Sunday, 12 October 2014

My Kundalini Yoga Weekend

This weekend I was to start my Kundalini Yoga teacher training. I tried Kundalini yoga out for the first time just over 18 months ago and completely loved it. I met an amazing teacher who inspired me in many ways, and despite it being a while since I've seen her, still inspires me. It is very true that inspirational and influential people can be met through chance, short or fleeting moments, it is also true that trying things for yourself is the only way to really know if something is right for you or not.
Recently, with the equinox, things in my life changed. Something in me changed. Chatting to another wonderful lady who is also up there on my inspiration list, she shared she was starting a yoga teaching course. I felt again the pangs desire, feelings I have felt many many times over the past 15 years of my on and off dance with yoga. I have always wanted to be in a position to do a teaching course, mainly so I could learn more, know more, and feel confident in my own yoga practice.
I've tried a few types of yoga, most recently something that is commonly called 'yoga flow'. In one lesson I knew this type of yoga wasn't for me, and found myself on the Kundalini training website again looking at their training courses. It's great value for money and the venue is quite local, so I found a way to source the finances and made inquiries. They had spaces and the course started 3 weeks later.

In those 3 weeks I thought a lot about whether this was right for me. They have an option of doing the first 2 weekends to see if the course is right for you, so I signed up with the added bonus that if for whatever reason it wasn't right for me, I could walk away without losing a lot of money. I felt the fear many times. In my research there were things that didn't sit too well with me, but me being me and pretty open minded, I knew that it's pretty closed and judgemental not to try something just because there are a few reservations or feelings of fear. New things always bring us face to face with fears, the most basic being 'Can I do this?' but I saw it all as a challenge and as a potential way to change my way of life. I enjoy yoga, I enjoy chanting and singing, and I'd loved the way the Kundalini sessions I'd been to had made me feel. So I didn't go in cold, I went to another session local to me and walked out feeling great and positive this was what I wanted to do.

The course is complete immersion. One weekend a month for 10 months. Living 'ashram style' in shared rooms, basic accommodation with as much importance put on SEVA (selfless service) as attending the lectures, workshops and yoga classes. You are given a SEVA group and throughout the weekend your group is on a rota for preparing and serving food, washing up and clearing, and cleaning duties. Your day starts at 4am. Up ready and showered for Aquarian Sadhana at 5am. I had been to an Aquarian Sadhana at the local Gudwara (Sikh Temple) so I knew what to expect. I had actually enjoyed the early morning practice at the Temple, so although I knew it would be challenging, I wasn't quite prepared for how I would feel on my first weekend. There were many more people there than I had expected (around 50). A mixture of new and old students who were back to complete their training by teaching and leading the new students.

After overcoming all my fears before the weekend, I got there excited to get stuck in. I felt a little out of my depth straight away as it seemed everyone else had already been there hours and were all happily chatting together. It felt a bit like a first day at school, or crashing a party. I had been show my room where I grabbed a top bunk bed that was situated on it's own in the corner of the room. I wasn't quite ready to sleep right next to a stranger. We had supper and our first workshop and meditation. Bed was at 9 and my room mates were lovely. A couple shared hugs and their own fears of feeling a little out of their depth and we all shared a little about our lives back home. It was difficult to sleep, and I found myself awake for most of the night. I knew I had slept at some point as I had a dream, but the majority of the night was spent tossing and turning trying to shield myself from the smoke alarm light and waiting for the 4am alarm to go off. When the alarm went off it was a relief, time to get up, get showered and into white clothes with head covering for the Sadhana at 5am. The first part of morning practice is the reading of the Jap Ji, a very long prayer, read in Gurmukhi. Sitting in the lotus position (or easy pose) you listen to the sounds and meditate on them. It lasts around 45 mins. Then you go into a 45 min yoga practice. The yoga practice was good, if a little cramped as there were so many of us crammed into a small room. Once the yoga was finished we sat again for the chanting. There are set chants that each last 7 or 5 mins, and one that lasts for 21 mins. A guitarist came in to provide live music which was truly lovely, and I enjoyed singing along to the chants I knew and had been practicing. It's 7.30am by the time you finish and breakfast is served at 8am.

