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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Five years ago on this day, I stare at a flickering votive candle during meditation, my mind becoming absorbed in this tiny flame’s uncontrolled, wild, uninhibited dance. I mourn for the flame–boundless, quick, graceful, chaotic, yet attached to its umbilical wick, a prisoner. I know this is its natural state, that a flame cannot exist without a source, but I keep staring at the yellow gypsy, wishing it freedom, wishing to see it break away from its tether and whirl off into space. Perhaps, though, it’s OK to be wild, elegant, chaotic, and uninhibited while still holding on–but holding onto the Source, the Self, the wax and wick, the divine. It’s OK to dance with a partner and to still dance freely with your own breath. I look to that tiny flame for inspiration, for understanding. I don’t need to detach myself completely from everything and everyone–I just need to find the proper wick, the connection that allows the heat, the burn, the dance to continue.

***

The above journaling came as a result of morning sadhana with Larissa, a class that ended up being very, very peaceful and meditative. We enter the room to find Larissa, dressed all in white, surrounded by 60-some votive candles, flickering in the morning darkness and illuminating Shiva more than ever. Each of us takes a candle back to our mats, and there we meditate on the flame. When I close my eyes and go inward, the bright flame turns to a deep purple button, throbbing in my third eye. I love watching its dance externally and then seeing its shadow as I closed my eyes.

We do minimal asana, but Larissa has us go into utkatasana for about 3 minutes, being still, doing kapalabhati, bouncing lightly, and finally releasing the pose inch by inch. We immediately go into tadasana, holding our arms overhead for what feels like 5 minutes. She reminds us that we aren’t hurting ourselves–our circulatory system will still be able to bring blood back into our arms. Find our edge and inch our way beyond. Inner exploration isn’t about staying where you are, but testing the waters. Invite these new sensations into our body, breathe into them, find an inner stillness even among all the heat and chaos.

The prana effect of that holding is delicious, and Stage 3 could not come quick enough. After that, everything feels incredible. It’s 7:15 a.m. and I am ON, I think. We do a variation of nadi shodhana (fingers on third eye and breathe in and out of one nostril only, switching halfway through), which balanced me wonderfully, and I floated down into meditation without hesitation.

***

It looks like rain today, but right now the clouds linger over the mountains, cool air (not cold), the trees really naked now, a giant black crow squawking on a tree on the patio. It’s hard to believe that right now, 8:40 a.m. on Thursday morning, November 16, I am essentially a certified yoga teacher. That I just embarked on and survived a month away from everything familiar, a brand new learning experience, a whole new course of living and learning. I studied, practiced, dreamed, wept, had fun, had frustration and somehow got rewarded for it all. If only all learning and education could be as fulfilling and hearty. I am getting a certificate for learning to be myself and find safety and security within myself and community. I get a certificate for taking what I love, wanting to spread it out to the world, and learning how to do so. I am so blessed to be rewarded for just wanting to be.

***

We are told not to come into Shadowbrook until instructed, and a colorful sign on the closed doors tells us to have either clean feet or a pair of socks, two cushions, a blanket, and a partner. R. asks to be my partner, and I say yes. Megha sneaks out the door, giddy as a child, telling us that she feels like a kid on Christmas Day, eager to share that one present with that one special person. Inside our room is a circle of purple yoga blocks, an elegant Stonehenge of sorts, different levels of towering blocks, each tower with a votive candle on top, each stack dressed up with a colorful scarf.

We set ourselves up around the “alter,” foot massages with the receiver on her back, feet draped over the  giver’s crossed legs, a cushion between back and root chakra. Tenderness. Face and neck massage, a candle swirled around the receiver’s supine body, the warmth and light penetrating the koshas, delving deep into the intuitive and mental bodies. We are asked to speak…What does yoga mean to me?

It’s the same question we were asked on our first day here, the question that seemed to definite and easy and black and white. I realize now that asking me to define yoga is like asking a Christian to define God, a spouse to define love. I can give examples (“Love is snugging in bed”), but the true, the black-and-white dictionary definition is impossible for me to discover. Yoga is moving from the inside out. Once, I used to dance from the outside in. The costumes, the lights, the audience–they were my stimuli, and I reacted. The external is what fueled the internal. Now, the opposite is the case. I feel my heart and soul quake; therefore, I move, I dance.

