scalpel to the tissue.
During the post-class sharing, I mentioned this observation, the fact that this time my “heart dance” was very introspective and internally intense, not the usual “Put it all out there! Spread the love!” that I normally feel.
After class, another 5Rhythms classmate echoed my observation, noting herself that she noticed a difference in my movement. “You’ve grown a lot,” she told me. I think the last time we danced together was in April, yet even since then, she said, “It shows. Your dance has grown.”
This meant a lot to me, because emotionally I know I am growing; for that growth to be projecting through my movement and interaction on the dance floor is reassurance that my mind, heart, and dancing body are all the same thing. Tug on one, and they all follow along.
Journey Dance will be a monthly event at this particular studio, but my dance is a daily journey that is constantly in flux, an ink spot baptized by a splash of water: branching out, oozing toward the edges, growing.
(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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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!).
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.”
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.
(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.)
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!
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.
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.“
I don’t meditate as much as I’d like, especially because there used to be a time when I’d allow myself a solid 15 to 30 minutes almost every night to sit. Nowadays, my meditation is much more spontaneous than it is planned, and it usually occurs after a particularly satisfying home yoga practice or dance session.
As was the case last week.
As the clock struck 5, the evening felt like anything but a time to sit still and meditate.
I stayed at work way too late–I had finished “working” at the usual time but stayed glued to my computer for an extra hour, trying to catch up on everyone’s Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. I got sucked into the social media time warp and was disgusted with myself as I drove home in the cold and darkness. When I got home, all I wanted to do was Eat All the Things! I was especially craving a big, fat vegetarian stromboli, thanks to perusing a take-out menu that had come with the day’s stash of mail. I was already in a funk; I imagined myself just caving fully into that funk, devouring my sloppy stromboli cocooned in a nest made of blankets and soft pajamas and slipper socks, an episode of my latest Netflix guilty pleasure playing on the TV screen.
For a few seconds, that vision felt wonderful. But then I got realistic.
Really? You’re going to feel better after reading stupid Facebook posts all night and then stuffing your face with a greasy pocket of cheese? Really, Jen?
I actually said aloud, “Do some yoga, Jen. Just go upstairs, do some yoga, and after an hour of some deep breathing see if you really still want that stromboli.” If the desire to be a sloth for the rest of the evening was still present after yoga, I knew it was meant to be. Yoga always sets me straight.
I opted to do one of my favorite Kripalu-at-Home yoga classes, an hour of moderate vinyasa flow with Coby Kozlowski.
Coby does these beautiful arm movements during one of the most intense poses, utkatasana, and I find that throwing a bit of upper body flow into the pose makes it much softer. Also, the last time I did this class, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable during Warrior I, which she does in traditional Kripalu fashion, with the foot facing forward, ball of the foot pressed into the mat and the heel up. This time, I moved into the more well-known Warrior I, with the entire foot pressed firmly into the mat, turned out on an angle. What a difference! I felt so much more steady and enjoyed the sequence more than I ever have. Duhhhh. Listen to your body, Jen. Just because Coby does it one way doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same.
By the time we were on our backs for bridge pose, I was feeling pretty good. I felt present, and I was fully aware of my shoulder blades pressing evenly into the floor. I sunk easily into savasana, and when the video ended and the room became silent…
…I allowed the silence to continue.
I wanted to prolong this feeling of contentment and stillness. I felt cocooned, but not in a pajamas/blanket/pizza kind of way, but a cocoon of connection. My mind, body, breath, and brain were all connected, and, damn, it felt pretty good. Strombolis were the furthest thing from my mind.
And like that, without planning it out or setting up bolsters or timers or exotic music, I began to meditate.
I didn’t think too hard about it, and I tried not to force myself into getting into “the zone.” Many of my meditations result in me seeing a beautiful indigo glow that keeps growing and growing until I am immersed in a bubble of bluish-purple behind my closed eyes, but I didn’t want to force an outcome. I just wanted to be. I focused on my breathing, the physical sensation of air entering and leaving my nostrils.
For most of the sit, that’s all it was. My inhales and exhales. There were no colors or indigo pulses. I was OK with this. There was no chatter, and that’s all that mattered.
Then, out of nowhere, a very vivid image of an acquaintance flashed before my eyes. I rarely converse with this person, and our lives hardly intersect. But now this person was suddenly right there, in my face.
This person lives a simple, frills-free life. I know this person does not go home and stare at the computer screen, eyes glazing over from too many hours watching a Twitter feed continue to refresh. This person doesn’t get caught up in celebrity drama, fashion dos and don’ts, and all the mumbo jumbo that bombards our TV screens and radio waves. I’m pretty sure this person keeps work at work and doesn’t mentally carry home the petty woes and whining associated with a day on the job. I sometimes find myself questioning this person’s life because it just seems so…empty? Or maybe that’s MY definition of it, because my life has all these silly distractions and unnecessary, First-World mental dilemmas, like, Oh my god, I already had a Chobani at lunch; I can’t possibly get frozen yogurt later after dinner!!!!
Yet this person has the kindest smile, the softest voice, and always seems under control. Things get done, but not with teeth gritting or exasperated sighs or excessive eye-rolling. That evening as I meditated, it hit me that this person has many Buddhist qualities, a presence and peacefulness that says, “Everything is as it should be.”
Without warning, tears stung my eyes, yet before I could respond to this sudden punch of emotion, they were gone. Images of the person lingered in my brain, and for a moment I found myself wanting to embrace the qualities of this person that I so often dismiss and raise my eyebrow at. In my meditation, this person was a bodhisattva, an enlightened being, and I felt far from ever being considered the same. It gave me a new respect for this person but also disappointment in myself, and yet hope for self-improvement.
When I had first escaped upstairs to do some yoga, I never imagined I’d be coming back downstairs with a satisfying yoga and meditation session completed, a newfound and oddly deep appreciation for a semi-stranger, and a stirring connection with the elements of Buddhism.
The desire for the stromboli and a TV date with Netflix had passed, and instead I made myself a simple egg and cheese sandwich with a side of clementines, and sat down at the kitchen table to read the newspaper.
I feel like I should have a little check-in with myself every month to review where I am with my yoga practice; in short, Am I doing it?
I rarely go to studio classes anymore, for many reasons: (a) I feel like I know enough to guide myself through a practice; (b) sometimes class times don’t jive well with my work/commute schedule; (c) I’m annoyingly picky about studio temperature/teachers’ voices/teachers’ word choices (i.e., “goddess,” “divine,” and any talk of angels will have me squirming in my savasana); and (d) I’m self-conscious about my hip and the fact that sometimes I have to stop what I’m doing and jostle my leg around to snap it back into place…and sometimes that takes quite a few jostles.
The one exception I made, starting back in October, was to sign up for a 5-week kundalini yoga series. I knew the teacher from a tai chi series I took two years ago, and she is very accommodating to injuries/limitations/modifications, as she herself has faced several physical challenges. I told her straight off about my hip and how I’d be using blankets to prop me up and may have to stop every so often for the jostling, all of which she was totally cool with. I was so happy when she guided us through frog squats but made a point to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to go all the way down to the floor and can simply hold onto their calves.
I was glad that I had registered and paid for the class beforehand, which kept me from bailing out. The class didn’t start until 7:30 p.m., and at times I struggled leaving the house after it was dark outside and I felt settled in for the night. Fortunately, the studio is less than 10 minutes from home, so I never felt like it was a burden to drive to class. Another plus: I always, always, ALWAYS left class feeling a million times better than when I started. I’m sure my husband noticed that the cool-as-a-cucumber woman who entered the front door at 9 p.m. was not the same as the one who trudged out at 7:15.
