Seeking Refuge in Yoga

Once in awhile, I am fortunate to experience a profound transformation. Sometimes it is of the earth shattering kind that throws everything into chaos and slices my life into pieces through which I then need to carefully sort, and sometimes it is of the integrative kind, where all parts synergistically align into a cohesive whole. In these instances the mind becomes at nonce unburdened, everything makes sense, the past reveals its purpose and the path ahead looks clear. The body becomes energetically balanced. Last Saturday I had such an experience and its effects are still palpable in my daily reality and manifesting as heightened sensitivity, awareness and clarity of mind.


After a challenging week that turned me into a tired zombie, I decided it was time for some extreme self nurturing. So, on a whim I planned to attend two events.  Or rather, the events found me.  One was a yoga workshop and the other a mediation class. This post is about the yoga workshop. I was already going to get together with a lovely Estonian girl in San Francisco who is planning her move to India in the coming weeks, to talk about girl stuff, careers, relationships and world travel. We were joined by another young woman from Moldova. Together, the three of us decided to attend a three-hour workshop at Yoga Tree:  Detox & Renew with Kerri Kelly, a process of mind body purification that used the chakra system with the aim to unite the mind, body & soul.  And that’s precisely what it did.  


We began in a warm, moist room that atmospherically resembled a tropical temple with chanting the vowels, seven times for each energy center, gently stimulating each chakra with its corresponding sound. Then, we all moved into child’s pose to soon hear the reverberations of earthy drum music interspersed with the teacher’s soothing voice telling us about the qualities of Muladhara Chakra, the first spinning energy center located at the base of the spine.  The color is red and the location is in the root, including our legs. When in alignment, this chakra provides us with a sense of safety and security, we are able to grow roots and operate from a place of stability and thus our poses, solid downward dogs, planks and crescent lunges reflected that. We held still for long moments while scanning our inner world for any indications of abandonment, fear and insecurity. We were there to observe, not to judge or try to change. It was refreshing and energetically stabilizing.


From there, the music progressed to become more sensuous as our focus lifted towards Swadisthana, the second chakra that corresponds with creativity and sexuality. The color is orange and the physical location is the sacrum and hips. After numerous slow, rhythmic sun salutations, we delved into deep squats and at times uncomfortable leg holds followed by deep release into pigeon. We explored the areas of tension and sought corresponding places of holdbacks in relation to intimacy and with others and our own talents. I woke up with a headache that morning, and it was at this point that I was starting to feel it move from one spot to encompass my entire head, as if a container holding it was melting and its contents spilling out. The room was hot and we were sweating quite profusely at this point.


After exploring the hips, we ascended towards the center of our core, the Manipura Chakra, meaning “the city of jewels,” the center of our shining personal power that asks the question: who am I? This is the seat of our sense of self and unique expression of our authority. The color is yellow and the location is solar plexus. We moved through a series of core centered exercises ranging from planks through bicycles and into boat rides. This was the time where our efforts were most challenged and maximized. I could feel rivulets of sweat flowing down my back. My hair was starting to get soaked. The practice was invigorating and built so much heat that my headache literally evaporated never to return (to this day!) Serious integration was taking place and I could feel it and my bright smile reflected it, even as we sat in chair, one of my least favorite poses.


The transition from power to heart took the form of a wild dance to Gaga’s Just Dance. We just broke into it, at first some looking around suspiciously wondering if the teacher’s playlists got messed up before we were all pounding the floor and jumping over each other’s yoga mats. The transition had to take place in such dramatic way, the teacher told us, as the bridge from the intensity of Manipura to the subtlety of Anahata is of a very special kind. The opulence of force needed to be freed. Once the song ended, we settled on our mats in silence, stretched out on our bellies. I could feel the thumping of my heart as it bounced off the floor and back into my chest, gradually slowing down. Beautiful, soft acoustic melodies rippled through the hot air. The heart chakra, which in a direct translation from Sanskrit means “unstruck,” glows in green and when fully balanced and activated allows us to form healthy bonds with each other and our environment.  This is the middle, the place where we share ourselves in a direct line, moving from the inner towards the outer. This is the place from which we shine – as individuals, as a community, as humanity. Naturally, this portion of our practice included a variety of backbends and slow, gentle transitions. I was riding waves of delight, my body finding harmony, heart filled with unconditional love and self-gratitude.


We continued on the trajectory of back bends, now also incorporating the sound of OM while reclining in deep lunges and modified warrior poses. The fifth center, located in the neck, is the Vishuddha Chakra relates to communication and the way we choose to express ourselves in this world. The color is blue, the location is the throat. It is the place where the intangible becomes tangible. A good question to ask ourselves while dwelling here is:  am I speaking my truth? Which is essential as I believe each instance of expression builds upon the previous resulting in either a life of falsehood or authenticity. Doing so with kindness is key, hence this center rests above the heart.  


As the music grew quieter, our bodies also slowed down. Closing our eyes, we reached within into the realm of insight that characterizes the domain of the third eye, or Ajna Chakra.  The color is indigo-violet and the location corresponds with the pineal gland, a light sensitive gland that regulates our waking-sleeping patterns. This is the place where the male and female currents that run from the base of the spine, intersecting at the chakra points, join and culminate their journey, ending duality and delivering visions. This is the seat of dreams, a place from which to launch new ideas grounded in the security of the first chakra, creativity and passion of the second, the confidence of the third, kindness of the fourth and clarity of the fifth.


As we ascended to the crown to enter the omnipresent realm of the seventh chakra, the Sahasrara, we did so in silence and pure reverence. The color is purple and the place, well it is the crown that spills its thousand enlightened petals into the infinity of space and eternity of time. It is everywhere.  It is nowhere. It is now-here. Rested, integrated, transformed, we arrived at the point of the present. It surely was a gift.


I was really impressed with the skill and quality of our teacher’s guidance. Kerri was awesome and I look forward to unfolding deeper in the sacred presence she embodies.

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