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When I first sat down to write this post, the phrase that initially came to mind was a variation of the classic line from The Sixth Sense:
“I see dead people.”
Except in my case, the unusual phenomenon I experience is nowhere near as spooky as Haley Joel Osment’s, only occurs during highly meditative experiences (usually moving/dancing), and the people I see are bursting with life.
In short, when I am immersed for long stretches of time in meditative activity with other people (e.g., a 3-day 5Rhythms workshop), the faces of those with whom I am moving/dancing/flowing/growing begin to fill my mind whenever I close my eyes. Sometimes it happens when I’m dancing, sometimes during meditation, and almost always occurs in those few moments before falling asleep at night.
It’s a bit like watching a movie but feels more personal, that I am not just an observer but a participant as well. It’s not intrusive at all; in fact, it feels comforting, like I have bits and pieces of each and every one of my classmates downloaded inside of me.
However, before I continue, let me refer you to some previous posts in which I describe these experiences.
Last summer, during a day-long workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Rivi Diamond, this happened near the end of the class:
“I experienced a brief sensation of aloneness as I walked through a ‘graveyard’ of bodies, people spread out in various shapes of savasana. It was as though everyone’s old self was dying, melting into the earth, and I was joining them in this passage. It was a bit sad, but when I closed my eyes I saw all of my classmates’ faces so vividly, each of them crying along with me. It may sound mournful to have that kind of vision, but it was actually an uplifting one, a bit of an energetic reminder that everyone hurts, everyone cries, everyone needs each other.”
During my month at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had all kinds of intense visualizations during savasana and meditation:
“Ever since I came here, I’ve had very vivid images dance in my head when I close my eyes. For example, when in a flowing posture, like standing forward bend or bridge, I’d close my eyes and see random snapshots of people–all Kripalu people. I’ll close my eyes at night or during savasana and see quick flashes of people in bandanas, people with shawls, smiling, happy, introspective, compassionate Kripalu people, like I’m looking in a photo album (in fast forward) of all the residents here. However, there are times (usually during chanting, centering, pranayama, and sometimes during certain poses) that I close my eyes and see us all as a unified group. Amazingly synchronized. Holding hands, or arms raised, our mouths open in Om. I see our group, our tribe, together. So tight, as One.” (source)
“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…. 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.” (source)
Now, I am a writer and have been told I have a very vivid imagination, but I honestly believe these are more than simply illustrations I have consciously planted in my mind. I don’t “conjure up” these experiences; they just happen. I don’t rest my head on my pillow at night and actively direct my brain to recount all the people I have danced with. I close my eyes, and—like a flip book—I see Christina shaking in Chaos, Rebekah swinging her hair around in Flowing, Lana lying in Stillness.
It’s almost as though my brain has been “uploading” media files all day; closing my eyes is the time for the files to play back.
Very often, I can feel this “uploading” process take place. It usually takes a few hours of movement and almost always happens during the Lyrical portion of a 5Rhythms class. I go from feeling me to feeling everyone. My eyes lift from the floor, and suddenly the people I’ve been dancing with are no longer bodies with names but rather energy with faces, and I feel amazingly connected to everyone in the room, even people who might otherwise rub me the wrong way.
It’s usually at this point I stop dancing and begin weaving in and out of the group or around the room, my eyes locking on every face I pass, my arms instinctively rising upward, my palms widening as though to collect every morsel of electric energy that is crackling in the air.
Each time my eyes gaze into another pair, there’s a little energetic camera shutter-like “snap,” that person’s image and energy being stored in my circuitry. Shortly after that, the images go from sharp to blurry, almost as if to say, “There is no separation between us. We are all one.”
Sometimes I’ll even feel like I’m embodying others. I remember one time I swung my loose hair around but “saw” my classmate’s face instead of my own underneath all that hair.
Other times my classmates become hybrids of each other. I specifically remember one moment in Stillness—I was in such a deep meditation—that in my mind’s eye the person I was dancing with had the face of one man but the clothes and mannerisms of another.
And here’s an even more curious phenomenon: There have been times after class when I see the silhouette of a classmate but the “face” my brain is trying to pin on the shadow keeps morphing. I logically know I am looking at Person A, but the face my eyes keep trying to see in the dark changes from Person A to Person B to Person C, almost like Person A is embodying everyone else, too!
The one thing I’ve noticed is that for these experiences to occur, I must be engaging in some kind of prolonged meditative work. And that’s why these “visions” don’t freak me out or make me question my sanity, because they only happen when I am in a heightened state of consciousness. Believe me, I don’t go home every day and see my coworkers’ faces behind my eyelids, although it would be nice to experience my colleagues on that kind of universal level.
Another thing that reassures me that I’m not nuts is Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke and—because of her insight and knowledge about the brain—was able to track as much of the experience as possible, as it was unfolding. In her talk, she describes the two hemispheres of the brain. The left, whose purpose is to function in the “I” voice, and then the right, which is focused on the “we”:
“Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like…. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”
When I heard her describe this, I nearly burst into tears. I felt like she was describing all of my dance/yoga/meditation experiences!