Yoga is union, connectedness, oneness. I am that I am, but I am also that of him, and her, and them, and they. I studied creative writing for four years, yet yoga has no words to describe fully. I write, but I have no words. I am empty, full, so full, bursting, but so empty and vast.

We engage in meditation-in-motion, one person acting as the Witness Consciousness, as the other sinks into dance and movement. R. is beautiful, dancing with nature, playing and pulsing with the earth and sky, vibrating with the Earth. I feel intrusive again, being involved in such a profound, personal movement. I feel choked up. In the distance, someone cries, loudly. Sobbing. It is a gorgeous soundtrack. I don’t recall my meditation-in-motion too much, but I didn’t use a mat, and it felt great. I rolled on the ground, caressed, stroked, flowed here and there, in and out, up and down. I recall lots of pelvis motion into the ground, lots of finger twirling, fingers and feet flexing and pointing. I have a deep connection to m hips and knees, and I find myself hugging them close quote often during Stage 3 experiences. The moment is elegant, soft, loud, and pulsing. Always a paradox, always a dance of polarities.

R. looks me in the eye afterward and tells me: “You are grace.”

To close the experience, we sing our student-teacher mantra, and it is both filmed and recorded. I can’t hold back the emotion. We are not loud, but we are strong. Our voices are buoyant, heavenly, beyond this world. Our final Om is _______. No words. Its sound fills me up like a helium balloon. I feel expanded, full, ready to float to the sky.

***

In the cafeteria, I witness one of the control/operations employees embrace an individual with what looks like retardation and maybe cancer. He/she (it’s hard to tell) is bald. The embrace this man gives is so sincere, so intentional. I watch his fingers wrap around this person, each finger’s motion a slow and tender touch. His one hand just danced a dance of a thousand words.

Five years ago on this day, Roger leads his final class for our group. Even at 6:30 a.m., he is an adorable goofball, making jokes about teaching a class of gay men and telling them to find their dristi, or “gaze point” (gays point) during balancing poses. Fire hydrants, side leg lifts, and 5-minute long utkatasana followed, with much loving commotion, groaning, and screaming, “And now take the next 30 seconds to find and explore your own movement,” he tells us, adding, “There’s a little secret trick of the trade. It’s something you can say when you have no idea what to do next.” 🙂

***

It’s our first extraordinarily foggy morning. I can see nothing when I wake up, and even when I go outside at 8 a.m. after class, most of the mountains are hidden. I feel betrayed in a way, that nature is hiding my panorama, and how rude to do it so soon before we leave. The mountains are there, I know, they are real, they are living, they extend just beyond the soupy white cloud cover. For someone standing on the mountains, Kripalu is unseen, hidden. You can’t always see Kripalu, but you’ve seen it plenty of times, you know it’s there. Shielded, so seemingly distant, so out of hand’s reach…but there. Real. The clouds will be rolling over my eyes very soon now, but I know that when they clear, Kripalu and its people are always here.

***

We revisit our three atitham groups in the morning session, discussing our affirmation. Mine is “I am that I am,” So Hum Shivo Hum. We get crayons and large sheets of paper and sketch what our future look like.

***

Right before a walking meditation later in the morning, Megha presents us with two giant boxes of chocolates from Chocolate Springs, really beautiful, art-like creations. I take a dark chocolate square decorated with musical notes.

***

I go to DansKinetics during lunch because (a) I was tired of sitting all day and needed to move; and (b) I want to experience different DansKinetics teachers, see how they operate, in case I come back here for certification.

The teacher ended up being pretty lame and kind of boring–I think I had more energy than she did. But luckily the music was good, and that’s all I needed. I stayed until 12:40 and then ate lunch with a few of the girls from my class.

***

For the afternoon session, there is talk about advanced training and the Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association. Lots of talk about sex and energy, with Rudy at the helm. Break for a dance party.

