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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.

Three of the styles I am very familiar with and have written extensively about them on this blog: 5Rhythms, Let Your Yoga Dance, and Nia.

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.

The studio was decorated with a sky/cloud photo mosaic…perfect setting for all that praisework!

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.

More studio artwork.

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

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

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

PROS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descending into Lhasa, 2006

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

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

~ “Defying Gravity,” Wicked

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

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.

Megha (Tigger)

Rudy (Eeyore)

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.

Drained.

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,

What a Kripalu dorm fort looks like.

cry a little, plug earplugs into my ears, and fall asleep very, very easily, 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

(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.

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;

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