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The third session of Rolfing is a big one. It’s taking the openings created on the top half of the body from Session 1, those made in the feet and legs in Session 2, and linking those upper and lower halves together by working along the side body, kind of like plucking out worn-out stitches from a plush doll and sewing it all back together with fresh, smooth thread.
I realize that each time I enter Laurie’s office, I am filled with nervous excitement and curiosity about the places I’ll go in those 60 minutes. It’s a bit of a paradox, because I am incredibly present as she works on my body, but the energy she stirs up always sends me into sensation that feels far beyond this earth.
Laurie reminded me that *that* is how we are intended to feel. Being in tune with that swirling energy and openness isn’t meant to be a deviation from normal—it’s how everyone should be experiencing their bodies!
So, really, I’m not going anywhere. I’m coming home.
Coming home is about stepping off the massage table, slipping into my clothes, and standing upright feeling completely supported in space. The sensation startled me as I got my bearings together after the session: ‘
It felt like I wasn’t activating a single muscle to keep me standing.
I wasn’t “loopy” or “floating” as I typically am after a traditional massage. No, I was balanced so evenly in space that it was effortless to remain vertical.
There’s not much one can do when feeling that way, other than let out a stunned, “Whoaaaaaaa.”
In that moment, I did not feel like a body surrounded by energy. I felt like energy surrounded by a human body, like my skin and (unactivated) muscle and bone was nothing more than a paper-thin shawl wrapped around my feather-light being.
So, how did I get to that place?
Unlike regular massage sessions where one remains either on her belly or back, most of this session I remained on my side after some initial work on my front body.
The first time I rolled on my side, it felt like my torso and everything below was a big bowl of warm soup, my lower half an ever-expanding bowl. It was so fluid and pleasant, and my hips—always a source of tension and apprehension due to my labral tear—felt like they had been transformed into miso broth.
Working on my upper half, Laurie would ask me to lift my arm, elbow up, which she held and adjusted as necessary. A little tension but never pain, I began to experience a feeling of being disjointed, as though my hand was floating out in space, unattached to the rest of me. My scapula—also hanging out in space.
Separate body parts suspended in mid-air, a mobile of various flesh-covered units.
The more I thought about the sensation, I realized what was happening. These parts were being pulled out of regular alignment like crooked books on a library shelf, being worked on separately, then being inserted back into place. Laurie the Rolfer/librarian was just dusting off the books and then nestling them back into their proper spot on the shelf.
No longer crooked, and now in alphabetical order.
Still on my side, she worked my lower half, asking me to align my shoulder to hip to knee to foot, and then I gently moved my knee back into hyperflexion, then forward. I did this motion repeatedly as she worked up through the knee, the iliotibial band, my quadratus lumborum, up through my torso.
If the eyes are windows to the soul, then the sides are windows to spirit, because this action brought on a sensation of brightness and airiness, as though the space between my armpit and iliac crest was a picture window, and Laurie was gently pulling back the heavy drapes that had covered it for so long.
I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing, because it felt like I was getting a glimpse into heaven—that’s how bright and pure it felt!
When there wasn’t heavenly light or disjointed library books (see what I mean about the places I go?!), there was lots of buzzing energy as I lie there on my side. It came and went in intensity, like a crackling radio station trying to come through, tuning in, tuning out, from static noise to FULL VOLUME.
This was probably the most “uncomfortable” part of the session, because my reaction was to turn it down immediately instead of being curious and listening to it. Laurie was turning my frequency dial, and I just didn’t know how to process all this new, incoming feedback.
Flipping back onto my back after that side work was an exhilarating feeling. My nostrils felt HUGE, the size of dinner places, able to draw in so much oxygen.
In addition, the upper lobes of my lungs—well, I could feel them! And give them air without even trying. I inhaled, and my lungs filled to full capacity. No more struggling for a deep breath.
What a better place we’d all be in if we could breathe like that all the time!
To complete the session, Laurie moved toward my scalp then drew her hands away slowly. My radio dial was still tuned in, and my nose and upper lip sensed her energy mingling with mine. It was so strong that my head and face began to draw upward to her, like a curious puppy smelling a pleasant scent, literally arching my head toward her fingers.
Soon after that, my scalp started to tingle at very specific points, as though she had attached live EEG wires to my head.
Then, I found myself where I started this post: standing upright with absolutely no effort.
I left Laurie’s office feeling keenly observant about everything around me, making connections where I may not have seen them before.
For example, in the bathroom, a strand from the throw rug under my feet happened to curve in the very same shape as a random marking on the slate floor.
Then, I noticed the tissue box on the bathroom sink had same curly curve.
I was so enamored with this similarity that I had to take a photo. That’s the kind of place I was in.
For what it’s worth, this pattern re-appeared later the following week, when I went into a liquor store for a new bottle of wine. I only realized the pattern just now:
Speaking of roots, the first week following Session 3 was amazing. I felt grounded yet free and experienced some wonderful openings, both emotionally and physically. I went to a beginner’s yoga class and actually enjoyed it, rather than continuously readjusting myself to feel comfortable.
I really thought I had turned a corner in my physical comfort … until this week. The second week after Session 3, I experienced some major life events that I think really made me slip a little. My left-side twinges are returning, along with the aggravating “tug” in my lower back/sacrum.
Granted, they are not as severe as they were pre-Rolfing, but enough to make me lament the gains I had made up until this point.
Let’s see how Session 4 works out tomorrow, and in the meantime, I’ll do my best to stay rooted, as reminded by my wine!