Rudy ends the session early by accident: “…and I just realized this class does not end at 3:45.” I check the notice boards and see that Megha is leading a Grace-in-Motion class this Saturday, 9:45 to 11:30. I see her in the hall and she says I’m welcome to join the session. I am overly grateful I extended my stay.

***

Afternoon sadhana with Micah, who greets us by saying, “It’s an honor to be in the presence of so many great teachers.” !!!

Micah!

And holy f***ing crap, his class blows my mind! I started the class feeling pretty exhausted, but now it’s quite different. His presence, his voice, his intensity…I got totally absorbed in the practice, especially in kapotasana, especially my left hip. I sunk into the pose, and then some, going into Stage 2-3, completely enraptured with the deep stretch, wanting to hold it forever. I got hot, deep, aaahhhh. And then we did Camel, yoga mudra. After that, the rest of the class was bliss. Micah’s voice, the mood lighting, the music. I melted into supta matsyendrasana, fluttered into savasana with hesitation. During closing meditation, I envisioned a Sharpie marker drawing an atomic bomb explosion, a mushroom cloud. Very disturbing! During our enchanting continuous Om, I saw a billion little whitish-gray stars fall against a black background. It lasted for a few seconds after everyone’s Jai Bhagwan, and then I left Shadowbrook completely on fire.

***

Rosemary biscuits for both lunch and dinner. Oh god, so heavenly.

***

The day ends with a DVD of Vidya talking about being a teacher, which keeps blipping and skipping. However, it was still inspiring, despite the part about not being “self-employed” but rather “God-employed.” Hmph. Despite that, I appreciated all the talk about how great teachers are, what the world would be like without them. What would your life be like without your yoga teacher?

***

M. and I stay in the room afterward to practice our celebration party dance, sans E., who dropped out due to illness. No more parading around in our bras, exposing our Buddha bellies. After nailing our routine, we stay longer just to dance…to trance music, to Simon and Garfunkel, Coldplay…how awesome. The two of us just going inside ourselves, music blaring, dancing our assess off in front of Shiva. We both talk about the pure ecstasy of having such a giant, empty, expansive space in which to dance.

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Five years ago on this day, the final practice teaches begin. C. is the first in my group (facilitated by Jurian, Queen of Sounds), and then K., whose class is facilitated by Wendy from Saratoga Springs. Lots of talking, sharing, tears, and fears afterward, with lots of profound statements. I feel so anxious sitting there as everyone speaks so eloquently and deeply, craving an emotional experience like the ones they had, craving the applause, the relief, the epiphanies. Even Megha gets emotional, crying, telling us that seeing us like this is like sending your children off to college. H. weeps freely about his disheartening experience, A. says something magnificent, and All You Need is Love, Love, Love–Love is All You Need.

***

Evening sadhana is with Devarshi, a bit of dancing, intense hara pratapana, and some excellent partner yoga. Gorged on chocolate during practice teach prep, stayed up till midnight talking to Meditation John, Energy James, and some cool Seva girl, drinking tea, feeling increasingly sick, and studying my class notes. Went to bed feeling like I was either having a heart attack and/or suffocating.

Five years ago on this day, it is an odd, weird energy day. Drizzly and cooler at dawn, but the morning of our class of choice. I go to Danny’s 6 a.m. gentle, only because I want to witness my previous facilitator in action. He’s simple, thorough, and calming, a perfect leader for an early day. I feel completely refreshed and calm, ready for breakfast and the morning session.

We talk more about our yamas and niyamas, and I realize I have no idea where to be. I’m done with aparigraha, maybe still on santosha, but what about asteya or tapas? Perhaps tapas may be the best choice, cultivating my own discipline, working on my own passions rather than relying on someone else to give them to me.

Posture clinic focuses on bow, dhanurasana. Our second-to-last clinic!

***

During lunch (excellent bean/corn soup), Angela Farmer herself approaches my table and sits right across from me. Thinking of E. and our talk from yesterday, I smile inside and try not to freak out. E. happened to walk by, sees me and Angela, and gives a little wink.

***

Our afternoon session includes our final posture clinic = headstand, which I don’t do because of my terrible congestion. I work with J., who amazes me. She is my mother’s age and gets into sirsasana in a heartbeat, no wall. There are lots of questions about the final practice teach, which seem to get everyone all riled up and anxious.

