Kundalini’s killin’ me

Image

I’m finally back to my teacher training after a short holiday break. It’s so great to be back! On Saturday, we had a workshop on Psychology and Yoga and it’s truly interesting to see how closely related they are. As it happens, I came to yoga from a psychological perspective (I earned my bachelor’s in psychology and while I don’t work in that field, I am still very interested.) Through my years of practice, I can’t deny the psychological implications yoga embodies. It’s been such an integral part of my life in terms of giving me the tools to deal with life’s frustrations, stresses and anxieties. I kid you not, if the me that I was 10 years ago met the me I am now, we wouldn’t even recognize each other. And that is a good thing. To that end, I plan to focus my teaching energy toward yoga’s healing properties instead of how to get a perfect yoga booty. Not saying that an asana-based practice is a bad thing, but there is SO much more to yoga than the physical aspects.

One of my teachers (the little pixie sprite), in addition to being a yoga teacher, also works as a psychotherapist. It was great to have her discuss psychology with us. First, we did a 45 minute kundalini practice with a lot of focus on the 3rd eye chakra. I think I mentioned in another post that I’ve got a strange relationship with kundalini. I don’t necessarily love it and often I find it frustrating, but somehow, it never fails to evoke a really powerful response (even if it is anger.)

We did a kriya on our backs where we scissored our legs back and forth for about 5 minutes. That is an incredibly long time and it was so uncomfortable (and then we repeated it again.) I’d already done an intense 2 hour practice before training and was feeling a little cranky about having to go through a kundalini practice. Long story short, we did several uncomfortable kriyas. Two with our arms over our heads, employing kapalabhati breath (breath of fire.) It almost seems comical to me when I look at the words I’m typing, how it doesn’t seem like these exercises should be very difficult, but when you’re doing them for five minutes each and then repeating after a short rest, it’s seriously intense. During the last arms over-the-head kriya, I actually lost feeling in both arms. It’s challenging to focus on your breath, your third eye, AND to try to block out pins and needles in your limbs.

Finally, we ended with a meditation set to music. We sat, legs crossed, one palm facing up in guyan mudra, the other arm fully extended in the air. Our teacher invited us to listen to the mantra and join in if we felt like it. The song was “Bountiful, Blissful, Beautiful” by Bachan Kaur. It repeats variations of “I am bountiful, I am blissful, I am beautiful, I am.” Cue tears. I was trying so hard to keep it together because I am NOT a fan of crying in public. At. All. When I heard the words, I just had this feeling that the words were true, but I so very seldom apply those adjectives to myself, which just made me deeply sad. By the end, I just had rivulets of water streaming down my face. My poor friend sitting next to me was triggered by the sound of me sniffling, so post class, we just sat together crying a bit. Part of me was deeply embarrassed and part of me realized I needed this natural release and was grateful to have experienced something that moved me so deeply. Humans are feeling creatures and so often we’re prone to extinguishing our feelings. 

My biggest takeaway however, was the message of the mantra and really believing that about myself and others. And, again, ahimsa in the form of self-love/acceptance. That’s my goal for 2013.

Tom Selleck, Prana Vayus and Bandhas

Tom Selleck on the red carpet at the 1989 Acad...

T’Om’ Selleck, get it? Ok, I’m just being cheesy…

Last Thursday night I went to my usual 6-7:30 p.m. yoga class, which is a  practice class before my teacher training session. I was all geared up to go through some massive Kundalini with the pixie sprite yoga teacher, but alas, she was sick and we had a sub. I’ve had this sub once before and she got major points for showing up to teach in a Tom Selleck t-shirt. I really like it when a yogi isn’t deadly serious all the time. A little levity goes a long way. Although she had a really sparkly personality, she was no joke about the asana she was having us practice.

An hour and a half later, we had a little bit of time before teacher training started, so we ran across the street to get some nourishment, which we typically do as the teacher training Thursday sessions have thus far been lecture classes. Unfortunately, this was a practice class. Now, I’m all about the practice. The more the merrier, but I was starving. I hadn’t even had a chance to uncork my kombucha or shove more than 2 or 3 almonds in my face.

Once I got past my hunger grumpiness, it ended up being a pretty fascinating practice. We learned, via movement, about the 5 Prana Vayus (the 5 vital currents that are continually moving through us and the universe in all directions):

  • Apana: downward energy
  • Prana: upward energy
  • Samana: inward energy
  • Udana: outward energy
  • Vyana: expansion in all directions, all-encompassing.

To illustrate these concepts, we paired movement that matched the direction of energy. It was a fantastic way to reinforce what we were learning. Fascinating stuff in general!

Then, we learned about the bandhas. I’ve used the bandhas before, but I never really grasped their implication in the blocking and redirecting of energy. Even more fascinating! We also did asana to incorporate the bandhas. Let me tell you, downward dog is a whole different beast when you’re engaging your mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandhas at the same time! I love this idea of harnessing the energy and reversing its course and directing it where I want. So awesome.

Kundalini Yoga….It’s What’s For Breakfast

Kundalini

Kundalini (Photo credit: vaXzine)

I realize the title’s a bit silly, but every morning for the past week, while I’m drinking my coffee/eating breakfast,  I’ve been reading from one of the assigned textbooks for my teacher training, The 8 Human Talents, by Kundalini yoga teacher, Gurmukh.

I’ll be perfectly frank, my verdict is still out on Kundalini. I’d had no experience with that yoga system prior to starting my teacher training (aside from one DVD by Ana Brett that I tried approximately once…) One of the studio owners is this lovely little pixie sprite, whose delicate size belies a powerhouse of strength. She has trained with Gurmukh and incorporates Kundalini in her classes.

Here’s a little of what we’ve come to expect in her Thursday night class: Hold plank for 3 minutes (try it,  3 minutes in plank is a LOOOOONG time), your shoulders are burning, your arms are shaking, you think about dying, then she’ll instruct you to go into half chaturanga and…. BACK TO PLANK! Since our shoulders are already broken, why not throw in some dolphin? And then…back to plank. I hurt just thinking about it (and I’m actually fairly strong.) This sequence isn’t particularly Kundalini in nature, but more an illustration of the focus and determination this teacher is trying to instill in us.

It’s hard to even describe Kundalini, since it was quite different from the vinyasa flow classes I am partial to. For one thing, there were no sun salutation sequences. It felt a lot like pilates. A lot of repetitive, fast movement linked to breath. We were working on some 3rd chakra exercises, which relate to personality, self-esteem and ego. My teacher warned us that some of the exercises might bring up some emotion. I was skeptical. I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years and I had yet to encounter a practice that evoked an emotional response, though I’ve heard it happens.

kundalini

After about half an hour, we moved on to one sequence that involved placing your fingers on your shoulders, thumbs to the back, fingers to the front (see picture above!) You then twist from side to side, inhaling to one side, exhaling to the other, keeping your elbows shoulder height. She instructed us to close our eyes and focus upward, where we imagined our third eye to be. This movement was done at a fairly rapid pace and I felt like that thing in washing machines that spins the clothes. All of a sudden, I felt this tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat and my eyes were getting a little moist. Damn it, I felt like crying. It was quite the experience.

These past mornings, reading Gurmukh’s book, I’m really getting into her explanations of the physical application of Kundalini. I’m starting to gain a deeper understanding of the chakra system and the physical ways we can address blockages via movement and breath. It’s also made me understand the exercises in class, why they’re so different from other vinyasa classes and the intention behind our teacher’s sequences. I’m intrigued to see where this leads!