Taylor’s stroke was a huge physical setback, but those hours in which her left brain shut off and her right hemisphere took over contributed to a monumental spiritual and emotional awakening that set the course for her recovery:
“I realized ‘But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.’ I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated me to recover.”
My faces, my visions, my “uploads,” my video montages are all small reminders that we don’t need to have a stroke to experience at least a little part of what Taylor was describing.
How fortunate that I can understand this Nirvana that she speaks of, and that I can get halfway there through the right combination of movement, mindfulness, and meditation.
I’d love to hear from people who experience similar (or totally different!) visions during this kind of work. Please share your stories in the comments!
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.” !!!
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 fall out of bakasana, and I don’t even realize it until my foot is on the floor. I didn’t freak out or criticize. It was natural, human, almost expected. This is a personal accomplishment with my balancing poses.
I rise into a belly-down backbend during Jurian’s 6:30 a.m. sadhana and realized that such poses are very dramatic for me. I lift so effortlessly, I feel like I am flying. Maybe it’s the root bandhas pressing into the floor. Afterward, the exhilaration, the buoyancy I feel is incredibly strong. I cry. I tear up. I feel a movement inside of me that feels like my blood is dancing.
We do a belly-down navasana, followed by a spinal twist. Jurian allows us to go into Stage 3, and I was craving a heart-opener–I could feel my heart wanting to scream to the world. I did ustrasana, Camel, but afterward my heart ached so much that I could not lower my arms in savasana. I had to keep them over my heart and chest protectively for a few minutes before putting them to my sides. Perhaps I ache to share my heart. I ache to rise to others and be open, loving. But eventually, my heart aches in a sad way. Recoil. shell, hide out until the next opportunity for Locust or Boat.
After breakfast, we discuss modifications and assists. Somewhere in between, I question why all the Kripalu staff drop the letter A off of most Sanskrit words and call pranayama pranayam and utkatasana utkatasan, so on and so forth. “I think all the older people dropped off the A to cool,” Rudy joked. Added Roger: “I’m so cool, I just say yog.”
Observation: My Oms are getting stronger, starting from the belly, the diaphragm, the heart. I no longer hold back; I am vocal, I am filled with life. I have a voice, I am not afraid to use it. I carry my “mmmm” until my very last breath.
Rudy leads an afternoon sadhana during which we do standing yoga mudra, and my mind escapes into another realm. The visualizations I have are wild, something one might expect from using illegal substances. For instance, as I am hanging over my knees, I see an image of something like a paper towel roll, spinning down in a waterfall-like cascade of vanilla yogurt and what looks like chives. It is spinning, pouring down, down, this white liquid with green speckles. I see a garden of eyeballs, and where there should be heads of lettuce planted in the earth, there are eyeballs instead.
I see Kripalu’s walls, but it is empty. I go up and down the staircases, but there is nothing on the walls, there is no color, no people. It is very lonely and very frightening.
I see my body in the form of a body bag. My body has a zipper, and I am being zipped from the neck up. The zipper is on my face, my face is over my face, closing over my face. (Author’s Note. Yes, that is what I wrote.)
After yoga mudra, I inhale, rise, and feel amazingly buoyed. There is a force under my arms, and it keeps my arms afloat. I want to dance with this movement, this watery motion. After doing sun breath, my arms lower and I feel more energy in my left hand. I feel like someone has ever-so-briefly slipped their hand into my left hand. So gentle. The loving grandmother appears again.
During our Stage 3, I find myself going into setu bandhasana, very quickly, very forcefully. I feel like someone is hovering above me, as though Jurian is standing over my head and Megha at my feet. I then thrust up into full Bridge, then Wheel, very quickly, no preparation, no thinking involved.
After a long and deep deliberation on the yama of aparigraha (way too involved to include here), I reflect on my ahtitam (small group), A, G, and E. We felt pretty separate until today’s sharing of the yamas and niyamas. Everyone divulged. Here we are, four strangers, confiding in each other about what we feel holds us back in life. Once strangers, now connected in 30 minutes. How? Why? It is because we are safe. Kripalu, Megha, Rudy, Jurian, Roger, Leila, and Helga have made us feel so loved and appreciated that we do not hesitate to be honest. Satya = truth. We are no longer afraid.
The camaraderie continues into the night, as Dorm 129 has a “late-night” after-hours party from 9:15 to 10:30. Whee! Everyone brings a snack, so there is juice, tea, apples, chocolate, gummy bears, cookies, pretzels, chips, popcorn. We talk about Kripalu’s dense food and our constipation. A puts on Irish music and a song about witches to celebrate Halloween, which apparently is just days away. The sugar in the gummy bears tastes sensational. We sit in a circle and share our stories. Everyone has incredible stories, and lil’ ol’ me feels rather boring next to the gypsy living off the grid in California, the former Peace Corps member who lived in West Africa, the chick who used to serve in the Air Force, the lady whose house is being sold during her stay at Kripalu, the woman who studied with a Reiki master in India, the former Seva volunteer who spent time living in New Orleans studying animal acupressure, and the Cornell grad who’s taking a break from her career as an aerialist in Cirque du Soleil. Blah. Wow. Shit. In 45 minutes, we become acquainted. The tribe is strengthening.