***

There is currently an Integrative Weight Loss program going on here, and it’s quite obvious, with a whole lot of heavy, overweight guests who have shown up. However, I’m so proud of them for being here. I know this is the place for them to heal and transform. I saw a rather large woman dancing her heart out in DansKinetics class, and I beamed.

***

Practice Teach #3 is tomorrow afternoon. I have a feeling fate will grant me with an outside facilitator, neither Megha nor Rudy, or any of the assistants. It’s going to be up to me to be the judge, the facilitator. I have to learn to see my own talents and flaws and not rely on my “idols” to do the work.

***

Sleep has not been so easy for me lately. Between M., J., and K.’s snoring, I have been having difficulty drifting off. I feel restless when I hit the sack, even though I’m exhausted. I have bags under my eyes that are practically down to my nose. I think I put on weight and look like crap every morning, but I feel great. Good spirits! But sleep is a struggle. Dreams about home. Thoughts about Practice Teach #3 and life in the Real World. Thoughts about leaving. Sleep doesn’t come so easily now, but waking up at 5:30 isn’t so difficult anymore.

Five years ago on this day, I wake up to a non-YTT guest in our dorm room, right above me. Her name is Donna, and she is fine. She woke up at 6 this morning, but after she crept down the bunk ladder and hit the floor I was already asleep again. I woke up at 7 to the sun bright as all heck shining in, a huge cloud of mist hanging over the lake like I was in Narnia. I noticed that the bright yellow and red trees outside our window are almost completely bare. Their once luscious, vibrant leaves of fire now make a huge puddle around their bases.

***
I am sick. I could feel the congestion building up over the past 2-3 days, and last night I went to bed with a sore throat. All during the night I kept waking up, trying to swallow. I wonder how often Kripalu cleans those purple and white blankets and yoga mats. :-/

***

I look at myself partially naked in the bathroom mirror and notice although I think my butt has gotten bigger, everything in that area is more toned and muscular, especially my thighs. My inner thighs are solid, and stuff doesn’t jiggle as much. My abs are more defined. I have the biggest sleepy circles under my eyes, but my face feels glowing, flushed, radiant.

***

I realize how much of an impact music has on my memory. In the cafeteria this morning, a song was playing, the techno/dance version of “Simple Gifts” that Megha and Rudy played on opening night. A sudden feeling of love and warmth wash over me.

***

After breakfast, I hope to catch the “walking train” of people that decided to head into Lenox, but I apparently missed the group by 10 minutes. That’s OK. I went off by myself, backpack in tow, and set off past the gates of Kripalu. Real World. The sign at the entrance of Kripalu is so small and humble, our little safe haven. Our little secret.

There is a “Welcome to Lenox” sign, and now I’m on the open road. I notice lots of noise, cars, trucks…it’s loud. I realize I haven’t truly been “on the open road” in about 3 weeks, and hearing the sounds of speeding cars is a little bit of a shock. I walk and walk, uphill, downhill, kind of knowing where I’m going but also not. Where is the monument [in the center of town]? How far ahead are the other girls? Will I see society soon? I walk past houses, some with pumpkins on their front steps, some with Christmas wreaths hanging on the doors. Christmas. Holy crap, it’s November 11, and that means the stores are probably bursting with Christmas stuff. Where have I been? What a time warp.

Where am I?, I think, continuing with my walk. It’s so much different than walking around my hometown or other familiar places, when I know precisely where I am in relation to the county, state, and country. But where am I now? I have a vague feeling of it being in Massachusetts, but it feels like a different planet. I know nothing around me, and in a way it feels good. Not knowing. Living in the inquiry. I feel like my trek on this foreign road is like the journey of a college student–I know I want to do something in communications, but what? TV? Radio? Film? Print? No idea where to go or what the destination is, but enjoying the journey, the walk, the various classes and lectures and teachers and books and friends. Being OK with not knowing the destination.

