Friday, July 2, 2010

Kundalini What? Kripalu Where? Yoga How?

I want my enlightenment damnit!- I yell from the back seat, anxious to get to our weekend retreat with my overworked sister and overachieving family friend to force ourselves to find some solace and moments of quiet bliss.

Arriving at Kripalu, you find yourself in a magical setting amidst a countryside that looks a lot like a Harry Potter movie set complete with lush, green mountains, castle-like mansions from America's golden industrial age and no visible cities within miles. Down the street from Kripalu is it's sterilized, heartless competition; Canyon Ranch. Kripalu doesn't even attempt tocompetewith luxe, Canyon Ranch, they are two completely separate entities attracting completelydifferent crowds. As you pass through the mist-bathed entrance gate at Kripalu, you get the feeling you are entering into another dimension, it's location, far removed from Boston's city energy, making it the perfect setting to get one's "mojo" back and recharge. I breathe in and notice the air tastes as pure as freshly fallen snow. Let's get en-light-ened girls! As we bust open the doors to the main lobby to register we see groups of young and graceful Yogaholics wielding yoga mats instead of Blackberries or Iphones (cellphone use is "requested"to be used away from common areas like smoking) and sporting flip flops, sweats and tanks instead of Jedi Light sabers and Obi-Wan robes.

These guiding lights to the rest of humanity that opt to medicate not with pharmaceuticals and antidepressants but instead with a healthy obsession for the ancient practice of Yoga.

Like Jedi knights gathering to sharpen their skills against the dark forces of this world, these yogic warriors of light are ready to deal with life's challenges as long as they have space to lay down their mats and time to practice and meditate. I was quickly disappointed by the lack of representation of gay men among these Yogaholic minions. I asked myself, "where are my gays?". There were plenty of lesbians representin' but about 2 gay guys (including myself) in attendance on this weekend retreat. Yoga seems to attract those that are in the process of leaving their ego's behind or at least trying to. It's a practice that causes the false ego or "id" to be left behind as you reconnect with your true inner self.

Have we been too busy "chasing papi" or proving our value to the rest of the world in showing off our fashion sense, intellectual prowess, cultural contributions, etc. that we forgot to work on our "insides"? I dare say that gay men in this country are fundamentally lacking in the area of spiritual growth and are generations behind the heteros. I dont blame them, for every organized religion on the planet (except for Buddhism) has not only rejected but spewed hatred against us, spawning generations of minions to attack, arrest, bully and flat out prevent us from gaining acceptance, every step of the way. Problem is, spirituality is such a sore subject for us gays that we forgot to replace religion with a good old simple connection to the divine or the "Big Queen"upstairs. We used to be the shaman-the spiritual leaders of our tribes. That all changed after organized religions took over. Guru Ganesha from Miami explains that Kundalini as well as Kabbalistic knowledge comes from a time "pre-religion", a time on this planet before any of our world religions were herding us into our nationalistic corrals. It was passed down even before Yoga was created, from high priests of Egypt and even as far back as Atlantis. Whether you believe in it's mysterious origins or not, it's power to awaken and release energy in you is undeniably felt after even the first session. I once took my 14 year old nephew to his first Kundalini Yoga session and he was left dumbfounded and confessed that he felt as if he had left his body at the end of the class. A pretty impressive thumbs-up coming from a hormonal teen, addicted to YouTube, chatting and World of Warcraft. Kundalini comes with a psychological warning label, called "kundalini syndrome" where if you are a person that has either repressed psychological trauma or some level of mental illness it will quickly be released and cause problems if not properly led by an experienced teacher. Kundalini is basically the fastest way to awaken our internal fire and universal power. It was never meant to be revealed to the masses until one real maverick-y Guru; Yogi Bhajan decided to channel his inner Madonna, break all the rules and share it with the masses beginning in 1969. It was a sacred knowledge reserved for the spiritual elite, warriors and leaders.

I came to this oasis on mother Earth to recharge and release all the icky negative vibes of being yet another victim of corporate downsizing after 14 years of uber dedicated corporate soldier-ness. I came to regain my own natural and vibrant "flow". This weekend was being hosted by one of the sweetest voices I've ever heard this side of Mars, my personal idol, Snatam Kaur. I've heard her music played many times at the Standard on my regular Kundalini Yoga friday nights, one of the best ways to end the week in Miami.

My songstress finally arrives to the meditation room and my heart skips a beat. I quickly realized I was in the presence of an enlightened and pure being with no agenda except for sharing her exquisite light. This petite human Yoda is the most unassuming woman and mother with a voice so sweet that it literally changes the vibration of your cells and frees your heart, if you let it.
Snatam Kaur and her band of spiritual gangsters (Guru Ganesh on guitar and Ramesh on drums) lead us to perform several simple Kundalini "asanas" or exercises to open us up emotionally, spiritually and physically. I came to reboot my health and got more than I bargained for, I felt as if my insides were being restructured on a cellular level giving me a whole new sense of calm. I realized that I needed to befriend my soul again and that I was being untrue to myself for too long-selling myself out just for the peace and security of a steady paycheck, 401K, dental, health and life insurance. I am now learning to fly and thrive without all those perks and forge my own new longer a rat in a gilded cage.

