I am in New Hampshire at the hippie family camp we go to every year. Yoga is offered every morning and afternoon and I have been taking advantage, sneaking out of our room to take the 7am class each day.
Long before a physical yoga practice was part of my life, I was living in Boston in the 1980’s. My Sister who is here with her family as well, used to take kundalini yoga classes at the Sikh temple in Harvard Square (I think that is where is was) I attended one of those classes with her and had my butt kicked. It was so ridiculously hard and I was so out of shape that there was no keeping up. A turbaned man on a stage in a huge open space putting us through endless poses for long periods of times exhorting us to do breath of fire constantly.
Twenty-five years later things are a little different in my world. I might be middle aged but I am in much better shape now than in my twenties; I stretch more than I strengthen but I feel pretty strong.
So I headed into class this morning with a bunch of women twenty years my senior and we all got our butts kicked. It was nothing like the Sikh’s in Harvard yard. They were out of control (in a good way of course) but it seems that the basic premise of the kundalini practice, which I know very little about, is long poses with lots of breath of fire to build and purify the body’s prana (energy).
I love to teach long holdings and I love doing them as well, really I do, but holding my arms over head at a sixty degree angle for three minutes trying to do breath of fire the whole time was really intense. Not bad intense but a ton of work.
Not knowing much about the lineage I can’t speak to the postures but they have been amazingly modern. One was a three-minute variation on the hundreds from Pilates where your head, feet and arms are all six inches off the ground and you are trying to do breath of fire the whole time.
Another three minute hold was hands and knees with the right arm forward and the left leg back, one of my favorite poses to teach but I had never tried to hold it for three minutes—and again with the breath of fire. As far as I know, this shape isn’t in the ancient yogic cannon so my take is that they don’t much worry about what you are doing physically as long as your breath of fire is percolating.
And here is the strange part. I was struggling for the first half of the class trying to coordinate breath of fire while engaging my body and muscles. But about halfway through unconsciously or not I switched to my usual ujjayi breath and it all got much easier. I’m not exactly sure why yet, but the change was fairly profound. I wish I could shut off my teachers filter a bit and just enjoy the classes for what they are but my mind doesn’t work that way. It is fun having so many things to work on.
And now, after holding my arms over head for ever with crying deltoids, I am going to go row a boat around a lake and make the most of the energy I built up in this mornings class.