When I reach downtown Lenox about 45 minutes later, it feels like Disney World. There is a bank, a pharmacy, a book store, a health food store, cute little shops, a gas station. I’m tickled with delight but also worried. Choices. Decisions. Learning to control the urge to hoard and want and possess. I find the Lenox coffeeshop, and D. and M. are inside. Soy hot chocolate. We talk a lot about Kripalu, the people, our staff, how we are overcome with gratitude and love when someone reaches out to us. I am not the only one falling in love with love.

***

Twenty minutes after returning to Planet K, it’s DansKinetics time. I try not to think about how this may be my last DansKinetics class with Megha, to just be there in the Main Hall, in front of the stained glass Om symbol, to enjoy and participate, to dance and just let go. It works, because I see the transformation around me. I see people around me smiling and singing and laughing and sweating, and I know it is partially Megha’s influence that has made everyone open up this way. Her energy is boundless, and it is fascinating to see how it rubs off on one, two, three, four people, and how that energy rubs off on more people, spreading until the whole room is ALIVE, like really ALIVE…living. How one person and five drummers can create that openness is a marvel to witness, and I knew then that (for the 1,000th time) that is was my duty to take this energy, cultivate it in myself, and spread it to people in my life.

I keep telling myself to remember, remember, remember. It is my new mantra. I remember the wood-paneled ceiling, I remember smiling at my fellow classmates, I remember standing next to the drummers and hearing their beats, moving my feet to their sound. I remember standing at the edge of the circle, letting my body succumb to Stage 4 (another dimension), my hair loose and all over my face, thrashing on the floor, dying, dying, alive, alive, a birth and death cycle over and over again. I was 150 different Jens that afternoon, coming and going. I was a banshee wild woman, raw, terrifying, peaceful, sexual, dying, breathing, living. A tiger and a dove. Sweaty. Gross. Sweet. Sweat. Remember.

During class I realized that what A.M. said about silence is right–you can’t have music without it. There were times during KDZ’s intense drumming songs when they threw in a pause–and the release, the notes that followed that hold, were thrilling, wild. You could see the effect on us; everyone loved it. Those short little pauses that gave us two seconds of craving, anticipation, mystery–then gaining it all back again. You can’t have music without silence.

We trickled to the floor as the music slowed, a graceful surrender and death. The musicians padded around us, their delicate music lulling us into relaxation. A little blonde girl named Roberta played her rain stick over my head, and I smiled. I felt emotion, tears. Grateful. I Jai Bhagwan’ed with appreciation and rested. When I saw Megha in the doorway, I immediately zeroed in to hug her, even though she and I were both saturated. I did not care. I embraced her and my voice trembled, and I thanked her. She called me “My dancing sister,” something she’s probably said to thousands of other women, but that melted my heart then and there.

***

Mexican for lunch, and I overeat again. Burritos, tacos, beans, rice, salad, corn soup. I go overboard and now my tummy is not so flat anymore.

***

I shop in the Kripalu Store of Doom for over 2 hours, buying more than $150 worth of lovely yoga stuff. 2+ hours. M. and I are practically employees in there, listening to CDs, looking at clothes, yadda yadda. Dinner in the cafe, then an in-depth discussion with E. about her talk with Angela Farmer, who talked with her for 45 minutes about how yoga is meant for men, how it’s angular and rigid and masculine. The story, says Angela Farmer, is that Shivo witnessed his wife Parvati bathing while doing really graceful, flowing, organic postures. Fascinated, Shivo went into the woods to mimic her postures but ended up doing very rigid forms, militaristic. His followers copied his movement and thus yoga became a “movement.” So, what was “supposed” to be fluid, feminine movement was transformed into masculine warrior postures. So Angela Farmer is all about bringing the feminine quality back to yoga, and E. was purely fascinated. And it was fascinating to listen to her fascination!

***

Where did learning about yoga go? I’m so concerned about dancing and poetry and woman issues that I’m completely forgetting about Practice Teach #3, anatomy, and our test, whatever that may be. But I’ll never forget that sitz bones = ischial tuberosities and that the digestive system–sing it with me now!–“Digests, Absorbs, and Eliminates!”

***

Two nights ago, I crept into bed and was able to see the new moon from my pillow. I stretched out in my bunk, watching the clouds cover and expose the moon, and I was completely content. I shower in flip-flops every night, smell like cafeteria food all the time, get 6 hours of sleep, but I am content. So f***ing happy.