My fourth-grade teacher had a saying when she wanted her students to take her words seriously:
“That’s a requirement, not a request.”
Back then, it referred to remaining quiet during a test, putting the classroom hermit crab back in its cage, or ending the latest battle of spitball warfare. When you heard that phrase, you shut up and did what Mrs. Goettelmann said.
Lately, however, I’m hearing those words echo through my head about something greater: yoga and meditation.
And it’s not my fourth-grade teacher talking, either. It’s my aching, stiff body. My deprived lungs, which never seem to get enough oxygen. My heavy, scatterbrained, impatient mind:
“Do yoga. Meditate. This is a requirement, not a request, Jennifer.”
Yoga and meditation used to be a very integral part of my life. I had the schedules of every local yoga studio stuffed into the side pockets of my car door so I knew exactly where I could ashtanga, kundalini, or yin on any given day of the week. If I wasn’t at a studio, I was upstairs in my yoga room, following along to a podcast or simply cobbling together my own practice.
Group classes became more challenging once I hurt my hip, but I persisted, knowing my limits, modifying as necessary, simply enjoying the hour or so set aside for nothing other than focused movement and breath.
But—once a dancer, always a dancer—as soon as I discovered 5Rhythms and YogaDance and Nia and all other forms of conscious dance, my appreciation for traditional yoga and seated meditation dwindled. After all, 5Rhythms is described as “movement meditation.” I’ve never liked sitting still. I’ve always walked around on my toes. You mean I don’t have to stay perfectly poised on my little rectangular rubber mat to get a decent mind-body-soul workout? I can leap and stomp and glide and dive into dubstep and still consider that meditation?
It felt so right, too. My hip rarely ached after a 2-hour 5Rhythms class, and I usually walked away with a pretty clear mind, too. Over time, my collection of yoga mats became like old world maps, tightly rolled up and tucked away in a corner, collecting dust.
Dancing was my new yoga, my new meditation.
What I was failing to realize, though, was that the clarity and comfort attained through dancing is just simply NOT the same as that achieved through yoga and seated meditation.
Yes, there are incredibly deep meditative moments in 5Rhythms—Stillness is almost always a time of prayer and revelation for me—but it only appears after a vigorous Wave of dancing all over the room like a lunatic. Flowing, Staccato, Chaos…they shake things up. Move the gunk and junk through the trunk. It’s a relatively active process, like water boiling on the range.
Don’t get me wrong—I love the simmering, the vibrating H2O molecules, the hot and foamy water cascading over the side of the pot and sizzling on the stove top. That kind of transformation is necessary, changing from solid to liquid to vapor. The things I’ve learned through moving would have never presented themselves through tree pose or 20 minutes of alternate-nostril breathing.
But there’s a reason it was so easy for me to “leave” yoga and meditation: It’s hard! Remaining still, sinking into a pose, practicing patience and concentration is not easy. Because really, who actually wants to follow someone else’s direction about how long to stand on one foot when you could be dancing to the beat of your own drummer?
And that is precisely why yoga is so important: It forces us to pay attention. Be still. Listen.
When you stop doing that, things go haywire.
— You become irritable, complaining about the weather, work, anything and everything out of your control. Coworkers, who once you saw you as the “perpetual optimist,” are perplexed at these out-of-character sentiments.
— You become impatient, especially on the road, so much so that you need to squeeze a few drops of impatiens flower essence into your water bottle before hitting the highway so that you don’t grit your teeth to the gum line as you drive from Point A to Point B.
— You seethe when things don’t go your way, usually about stupid things, like a car pulling out of a driveway during your morning walk. (“God, it’s 6:30 a.m., why does THIS car have to leave RIGHT now and make me STOP?!”)
— You realize your flexibility in a simple seated forward bend is diminishing, that holding onto your ankles may be more reasonable than grasping for the toes.
At first, I requested myself to get back into yoga. Which at the time meant nothing more than doing a few paschimottanasanas and spinal twists after my morning walks.
Then, two things occurred that made me think of Mrs. Goettelmann, shifting the request into a requirement.
First, during a yoga/5Rhythms combo class to celebrate the winter solstice, I mentally fuh-reaked out during the yoga portion. I hadn’t done a group yoga class in months, and I was frustrated with the way my wonky hips wouldn’t let me shift from one pose into another. In the past, I would’ve found my own way to work through it without any problem, but that night I was so acutely aware of the discomfort and difficulty, and I HATED that everyone else was able to sit like little cross-legged Buddhas while I struggled to find a comfortable seated posture. I was angry and sad and basically lost all mental composure, feeling seconds away from bursting into tears and running out into the hallway.
As a result, I didn’t start the dancing portion on a very balanced note. In fact, I may have cried during almost all of Flowing.
Second, I got blood drawn last week. I take thyroid medication, so labwork is routine. A regular yoga practice has always helped me through these kinds of medical procedures, but this time no signs of yoga were evident. I had trouble taking deep breaths. I could feel my body temperature rise. I got panicky, feeling the need to escape. I kind of wanted to throw up. My sympathetic nervous system kicked into overdrive, despite having very easy veins and an experienced phlebotomist.
In short, the nickname my friend Carrol had once bestowed on me—ZenJen—is losing all meaning.
You know, I was a teacher’s pet back in elementary school, and I always listened to Mrs. Goettelmann. Now I realize it’s time to listen to a different kind of teacher: my body.
Jennifer, it’s time to do some yoga and meditate. That’s a requirement, not a request.
