My sister has recently been certified to teach Kundalini yoga. For those of you who don’t know anything about Kundalini, it’s basically varsity yoga. And I’m not talking varsity as in “she can do a one-armed handstand in a full split with one big toe up her nose.” I’m talking about taking the non-exercise (so non-Western) aspect of yoga and putting it on steroids.

Her first class, during which I was her only student, which I was super excited about primarily because every other Kundalini class I’d ever attended (all three of them) generated about a thousand questions so the fact that I was there by myself with a real instructor who had to love me no matter what meant that I could ask ALL OF THEM, went something like this:

Corinna, at the front, sitting in lotus position (seriously, both feet in the right places and everything — my knees hurt just looking at her), wrapped up entirely in white (including her turbaned locks), quietly inviting me to sit down in “easy pose.”

“I can’t sit in lotus position.”
“In Kundalini, we call it ‘easy pose.’”
“Fine, I still can’t do it.”
“Shut up and cross your legs.”
“Do they really call it ‘criss cross applesauce’ in schools these days?”
“Sorry, paying attention.”

We started with a meditation. I love that part. It eased off my edges and brought my mind and body into the space. While I was meditating (occasionally opening my eyes a squint to see her swaying and belting out the mantra), I felt my legs relax, my shoulders drop, and my spine straighten. That done, she quietly welcomed me to raise my arms out to the side, shoulders down, elbows straight, fingers together, palms facing down. Position appropriately achieved, she turned on some kind of chanting music and clearly set a timer on her phone. Then we looked at each other. And looked at each other. And kept looking at each other.

“Tell me a story.”
“What kind of story?”
“Something to distract me from the fact that you’re making me hold up my arms for some amount of time that is longer than a few breaths because its been a few breaths and we haven’t stopped.”
“You’re going to love this pose.”
“Shut up and tell me a story.”
And off she went. Explaining the snake of energy that spins up from our pelvic floor that needs grounding and freeing at the same time, explaining how Kundalini was started by the Sufis somewhere in Asia where it’s really hot, occasionally interrupting herself to tell me to straighten my arms or drop my shoulders.

“How long am I doing this?”
She smiled. “You’re doing great.”
“That didn’t answer my question, but thank you for your support.”
“Straighten your elbows.”
“Straighten your elbows.”
“They are straight!”
“Look at them.”
I did. And slowly straightened my screaming arms.

“Why don’t you stand up and straighten them for me?”
“In Kundalini, we don’t offer physical assists.”
“So you just sit there in your zen yoga position the entire time?”
“No. When I get to something complicated, I demonstrate it.”
“What do you do if someone gets it completely wrong?”
“After reminding them three times, you let them do it completely wrong.”

I digested that for a bit.

“Straighten your elbows.”
“How do they get the benefit of the position if they’re doing it completely wrong?”
“What are you thinking about right now?”
“How I’m going to beat you to death once my arms recover in about three years. So get ready.”
“What else are you thinking about?”
“How furious I am that my arms used to be strong and fucking chemo destroyed them and all I’ve been doing ever since is trying to get them back.”
“Talk to me about that.”
So I did. And the tears flowed and my arms shook and she let me keep talking until I was talked out. And suddenly my arms got lighter and my shoulders dropped and my elbows straightened all on their own.
“As long as you’re in as much of the position that you can do, the position works its magic on you and helps you give voice to the emotions and memories that your muscles and body are holding. The more you process those memories and emotions, the further into the pose you can go. The more practiced you get at Kundalini, the more the process comes naturally, and you can do the work without talking about it out loud.” She took a breath. “By the way, people who do Kundalini and haven’t gone through chemo can’t do this position for as long as you’ve done it, so cut yourself some slack.”

I digested that for a bit. She glanced at her phone.

“One more minute.”

I started counting backwards from sixty. When I got to zero, she said, “thirty more seconds.”
“You’re doing great.” I glanced up at her, serenely sitting there in her white, tears of her own running down her face.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because I love you so much. And I’m so sorry that we have the shared experience of chemo.”
“Well, I’m glad that if we both had to go through chemo, we can recover from it together.”
“True.” Pause. “For the last ten seconds, express the position as fully as you can.”
I gritted my teeth and gave every ounce of energy I had to my screaming arms and counted down from twenty.
“And done.”
My arms flopped to the ground and I stretched my legs out in front of me for a minute. “How long was that?”
“Ten minutes.”
She gave me a few seconds.

“Okay, back into easy pose, bring your hands behind your neck and your elbows up by your ears. With each breath in, bring them closer to your ears, with each exhale, drop them down, keeping your hands in position at the top of your traps. Go as fast as you can, timing your breathing to the motion.”
“Can I sit on my heels instead in hero’s pose which you probably don’t call hero’s pose?”
I changed my leg position and put my arms into place while she set the timer again on her phone.

I breathed in and brought my elbows up. I breathed out as my elbows dropped. And we looked at each other. And looked at each other. And looked at each other.

“If I don’t die, I really am going to kill you after this.”
“What else are you thinking about?”
And the tears started again.

Right. Kundalini. Varsity yoga.


(Picture: my sister and I spend a great deal of our time together laughing. This one was taken in 2010 the night before my wedding to Michael.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.