I found myself feeling really overwhelmed. I'm sure the lack of sleep had a lot to do with it. I cried a little and went for breakfast. Sitting with a lovely girl who had seen me struggling a little the night before, the tears came and I could barely finish breakfast. I shared my feelings with a couple of others back in the bedroom and all were really supporting, loving and caring. No one likes to see someone else crying, and they were all doing their best to reassure me and support me. The problem was, I couldn't stop. The feeling in me was of utter despair. What was I doing here? Why didn't I feel the same as the others? Why did I not come out of the morning practice feeling enlivened and happy? Why did I not feel at peace? I soldiered on, attending the SEVA meeting and learning more about what was involved. I just felt even more overwhelmed. I went to my SEVA group meeting in the kitchen and we did another short meditation as there was not a lot to discuss, and the tears kept coming. By this point I was feeling really embarrassed and conscious that lots of people had noticed me crying. I went and sat near a door with a view to the gardens. The venue was utterly stunning and I wish I had had a good walk around them. My newly adopted friend came and hugged me and asked if I'd spoken to any of the leaders. I hadn't. It all felt so busy and time seemed tight and I didn't want to hold things up or get in the way of the schedule. She went and told someone that I was feeling distressed and a few others came and sat with me and offered support. I missed the workshop. I spent it talking to one of the group leaders, and then another, and then another. All had words of encouragement and advice. All were lovely and supportive and the offer was made for them to support me bit by bit throughout the day so I could at least stay for the next yoga session and teachings in the evening. All wanted me to give the whole weekend a go before I made the decision on whether to continue with the course. I was told to go and catch up on some sleep, as the yoga session had already started by this point, and maybe after some more sleep and lunch I would be able to continue.

I went and sat up on my bunk bed and knew that I wouldn't be able to sleep. I called home, I chatted to a friend online. I was wrestling with that nasty little voice telling me I was useless, I was wasting an opportunity, I'd wasted money, asking how I could possibly bail out after one measly night... Family and friends back home had all been so supportive and excited for me and I felt a little like I was letting them down. Reassurances from them and words of support helped, and I realised that I wasn't doing this to prove anything to anyone. I had chosen this course and path as I'd thought it would be good for me. I thought it would be fun.. hard work.. but fun, enlightening and transformational. So far I hadn't really felt fun, or happiness, or peace... Again I found myself judging and comparing myself to others. 50 people were enjoying it, or at least seeming to enjoy it. I was not under any illusion that I was the only one struggling, but I was the only one openly showing how difficult I was finding it. I couldn't even put my finger on it... was it the lack of sleep? was it homesickness? was it because I'd felt more like I was in a church singing praises to someone else's God/Guru/Deity? was it because I was in the white uniform? was it because I just felt lost, or unworthy of having time to myself to follow my path away from the family and home? So much was running through my head. I must have lost pints of tears.

After another hour or so of hiding in the bedroom I looked at the clock. 1pm. If I'm staying I need to sort myself out and prepare myself for another 8 hours of work before bed at 9pm. I was already fragile, the tears wouldn't stop, the thought of another night of no sleep and the lack of energy made me realise that I couldn't stay. I didn't want my hand held through every class, or my absence being noted. I had been told I could sit out, attend or not attend... whatever I needed to do was OK and everyone understood. I had shared some of my story and personal battles and that maybe, it was too soon to be trying something this intense. Despite everything, I made the decision to leave. I immediately felt some relief. Sitting with conflicting thoughts, with two choices and not knowing what to do is uncomfortable, once one path or the other is chosen there is relief the battle is over. I packed up my things, stripped my bed and found the lady I'd been talking to. She understood and with no judgement said she would help me to my car with my things. I hugged all the lovely people that had in such a short time felt like they'd become friends, and gave a couple of them my email address. I didn't feel like a failure, I just felt like I'd made the right decision for me in that moment. I couldn't wait to get home and hug my husband and daughter, be on home ground and have my own bed. I was worried about driving home so tired, but it wasn't too far and I knew that I just had to get home.

