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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.

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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, it is Practice Teach #2. Da-da-dummmmmmm!

After our personal sadhana, the adventure begins. The staff had already assigned us numbers; I was #3, to teach at 1:30 p.m. Blah. I was really all prepared to go in the morning. G. went first, then came lunch. I ate way too fast, but I did run into [yoga teacher from home] in the buffet line. We didn’t have time to talk much, but we hugged and it was a comfort to see a familiar face. Carrot ginger soup, salad, studying. Twenty-five minutes on the treadmill listening to Alias music and “What a Feeling” from Flashdance. Confidence booster. My facilitator turns out to be Danny, who wears pink toenail polish.

I don’t remember (again) much about my class. I remember joking about the Reuben sandwiches served at lunch and how we wouldn’t be doing wind-relieving pose or bow. I was definitely better prepared than last time, but it still felt weird, a new pair of shoes. But is IS a new pair of shoes. I’m not used to being a teacher. It is a new pair of shoes. I felt good in the moment but kind of hazy afterward. What just happened? Were my transitions too choppy? Did I make the students hold the posture too long while I talked? I forgot the lateral side stretch in my pratapana! I didn’t have a cool-down pose between warrior and savasana! But my languaging was on, everyone appreciated my foot rubs in savasana, and I felt confident during the class itself. I just feel confused now. Does this feel weird because of the clipboards? The constant chatter? The incessant noise and distraction, the sardine-type environment? When it’s over, I’m relieved  but mentally foggy.

J. closes our practice, and then we had yet another sadhana with Ray. Ray was awesome but unfortunately I had hit rock bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in a yoga class, even those at 6:30 a.m. We did a ton of forward bends and downdogs, and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I’ve never had such a weak triangle and wobbly warrior II. I conked out somewhere between plank and half-shoulderstand and sunk into savasana. It’s a shame, because I think he was saying some great stuff, but I was just gone. No yoga nidra for me–just sleep.

***

We have a beautiful, beautiful evening in Shadowbrook with singer/songwriter Linda Worster. We spread out blankets and cushions and form a massage clinic, a 10- to 12-minutes massage per person, as Linda sings intimate, melodic songs to us. Candles at the altar, Shiva at the helm, Linda on guitar, and a whole lotta TLC all over the room. I massage H. and M. and then they work on me, me sinking into samadhi. These people, these complete strangers, now together in a deep sense of respect and love, nearly crying at the beauty of the moment.

After the massages, we set up the backjacks for a concert, laughing at Linda’s songs about her cat and travel buddies. When the songs get slow, Megha disappears to the back of the room to dance, eloquent lyrical dancing. I can’t stop myself. I must dance too! Must dance! Soft lyrical music. Dance! Slowly, I step into Stage 3 movement, a combination of both wonderful music and wonderful company. How much more can I ask for? Santosha.

When swimming became my primary workout regimen in the spring of 2010, I stuck to two strokes: freestyle and breaststroke. When I realized that the leg movement of the breaststroke was doing my bum hip more harm than good, I became a strict freestyler. Every now and then I’d flip over and attempt the backstroke from one end of the pool to the other, but, um….I sucked. I couldn’t kick fast enough to stop my legs from sinking, my arms were all over the place, I could not stay in a straight line and would constantly drift from side to side, and I was deathly afraid of smacking my head on the edge of the pool, so I’d always stop several feet before the lane actually ended. It was embarrassing, because there were 70-something-year-old women in skirted swimsuits who were more composed on their backs than me.

So I stopped. I stunk at something, so I gave up. My ungraceful floundering coupled with my ongoing fear of hitting my head against a concrete wall was my excuse to bail out.

But, like any time one sticks to the familiar, things stagnate. Sure, I added some speed intervals and kickboard circuits to my freestyle workout. I even created a modified breaststroke in which I stuck a foam noodle over my waist and used breaststroke arms to propel my buoyed bottom from one end of the pool to the other. But one stroke is a limited repertoire. My hips were capable of doing the backstroke; it was my scaredy-cat brain that was holding me back.

So at the start of this summer, I consulted my #1 resource for swimming how-tos: YouTube. I watched clip after clip of professional swimmers demonstrating the stroke, standing in my living room doing backstroke arms, looking like a wackadoo windmill. I learned how to use a pull-buoy underneath my neck as a beginning step in getting the leg motion right. I took my newfound tricks to the gym and found that, although, they helped, I was still really slow and awkward. Who knew that such a relaxing, chill stroke could be so difficult?!

However, I decided to persist this time. I’d go to the gym, do my 30 laps of freestyle, and end the swim with 2 laps of a sloppy backstroke. My plans were foiled whenever the pool was crowded and I had to share a lane; no way was I endangering the safety of my lap companion with my wayward arms and legs.

Somewhere along the way–I don’t even know how or when it happened–I got good. Not great, not awesome, and certainly not master-level, but an honest-to-god good. I remember going from one end to the other–in a straight line–feeling like all my body parts were in the right place. I had speed. I ended just about a foot away from the wall. It felt right. Like your first time “getting” headstand in yoga, when all the weight is distributed in your arms, your core is tucked, and there is no pressure on your neck or eyeballs. Oh, that‘s how that’s supposed to feel!

I tried to break everything down and figure out exactly how my arms were moving, the precise flutter of my feet, but then everything got messy again. It seemed the more I analyzed each motion, the less graceful the stroke became. The trick–aside from learning to go with the flow (literally)–was to keep my core engaged, tuck the tailbone, and keep a steady drishti (eye gaze) just a few inches ahead in the direction I was going, using my surroundings (pool ladder, signs on the wall) as clues to when the wall would be approaching. Oh, and to breathe. (You would think it would be easier to remember to breathe when your face is actually out of the water, but I was always gasping like a dying fish).

So. Core engaged. Steady focus. Astute awareness of surroundings. Breatheeee. Sound familiar? Lil’ bit of yoga? Lil’ bit of instructions for life?

Granted, sometimes the best intentions go out the window in times of stress, no matter how hard you try to apply these basic principles. And I still have days when my backstroke looks like a game of Pong, me bouncing from one side of the lane to the other. But I’ve learned over the past few months that practice and commitment really do work, and when life knocks me down I’ll just get back on my back again.

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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