Five years ago on this day, 65 Kripalu YTT students stood on our mats inside Shadowbrook and just did our own thing. Our 6:30 a.m. class was termed “personal sadhana,” meaning we were to lead ourselves through our own private practice. Sixty-five of us stood on our mats and breathed, each of us doing a completely different practice. Some started with Breath of Joy, some with hara breaths, some kapalabhati. M did a headstand; a threesome in front went into kapotasana all together, and the girl next to me did a vigorous ashtanga practice.
I started off slow, physically and mentally. Tired. Stiff. Slow. I did several pratapana exercises, but I couldn’t break into my own rhythm. I kept thinking as though I were leading a class–what would I do next? What should follow this, and how do I get there? It was hard not to look around and see what others were doing. Being next to M was good, a challenge, because she was doing the primary series. I kept thinking, “I can do that! I can do padagusthasana and marichyasana A, B, C, D…I can do that, too!” But I didn’t want to do those things then and there. I was tired and stiff and still waking up. I liked my own pace. But..but…I can do that, too! I can do bakasana, seriously! I just don’t want to do it now.
It took time, but I finally found my flow, probably when I did a downdog into low lunge. I lifted my arms in my dancer-like fashion, and finally I felt free. But I learned it’s hard for me to be me. I always have the desire to be someone else. But for the final 30-40 minutes of class, I finally found me. She felt good. I felt good. Hot. Tapas. Me.
Expansive. That is the word S uses to describe the outdoors, the vast land of cool air, fiery colors, dark heavy clouds, and sunlight that greets us like a living painting every morning after sadhana. You walk outside the Shadowbrook studio and see it–the outside–right in front of you. It’s hard to just ignore the glass doors and bypass it. Many of us flock outside the minute we put on our shoes at 8:01 or 8:05. We come from a warm, insulated cocoon to this amazing, breathing, revitalizing environment–expansive.
There is a world outside of here–trees glowing from the sun’s peeking smile, a shimmering lake, rolling clouds that look like they could bring rain any minute. We stand there en masse, soaking it in. Breathing it in, even if it stings our lungs. J emerges from inside and yells, “Good morning, Kripalu!!” except with his accent, it comes out Crip-a-loo. It’s daring to be so “loud” outside, but we all smile at his enthusiasm.
The morning lesson is focused on anatomy, tendons and ligaments and nerve versus muscular tension. “The word pain is like the word snowflake,” Rudy says. “There are so many kinds of them.” I learn that the anatomical name for our butt (sitz) bones is ischial tuberosities. We review the six movements of the spine. We go over some pratapana (warm-up) exercises and then at the end of class pair up with a partner and lead them through some pratapana, our first stab at practice teaching. Mine does not go so well.
I need to stop acting like someone else and start being me, I write in my journal. I led the practice teach like [one of my yoga teachers from home], like someone I’m not. I need to be me. Stop copying. Stop being uncomfortable in your own skin.
The afternoon lesson is centered around the warrior postures, and we break down every move step by step. Tuck tailbone under. Lightly draw in abdomen. Core stabilization.
Our afternoon sadhana is led by Grace, and she uses lots of analogies from nature to guide us through the class. During vrksasana, we move our hands through the chakras, starting at the root with our hands in prayer and rising up slowly to our temples. I experience a very powerful, intense energetic reaction to this deliberate movement. This is what many YTTers label as “a Kripalu moment”:
Vibrating right leg–tingling, shaking, throbbing with energy and vitality. This needs to get out! I’m feeling every hair on my arm and chest tingle, rise, like static electricity, like there is a magnet above me. Every single hair, follicle, tingling–the sensation is overwhelming. So much feeling up my arms, rising energy, rising like the tree. Arms danced, fluid, drawn by an aura of energy and color around me, magnet, heavy light heat, hot, hot, palms sweating, heat.
In savasana, feeling the release, the blanket against every body part–soft, comforting, nurturing blanket. Comfort, support, love. Cry, cry, cry. Sitting up in sukhasana, trembling, needed more release, insulation, hug. I feel a gentle, loving touch on my right thigh, like a grandmother’s touch. Lose it. Cry. Blanket. Still trembling on my right, hence the sloppy writing. [Author’s note: My handwriting was awful at this point in the journal entry.]
After class, I find out that three other girls experienced the tingly arm hair thing, too. Grace attributes it to the mega-release of energy we were building up during our opening hara exercises.
Namaste: I bow to the light and the shadow within you (because darkness is as important as the light).
A few nights ago when I had the house to myself, I decided to bust out (OK, by “bust out,” I mean play via Netflix streaming, even though I own the DVD, because sometimes I am just that lazy) one of my favorite movies of all time: Contact.
The movie was released in 1997, not too long after Independence Day hit the theaters. The trailers made it out to be another alien movie, perhaps with less stuff blowing up. I remember going to the theater expecting one thing and coming out very confused. Not confused about the plot line or the ending but more bewildered with my own thoughts about believing in stuff that can’t be seen.
