In my first Hatha Yoga class, our teacher gave a very brief introduction of something she called the Breath of Fire and said it was part of Kundalini Yoga, and I effing HATED it. Burned the words Kundalini Yoga deep into my brain as something to avoid forEVER. Fast forward a few decades to Hip Sobriety School with Holly Whitaker, who was promoting Kundalini Yoga as being incredibly useful on the sober path with a world of detoxing and balancing benefits. Yeah, right. I’ll take those essential oils and salt baths and you can keep that one on the shelf, sistah.
A couple of months after Hip Sobriety ended I bought a Groupon to a place called the Mindfulness Center. One of the classes had a tricky name that included Sound Healing so I wandered in and ended up doing…wait for it, Kundalini Yoga and THEN a Sound Healing. And yes, I still HATED it. Only this time I was HATING it for an hour instead of two minutes. About half-way through I wanted to roll up my mat and stomp out in protest. But instead, I did my best to hang in there, follow her lead, and tough my way through one kriya (exercise) after another. At one point she mentioned that a smile would make it easier. SMILE? I’ll smile when this hellish thing is over and I know I never have to do this again…EVER! (Just wanted to emphasize how I felt about this type of yoga in case there was any doubt.)
Finally, FINALLY, we were relaxing/meditating to the Sound Healing, and I felt my body’s response. Every cell, every atom, every sub-atomic particle felt like it was in motion, dancing, more alive than it had EVER felt in my entire life. All the way home and throughout the rest of the evening, that explosive sensation of energy just kept on and on and on. I love the endorphin rush of a good workout or a great hike, but this is light years beyond that. Maybe if I had done a triathlon or climbed Everest or finished a 200-mile marathon I wouldn’t say that. But my endorphin rushes are pretty run of the mill.
Kundalini Yoga is labeled the yoga of awareness and they teach that we have ten bodies of which the physical is just one. That evening, I swore they were right. Granted, you leave a good Kundalini class so totally oxygenated that you could probably hang glide without a glider, but that energy felt much bigger than my body. It felt as though my mind and emotions and motivations and sensations and perceptions had all converged in one big harmonic OM hum. They were integrated in such a calm yet powerful way, my posture was better, I had a spring in my step, I felt clear in places I didn’t even know I was murky, and I felt as if my electro-magnetic field was radiating at least five feet in all directions. I felt super-charged and glowing and radically alive. At the very same time, it seemed like my being grew roots that plunged down to the very heart of Mother Earth. And all I could think was “Fuckity fuck FUCK! Now I have to come back! I can’t live without this feeling again no matter how much I hate getting here.”
And so my love/hate affair with Kundalini Yoga began. The hate is lessening as I get stronger and the love just grows deeper. I found the right studio and put down the big bucks for a package of classes. There’s an outside chance that I am in danger of going totally around the bend with this stuff someday and doing the teacher’s training. Not to teach but just for the intensity of the immersion and the ground gained. I hear it’s the bomb.
Make no mistake. This is not your Lululemon gathering of Barbie dolls who head out for after-yoga happy hour. Kundalini Yogis are a strange and wondrous bunch. Cold showers, long beards and all-white gauzy garbs and turbans and spiritual names that all include Kaur and chanting and singing “May the long time sunshine” at class closing and all the Sat Nam’s and respectful bowing and those crystal bowls and gongs (OMG the crystal bowls and gongs) and the sacred atmosphere. It’s all so trippy in such incredible ways.
But those are just the instructors. The rest of us can “come as we are” and many of us do. It doesn’t matter that I’m showing up in my worn out old capris and brightly colored HOMEie t-shirt, with a body that’s all saggy and puckery and stiff, that I’m not able to keep up with some of the exercises (just keep breathing and visualize yourself doing it perfectly, okay I can do that), that I still lapse into I HATE THIS silent mantras now and then instead of SMILING. I feel loved and welcomed and blessed and part of a loving community.
So that’s my pitch for at least “trying” Kundalini Yoga as a tool along the sober path. If you can’t access classes in person, cyberspace can help. Tommy Rosen of Recovery 2.0 has some great “yoga videos” out on his website, if you are a member. If you want free access, YouTube looks like a fairly rich resource. You can even do a little Kundalini with Russell Brand. Check out his EGO ERADICATOR YouTube video, which is the Breath of Fire with arms/hands held in a prescribed position. He’s not a bad teacher, it’s Russell for God’s sake. When I read his RECOVERY book, I was expecting him to be cheeky and clever and maybe a bit raw and hysterically funny, but the guy is dead serious about his 12-step work and he uses the steps to guide his everyday life as much as his sobriety path. For those who are 12-steppers, it might be a valuable addition to the library. Personally, I love sober memoirs like the brand new one from Kristi Coulter who has a voice that IS sassy and clever and a bit raw and hysterically funny but also writes with heartbreaking poignancy.
We all resonate to different things and that’s part of what makes life so interesting. I can’t do Kundalini Yoga today because I fell down on one of the hiking trails and my ribs and entire left side are still healing, so my big sober inspiration will be tuning in this evening to the live version of the SINCE RIGHT NOW recovery podcast. Those three guys are my new best friends and never fail to make me laugh out loud. What are you doing to stay alcohol free AND/OR take care of yourself, boost your energy, add to your health….learn, create, enjoy?
Whatever you are doing or planning, if you are with me in a glorious alcohol-free day, shout out a big YES!
SAT NAM, DUDES!
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