Back in the fall, to commemorate my 5-year anniversary of graduating from the 200-hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training Program, I took on a very extensive and revealing blogging endeavor of transcribing and posting (most of) my journal notes from the experience. The posts were well received, and—judging by my WordPress site stats—I can see that they are being read by others out there interested in learning more about the Kripalu experience.
At the end of the month-long documentation, I promised I’d do a reflection post about YTT at Kripalu to summarize the pros and cons of the program. I loved my experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but there are certainly some things about the program to consider if you’re on the fence about where to study.
(Background: I completed the month-long, 200-hour YTT program in October-November 2006, led by Megha [Nancy Buttenheim] and Rudy Peirce.)
Exposure to a variety of teachers and styles. Our curriculum included twice-daily 90-minute yoga classes, which meant we had a lot of guest teachers who specialized in a variety of styles. Kripalu yoga can be gentle, moderate, or vigorous; we had mornings where we’d be squatting in utkatasana for a minute and others where we’d be nearly drifting off to sleep during a 6:30 a.m. yoga nidra practice. Where else does your day start with a playful and fun vinyasa class led by a grown man with pigtails and then conclude with a sensual and deep journey into asana and meditation led by a tantric master? Our classes were led by both senior and newly minted teachers, meaning we got to see where we hoped to be ourselves in the near and distant future.
Nothing to do but focus on yourself. When living in a yoga community in the mountains for a month, all of life’s everyday routines are removed: washing the dishes, feeding the cat, changing diapers, commuting to and from work, deciding what to make for breakfast/lunch/dinner, checking your e-mail, putting on makeup, changing the burned-out lightbulb. When the mundane necessities of life are no longer in the picture, the only thing remaining is…you. This can be scary but oh-so therapeutic. After a few days, the void normally filled by these little distractions fills with time for honest self-reflection. It is why every room at Kripalu contains a box of tissues: When deep issues are unearthed, they have nowhere to go but out; no running off to vacuum the living room or rearrange the condiment shelf in the refrigerator. Opportunities like this don’t happen often: Take the time away from “real life” to get to know the soul inhabiting that often-frenzied body you carry around.
It’s the yoga of life. Kripalu yoga teacher training goes beyond the asanas, the pranayama, and the meditation (all great thing, though!): You learn and apply the yoga of life, taking time to engage in conscious listening/communication, find and strengthen your voice, and practice compassion and lovingkindness. Several small group discussions in YTT went well beyond just mat-talk; people talked openly and honestly about past experiences, traumas, current struggles, and fears of the future. Everything you learn at Kripalu will follow you home and constantly remind you to live in the inquiry.
The food. It’s fresh. It’s natural. It’s chopped and diced and prepped lovingly by volunteers. Best of all, it’s there for you three times a day, along with a 24-hour tea stash. I could have my usual bowl of high-fiber cereal with walnuts and raisins and rice milk, or I could have a slice of frittata with a rosemary biscuit (or all of the above). If you’re there in the fall, THE SOUPS. A simple slice of toast with peanut butter and jelly becomes a special treat when your realize dessert is only served once or twice a week. Warning: It’s easy to go overboard, especially when you’re all vulnerable and shit. Let me eat my feelings along with this third helping of country-fried tofu, why don’t I?
Modifications a’plenty. Kripalu yoga is all about making yoga right for you. Kripalu teacher trainees are taught numerous variations on a pose, including different stances, prop usage, or just plain substitutes for certain asanas. What works for your body? Do you need a rolled-up blanket? A cushion? How about a block with a blanket and an eye pillow? I was super flexible 5 years ago and didn’t really consider limitations, but now that I have a hip thing, I am ever-so-grateful for my Kripalu training and the assurance that it is 100% completely OK to modify a pose or just not do it when something hurts. My training gave me the gift of creativity, so in my own practice I have the knowledge to play around with props or different forms of a pose when my body just doesn’t feel quite right. The “perfect pose” is the one that offers you openness and joy without pain.
Daily dance parties. Most of our daily sessions began with music thumping and bodies moving freely into the open space. Hey, if you’re going to be sitting for 3 hours straight learning about the yamas and niyamas, best to start the classes by getting the blood flowing and endorphins rushing. How I would love to start each work day with 5 minutes of booty shaking in the hallway!
Integration. After each session, we’d close with pranayama, meditation, or a round of co-listening with a partner. It was a way to take all the huge concepts we just learned and give them time to settle into our bodies, complete the download, so to speak. We crammed a lot into those 28 days, and it would have been easy to get overwhelmed. Even mini deep-breathing pauses in the middle of a class helped ground us and bring us all back to the same wavelength.
Quick turnaround. One of the main reasons I chose Kripalu was because I knew I’d be certified in a month. I was so gung ho on becoming a teacher that I was just too impatient to enroll in a program that only met one weekend a month and took 8 months to a year to complete.
International flavor. Studying yoga at a nationally renowned center attracts people from all over the country…and the world. My class included students from Hawaii, California, Florida, Ireland, Japan, Australia, and even a woman who lived just two towns over from me. The diversity at Kripalu is much greater than anything you’d get at a local YTT program, and even people’s backgrounds were simply fascinating: I mean, I shared a dorm room with a Cirque du Soleil aerialist!
An insular utopia. Yes, I mentioned above that being holed away in a retreat center allows your true self to emerge, but this can also be problematic once you try to leave the bubble. Kripalu tends to attract only kind, compassionate, mindful folks; step outside into the real world, and no one’s wearing nametags and giving you a silent Namaste when you pass them in the street. I only left the campus once or twice during my month there, and so even things like the sound of cars on the road and Christmas music piped into stores jarred my senses and made me feel very uneasy. If feasible, I suggest a day or two of re-integration, maybe getting a hotel room off-site and gently easing yourself back into reality instead of just hopping directly onto the Greyhound bus and heading straight into Manhattan.
All conditions are ideal. Ideal, not necessarily real. It’s why people get upset at shows like The Biggest Loser, where contestants live on a ranch, have world-class trainers by their side, eat only the best foods prepared by the best chefs, and work out 4 hours a day without having to worry about jobs or kids or mowing the lawn. Yeah, it’s great, but then it comes time to return home and try to apply everything you just learned in a shitstorm of deadlines, bills, morning gridlock, and insomniac toddlers. I went from doing at least 3 hours of yoga each day to maybe 1 hour three times per week…and consequently went through honest-to-god yoga withdrawal, my brain craving the biochemical reactions that daily yoga provided. Although it’s not always financially do-able, the 2-part monthlong program (split into two 12-day sessions) may be more realistic in terms of taking what you learn and applying it to real life.
Lack of post-graduation support/community. You eat, sleep, and study with a wonderful group of people for a month, share with them your deepest and darkest secrets, cry on their shoulder, massage their calves, declare that This Group is the circle of friends you’ve been seeking your whole life…and then after 28 days, *poof* Everyone boards their plane, train, bus, or car and heads home, back to Ireland, back to Australia, back across the country. Of course, technology makes it easy to stay in touch with a group, but it’s simply not the same as studying in a local yoga studio and being able to take class with a core group of mates from your YTT class. People who stay closer to home and do a local YTT have such a greater opportunity to keep that bond alive by, for example, meeting up for coffee or registering for a weekend workshop together.
Leaving your YTT teachers is also difficult, as they just don’t have the time to keep in touch with every student under their tutelage. With a local YTT, you may get to see your teachers weekly and rely on them for advice, suggestions, and support; at Kripalu, once your group of 60 graduates, the next group is waiting at the door. Kripalu teachers are generally fairly busy folks with rigid teaching/training/travel schedules and simply cannot offer the personal support you may need post-graduation.
Heavy responsibility. You’re training not just to be a yoga teacher but a Kripalu yoga teacher. The name carries a lot of weight; Kripalu has a history, a reputation, and prestige. This freaked me the hell out—people would expect me to be a Super Awesome Compassionate Yoga Teacher, but what if I couldn’t pull that off? In addition, the premise of Kripalu YTT is that you can change the world. Be the change! Spread the love! Take this knowledge we’re imparting on you and do something with it. Man, talk about pressure! I got home not knowing whether I should teach yoga, join the Peace Corps, or live in a leper colony in India. For me, I was so overwhelmed that I just sat in a relatively catatonic state for about a week afterwards, trying to process everything.
Practice-teach fail. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest downfalls of the Kripalu YTT: No opportunities to practice-teach real-world students. Many local YTTs have “practice-teach” weeks, a stretch of free or discounted classes—open to the public—where trainees can get guided experience in working with a variety of bodies, abilities, and personalities before they go solo. At Kripalu, the only students you teach are your fellow classmates…who, ahem, are already pretty adept at yoga. Try going from that to teaching a class with mixed abilities, where one woman has trouble sitting on the floor and the other is a seasoned yogi with ripped chaturanga arms. During our training, we had one opportunity to assist with a public class, but that was maybe 15 of us assisting all at once as a senior teacher led the class. We did our best to take on “beginner’s” minds for our fellow classmates during each of our three practice-teach sessions, but this is still minimal preparation for the task of leading actual beginners.
If you completed the Kripalu YTT, I’d love to hear your take!
And good luck to all the trainees headed out there this summer (::coughcoughLiberezVouscoughcough::). 🙂
So it’s been about one week since I left my happy place.
Not gonna lie…it hasn’t been easy. Despite this being my 12th trip to Walt Disney World (and 13th Disney trip, if you count last year’s Disneyland), I still come home with a bad case of PDD (post-Disney depression) that leaves me unable to watch Disney commercials or listen to Disney music for a solid month without immediately tearing up. Coming home from vacation is hard enough, but when you’re going from a land of pixie dust and parades and nightly fireworks to, well, New Jersey, it’s slightly more difficult than just returning from a week down the shore.
Because it’s geographically and financially unfeasible to visit my #1 happy place on a regular basis, I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out where my closer-to-home happy places are, places that don’t require airline tickets and a week off from work. They may not include all the bells and whistles (and parades and fireworks) of Disney World, but they make me smile and are my go-to places when I need some everyday magic.
Happy Place #1: My Living Room Floor
Although I absolutely loved our rustic-feeling hotel room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, it was very tight on space and I had little room to do my morning/evening stretches and wake-up routine. Sun salutations took place in the narrow entrance way between the bathroom and the closet, and to do viparita karani (legs on the wall) at night (a necessity after days of walking anywhere from 8 to 16 miles), I had to squeeze myself between the TV cabinet and table, the only wall space available.
At home, the living room floor is my stretching oasis, the place I go to every morning to twist and stretch and rock and roll. I can do downdogs and warriors without banging my hands into the wall or on the ceiling lamp, and I can lie on the floor in cobra without being skeeved out about who (or what) was on the carpet before me.
In addition, my living room allows me the space to DANCE! 🙂
Happy Place #2: Poang Chairs
When I’m not dancing or rolling around in my living room, I’m seated comfortably in one of our IKEA Poang chairs, in front of the TV.