We started every class with an aura-strengthening kriya, which the teacher recommended doing every day, not only to keep our physical self healthy but our energetic body as well. I took her words to heart and have started every morning with the set, especially because I find there is a lot of negative energy floating around this time of year, with harried holiday shoppers, disgruntled cashiers, and many meet-ups with friends and family who may be energy vampires. Also, on a physical level, ’tis the season for unwanted germs!
Over the course of the 5 weeks, we also practiced the “Sa Ta Na Ma” meditation for 12 minutes; the “Breath to do when you don’t know what to do” (inhale thru nose, exhale thru nose; inhale thru mouth, exhale thru mouth; inhale thru nose, exhale thru mouth; inhale thru mouth, exhale thru nose); a Celtic energy clearing (while standing, wave hands above head, over heart, over stomach, in front of knees, behind knees); and a gong meditation, first to a recording of a gong, then later to an actual gong. I found that the gong meditation really stirred up some stuff inside of me, because at times it was really, really loud, maddening, almost. It was chaos in my mind, and I found myself wanting to scream along with the jarring sounds, not because it bothered me but because it was just stirring up some residual emotions. But then when the gong slowed and became soft, so did I. It was interesting to fluctuate between the two very different sounds.
I loved everything about the series and only wished it were a permanent class. I was really bummed when the 5 weeks were over, but I try to do a little kundalini every morning after waking up.
During the process of writing about my Kripalu experience, I began to crave more Kripalu-based classes. I wrote about finding a Kripalu class on YouTube, and then shortly after that I found the actual Kripalu-at-Home website, which offers videos of 7 different, full-length yoga classes.
I had done Devarshi’s moderate/vigorous one previously, and I’ve since tried Megha’s gentle class (a little too introductory for me, but probably great for beginners; also just wonderful to hear Megha’s voice again!); Jurian’s moderate class (her theatrical voice is perfect for leading class; fun practice, but so glad I was in my living room because there was a lot of hip-jostling going on); and Coby’s moderate vinyasa flow (REALLY loved this one, especially her utkatasana series). Others available but that I haven’t tried yet are Sudha’s restorative class and two vigorous classes, one from Danny and the other by Jovinna. Coby’s class is my go-to video when I’ve looking for a flowing practice, and if I crave a little more power, I just throw in my own chaturangas in between the planks and downdogs.
In fact, I practiced with Coby this morning, when, after waking up late and doing some stretching in the living room, out of nowhere I felt the urge to do a full practice. I actually put off from drinking my morning coffee for an hour so I could take class! That says something!
As I wrote previously, November also marked a yoga workshop with Rudy Peirce. I’ll admit, it was nice to be in a studio setting and work with others, especially a workshop setting where things are more hands-on and instructive. Even better was meditating with others, because otherwise it’s so hard to sit still! I bought one of Rudy’s gentle yoga CDs so I could take home the experience, and I also bought a new yoga mat to replace the Gaiam one that I keep slipping and sliding on. Several months ago I had posted about the quest for a new mat, and several people commented about the wonders of Jade. This studio happened to specialize in them, so I picked out my favorite color (red) and brought the new guy home with me.
The studio owner warned me that it would need to “air out” for a while to get rid of the rubbery (not chemical) smell. Boy, was he right! I’ve been airing it out for about 3 weeks and it finally seems ready to use. Not that I couldn’t have used it earlier, but the thing made the entire living room smell like new tires.
Finally, although this type of yoga doesn’t require a mat, I spent two Thursdays in November participating in the final two practice teach classes of YogaDance teacher-in-training, Nikki (who actually is now a full-fledged Let Your Yoga Dance teacher; she graduated this past Friday!). Nikki deviated from her prescribed class outline during the final class and taught something she created herself instead, and the authenticity showed! I didn’t realize that her previous classes were not her own (the outline was chosen for her), because she did so well leading them. However, when she taught a class full of music and choreography that was her own, her true spirit emerged, and it was so fun to be a part of this creative awakening. She has plans to eventually teach a weekly YogaDance class at a nearby studio, and I hope I can be a part of it. YogaDance reminds us that yoga doesn’t always have to be about sun salutations and downdogs; it’s about taking time to connect body and breath, movement and spirit.
