Ladies and Gentlemen, the bag:
This is the bag that made headlines at last weekend's Yoga Journal Conference in Boston. I purchased it from Athleta just last week, after months of lusting for it. It was worth it. The bag is beautiful and practical. And everywhere I went during the conference, it became a topic of conversation. I'm not exaggerating. The first morning I was approached by a handful of women who eagerly asked where I had purchased it. By the end of the day I had made two new friends because of the bag. And by Sunday morning as I rolled out the two mats I can store in the bag's exterior pouch, someone asked me where I had bought it and another woman said,
"Every time I've seen you, someone's asking you about your bag! And I've seen you a lot!"
It was hilarious.
The Tadasana Tote from Athleta. If you do yoga--and especially if you do so much yoga that you're tired of schlepping your gear from class to class--treat yourself to the bag. It's worth it.
As for the rest of the conference: Dr. Dean Ornish gave a powerful presentation. I had a twisting workshop with Richard Freeman, who could very well be the lovechild of Willem Dafoe and David Bowie.
And then I had the Kundalini kicked out of me in two intensives with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa.
Gurmukh's classes are so inspiring, and they usually shock newcomers off their feet. Typically, while doing the different kriyas put forth by the late Yogi Bhajan who brought Kundalini to the west, we hold certain poses for several minutes. The kriyas are designed to target the different chakras of the body, and before I was introduced to Kundalini several years ago, I wasn't certain I believed in the whole chakra thing. And I was already a serious yoga student.
Now? I believe. I have no choice. Kundalini has a profound effect on the people who practice it. So, while Gurmukh led us through a kriya targeting the heart chakra (including going back into camel pose 55 times and coming in and out of a squat position for 28 minutes, which loosened up all the emotional gunk in our root chakras), people found themselves suddenly weeping. Sure, it can be painful to be on your knees and reaching back for your heels 55 times in a row, but that's not why they were crying. Something in the heart chakra literally cracks open. It might feel like your spine, but really it's emotion we hold onto so tightly it can make us sick.
So there we were, a room full of women and two men, many of them well-off, reserved, and some of them in powerful careers. And people were weeping. Reaching for their heels, weeping, and listening to Gurmukh say, "Forgive yourself. Forgive the people who are hardest to forgive. Offer up a silent prayer to those people. Tell them, 'I forgive you. Will you forgive me? Please. Thank you.' Always say please and thank you. And say it to yourself, 'I forgive you, will you forgive me?' Can you tell yourself that? 'I love you, will you love me? Please. Thank you.' Let go of it all. You don't have to understand everything that has happened in your life. If you try to understand what has happened you'll miss what's in front of you. Just have an open heart, compassion. For others. For yourself. Only ten more times to go for those heels. Now go!"
At the end this pose, the chakra-blown newcomers turn to one another, bewildered, red-faced with wild hair and say, "This is amazing. I'm sobbing. This is just amazing." And rest of us just smiled, covered in sweaty tears head to toe, because that sense of release and acceptance is the whole reason we study Kundalini in the first place. For me, it's my preferred form of yoga. But there is so much to be learned from other disciplines as well. And I have a lot to learn--about everything.
Gurmukh. Man. I wish I could study with her daily. It's enough to make me want to drop everything and bring my kids to her Ashram in India for the rest of our lives. At the very least, I hope to make it on one of her Yatras sooner than later. In 2005, after first studying with Gurmukh at the Kripalu center in Lenox, Mass., I had planned to go on the Yatra in February of 2007. But life demanded my attention in other areas. I was subsequently separated for a second time, divorced, and sold my house. I could not drop everything and go to India for two weeks. In fact, the opposite was happening: I was doing everything I could just to keep it together with my children and have a roof over our heads in New Haven.
Things are different now, while so many things are the same, and that point was driven home on Saturday night when I met up with my beautiful and wonderful friend, Julia. Eleven years ago Julia and I were interning together at the New Haven Advocate, friends from college and acquaintences from a shared lifetime in New Haven. (She helped stock my vinyl collection when she worked at the long gone Rhymes Records on Broadway.) She and I are kindred spirits in many ways, and we both descend from Doyles. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if we were distant cousins. Except that I'm wicked short, and she's pretty damn tall.
She met me at the posh Jurys where I crashed out for two nights, and we trolled through Boston's South End, eating at a great Asian tapas diner and grabbing tea to go as we walked around Boston on a pretty spring night. We caught up on each other's lives, both of us having been divorced, she now remarried and me "getting there". We filled in gaps and filled in each other's sentences. It was a serious reality check to pick up with her where we left off some time ago. She is one of the smartest, wittiest friends I have. I was sad to say goodbye, and I can't wait to get up to Boston again to see her.
The weekend wound down quite nicely. By the end of the day on Sunday, most conference attendees were so sore they could barely walk, me included. Those squats gave my quads a life they never really wanted but seemed happy to have all the same. I had another Kundalini session, and I went to a workshop with NYC's Om Yoga owner Cyndi Lee. The last session I attended was a keynote by a guy named Matthew Sanford, author of Waking.
Matthew is a parapalegic who survived a horrific car crash 29 years ago when he was 13. The crash killed his father and sister, and paralyzed him for life. Now at 42, he brings hope to others with disability by bringing to them the yoga he has learned. For someone without a disability, it is relatively easy to see how sitting in dandasana (staff pose) and pushing out through the heels of the feet can create a swirl of energy that runs up the legs and, if you're really paying attention, all the way to the crown of the head. For people with disability, they do not know that sensation. Or, more likely, doctors refer to it as a "phantom limb" sensation.
But that is inaccurate. In the case of people with their limbs who are given that same line by doctors, the limb is still there, and it has a lifeforce that these patients feel. It is ALL they can feel. And that feeling gives them hope. For some of the people Matthew has helped, including quadrapalegics who had stopped eating because they were so depressed, it is the first realization that they can connect with their bodies. For Matthew, when he first experienced it years ago, that realization meant he no longer felt he was just his torso dragging his crippled legs behind him. He saw himself as whole, rather than half of a broken body.
As Matthew pointed out, this disconnect is not limited to people with disability. The disconnect between mind and body is an epidemic in our society, and is a big reason why so many people make so many poor lifestyle choices when it comes to diet, exercise, substance abuse, relationships, etc. Disconnect. When you are disconnected from yourself, you are disconnected from your community. You are more aggressive, more judgemental. When you are more connected, you are more mindful, more compassionate, more grounded, a more positive force in your own life and in the lives of others.
Safe to say I got my Om on this weekend.
My quads are still kinda sore. I don't mind the feeling.