In a nutshell, Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel, is about an astronomer (Ellie Arroway), an atheist committed to searching for extraterrestrial life. She is a woman of science and makes it clear to her romantic interest (Palmer Joss) that she needs physical, factual proof to believe in something’s existence, even though Palmer, a religious writer and highly spiritual man, doesn’t share her viewpoint and constantly challenges Ellie about being devoted to a phenomenon that can’t be seen. One of the most provocative exchanges in the movie occurs when Palmer asks Ellie if she loved her father, who passed away when she was 9:
Palmer: Did you love your father?
Palmer: Your dad. Did you love him?
Ellie: Yes, very much.
Palmer: Prove it.
Ellie eventually makes the discovery of a lifetime, a message coming from outer space that provides blueprints for a transportation device to the aliens’ home turf. During her journey to outer space, she witnesses celestial sights that can only make her weep, and she has a highly emotional encounter with an alien that changes everything she ever thought she knew. However, she returns from the mission proof-less, with no recordings, artifacts, or shreds of evidence that corroborate her story. No one believes her; in fact, the government insinuates that she is making up the whole story, that it’s a delusion of grandeur:
Panel member: Doctor Arroway, you come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that to put it mildly strains credibility. Over half a trillion dollars was spent, dozens of lives were lost. Are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all… on faith?
Ellie: Is it possible that it didn’t happen? Yes. As a scientist, I must concede that, I must volunteer that.
Michael Kitz: Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story.
Michael Kitz: You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing.
Michael Kitz: You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!
Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] Then why don’t you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this “journey to the center of the galaxy,” in fact, never took place!
Ellie: Because I can’t. I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if only for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and hope. But… That continues to be my wish.
This movie hit me hard when I first saw it, and it still does today. It stirs me, it makes me cry, yet I’m not fully sure why. My heart aches for Ellie, yes, but I feel something much deeper than sympathy for a character.
I’m not a religious person, but I guess you could say I am spiritual. Perhaps this movie resonates with me because I am a bit on the fence about everything “out there” that we cannot see. Having to go to full Catholic mass weddings makes me cringe and feel uncomfortable, yet I sometimes listen to gospel music on my commute to work because it just makes me feel so damn good. I’m confused by people who go from not caring a lick about religion to talking about Jesus as though they were BFF in college, yet the moment I emerged on the rooftop of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet and looked out at the Dalai Lama’s former residence, I felt something unworldly course through me and was moved to tears by a power that could not be seen, smelled, or measured.
I squirm when I am at a funeral and the priest reassures us all that “the departed is now with God,” and yet sometimes I find myself in the same position as Ellie, trying to convince people what I experienced is real, for real! Like the time I had an out-of-body experience during savasana after a particularly powerful yoga class. Or during that one crazy-intense yoga class at Kripalu, when every hair on my body stood on edge as I lifted into Vrksasana. Or, I swear, one time during a meditation sit during YTT, I could actually “hear” all of my classmates’ energies buzz above our heads.
Could I prove it? Absolutely not. Perhaps one could physically see the hairs on my arm sticking up during that intense tree pose, but would it be attributed to some higher power? Maybe I was just cold. Maybe I was aroused. And during that out-of-body savasana experience; well, to others, I was simply lying in corpse pose. But to me, I was floating above my own body. Try explaining that to someone who does yoga simply to get a toned butt!
A lot of what I do is hard to explain to others. For instance, just this morning, after a long and sweaty yoga practice at home, I arose from savasana with an overwhelmingly intense urge just to sit in meditation. After a dance of swirling colors swam before my eyes, the world turned to a deep indigo, and I felt like I was transported to a vast amphitheater of nothing but pulsing purple. It went from being isolated to just my head to surrounding my whole body. For a few moments I felt like I was on the verge of entering another dimension. I’ve tried to explain this to other people who meditate; some have also experienced the indigo bubble, others say meditation is just time to sit and be quiet. No colors, no shapes, no mysticism.
I’ve had trouble understanding the people who come to 5Rhythms who just kinda bob along to the music, not really getting into it. Like me. Like the way I do. And yet they come to class week after week after week. Why?! They’re not doing it my way, so clearly they’re not getting it. Do they need it explained to them?! And how can I possibly try to describe some of the intimate exchanges that occur between myself and other dancers, how we link arms and hang over each others’ backs, skin on skin, side by side, a theatrical pas de deux of sorts? Some of the exchanges we do are so eloquently executed, it looks like they have been choreographed. We are keenly aware of each others’ moves and presence, and the give and take of our motions looks anything but spontaneous. I tell ya, sometimes it’s hard to convince others that this is what all dance should be like. (Note: If you are a dance enthusiast, the link is worth watching. It’s a beautiful display of an improvisational duet between two dance students.)
It’s human nature for us to want to share what has happened to us, but it’s foolish to think that the world is going to drop everything and join our team. Maybe the movie was and always has been a gentle nudge for me to at least be respectful of others’ beliefs and values, rather than roll my eyes at the mere notion of something I “don’t get.” As the alien explains to Ellie:
You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.
Do you ever take a yoga class and emerge feeling like there must have been crack in the ventilation system because you feel so damn high? I love those classes!
I was super excited when my yoga studio announced that it would be holding a vinyasa class this past Saturday morning. They normally don’t offer vinyasa on the weekend, but it was a special opportunity to welcome a new teacher. (Unfortunately, the teacher had to leave at the last minute for a family emergency so the studio owner taught the class instead.)
I needed this class to jump-start my weekend; our bathroom at home was in dire need of cleaning, and the rest of the house was begging for some TLC. I couldn’t dive into cleaning on my own–I needed a fuel source. I needed an hour and a half of sweat, breath, and concentration to bring my mind into focus. It was such a crappy day outside that morning, and I was crossing my fingers that some hot vinyasa (plus my usual cuppa morning joe) would get me going.
When class started, though, I felt sluggish. I’m not used to taking class in the morning, and my body still felt half asleep. I began to worry that I’d leave the studio in need a nap, not powered up and ready to go. But somewhere in the middle–maybe it was when the teacher helped me into an easier Warrior II stance or after that awesome heart-opening backbend–something awoke in me. Just like that, I was connected, plugged in, in the zone.
I walked out of the studio feeling a little loopy, came home for a quick little lunch (Trader Joe’s veggie burger–yum!), and then plopped my sweaty body next to the bathtub for some Soft Scrubbin’ action. After cleaning the bathroom, I dumped everything out of the linen closet and re-organized all of its contents. Then I moved onto the kitchen, cleaning the floor, counters, appliances. I was growing exhausted, but the magic yoga high still lingered–onto dusting the dining room and living room!
I didn’t get a shower that day until 7:30 p.m., at which point I changed from my yoga clothes straight into my pajamas. Yeah, it was a little grody wearing my sweaty yoga duds from 10 in the morning through the evening, but I was afraid that once I peeled off that tank top and spandex pants, the yoga euphoria would ::poof:: disappear, as if my saturated clothes were some kind of Superman cape.
Mission accomplished: Next time I have a big housekeeping task on the horizon, I’ll be sure to schedule a hot yoga class immediately beforehand! What does a good, sweaty yoga class motivate YOU to do??
There is something especially sacred about 4th Friday 5Rhythms that sets it apart from classes on other days, in other places. Maybe it’s the fact that it takes place in the evening, after dinner. The sun is lowering as I drive to the studio, and when I emerge two and a half hours later, I am surrounded in darkness and guided by moonlight. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the work week, and what a great feeling it is to leave the office, kick off my shoes, and dance the night away, sweating away the stressors from Monday through Friday and freeing space in my heart to welcome a wonderful weekend. Or maybe it’s the physical location itself–a yoga studio tucked away in the basement of an office building, our little secret dance hangout. It’s invisible from the outside, but once you go down those steps there is a warmly lit, womb-like space with beautiful wooden floors and Sanskrit words with English translations decorating the wall trim: peace, light, breath, space. This is the spot where transformation begins, where the week ends and something new begins.
Maybe it’s because I did a powerful meditation yesterday morning on the concept of flow in the universe, about being a conduit of energy between everything and everyone, or maybe it was just the fact that I had off of work yesterday for Good Friday and spent the entire afternoon on a girls’ day out at the mall with my sister and grandmother, but I felt *charged* last night when my feet hit that studio floor, even though physically I felt somewhat drained from being on my feet all day. New students showed up; people whom I thought wouldn’t ever return came back. One of the new students had the most satisfied smile on her face the entire time, her eyes closed, her face beaming. I couldn’t help smiling in return whenever I looked at her; she looked like she was at the best concert in the world, grooving along to the music and swaying to the sounds around her.
I paired up with another new woman a few times, a Nia teacher actually (I think I may try her class!), who, I would hope as a Nia teacher, really felt the music and was such a powerful partner to work with. At one point, during a staccato number to very primal Native American drum beats, we must have looked like natives calling out to the sky or Mother Earth or dancing around a fire pit. It was so earthy, filled with passion and intensity. She flung her arms up as I threw mine down, and we alternated back and forth, a silent but dramatic language between our bodies. We were still in the rhythm of Staccato, but I’m pretty sure Chaos was banging on our rib cages, demanding to be released. Luckily the teacher’s next song was something a little less intense, because had he changed the track to something full-blown Chaos, that woman and I would have turned into banshees for sure. The fire in our eyes…it was like that transition in 28 Days Later, going from a regular human being into a red-eyed, blood-thirsty maniacal zombie.
Two hours later, during our final moments of Stillness, I found myself sitting on the floor, my hands in Vajrapadama mudra, a gesture to cultivate cosmic consciousness, believing that through connection with everything around us, we will find the trust within ourselves to do what needs to be done.
After that, my hands closed into Anjali mudra and I drew them closely to my head. As my hands approached my face, I sensed an amazing warmth coming from my third eye. Or maybe it was warmth from my energy-charged hands radiating toward my head. Either way, there was a strong attraction, and class ended with my prayer hands resting between my eyes. During the silent moment of rest between class ending and the beginning of our sharing circle, I nearly fell asleep, but I think it was just a kind of savasana, a way of absorbing everything that had just transpired and “waking me up” for the next stage of the evening.
Because once I got in my car, I was ON. I was a new Jennifer, and every song that came on the radio in that 20-minute drive home felt like it was playing specifically for me. You know that feeling–when you’re in a good mood, maybe it’s a Friday night, you just had a great date, you got a raise at work, whatever–and suddenly every song in the world is the most rockin’ beat ever, and you become enamored with whatever the DJ plays? That was me last night, blasting the stereo, bouncing in my seat to Alanis Morrissette (“You Learn”), Van Morrisson (“Brown-Eyed Girl,”), UB40 (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”), Adele (“Rolling in the Deep”), and even Pink (“F–kin’ Perfect”). I came home and just couldn’t sit still–needed.more.music. I escaped upstairs to our iPod stereo and scrolled through our music library, playing more Alanis, singing along to “The Couch” just to prove to myself that I remembered all of the disjointed lyrics, feeling totally in agreement with “One,” rocking out to “So Pure” (IT’S ALL ABOUT DANCING!!!!), and then switching over to U2 for “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” followed by “Beautiful Day,” at which point I was truly in some other zone and changed the lyrics to “Boo-tiful Day,” because I was holding my stuffed animal pug (Boo) and making him “dance” along with me.
And then I finally got tired for real. Just like that, my body said, OK, that’s enough for now. And I went downstairs, checked some e-mail, washed the dishes, foam rollered a bit to work out some muscle kinks, and went to bed at 1. Just another 4th Friday/5Rhythms kind of night.
OK, here’s the deal: Technically, I am certified to teach yoga. But I haven’t taught a class since 2007.
There are no caps and gowns at Kripalu, just sandalwood on my forehead to represent the earth, to which we are all connected. I had also been blessed with rice and flower petals on my head, but they fell off as I walked down the aisle.
I am a graduate of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health‘s 200-hour yoga teacher training program. I attended the certification program in October-November 2006. At the time, I was working as an editor at a local newspaper group, and I was fortunate enough to be granted a monthlong, unpaid leave of absence so I could skitter north to Massachusetts, where I’d wear spandex pants from morning through night, spend most of my days inverted in downdog, and experience meditation sits so deep that I’d leave the room feeling like a helium balloon ready to lift off into space.
I enrolled in the program after developing a pretty intense yoga practice at home and through various studio classes, which I was taking about 5 days per week. I loved when my teachers spoke Sanskrit. I studied Yoga Journal magazine like I was cramming for a final exam. As my practice intensified, I’d be in class, thinking of ways I’d approach a sequence differently. Or I’d watch new students struggling in a pose and would mentally go through ways I’d help that person if I were at the front of class. I also felt somewhat guilty for “just” being a student: How selfish I was to devote 75 minutes a day to myself, my mind, and my body? Maybe if I taught yoga, it would validate my passion?
I struggled with the decision for months: to teach or not to teach? But then in the summer of 2006, my husband and I went on a group trip to China, which included a few days in Tibet. That’s a whole other post, but let’s just say that if you have any kind of spiritual practice, going to Tibet will blow.your.mind. Lhasa was a spiritual powerhouse, and there was all kinds of energy flowing every which way around us, between the devout monks, pilgrims, and the towering statues of Buddha we encountered in every nook and cranny of the most sacred monasteries. I came home from that trip on fire, ready for something. I wanted change, I wanted to learn, I wanted to spread love and peace. I wanted to meditate and breathe and open myself to the universal energy that hit me so hard on the roof of the Jokhang Temple.
I was ready to DO THIS!
The minute we pulled up to Kripalu, my month’s worth of black yoga pants and tank tops in the trunk, I started bawling. I was leaving my husband for a month! My job! Starbucks, computers, private bathroom experiences! But then that afternoon I took a gentle yoga class, ate an amazing fresh and all-natural dinner, and met the 2 facilitators, 4 assistants, and 59 classmates who would help make the next 28 days awesome.
During our end-of-program party, we presented our teachers and assistants with hand-crafted Om mandalas. To honor their gifts, they led a continuous Om chant, which always sounds beautiful. And that’s me and Akira, a fellow student.
To write here about my whole Kripalu experience would take way too long and would instantly be tagged as TLDR (“teal deer”: too long, didn’t read!) But there was lots of yoga, electrifying pranayama and meditation work (seriously, floating), and powerful, deep classes after which I felt like a live wire, so much that my handwriting in my journal changed dramatically and was all jagged and stuff. We chanted together, we danced together, we shared stories of love and loss and fear and strength, we joked about being constipated from too much tofu and beans. We watched yoga “superstars” come and go in and out of the facility for their weekend workshops: Shiva Rea, kundalini guru Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa (she is INTENSE, man–her eyes!!), satsang leader Mooji (we snuck into one of his lessons), Budokon creator Cameron Shayne and his ninja posse. We learned how to teach a basic seated pose; we learned how to teach headstand. I spent my weekends working up the courage to dip into the “bathing suit optional” jacuzzi. Dancing with the live KDZ drummers during noon DansKinetics (YogaDance). Taking long walks outside and talking to myself. I sweated over practice-teach lesson plans; I got sick during my final, hour-long lesson and had to lead my little group of four with a scratchy voice and hacking cough. I was enlightened. I was confused. I loved everyone. I hated everyone. I gorged on blueberry crumble at breakfast time; I snuck a rosemary and thyme roll in my bag at dinner. At times I danced more than I did yoga, and I began to fear that I signed up for the wrong program and should have been studying DansKinetics instead.