…That said, I do like the way that hatha yoga stretches and strengthens, and I would like to incorporate that a little more into my life. We’ll see during the next yoga update if I managed to do that in December!
By the time this is posted on Saturday, I will be in Pennsylvania for what is shaping up to be one of the most coincidental full circles of my life.
On this weekend back in 2006, as I have been documenting so fastidiously, I was saying goodbye to Kripalu and my yoga teacher training family, which included facilitator Rudy Peirce. Today, I will be returning to Rudy, exactly five years after he pressed sandalwood on my forehead and acknowledged me as certified yoga instructor.
The way this all unfolded tickled my soul and reinforced my belief in universal connectedness, that somewhere under all the muck and distraction and chaos of everyday life there is an energetic hum that we all sing and dance to.
One month ago, when I started the process of transcribing my notes from Kripalu, the more and more I re-visited that time and place, the more my respect and admiration for Rudy grew. He was one of the two main facilitators for my program; Megha Buttenheim was the other. As a pair, they have been described as yin and yang, Tigger (Megha) and Eeyore (Rudy), due to their opposing personalities. When Megha bounced, Rudy sat still in meditation. When Megha belted out songs and chants, Rudy sang with a simple, subtle voice.
With Megha being a dancer, I naturally gravitated toward her as my “favorite” of the two, although looking back at my journal notes now it’s obvious that every asana practice, meditation, and pranayama exercise that Rudy led affected me deeply. My consciousness soared to new heights with Rudy leading a meditation, and my lungs danced to his breathwork instruction.
Rudy is known for his gentle approach to yoga; in fact, his nickname is “The Gentle Yogi.” Kripalu yoga in general stresses the importance of adapting or modifying poses to be accessible for all bodies, abilities, and limitations. I feel that Rudy, however, goes the extra mile to make sure that even if you’re using two blocks, a blanket, and a bolster to get into a pose that you’re experiencing and living the pose, not just struggling with some props while everyone else around you has some amazing transformation while in folded picture-perfectly in pigeon. Transformation is for everyone, and there are all different routes to get there. Rudy makes sure that happens, not only through his words and instruction but simply his overall demeanor of compassion and reverence.
I didn’t realize how important this was until my hips started to get all funky two years ago due to some torn cartilage and an unstable sacrum. Poses that were once “regulars” in my yoga repertoire suddenly became painful, uncomfortable, or simply inaccessible. It was at this point I understood why I had gone to Kripalu; if not to teach yoga to others, then to teach myself. To be able to go to classes and find other routes into a pose or alternatives altogether. To create a home practice with modifications and poses that may not look “normal” but still allow me to sink into satisfaction. To remember that when my body doesn’t want to flow, I can still achieve peace of mind through meditation and breathing. My Kripalu training has always served me well, but it wasn’t until I recently began re-reading my journal from that time that it finally dawned on me just how important Rudy was in the overall picture.
I would love to take class with Rudy again, I thought to myself a few weeks ago after transcribing a journal entry. I don’t think I gave him my full appreciation at the time. I thumbed through the most recent Kripalu catalog to see if he’d be leading any workshops in the winter. He was, but I don’t even know why I looked in the first place. Kripalu costs money. Kripalu in the winter may require 4-wheel drive. Kripalu requires vacation days that I don’t have right now.
Two days later, I logged into my long-abandoned Yahoo! account to resolve a pestering e-mail issue. There, among the 200+ e-mails (mostly spam) was a newsletter from Rudy I had signed up long ago to receive. It announced his workshops at Kripalu ($$), a special yoga retreat in Italy ($$$$), and…wait, what? A weekend workshop in suburban Philadelphia, the Philadelphia that lies 30 minutes from my house?? A studio I can access simply by car and $5 for the bridge toll, not a 5-hour road trip into the potentially snowy Berkshire Mountains or a trans-Atlantic flight to Europe?