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Jurian!

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five years ago on this day, we begin our day of silence, the Noble Retreat. So far, nothing really seems different. Everyone’s too tired to talk in the morning, and breakfast is already silent. However, now that I’m sitting here at breakfast, although everything is the same and nothing has changed, I am more aware of the silence. Maybe it’s the sunlight trying to peak through the clouds. Maybe it’s because Grace just led a very silent-based awareness class, but everything feels illuminated right now. Colors are more vibrant, the small sounds of clinking spoons, water gurgling, clunking bowls, whispers, and the music playing softly from the stereo are extremely titillating, arousing. Especially the music. “Amazing Grace” was just playing; now it’s a beautiful chant. The few sounds around me buoy me, lift my heart. Trying to find the stillness, the silence among noise is a challenge, but a gentle one.

I’m not sure whether to look super-serious as I do this silent endeavor or be happy and smile. I feel like smiling could inadvertently engage conversation, but just because I’m silent doesn’t mean I can’t communicate. I speak through my body; perhaps that affirmation will be strengthened today.

***

Grace’s sadhana was delicious as she helped us explore the marriage of movement and breath, since our breath is our only speaking friend today. A fun experiment was asking the class to do either sun breaths or bhastrika–but once you started, you had to stay in your chosen breath, trying to tune out the quick or slow breaths around you. It was definitely a challenge doing the slow and deliberate sun breaths as others noisily did bhastrika. Even vice versa was hard. There was a certain softness in the room I wanted to capture during my loud bhastrika.

After class, we are asked to journal on the following question: What does yoga mean to me now?

Yoga is breaking the barriers between mind, body, and spirit, not treating them as separate entities but seeing and living them as One. Yoga is acknowledging the Oneness in the world around me–I am not separate from these beings around me; they are all part of me, as I am part of them. Yoga is touching your true Self, touching it, observing it, playing with it, doing all these things before you embrace the Self. Finding your essence, your core, finding out that you–no, I–speak through movement. That is me, finding grace. Finding the light and the shadow and embracing them–honoring them, working your way through the light and darkness, breathing through the unknown, tip-toeing, jumping, leaping, into the wave, riding, riding, riding the wave.

***

Our student-teacher mantra is whole and strong, our Oms filled with a deep-rooted urge to make sound. We are permitted to chant Ganesha Sharanam again, loud, with instruments. It goes on forever, 15 minutes? So vibrant and delicious. I whirl and twirl to the chanting and drumming, the harmonium, the maracas, the sticks. I bow to the remover of all obstacles, I dance to the remover of all obstacles. I lose control, I gain control, a delicate dance of will and surrender. As the music slows, I fall to the floor on my knees and relish the stillness in my body. For once, I appreciate non-movement, inquiry, breath.

That is when we go outside for a silent nature walk; the natural stillness of the Berkshires such a maddening polarity of the noise we had just created.

Each crunch of a single leaf sounds like a tree falling in the forest. Standing on rocks sounds like icy snow under my shoes. Birds, cars, airplanes are the music. Engines humming. People sighing. People praying. People walking. People crying. Stuffy noses. Twigs snapping. My pen clicking. The gong ringing. A small waterfall’s trickle, reminding me of Tibet, the mountains, the waterfalls. The non-stop trickling of water. Bright moss, florescent green, yellow leaves among brown and bare. J.’s blue-green jacket near yellow leaves.

Pinecones and red berries. Small, miniature pinecones on the ground of the woods–makes me think of the holidays, home, warmth, love, family. No gifts, just warmth. Music, warmth, love, pinecones, and red berries.