I’m not particularly a fan of the boob-tube, but I do love our Netflix subscription that allows us to watch streaming shows and movies via our Nintendo Wii system.
Instead of watching TV shows in real-time, Bryan and I have instead been plowing through entire series of shows through Netflix streaming. That way we don’t have to wait weeks in-between episodes or feel like we lost 6 years of our life if a show ends badly (::coughcoughLOSTcoughcough::). Most recently, we completed the 202 episodes of 24, a series that had us glued to the Poangs for months. I became very attached to the characters and screamed, shouted, and cried along with them. It was a very emotional ending, almost as heart-wrenching as leaving Disney World! Mickey Mouse, Jack Bauer…I love you both!
Netflix is also my source for rare, hard-to-find movies and documentaries. Sure, I’ll watch Tangled the week I return from the World (gotta catch up on my Disney princess knowledge), but this same week I’ve also watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (Christmas is less than 100 days away…juicer, please?!), half of the PBS special Doctors’ Diaries, and–OMG, the cutest movie in the world–Gotta Dance.
Remember that documentary a few years ago, Young @ Heart, the one about the group of seniors who sing contemporary music? Well, this is the same thing…but with DANCE. The movie documents the inaugural season of the NETsationals dance team, a group of 13 seniors ages 59 to 83 who dance hip hip for the New Jersey Nets (in the photo above, their jersey numbers indicate their age). A few had amateur dancing experience (ballroom, tap), some had danced recreationally, and none had ever done hip hop before. These folks are living proof that age is just a number and old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Heartwarming, uplifting, inspirational…this movie a shot of the warm and fuzzy feel-goods without the overly sappy chicken noodle soup for the soul. I stood on my feet and applauded the TV during their first live performance! I could watch this again and again–and probably will.
Happy Place #3: Red Bank Battlefield
I am fortunate to live near several parks (all very nice, too!), but my favorite by far is Red Bank. It’s a national park, so it’s well kept and clean; it attracts a lot of cute older couples (I once witnessed an older husband and wife unwrap a particularly challenging Werther’s Original candy together); and, being directly across the Delaware River from the Philly airport, there are PLANES! Lots of them! As I’ve written again and again, I am obsessed with plane watching. I will say I don’t care, but then I’ll hear the roar of a jet engine, and immediately my eyes go to the sky. I’m particularly fond of Southwest jets (one, they represent our transportation to Florida; two, they are the most colorful of the liveries), cargo jets (HUUUUGE!), and planes that are taking off in my direction.
Sometimes I’ll go to the park before work (quiet and peaceful), other times after work (more traffic but interesting characters), and sometimes on the weekend with Bryan for reading-under-a-tree time. A loop around the park is a little over a mile, and nowadays you can almost always spot a deer or three, which have become acclimated to human beings and don’t even bat an eyelash when you’re walking their way. The other morning I walked past six deer (including two males with giant antlers), one only inches from me!
It’s a good thing I appreciate the solitude of the park in the morning, because soon that’s the only time I’ll be able to go; the park closes at sunset, and as I much as I pray that it won’t happen, there will come a time this year that I leave work and it’s dark out. Where to go when my Disney World closes at dusk?!
So those are my non-Disney World happy places, accessible within minutes. If I’m willing to drive a little longer and pack a few more things, next on the list are (a) my gym, for a solo swimming session; (b) the yoga studio, for a 5Rhythms class; and (c) the Jersey shore!
What places do you return to when you need some magic?
Back in June, as I entered the yoga studio in which my monthly 5Rhythms classes take place, the studio owner–also a yoga teacher–asked how I was doing.
“Well, to tell you the truth,” I said, “I feel uncharacteristically impatient. A bit on edge. Like I have all this unchecked rage bubbling inside of me.” I went on to explain that little things were easily irritating me, from traffic to aisle-blocking supermarket patrons to emo Facebook status updates. By nature these are all annoying things, but the problem was that they stayed with me, and I couldn’t brush them off. I could feel my heart beat faster, my chest tighten, my jaw clench any time I was faced with an obstacle.
The following is a loose transcript of the dialogue that followed:
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I do all the things you’re supposed to do to prevent these kind of feelings. I do yoga. I do 5Rhythms. I start my day with meditation and pranayama.”
“What kind of pranayama?”
“Hmm. What about ujayii?”
“No, never ujayii.”
“I think you should try ujayii to start your day. It’s a good, deep cleansing breath. Try some supported savasana, too.”
“Really, in the morning? And how can savasana be supported?”
“Oh, yes. Prop your legs up on a chair so your shins are parallel to the floor. Supported savasana is incredibly relaxing. Also–may I ask–do you have compassion for yourself?”
“Um, yes. I think?”
“Perhaps you should try some metta meditation in the morning. Especially if you’re feeling angry toward others. Perhaps extending compassion toward others through metta will help.”
Although I haven’t gotten around to trying all of the teacher’s suggestions, I found the conversation utterly fascinating. Here we were, two women: me, describing my symptoms; her, offering guidance in the form of breathing, meditation, and yoga. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that this yoga teacher is also an RN; she could have easily offered more “medical” suggestions: therapy, pills, a psychiatric evaluation. But instead of tossing around words like “Valium” and “Cymbalta,” we discussed ujayii, savasana, and metta.
I am a firm believer in integrative medicine (using conventional treatments when warranted but integrating alternative therapies when appropriate). I am not opposed to taking 200 mg of ibuprofen when my hip acts up or when I have a pounding headache. However, the conversation reminded me about all the ways yoga and its individual components (asana, meditation, pranayama, compassion) can help with day-to-day ailments and complaints. For example:
When I am bloated…
…I do intestine-wringing twists like ardha matsyendrasana/supta matsyendrasana, or the classic “wind-relieving” pose, pavanamuktasana.
When I need some “regularity” in the morning…
…I do bhunaman vajrasana, the abdominal massage I learned during my YTT at Kripalu, after several classmates complained of “blockages” from too many beans and fiber-filled dinners. (Have a toilet on standby!) 🙂
When I’ve been on my feet all day…
…I prop my legs against the wall for a few minutes of viparita karani, to get the blood from my legs flowing back into my core.
When I feel my energy waning…
…I power up for a few rounds of kapalabhati pranayama.
When I feel like I need a boost of clarity or to clear a mental block…
…I rise into headstand or handstand and spend a few minutes directing my energies toward my brain.
The above are all very specific asanas/pranayamas for specific symptoms, and I think by now it’s common knowledge that a regular yoga practice in general can lower blood pressure, improve posture and balance, and calm the nervous system, to name a few whole-body benefits.
What pose/breathing practice/meditation do you do for your everyday ailments? I’m still trying to find one that eases my PMS of doom–other than an all-day savasana!
Even though spring officially begins in March and we’re now more than 40 days past that starting point, I still feel like May is when the REAL spring begins. At this point, there’s absolutely no threat of snow, our trees and lawn are unquestionably green, the depressing rain/wind cycles of April have blown by us, and the temperatures are holding steady near the 70-degree mark. People just truly love May! So it’s appropriate then, that with this psychological start of spring—with all the blooming and colors and new life forming around us (it’s baby goose season!!)–that I plant my own new harvest—participation in the YIOM network!
YIOM (“Why I Om”) debuted last month as Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month, a sort of challenge for yoga bloggers to post regularly, if not daily, for one month about all things asana, pranayama, ashtanga, so on and so forth in an effort to form a vast collection of yoga posts from across the country. YIOM’s founder, The VeganAsana, was so successful at corralling this group that she didn’t want to see all of her efforts end after April 30, and thus formed YIOM II—Yoga Inspired Online Movement, an ever-growing network of yogis who blog. I wasn’t part of the original YIOM (I had just started my blog the month before and didn’t know if I could keep up with the challenge), but now that I’m feeling comfortable out here holding onto my precious “Flowtation Device,” I’m excited to join this group and wear the YIOM badge with pride.
To tell you the truth, I had been seeking a network like this for a long time. Before I hurt my hip and had a consistent running regimen, I was all about the fitness blogs, reading about how people fueled for long runs, what their training plans looked like, and what workouts they did on their cross-training days. After the hip went stupid and I had to stop running, these blogs simply depressed me! I no longer wanted to see the photos of their awesome early-morning runs around Central Park at sunrise or read their mile-by-mile race recaps. I had a few food-focused blogs in my Google Reader, but looking at pictures of the step-by-step process of making an omelet (chopping onions! slicing ham! whisking eggs!) or baking muffins (pouring batter in the pan! watching muffins rise through the oven window!) just wasn’t cutting it. I was thirsty for healthy living or holistic blogs, but whenever I searched for something to that effect, all I got were diet, food, workout, and green-living blogs. Not that those things are great—I just wanted something a little more stimulating, posts from people who were inspired by movement in general—not just running—breathing, meditating, appreciating the small wonders around them, learning how to connect more deeply to their soul. A big part of my life had just been eliminated, and I needed to refresh my Google Reader with blogs that were more than just fartleks and foodstuffs. I wanted feeling, depth, stories from people who are also suffering and adapting, simple metaphors about yoga and everyday living that make each day on this earth a little easier to comprehend, posts from yogis who challenge the status quo.
And that’s where YIOM comes in. I haven’t even digested all of the participating blogs yet, but the bloggers whose posts I have read thus far are feeding me. There’s substance here, and their posts make me hungry for more. And I totally want to be a part of it all too! It feels good to be part of a community that gets my posts about yoga. I used to write about my yoga experiences—struggles with the yamas, niyamas, yoga injuries, prana flow—in a restricted-access blog mainly composed of my real-life friends, and I always felt guilty writing about these things because I feared no one would read it or get it, and that it was simply a waste of time. On YIOM, it’s a bit like that beloved show-and-tell from elementary school: We pass around our treasures, and everyone gets a chance to ooh and ahh over our words, wisdom, and stories.
So hooray for May, for new beginnings, for Lorin for planting this little vrksasana sapling and getting it to grow!
P.S. How embarrassing is it that I’m the only blogger without a Twitter account?! (I just don’t like being captive to so many technology outlets.) Whatev, it makes me unique–I totally stand out (like a sore thumb). 😛
This weekend has been themed a bit around discomfort, but in positive sense (for the most part, aside from my aching back). As in, unease in taking risks, breaking out of “safe” zone, stepping out of your comfortable boundaries. Like in yoga, when we’re chilling in Warrior I and realize we can perhaps bend the front leg a little more and sink further into the stretch. Little baby steps outside of our “I feel jusssst fine” mentality.
For example, on Friday night I went to the gym for my usual 30 minutes of swimming. However, that night I decided on a whim that instead of swimming to the wall, stopping, putting my feet down, turning around, and pushing off again, I was going to try something different and do an open turn every time I hit the wall. An open turn is an easier alternative to the wall flip as a means to keep swimming rather than stop–even for a few seconds–to switch directions. You approach the wall underwater, push off with your hands to give you the force to turn your body around, and then push off the wall with your feet.