Me with YTT facilitator/YogaDance teacher Megha, just a wildly sweet, crazy, passionate, ecstatic, and delightful woman.
Doing yoga, pranayama, and meditation consistently day in and day out, plus being sheltered from the world outside (seriously, as a mostly “cellphone-free” facility, I had to call my husband every night holed up in a smelly pay phone booth) CHANGES YOUR BRAIN. Stuff gets re-wired. Different neurons fire. You think longer and deeper. You process things more clearly. Everything you thought you knew is now something completely different. A lot of my classmates had PROFOUND experiences after returning home from Kripalu. We’re talking affairs, divorce, moving across the globe, new jobs. I didn’t have quite as dramatic epiphanies, but I didn’t return from YTT feeling like a ball of sunshine either.
I came home in such a state of WHA??!?!?!?! that I didn’t quite know how to function at times. It wasn’t quite depression, but I didn’t feel too happy, either. I felt drained. Empty. Like I had been so stuffed with knowledge over such a short period of time that it all just fizzled out of me when I got home. I didn’t want to return to my newspaper job, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I didn’t even call my boss until a week after I returned, because I just didn’t know what to say. “Hi, I’ll be back Monday”? “Hi, give me another two weeks to get my life straightened out”? “Hi, I quit”? I was completely empty, mute, nearly apathetic. It was miserable, because many of my YTT friends kept sending e-mails saying things like, “Wow, I love life so much more now. Everything is illuminated. My life is shiny and perfect and I’m gonna make some world peace now.”
It was hard to digest because I was not feeling that way at all. I loved everything I learned at Kripalu and had an incredible time there, but that did not carry over immediately after I got home. It bounced in the opposite direction, sending me down, down, confused, sad, ambivalent. I wanted to save the world, but MAN, what an incredible responsibility! I kept thinking too big too soon, and it hurt. I cried a lot. I felt like I was letting down my Kripalu teachers for not jumping at the front of a yoga class the day I got home. Plus, I was sad about leaving that world behind, the freakishly utopian Kripalu community. I left behind friends, mentors, good food, constant yoga, peace, love, and live drumming and dancing on Saturdays. I was going through a mourning, a time of loss and grief. Additionally, I was going through a biochemical withdrawal! My body had become hooked on the physical effects of a strenuous yoga practice that I honestly think my brain went kaput shortly after it realized it wasn’t getting “high” anymore. Yoga totally is a drug!
I eventually went back to my editing job and found ways to ease back into comfort. I was given the opportunity to teach a Christmas Eve class at the local yoga studio, and 7 students showed up! Soon, I had my own class on the studio calendar. I was super-excited at the opportunity but nearly barfed before every class. The class was scheduled at an off time and didn’t attract many students. Those who did come said they enjoyed the class, but I never felt like myself. I put too much time into planning. If my class started at 6, I began planning at noon and would surround myself with index cards and books and YTT notes and would make myself sick trying to develop the “perfect” class. All the things I once enjoyed for fun–reading yoga books, taking yoga classes–became work. I took them way too seriously now, and that innocent passion that made me fall in love with yoga so much was gone.
By the end of 2007, I had declared myself retired from teaching and decided to step down into just-student status again. Around Christmas 2007, as I was writing out a check to Kripalu for their Scholarship Fund, I journaled about the decision:
I cannot and do not want to teach traditional (hatha) yoga. I think I have come to accept this. I tried it, and I felt like I was wearing the wrong size shoes. I love practicing yoga, I love living yoga, and I love reading, writing, and talking about yoga. But teaching yoga is not my bag right now.
So why am I writing out a check to a place that led me down the wrong path, you ask? Ahh, but it was not the wrong path. Although I may have studied yoga, anatomy, breathing, and meditation for 28 days at Kripalu, I now know that all of that yoga helped me tap into the knowledge of what truly excites and holds my passion: dancing.
The signs were obvious, starting from Day One. We were asked to call out three words that define yoga for you. My first word was “dance.”
When we sat around in a circle chanting “Ganesha sharanam,” I opted to scurry to the back of the room and danced to the chanting instead.
Sometimes the teachers put on music before class, and I loved walking into the empty room, throwing down my books, and dancing barefoot along the bamboo floor. I’d dance to slow songs like “The Rainbow Connection” and fast songs like “Bootylicious.” I hated it when the music stopped and it was time to study asana.
On my first day off, instead of sleeping in and relaxing in the sauna, I became one with the drums during a live drumming DansKinetics class. I whirled and spun and leaped and collapsed on the floor for a blissful savasana. After class, the dance instructor took a hold of my glistening arm and said, “Woah, I think you’re in the wrong training!”