Needless to say, the universe was speaking to me, and I signed up. It was only recently I realized the workshop coincides with the 5-year anniversary of me saying goodbye to Kripalu. Today, I will return—not to the physical structure of Kripalu, but rather the spirit within its walls and the energy that emanates outward. Today, the circle becomes complete.
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 (or so) on this day, Friday dawns and I am exhausted after only 3.5 hours of sleep. It’s off to 6:30 a.m. yoga–another round robin sadhana–but I feel pretty crappy. I have no energy, and my body shuts down at 7:40; I steadily fall asleep in a fetal position. Sleep is a great way to make the last sadhana ever more bearable, with less tears.
The doors to Shadowbrook are closed at 9, and we congregate outside before the ceremony. It is beautiful, sunny, perfect. People are dressed up again, this time even more glitzier than last night. I have nothing fancy or flowy to wear, so I wear black yoga pants, a maroon shirt, a silk scarf in my hair, and jewelry–Om jewelry–the symbol that dances in my head every time I close my eyes.
After being very secretive, Rudy finally opens the doors to Shadowbrook:
and there lies an aisle of candles, 62 votives lining the floor, an airport runway extending from the entrance to the stage.
Jurian, Helga, Roger, and Lila are there to greet us, with Megha and Rudy at the front, ringing bells. We enter solemnly, pick a spot to stand, and let the crying begin.
Our names are called out individually, first names only, and we go to the start of the runway. Jurian blesses my forehead with water, Roger sprinkles me with rice, Lila places flower petals on my head, and Helga blows bubbles. Then…The Walk. The longest walk of my life, more difficult than walking down the wedding aisle, because there are the EYES, 61 people not just looking at me but SEEING me, the windows of the soul all gazing in my direction.
I try to look in everyone’s eyes, my hands in anjali mudra, my head bowed. Tears flow freely on all sides. Music plays. The YamaMamas give each other the “Nadi Shodhana” gesture we created as our “gang sign.” I tell myself to Remember. Remember the way I stepped on the crushed rice and petals as I began my walk, the way Roger embraced me in a way I never knew he was capable, the way Helga tried unsuccessfully to blow a bubble in my direction. F.’s eyes first. H. B. J. D. J. Feeling so loved, so appreciated. Rudy at the front, his slow, deliberate application of the red sandalwood to my forehead, so thick, so loving.
The hug, embrace. So slow, slow motion, remembering. Megha. Smile. Certificate. Hug. I squeeze her arm.
The ceremony is long but never dull. Each person brings a new set of eyes. D. is overly dramatic and God Blesses us all. R. does her energy-grabbing mudras down the aisle, S. dances, A. cries, A. looks into each of our souls, J. takes everyone’s hands, J. crawls. Until I look at my certificate, I forget what this ceremony is all about. I simply felt loved.
With our eyes and foreheads red, we gather outside to take in the warmth. We chant Om three times, the sun emerging from behind the clouds only during our chorus. Inside, we dance. We do the Shiva dance, the eye contact/giving-your-heart dance to Om Namah Shivaya. A. leads a Universal Peace dance. The Garden of Grace, to which we all moan. We know this will make us cry yet again, and it does. Where am I needed? How can I support? During my upward dog pose, three people come to my support. I break down.
We gather in a circle, a group huddle. Tight, swaying, warm, close, hand on hand, hand on shoulder.
