I'm on a yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico this week. If things are going right, I'm either meditating, bare foot running, or sipping a piña...Read More
My New Vocabulary
When I started my yoga adventures a few months ago (as part of my Healing Experiment), I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t anticipate that (1) I’d learn a whole new vocabulary, or (2) that combining movement and breath in a particular pattern would leave me simultaneously tired and refreshed – and 24 hours later, comfortably sore.
It seems that Kundalini Yoga is making me smarter and stronger, in my mind and in my body.
It’s pretty well established that playing word games, using visualization, and learning a foreign language and/or new words helps keep our brains healthy and can help stave off Alzheimer’s. As a lifelong word nerd, I’m fascinated by the new vocabularies I pick up when I start exploring a new subculture or hobby. Roller Derby taught me words like jammer and pivot — and a plethora of curses and insults I’d never heard before. Reading books by Dick Francis introduced me to British slang and the language of steeplechase racing — and now yoga has added new terms (and experiences) to my life.
After a few months of attending my Kundalini of Sound class, I recognize the patterns that make it not very unlike a CrossFit or other exercise class, at least in terms of structure. There’s a warmup, the “work” part of the session that usually involves poses coupled with breath of fire, a chant meditation, and then the relaxation at the end when the instructor plays the gong. Turns out, each of those parts has a funky name. Love that!
Asanas are the poses. In Kundalini, the option is usually to sit cross-legged (“easy” pose) or to sit on the heels in a kneeling position (“rock” pose).
Kriyas make up the “work” part of the class, when we combine a series of exercises, breathing, and sometimes chanting.
Mantras are a syllable, word, or phrase — usually in Sanskrit — that change our consciousness (groovy alert!) via their sounds, rhythm, and tone.
Mudras are the hand gestures that accompany all of the above to guide energy and focus the brain.
In our Kundalini of Sound class, we receive instruction on all of those components: how to hold our bodies, how to pattern our breathing, what to chant, what to visualize, and most importantly: why. Each class is different and our instructor always begins by telling us what the focus of the day will be. Then we set our intentions.
A lovely idea, that: setting intentions. So simple, but so powerful. And Robin encourages us to allow ourselves to push for something deeper (release from an old emotional wound, for example) or to erase an everyday irritant (to not frown at our co-workers). I always get a lot out of my classes, but last night was particularly good.
Seven Minutes of Flaming Shoulder
Our focus last night: removing negativity. Who couldn’t use a little of that?! Apparently, “removing negativity” in kundalini means working the hell out of your abs. Our Kriyas consisted of tons of core work – each with its own rhythmic breathing – and each exercise lasting about three minutes. We did straight-leg raises, flutter kicks, reverse abdominal crunches, and — the best part — cobra. For cobra, we had to inhale through our mouths on our way down to the mat, then on the way up into cobra, exhale forcefully through our mouths… with our tongues sticking out. It was like being a dragon! It was also surprisingly tiring.
Spitting out negative energy takes a lot of work!
Next up was our mantra+meditation time, and it was a doozy. We sat in easy pose, with our left hand crossed over our hearts. The “hand over hear” thing seemed sweet. As it turned out, it was a trick because our right arms became pure evil. We first crossed our thumbs over our ring and pinkie fingers, with our index and middle fingers extended up, like a closed peace sign. (That’s called “prana mudra” and it looks like this). Then we extended our right arms up overhead at a 60-degree angle, shoulders pressing down, abdominals supported. And we held our right arms overhead. Up in the air. For seven minutes.
Meanwhile, we made an “O” with our mouths to inhale for two seconds and exhale for two seconds, in time to the recorded chanting that said, “Hud. Hud. Hud. Hud.” according to the beat. (Not fluent in Sanskrit? “Hud” means create.)
I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to hold your arm overhead for seven minutes, but here’s what I have to say bout it: Holy shmoly!
I’m pretty sure I saw flames leaping off my right shoulder, even though my eyes were closed and I was looking up at my third eye as instructed. Our instructor encouraged us to “notice our thoughts” and to know that our brains might be telling us we couldn’t do it, but that we could override that notion. I tried mightily. I focused on inhaling energy and exhaling love. I visualized my exhales spreading the light of love around the earth. I pointed my two fingers to the sky like antennae. And still, I needed to take a tiny break somewhere in the endless, timeless chanting to rest my shoulder.
When the telescoping of time stopped and the chanting quieted, we inhaled deep breaths, reached both arms overhead, and then exhaled with cannon breath (which, as you’d expect, is an explosive breath from deep in the belly and out the mouth). My shoulder smouldered.
Then we listened to the gong, and it carried away all the yucky stuff our chanting knocked loose, and then we sang the Long Time Sun. I pretty much smiled from right then until I fell asleep a few hours later.