Thanks for the positive feedback, friends. And so the saga continues!
It has taken me all weekend to digest the class I took last Friday enough to be able to write about it. I even did a repeat of Last Sunday’s class on Sunday (the one with P — ), rather than test out a new teacher, so I would at least be doing something predictable. That said, here goes…
Day 8: Friday, October 11, 9:00
I cycle down to the Kits Beach studio early this morning to be sure I get a decent spot. I’ve decided to try something different today – a class called “Kundalini,” billed on the website as:
“A dynamic, powerful, fast paced and effective form of yoga that produces quick results. Benefits include weight control, relief from stress and insomnia, enhanced creativity, lymphatic cleansing, liver detoxification, balancing the heart and mind, and developing will-power. … Each class includes centering oneself with a mantra, warm up, a specific yoga postures set, deep relaxation and meditation.”
“Quick results” puts me off a little, sounds fitness-y, but then again, relief from stress? Enhanced creativity? Balancing the heart and mind? How could I possibly go wrong? It specifically mentions deep relaxation and meditation. And to top it off, the instructor for this class, G–, is the owner of all these studios. Yoga is presumably her life. She’s probably amazing.
The first thing I notice is that a lot of these people know each other. The room is buzzing with conversation, and I’m reminded of my yoga class back in Lausanne. The friendship vibe is strong here, and that’s definitely a good sign. I find a spot near the center of the room. The young woman directly in front of me, her hair in a loose bun, is knitting something while she waits. People—young and old, male and female, skinny and chunky—stream into the class, and by the time G– comes in and calls us to attention, the room is packed.
G– is small and lithe, with one of those deep all-body tans you can only get after months spent in the sun. I remember reading that she has a home (and does yoga retreats) on some Greek island. Her hair hangs down to her waist, loose and dark; it doesn’t look like it has been trimmed (or even combed) in quite some time. I immediately think of the book “Women who Run with the Wolves,” by Clarissa Pinkol Estes, and the wild woman archetype. Here she is!
We start with a chant, which everyone else seems to know. After a couple of rounds I chime in. Afterwards I did some reading and found the words: “Ong Namo, Guru Dev Namo” which doesn’t have anything to do with gurus, but apparently is loosely translated as “I call upon divine wisdom.” (In case you’re interested, here’s a video, the chant starts at 2:07)
Still seated, we circle our upper bodies around at the waist, palms together as if in prayer, music in the background. From there we continue to do yoga-like stretches. So far, so good.
At this point, however, the resemblance to yoga as I know it disappears. We do some quick body twists, inhaling and exhaling very rapidly as we swing from side to side. The rock music in the background becomes louder and more insistent. Soon we’re bouncing on our toes, our arms stretched in the air. What we’re doing reminds me more than anything of an old-fashioned aerobics class. The kind where you jump up and down, kicking one leg out and then the other, with your arms out to your sides doing little circles. It definitely doesn’t feel like yoga to me.
At some point, G– says something, and everyone just lets loose and starts dancing. They move off their mats and bounce around to face one another. The girl in front of me has let her hair out of her bun and is boogeying down. There’s an older woman in the front who is really into it, gyrating, twisting around, her eyes closed, head thrown back. A woman who was on my right comes over and dances right in front of me, smiling. I’m feeling pretty silly here, like I’m back in junior high school and I don’t know what to do with my body, but I try to be cool and just go with the flow.
This goes on for a long time. I really try to relax and not feel self-conscious. I have flashbacks to college parties, sticky beer-drenched floors and David Bowie. I feel like there’s a huge spotlight on me. Over here, everyone! Here’s the geek! I make an effort to smile. Why, oh why did I pick a spot in the center of the room?
Eventually things calm down, we join palms with the person next to us in a bridge. The room is buzzing with energy, people talking to each other, laughing. The woman I am facing doesn’t say anything to me. I’m so embarrassed. I laugh awkwardly – At least we’re both tall! I ask her if she’s new to this, too, and she says no – but that she really likes this class and it surprised her, too, the first time.
I’m hoping we’re going to move to the meditation part now, but instead, G– stretches her arms out straight to the sides and starts twisting them at the shoulders – thumbs pointing up, then twist the palms backwards. Backwards and forwards. Over and over and over and over. After about a minute, my shoulders start to burn. I have to lower my arms. Nobody else seems to be in agony like me. Knitting girl, now transformed into Wild Woman, is twisting away, gyrating along to the beat, her eyes closed, arms straight as fenceposts. I keep trying and failing. I’m dying for this to end, waiting for the driving rock music to change so I can relax my screaming shoulders and curl up into a little ball on the mat in child’s pose. But it doesn’t happen.
After what seems like about a half an hour, we finally get to lower our arms. But are we done? No! We get to do some killer ab exercises while simultaneously doing a bizarre puffy fast diaphragm breathing called “breath of fire.” Luckily I had learned how to do this in my Swiss yoga class, or I think I would have been completely freaked out. We never did it while holding our legs six inches off the ground, though.
We finally, finally get to sink into corpse pose. I lie there, deeply, fully relieved that it’s over. My mind is swirling. The arm thing reminds me of everything I hate about gyms, about “bodysculpting” and “toning” and “fitness” — about the desire to thrash our bodies into someone else’s idea of the perfect shape via a liberal dose of pain and suffering. Feel the burn!!
Is this yoga? Was that just another version of the “edge” you’re supposed to search out and breathe into? It sure didn’t feel like it to me. I’m seriously confused.
I go home and do what I always do when I don’t understand something — Google it. According to my friend Wikipedia, Kundalini is a kind of energy, or potential, lying dormant and coiled like a serpent (the Sanskrit word kundalin means circular or ringlike) at the base of the spine. Kundalini yoga is a way to try and release that energy, up through the seven chakras and out through the crown of the head.
Awakening the kundalini spirit when you’re unprepared can apparently be dangerous, as triggering all that untapped potential can give you kundalini syndrome, whose many symptoms include “Emotional upheavals or surfacing of unwanted and repressed feelings or thoughts,” “a state of constant or whole-body orgasm,” and “Bliss, feelings of infinite love and universal connectivity, transcendent awareness.” Powerful stuff, this. Good thing I signed a waiver.
I check out some YouTube videos. All the gurus wear white flowing robes and turbans. There is talk about Jupiter and moon energy, chanting and fire breathing, meditation. One Guru instructs you to hold your arms in a specific pose for exactly nine minutes. I don’t find any aerobics or crunches or arm twists anywhere. None of them have John Lennon booming in the background.
Five days later, I’m still not sure what to think about the class. I want to hate it for being so blatantly gymnastic and fitness-like, while still trying to pass itself off as yoga. That jives with the “quick results” promised in the class description. But then I wonder why I’m so quick to judge it like this. Maybe there is something to this idea of a coiled potential lying within me. And there is that wild woman thing, too. Maybe letting go and allowing yourself to dance, to revel in such a completely wild and free movement, is not such a bad thing. I’m not surprised that it’s hard for me. There is an edge of sorts here, and perhaps that’s worth exploring.
I decide maybe I should just withold judgment altogether. Maybe some day I will give it another try. But if I do, I can guarantee you one thing – I’ll definitely be in the back of the room. Preferably the far back corner of the room…
Here’s the whole project: