It’s 3:30am and I’m awake in bed telling myself I need to be sleeping, but the mind is busy teasing me, instead of surrendering itself to sleep — which is what I need the most right now. I try meditating in bed, clear the mind, go blank…it works for all of 5 seconds, and then the parade of useless thoughts enters my head again. I suck at meditation. Good thing we’ll start learning and doing meditation today as part of our training.
The alarm goes off at 6:30am and, again for the second night, it feels like I barely slept. The sleep deprived zombie in me feels miserable and is having second thoughts about the expensive teacher training program I just purchased. Just what possessed you to put our lives upside down? Didn’t we have enough on our plate already? — It asks. Maybe. But it’s the complainypants in you talking right now. — I reply. We signed up for this and we WILL get it done, so hush it and find a way to make yourself sleep better tonight.
Training begins at 9:30am with a heated Hatha Yoga class. Posture sequencing for this class is the exact same one I’ll need to teach at the end of my training, so I’m paying meticulous attention to everything the teacher says, hoping to internalize the cues. The class lasts exactly one hour (as it’s supposed to) and leaves me full of energy when it ends.
Not sure if it was the yoga class I just took, my determination to not let myself feel down, or hearing that my fellow trainees also didn’t sleep that did the trick, but I feel great and looking forward to our group meditation. Amazing what a couple of hours can do! Humans can go from feeling totally crappy to feeling on top of the world in a matter of minutes. Fascinating species. Aren’t we?
First Group Meditation
After a shower break, we meet for our first group meditation session, which begins with our eyes closed and a series of guided breathing techniques, including alternate nostril breathing, which is said to open and balance the flow of energy in the nadis (the energy channels in the body). Breath work exercises are used to strengthen the nervous system, and to calm, cleanse, and spike self-awareness in preparation for meditation.
After breath work, with eyes still closed, we get into our final meditation position: sitting crosslegged on a cushion, just so that only our butts (up to the sitting bones) rest on it, with our crossed legs hanging downward in front of the cushion, allowing the pelvis to tilt slightly forward. Spine is straight and chin is parallel to the floor. Fingers interlaced up to the webbing and resting on our ankles. Within this position, we’re to find a comfortable sweet spot, as there’s no more adjusting or fidgeting once meditation begins.
We’re instructed to focus our attention on our third eye, and then meditation begins:
After a moment I begin to see what appears to be a small yellow “ball” that randomly changes colors: to white, to blue, back to yellow and so on. It also moves around and is incandescent. It’s like a serene whimsical performer best observed and enjoyed in silence as it dances around. It dissolves, it reappears… and I’m at peace. If a distracting thought pops up, I bring my attention to the third eye again, and within seconds, my dancing ball reappears, like a tiny sun that changes colors. I feel very peaceful and relaxed in this place. Not a worry in the world. I think I’m meditating! Yay!
Something’s crawling up my arm. What the heck? I need to look, but don’t want to break my meditation. The thing’s moving!!! My panicky reflex rubs the culprit briskly off my elbow. Yeap, I’m overly self-aware now and sorry but I must look — in case I was hit by a venomous something and anti-venom is required.
My dancing sun’s performance is cut short and I open my eyes only to find what used to be a tiny ant. Oh crap! I’ve killed an innocent living creature during what should’ve been my first cleansing-soothing-zen-meditation. Isn’t it ironic? don’t you think? carry on Alanis…laugh it out!
Was this a test I wonder? I mean, what in the world is this ant doing here? Climbing me during my first real meditation ever? — I feel bad for you, but thank you little ant! for I do see the lessons here:
Lesson 1: Expectations can lead to disappointment
Lesson 2: In our search for transcendence, we must still deal with our human existence
I wonder what would a meditating buddhist monk do if something was crawling up his arm?
And then I remembe Liz Gilbert, practicing Vipassana meditation at dusk in the Ashram gardens in India, with blood thirsty mosquitos targeting her in “group-assault” fashion as she makes the experimental decision to sit through the attack in “detached stillness” and watch herself “get eaten by mosquitos”. Calling this her “beginner’s attempt at self-mastery” she writes:
If I could sit through this nonlethal physical discomfort, then what other discomforts might I someday be able to sit through? The itch was maddening at first but eventually it just melded into a general burning feeling and I rode that heat to a mild euphoria. I allowed the pain to lose its specific associations and become pure sensation — neither good nor bad, just intense — and that intensity lifted me out of myself and into meditation. I sat there for two hours. A bird might very well have landed on my head; I wouldn’t have noticed.”Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
Yeah Liz, it’s clear I don’t have your stoic fortitude just yet and while my eyes are open, I’ll take a peak at everyone else. Yep, everyone looks meditative. Maybe I can still get back in. So, I close my eyes, bring attention to my third eye and there it is! My dancing sun’s back and I’m the observer once more. By now my upper back feels painfully sore and my tingly feet succumb to numbness just as the meditation ends. Half an hour has passed.
Enter at your own risk
After lunch we resume with our studies of yoga philosophy. Our teacher requests lots of questions from us to encourage classroom dialogue. As we begin to indeed ask and answer questions, speak our minds and express our opinions, we inevitably come face to face with our insecurities and the eye opening realization that all of our personal beliefs are nothing but the sum of lifelong conditioning, as our teacher, one by one, dissects our comments to their core. There’s lots of talk about the ego and non-judgement. More and more I feel this discussion is designed to break us and humble us. To make us forever cognizant and consequently solely responsible for the villainy of our egos. It’s uncomfortable but necessary if you care to learn about any philosophy that deals with spirituality and human behavior.
Follow the Yogi
At 6:00pm we go for our second yoga class of the day: “Follow the Yogi”. This is a fast paced Power Flow with minimal instruction. The teacher does her thing and the students try to keep up as best as possible. It’s definitely not a beginner’s class. You kinda need to know what you’re doing, as the teacher simply calls out each pose as she flows in her own practice. This type of class has never been on my radar before. Not my cup of tea really. But it’s on my training schedule for the next four weeks and Vikky, my teacher, is teaching it, so it should be fun.
I’m one of the first ones to enter the Sveda room for Follow the Yogi (sveda means sweat). The advantage of being here all day is that I get to arrive early to our yoga classes and also get to pick my favorite spots with lots of room around me. Ha! within minutes there’s no room around me. The place is completely full. Oh no! I’ve avoided this type of yoga setting for ages, but the universe may be saying that it’s time I embrace it.
But here’s what makes this class even more intimidating to the faint of heart: the dimly lit room is hot and humid, with a few strategically placed rice paper yellow-light lamps reminiscent of glowing torches inside a dark cavern, the music is loud and unapologetic, and the room is wall to wall jam packed with people eagerly awaiting to work themselves out into sweaty oblivion. There’s hardly a foot distance between mats and I can feel a collective excitement building up in the air as everyone anticipates a good challenge. I feel like a gladiator in the colosseum and it would be totally reasonable if an ancient roman dressed in a toga entered the room and yelled with commanding voice to his adoring crowd: “LET THE GAMES BEGIN“.
Salty sweat is dripping into my eyes making them sting. No time to think, just wipe and keep going. Music literally pulsates through my body and I’m on auto pilot, like a machine, flowing with so much energy. I am flying in my arm balances. WHAT? Yeap, I’m just doing it! I’m in utter awe at what my body is capable of doing. Yes, the room is hot, yes, I’m drenched in my own sweat, and yes, there are some ungodly smells all around me, but who cares right now. Complete union of body, breath and mind. Isn’t this what defines yoga?
It’s 7:00pm. Time to go home.
Tonight I have a plan to sleep better. I know it works for me and it’s rather simple: transdermal magnesium oil spray on my legs and a warm sleepy time tea. It’s 10:30pm and I’m studying my Hatha Flow series in bed. I memorize up to pose #39 and can hardly keep my eyes open any longer. Time to call it a day. I reach for the night light next to my bed and as I switch the light off, I feel something inside of me say “THANK YOU!”