On nights when I was so tired, so exhausted from practicing yoga all day, I’d still find the energy to sneak back into our now-empty program room, put on my headphones, and dance in the dark to my MP3s as the huge Shiva statue stared curiously at me.
One of my favorite memories of Kripalu was hanging out after hours with Meghan, another student, hooking her iPod to the stereo, and dancing like ecstatic lunatics, overwhelmed at all the magnificent square footage we had all to ourselves. During one of my final nights at Kripalu, I snuck into the empty Main Hall (a chapel converted into a giant yoga room) and danced some more. And more. On the night when Linda Worster came and sang her folk songs as she played her guitar, I again curried off to the back of the room and danced in my own little world as Megha, my dance-trained program leader, danced in her own little world.
But for some reason, I always felt like this was wrong, you know, caring more about dancing when I was paying big bucks for a yoga program. I expressed this to Megha. She, aware of my dance background and desire, told me that it’s OK for my “performer persona to shine.” In fact, “she [the performer persona] needs to shine!”
And I think sometimes you need to do the wrong thing to figure out what is the right thing. I entered a yoga teacher training program and emerged a more confident dancer. I loved being on my mat for 12 hours a day, but I also loved the way I felt when I was moving to music. I admired dance teacher Megha so much and vowed to take her spirit home with me and apply it to my own practice/teaching/life.
And my god, I have. Whether it’s a wedding, company Christmas party, high school reunion, or the bar, if there’s good music, I want to dance. I need to dance. Hesitation no longer has a grip on me, and I’ll bust out there on that dance floor and let my soul collide with the vibrations.
I tried to think back to a time where I felt really comfortable teaching yoga. It was the last class I taught, an open style class on a Friday night. And it just so happened to include more dancing and music than asana. I pumped up the volume on the stereo and instructed the students to get lost in the music, to do sun salutations on their own breath, with each rise and fall of the music. It was definitely more DansKinetics-based than traditional yoga-based. But that was it. That was my favorite class. I can execute downdogs and triangles and janu sirsasanas and get lost in my breath, but–at this time–I just cannot teach it.
Sure, I would love to do the DansKinetics teacher training program at Kripalu, but it’s a huge financial and time commitment. And the thing is, I think I learned what I needed to during my yoga training. I don’t necessarily have to lead a formal class to be content. If dancing–just doing what I love to do–helps get other people moving, smiling, and stepping out on that dance floor, than I am happy. In reality, I have fulfilled my role as a yoga teacher because yoga is joy and mindfulness and breathing and moving and union and bliss.
And that is why I wrote out the check to Kripalu. That place did a lot for me. It may not have been what I expected, but it was a learning experience. And I trust Kripalu’s staff, faculty, and guest teachers to help others, whether it’s in yoga, dance, hiking, weight loss, weight gain, love, knowledge, and compassion.
I returned to Kripalu in the summer of 2008 for a “Let Your Yoga Dance” weekend workshop and long to go back sometime soon…to dance, of course!
Sometimes when I’m really deep in practice, I’ll have very intense COLOR experiences. Does anyone else have these?
I haven’t had them in a while, but then last night during my scrumptiously sweaty hot vinyasa class–out of nowhere–the color green smacked me between the eyes as I was lying on my back in a modified hip stretch. The color presented itself through very specific green images–the front of the old Clover store (a predecessor of Target) my mom used to drag me when I was a kid, and my dad’s work uniform. What’s so interesting about the experience is that I wasn’t thinking about either of these two things–or anything related–like, ever. And I was so focused on my movement and breath during the posture that I wasn’t expecting to have a “vision.” It totally just snuck up on me, and I could almost physically feel the experience hit me in my third eye and solar plexus. Without warning, I got kind of sad too. Was it just a color experience, or were the images representative of the relationship with my parents as well? This all occurred during a hip stretch, not a heart-opener, which I would expect to generate green images (heart chakra = green).
For example, one of my first experiences with color came in a kundalini class during spinal rocking, when we sit in “rock” position (vajrasana) with hands on thighs, rocking our spines back and forth while silently chanting Sat Nam. My upper back, the thoracic region, warmed up quickly, and the color green was very dominant. I saw green sludge ooze like ectoplasam behind my eyelids, a dark , almost forest green. Sludgy, slimy green. The other pose in which I witnessed vivid color was during a squat, with our arms wrapped around our legs from the inside out. We kept our heads up and did breath of fire. I saw aqua, the Genie from Aladdin aqua. In fact, I saw the Genie himself, too. Years ago, I saw yellow during hip openers, and then saw Tarzan‘s Jane (what’s with the cartoon characters?) float by in her pouffy yellow dress.
I’m still not entirely sure what last night’s flash of green meant, but I was excited to have the experience because it’s been a while since I’ve had such a vivid burst like that. I could go into the very vivid (and totally random) image of the Korean War Memorial that popped into my brain and made me cry during last week’s 5Rhythms class, but that’s a whole other post.