What qualities did you learn here?, they ask us. We call out our answers: Surrender. Peace. Community. Freedom. Love. Release. Joy. Happiness. Consciousness. Respect. The chorus of words swells. You can only have that which you give away, we are reminded. Love. Compassion. Respect. Devotion. R. is next to me, and his deep voice calls out “Freedom” over and over again. We know this is the end. There’s no pep talk about the Real World, just a very deep understanding that what we learned this month needs to reach beyond these walls. We are yoga teachers; it is our responsibility to extend out and above and beyond. Our circle slowly breaks apart, first dropping arms, then taking small steps backward. Separating. Expanding. Going away to our own place, to spread that love all around.
I am utterly, completely, madly exhausted by the time the ceremony ends at 11:30, but I still muster up the energy to get upstairs to DansKinetics with Megha. I feel depleted on so many levels. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to move. My eyes are swollen.
But then Megha enters, and I instantly feel a jolt of power. She is a conduit of energy and somehow gets me moving. A few times I have to just stand there in awe, looking at the people around me, looking at Megha, who’s probably more exhausted than me, vigorously leading all kinds of crazy dance steps. So f***ing tired but so wanting to move. (Later, I tell Megha that I had no energy, felt drained, to which she replied, “Well, if that was you dancing with no energy I can’t imagine what you’re like with full energy!”)
We end with a dance prayer to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” I got so into my movement that I forgot where I was. I felt all alone, like I was in the Main Hall by myself. I cried afterward, of course, ending the class in tears. Now I was really drained, on so many levels.
I go up to Healing Arts for my deep tissue massage at 2, during which I cry extensively. It is the first time in a while that I was permitted space to just relax and get professionally pampered. My therapist, Elizabeth, puts on the “Mother Divine” CD that is played in all our classes, and that just opens the dam. I just lie there and cry, tears rolling down my cheeks as she massages my scalp and rubs my neck. I feel like she is releasing all the memories I’ve stored from the past month, because all sorts of visions dance through my mind: everyone’s faces, those snapshot images I had earlier this month but now so vivid, REAL faces of the real people I met and fell in love with. I hear Megha’s voice, Rudy’s voice, the harmonium, chanting. I cry, I drift into yoga nidra, I fall into a different kind of Stage 3. Physically, I’ve had better deep tissue massages, but emotionally, this was the best I’ve ever had. Elizabeth knew I was fragile and not to get too deep. It could have gotten a lot worse!
I am so dazed and confused after those 90 minutes that I get lost on the way back to my room–lost!–after a full month of living here. Dorm 129. New people. New women surrounding me, strangers. The safe place that gave me such comfort now feels violated. Reverse culture shock. After a month of such a strict schedule and routine, I have no clue what to do or where to go. Where am I? I have a new nametag now, I’m Jennifer, here at Kripalu for an R+R. The badge doesn’t even say KYTA. I feel unspecial suddenly. I am just an average woman here for rest and relaxation. My last month of being an overworked, drained, spiritually fulfilled YTT student is now gone and forgotten. I walk outside, call Bryan, sob.
I head to to whirlpool next, which is desperately needed. I am alone, no “Roman bath” this time. The minute my naked body sinks into that nurturing, warm water, I break down again. I feel safe in the bubbly water, my womb, but terrified to step out again. It feels so very good, but I cry. Someone steps in briefly and turns off all the lights, and so I chant the student-teacher mantra in the dark, the yoga sutras chants. I swear I hear other voices with me. The water is so loud, but I feel like I can hear the harmonies, 61 other voices joining my one lonesome voice. I smile.
I see J. in the hall, nearly smiling my head off. Seeing a familiar face is so refreshing. We share sob stories. K. is still in 129, and I smile again. The last remaining sisters, the final crew of Kickasana geese. Their presence here alone is gratifying.
I overeat at dinner, because I am empty otherwise. I keep hearing voices in the dining hall that sound like my classmates’. At one point, I swear D. is sitting somewhere. But I look around and see only strangers.
Writing, gift shop, bed. I make a fort out of my bunk bed like K. did when she first arrived,
cry a little, plug earplugs into my ears, and fall asleep very, very easily, 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.