I felt relief and a touch of sadness that it hadn't worked out. Again the voice in my head was trying to pipe up with negative thoughts.. oooh.. what will all your online friends think? you were so excited and told everyone what you were doing.. how embarrassing it will be to share that actually you couldn't hack it and didn't even stay the whole weekend... I shut that voice up quickly and thought about what I had learned about myself in my short stay there. I had learned a LOT about myself. It had been a valuable experience even if it was not in the way I'd hoped. I have learned that there is a reason I've always stayed away from organised religion. Kundalini yoga is not a religion, but it's hard to separate the religious aspect from it. Maybe religion is the wrong word.. let's call it organised spirituality. I turned away from witchcraft many years ago for the same reasons (although I actually felt much more love and support from the Kundalini Yogi's than I ever did when I was in a coven). My spirituality is a weird eclectic mix of beliefs, it's always been pretty solitary, and I'm fine with that. I understand there are processes and techniques out there to speed up or enable your connection to the divine, but as I stood at my back door looking at the stars I realised that I was in my church, I was already doing OK. I have a strong faith, a strong connection to the divine. It's my own little mix of things that allow me to feel it, it's my own journey and experiences that have brought me to this point, and I don't NEED anything else to make me feel more spiritual. I love yoga, but I felt this course was far more than just yoga.. I mean, that's why I chose it! Unfortunately, the other stuff included on the course, the spiritual side was too much for me... I had already worried about not feeling like 'me' by the end of it, and I wasn't comfortable with certain aspects of the experience. I was strong enough to know quickly that this wasn't for me. Strong enough to leave and not feel pressure to stay to try and prove something. I was strong enough to make a decision on my own and despite the embarrassment, strong enough to walk away with no regrets. It made me realise how much I love my life, home and family just the way it is, how much I loved and trusted my close friends and my own judgement to know what's right for me. I would still love to train in yoga, but training the Kundalini way was not for me.

Everyone says the course is transformational. They are right. In less than 24 hours I learned so much about myself. I left feeling stronger, not weaker. I left appreciating what I have and already know. It was not a waste, it was not a failure. There are some times in life when you need to push through the fear and persevere, and there are times when you just know in your heart and soul that something is not right for you. This was one of those times. I am gutted it didn't work out, I am sad that the path I had though was right actually wasn't, but it's not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. Turning up, being present, being open to knew experiences and cultures, new ideas and ways of living is not a bad way to be, but being prepared to listen to your gut, your soul and intuition to keep yourself safe is recommended.

I got up this morning just before 6am. The MotoGP was on and my husband and daughter were already planning on an early start to watch the race. I got up and joined them. I felt safe again at home with my own bed and the people I love around me. We went for a walk to catch the sunrise and as I stood looking around the gorgeous countryside I realised again that I don't need much more. My connection to nature, the trees, the stars, the Moon, the Sun.. walking with the family and watching the leaves fall off the trees is enough. The whole world is my temple and I have no rules about what time I need to honor them or for how long. I walk in my own way, dancing to my own tune. My art, my crazy weird mixed up set of beliefs, my selfless service to my family is all I need. We are all spiritual beings, we can chose to follow others, abide by rules, chose an established path or follow our own. Freedom is blessing, and if one thing this weekend showed me, it's how to count my blessings and feel good about what I am and already have. I have already transformed my life massively from how I was just a few years ago, and maybe continuing on this course would have led to further transformation. Maybe I'm not ready for that just yet, maybe the Kundalini yoga path is just not right for me and maybe it never will be. I can accept that with loving gratitude and feel at peace with the fact I tried it, first hand and made my own mind up. Who knows what's next for me? For now, I'm happy with what I've got, and happy in the knowledge that my life is just fine. I like the freedom of choice, I like who I am and right now, I don't really need to change a thing.