After just a few minutes of doing this, I was really feeling it. I was never one to linger at the wall before, but it’s amazing how having your feet on the ground for just a few seconds is a generous mini-break. Take those few moments out of the equation, and my heart was PUMPING. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go back to my “normal” way of doing it, but there’s was also a part of me that was determined to flow past the initial fear. Sure enough, maybe about 10 minutes into the session, I was still feeling it but I had reached a new level of OK-ness. My brain switched from OMGWTF#(*#*&!!Imgonnadrown! to “Uff, this is a tough workout, but I feel strong!” Even crazier, when I glanced at the clock and saw I had been swimming for 31 minutes, I honestly wanted to keep on going, even though I usually wrap things up at the half-hour mark. So I continued for another 10 minutes. I was utterly exhausted when I finished, but it was such an accomplishment to try something new, kinda scary, and be cool with it in the end.
My other big foray into the New & Scary was the “Introduction to the Spirit World” workshop I attended with a friend on Saturday. To be honest, neither of us had a genuine, heartfelt interest in the subject matter; it was more of a skeptic, eyebrow-raising curiosity that led us to the event. The flier promised techniques to help us raise our vibration, connect with our spirit guides, and communicate with said guides through visualization. The program was also BYOC. That’s bring-your-own-crystal, BTW. Although I am used to meditating and have certainly felt shifts of energy and vibrations, especially after very powerful dancing practices, the rest of this program material was wayyyy out of my comfort zone. My intentions were probably 20% based on curiosity and 80% more of a dubious investigative journalist approach. An embedded blogger, maybe?
I didn’t have any crystals on hand, but my friend’s fiance had an entire dusty box stashed under their bed, and I borrowed an amethyst from the treasure chest. We didn’t spend too much time focusing on crystals, and the most we did with them was hold them in our hands while we tried to connect with our spirits. I can’t say I necessarily felt anything different, but I still gotta give crystals some credit–they do emit higher frequencies of energy. I mean, for my 5th grade science fair project, my dad helped me get a transistor radio to play, powered by nothing but crystals and some metal wires and stuff. The instructor also explained that crystals–in the form of salt–is what makes us feel so cleansed after a day at the beach in the ocean. The salt purifies our bodies, removes negative energy, and makes our bodies more open and receptive to positive energy, to connect with our source. Now, I’m not ready to go out buy a quartz tower and make my husband turn our office into an official “crystal room,” but I don’t see the harm in wearing crystal pendants or earrings. It certainly can’t hurt.
However, the majority of the workshop–the talk about the spirit guides–really made me antsy. Although I kind of understood the statement, “You are a spirit first, having a human experience,” I wasn‘t so sure about the other spirits who are supposedly surrounding me. “You are not permitted to walk alone on this planet,” the instructor said, who paused every now and then while talking, looking a bit distracted, explaining to us that she was listening to her spirit guides and that she didn’t mean to be rude. At one point, as she was gesturing with her hands, she give a little giggle, apologized, and explained that she had just accidentally poked her spirit in the eye. She told happy stories of being guided through difficult situations by her spirit guides and not-so-happy stories, like the time her spirit guide of five years decided to move on and essentially “broke up” with her. We took time to sit in stillness, increase our vibration, and try to connect with our spirit guides. Some people in the room had done this before and described feeling, say, a man on one side and a woman on the other. I experienced what I usually experience during meditation–a feeling of warmth and expansion. My palms and arms were pleasantly warm, and my body felt a bit like it was a balloon being gently filled with air. I felt it in my hands the most; they were resting palm-up on my lap, and during the deepest part of meditation, it felt as though my fingers were growing like wild plants, each digit growing and growing like Freddy Kruger claws but with the appearance of tree roots.
The instructor went around the room, her hands waving in front us like she was washing an invisible window. She praised the “regulars” for their amazing energy and clear chakras. My friend’s energy was deemed questionable. And when the instructor approached me to tune my chakras, she grew very concerned that I could not relax. It was true–we had been sitting in metal folding chairs for more than an hour, and my hip and lower back were killing me. (I hope she knew it was hip bothering me and not my first chakra!) She poked and prodded me, asked how old I was, and urged me to have a session with her. Yikes! I felt like the yoga newcomer who couldn’t even master child’s pose while everyone else in the class is up in handstand. Even the other first-timer at the program, who at first complained about not being able to feel or see or understand anything spiritual or energetic, by the end of class was describing being surrounded by four spirit guides–and was able to name them, nonetheless! My friend didn’t see any spirit guides but she did have a pretty intense emotional release that simply fascinated the other attendees and instructor. I, however, was the “special” student, who had to move to the floor because her legs hurt and who didn’t have any releases or presentations from spiritual sidekicks. But I’m OK with that, because I did have a nice meditative experience, enjoyed that brief feeling of expansion and lightness, and was happy for my friend for being able to get rid of emotional gunk that had been buried in her heart.
Lastly, I did something today that I never thought would happen: I willingly decided NOT to attend a 5Rhythms class. The decision was not an easy one, because I have attended every class at this particular location since its inception in November; I am a regular! But it’s an hour drive away, gas prices are getting ghastly, and, um, I actually listened to my body. This whole week my body has felt totally out of whack since I took a 2-mile walk in new (and now returned) sneakers. I’m not just talking about an achy lower back; it has felt like someone tried to twist my entire top half off like a bottle cap. I’ve felt crooked in downdogs, my shoulder felt weird when I swam on Friday, and my hip has been acting up again. So instead of dancing like a wild woman for two hours at 5Rhythms today, I RSVP’d “No” on the group website and texted my massage therapist in a panic: “R U available for an hour today? Please?!?!?!” Luckily she had an open slot, and thank gosh I took it: She took one look at my naked back and said I was totally off kilter. Everything on my left side was completely torqued, from my neck down to my hips.