***

We come inside from the late fall’s chill and do a blood-pumping vinyasa practice with Roger, earthy, primal root music vibrating off the walls and floor. I feel the flow before we even start, Mother Earth aching to erupt from my root, my bones. Ooooh, I want to mooooove. I feel the prana before Roger leads, and the incredible heat within only gets more intense as he goes along. Sun salutation after sun salutation, uttansana, utkatasana, burning, flowing, fire and water. My monkey mind slowly starts to disappear as prana resides in my circuits. We go into a side plank with the top leg up (something that’s always challenged me), but it comes naturally today: no mind, no will, just prana. Everything is illuminated; I feel like I’m looking at a Magic Eye book, my eyes drawn into the minute squares on my blue yoga mat. The throbbing, pulsing music becomes ingrained in my body. And then, meditation in motion:

Downdog splits, so high and wide, a camel so deep I thought my head was going to drop to the floor. I allowed my heart to reach up, my head to drop, for will to let the f*** go. A lunging Warrior that danced, a backbend that I’ve never done before, my spine fluid, my spine prana. A snake with no inhibitions. Hanumasana, rolling over into upavistha konasana, all flow, so deep. Up into that leg-on-the-upper-arm balance, no holding back, no deep preparation, just down and up. So much warmth, but not a hot “Oh my god, I just ran a mile” hot, but a deep, internal flame hot, the sweat that emerged from my pores was energy, passion, not overheated sweat. Gold. I felt illuminated.

We then move into pranayama, a difficult transition. I still had prana shaking in my ribs. I sat on my mat, dazed and woozy with santosha, as Roger handed out cushions. Kapalabhati, nadi shodhana, dirgha. The heat subsided. The energy dispersed from my center all over my body. No more kundalini, no more shakti. Contentment. Peace. We sat in meditation and my third eye pulsed, shapes swam in my third eye until all the gold and black movement cleared and made way for an expanse of dark blue, like a curtain opening to a beautiful stage of a royal blue backdrop. The stage was empty, and it was time to watch the show. I felt like I had entered another dimension until Rudy awakened us.

Afterwards, we are allowed to make noise again. We Om in a chorus, so loud and present. We do a round of the Birthday Song for L., and I am taken aback at my own voice, how strong, confident, and melodic it is. I am there, man. I am speaking from my roots, I am present. Gradually I am letting go and returning to me. I am Jennifer. I am Jennifer.

***

The afternoon session with Devarshi stars off with, as always, music. We all enter and dance, this time it being more meaningful because we have been silent with our voices. It was a slow, mellow, soul-bearing melody, folksy, full of sways and spins. Devarshi danced along with us–he was definitely cool in my book. His talk about The Bhagavad Gita was profound and provocative, that life is a battle, the reason for fighting lies within ourselves, and that the only way to find god is just to look a little closer. Look! Look! Look! Experience everything fully, good or bad. See the world like a baby, like an alien. Be curious. Live in the inquiry.

In yoga, Devarshi says, the postures are just the chip (versus the dip, the deeper stuff). When something is fully experienced, no matter how bad/big, there is bliss. “‘Is that so (lofty)’ versus ‘Is.That.So’ (wow, here’s an experience).” Babies have no filters; they experience everything at the present, devour everything as it comes. What is happening now? Living in the inquiry, the mystery. Book. Bird. They fly with the bird, not just label it.

To emphasize that point, we are asked to go outside and explore our surroundings as if we are aliens landing on a new planet, to experience life as it is. So there we are, 65 of us crawling on the asphalt, picking at the grass, squinting curiously into the sun. I play with ivy and find a ladybug. I play with some pine needles as though I am a cat. Even feeling the movement of air around me becomes a different experience.

***

Jurian leads the afternoon sadhana, an intense class of emotional sweat and vigor. A bunch of hara pratapana and postures like Bird of Paradise, bakasana, and side crane– whew! I was totally into the class, loving the release. I found myself crying during a warrior/goddess kumbhaka pratapana, just because stuff needed to get out.

***

Tonight is our free night, but a lot of us end up back in Shadowbrook anyway for an open mic jam, starring S. and L. L. did back-up vocals, and random people popped in to listen or participate. L. sang “What a Night,” S. did “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” and then J. and I danced to “Building a Mystery.” A fun, spontaneous evening.

***

Observations:

• G. does his own sh** during every sadhana, and that is annoying and disrespectful. I know Kripalu yoga is very open about exploring your body and listening to what movement you need, but he just goes off into LaLa Land all the time. I must stop setting up my mat next to his.

• My jaw doesn’t hurt so much anymore now that I’m talking again.

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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