Snatam soon taught us that chanting is just as important as Yoga in that it rises the "prana" or life force in our bodies. The chanting combined with the repetitive movements and breathwork of Kundalini eventually caused reality to melt away and my vision to become filled with hundreds of golden bees in a hive rubbing our wings to the same beat...I became a bee in this hive nestled in the Berkshire mountains west of Boston and our Queen Bee was Snatam Kaur.

She was a queen without claiming to be, she was really just a cool chick that just happened to have a mission in life to enlighten and help others ascend while in physical form. She played the violin, harmonium and used her sweet voice to unify and raise our vibrations to a liberating pitch.

The last night at the concert there was a free flow, jam with people singing, moving and not giving a damn if they looked cool or not. It was simply a room full of people separated from their ego's and free flowing with the music. Even Harvard chaplain Lama Myngmar got into the fray and said "Buddhists should do this more often." as he joyfully let himself go and threw out some new quirky dance moves. I called the event, the "Kundalini hoe-down".

The last day we all sang her most popular song together and she sent us along with her blessing...."May the long time sun shine upon you all surround you and the pure light within you guide your way home."

Fast forward, weeks later to the frenetic modern day city of Miami and I am sitting with electrical sensors glued to my head for a brain training session using biofeedback to improve my cognitive ability and help with my constant migraines stemming from my a previous auto accident that caused a concussion.
I quickly have another "a-ha" moment on my first session and realize that the sounds they are force feeding my brain through the headphones are eerily reminiscent to the chant patterns and sounds from my weekend at Kripalu. Could science finally have caught up to what the yogis have known for thousands of years and created a fast track to enlightenment or higher thinking? I asked the technician and he laughs and says "funny you say that.". It turns out the scientist that developed the technology went to India to monasteries to test the brains of monks to use as a baseline of a well balanced brain to train others to attain that level of brain proficiency. Science has actually recently and finally proven that the brains of people that do meditate frequently have less thinning of brain tissue related to cognitive thinking and have more active areas that are related to concentration. Another study even proved that long term meditation can actually heal areas of the brain affected by traumas.

"You follow desire, and you are not satisfied. Again you follow desire, and again you are not satisfied. Again you try, and again you are not satisfied."-- Lama Zopa Rinpoche,
"Transforming Problems Into Happiness"

You can have sex with the most beautiful men or women on the planet and collect so many notches on your bedpost that you'll need a new bed. Still, like chinese food, you'll soon feel unsatisfied and empty inside. You can travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to learn from Buddhist monks nestled in their mountain hideaways to find out that all what they know is for you to find your answers and your highest truth-all you have to do is quiet your mind and listen-its all there inside each and every one of us if we can only shut out the millions of thoughts and needs and concerns and just sit and "be" for a moment, all the answers we need will come to us. Some of us have forests of "weeds" to clear through but eventually you do get there and once you do you can only do one thing-be true to yourself and finally befriend yourself and true to your life's purpose.

Like Guru Ganesh joked at Kripalu; there are 51 flavors and paths to spiritual awakening. For me, the path has been a combo platter of yoga, chanting, massage therapy, good health, avoiding drugs or negative people, brain training with a healthy dose of optimism drizzled over the top. For you, it might be planting violets or raising Emu's -whichever flavor you choose the goal is the same; to feel really satisfied with a deliciously flavored life and finally feel fulfilled. I don't claim to be an expert but I am a product of this generation's quest to improve ourselves and eradicate the mistakes of generations past. I have vowed to not die young or suffer from 8 strokes or diabetes like my father before me-I choose to make him proud by pushing further than he ever got the chance to.

The benefits of yoga aren't just about getting rock-hard Madonna arms or relieving stress-its a practice that takes a lifetime to perfect and refines your body and life force as you go along-its a hell of a lot better than a hangover from a night of partying and sometimes can be better than sex-okay, well almost as good as sex.

"Liberate your joy and enjoy the bliss, be true to yourself and befriend your soul.
Growth stops, evolution stops when you stop trying to improve your heart." The Dalai Lama


Eduardo Guize said...

Another great post. I hope both treatments help you with the migraines... and the suppression of desire hehe. I could use some of that too...


Thank you for the spiritual journey via your blog :)
Next time you're up here, let's go there.
By the way, the dance-class-for-Parkinson's I wrote about a year was started there at Kripalu. I interviewed one of the instructors from there.