So, as it turns out, sometimes the comfort zone is a good place to be, and finding the willpower to refrain from plowing ahead is the challenge. I was at my edge this morning and really didn’t want to creep any further off the precipice by delving into a high-intensity dance practice. Saying “no” to 5Rhythms and attending to my body first, asking for comfort, was my “discomfort” zone. And I’m glad I went there.
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.
My husband and I have this ongoing joke about me being a velociraptor; it started out because my stomach sometimes makes screeching noises that sound like a killer dinosaur, but the fact is, I think I’m actually cold blooded.
Unless the temperature is a steady 73-75 degrees, at least one body part of mine is always chilly. It can be a beautiful 70-degree day but my hands feel as though I’m working the graveyard shift in the freezer section at Wegmans. I wear my Land’s End “sleeping bag” coat steadily from November through March, and I’m pretty sure last year we had flannel sheets on our bed well past the first day of spring. A body temperature of 98.6 is most likely a fever for me, and my bare feet on a winter’s night in January can be used as weapons.
So you can imagine how excited I was last year when a new hot yoga studio opened right around the corner from my workplace. The fact that a yoga studio period had opened by my office was a miracle, considering that some of the only other signs of civilization in the vicinity are a doughnut shop, a cheesesteak joint, and a liquor store. Oil refineries are pretty popular too. But a yoga teacher was bold enough to set up shop in the area, and, clearly thinking of me, she decided that doing yoga at temperatures at or hovering near the three-digit mark is perfectly normal and acceptable.
It’s no secret that the human body moves more freely in warm environments, but since I’m also part reptile it takes more heat than normal to thaw my claws. I’m amazed at how many yoga studios still follow the “Winter: Heater, Summer: Air Conditioner” mentality, and I have actually “broken up” with yoga studios due to climate control issues. One studio’s a/c vents were level with the floor, which meant that during warm-ups (I use that term loosely) and savasana, I was getting blown in the face and feet with cold air. Another studio insisted on running both the a/c and about three high-speed overhead fans; because the class was gentle in nature, I spent the entire 75 minutes covered in goosebumps, desperately hoping the teacher would throw in some energizing kapalabhati breath.
Ideally, the yoga studio should NOT be a place where you want to use the blankets as Snuggies. And just because it’s called corpse pose doesn’t mean my feet should look like dead fish during savasana.
When I’m chilly or cold, all of my physical and mental energy goes toward trying to stay warm. But practicing yoga, dancing, or meditating in a warm climate frees up that energy, allowing me to sink into a deeper practice quicker and easier. Walking into a warm yoga studio is like using your car’s remote ignition on a frigid February morning 10 minutes before you need to leave. You just slip in, and ahhhhhhh. No need to wear socks the first 15 minutes of class.
The first class I tried at the new studio by my office was Bikram style. I wanted heat? I got heat—all 105 degrees of it. I’ll admit it was a little shocking to be sweating from my shins only 10 minutes into class and leaving the studio feeling as though I just took a bath in a tub full of perspiration, but I was in my glory. I dove head-first into Bikram for a few months, soon being able to differentiate a chilly 99 degrees from a just-right 105, but eventually The Hip made me seek something less focused on physicality. Luckily, the same yoga studio offers a hot vinyasa class, and the combination of flow, music, heart, and heat had—and still has—me hooked.
Some people love hot yoga for the “detox” nature of it, the promise of eliminating toxins via perspiration, and just the whole sweating = weight loss association, but for me being hot puts me in “zone.” It’s a little bit of chemistry—with just the right amount of breath, sweat, and flow, a reaction occurs and I am transported just a little deeper into my practice. Add some music to the equation, and sometimes my inner dance morphs into a trance. I am mesmerized, completely in connection with my body. My hair has slipped out of its braid and is plastered all over my neck and shoulders, but it means nothing to me. Sweat droplets fall from my armpits onto my mat and I do not flinch. I am bound in extended side angle and I know some students are moving onto to Bird of Paradise, but on my mat, on my little planet, I am stretching my heart to the ceiling and feeling pretty darn good.
We drop to our bellies, and I feel like a wet plastic bag sticking to the ground, but my legs are firm, my core is engaged, and our backbend poses become an almost sensual series of rising and falling. I keep a steady drishti. Sweat runs from my upper lip into my mouth; I’m not losing fuel—the sweat IS my fuel.
Heat makes it very easy for me to open up—physically and emotionally—but as someone with hyperflexible joints, I do have to be cautious of taking things too far during class. Sometimes the heat dulls my “warning” cues, and I may be too far into a stretch before realizing I shouldn’t really be there. Especially with my hip, I really shouldn’t be doing seated forward bends with external rotation (e.g., janu sirsasana) without support under the bent leg; I have to remind myself not to let the heat make me overconfident.
Before the hot yoga studio came along, my opportunities for a good, sweaty yoga class were usually limited to the months of June through September. Yoga in the winter meant socks on my feet, more layers than a bean dip, and minutes of mental preparation to disrobe in the locker room. But now, thanks to the little business sandwiched between a hair salon and a tax preparation office, this little velociraptor is slowly turning human again (although I’ll still be wearing my sleeping bag coat through Easter).