A couple of weeks ago, I attended a yoga festival conveniently located right down the street from me in Santa Monica. On the first day of this Tadasana Festival, the co-founder (and yoga instructor) Tommy Rosen was conducting a provocatively titled class – Getting High: Yoga and the Infinite Pharmacy Within.
Well then. Lord knows this happiness engineer isn’t one to pass up a non-pharmacological psychedelic experience, so I was in, baby. What transpired was novel, literally electrifying, completely unexpected, and potentially transformative.
In my 12 years of yoga practice, I had never experienced a kundalini yoga class before. In this style of hatha yoga, you use the breath and repetitive, rhythmic movements of the body to change your physiology. For example, you exhale forcefully through your nose a few hundred times (breath of fire) while holding your arms up at 45 degrees. Or you bend over and exhale, sit up and inhale for, oh, half a week or so.
Amidst the serious burn I was starting to feel in my shoulders as my arms wanted to detach and fall dead to the ground, a curious thing started to happen. I became mostly oblivious to the pain. It was still there, for sure, but thanks to the fast, rhythmic breathing and Tommy’s entreaties that “it’s all in your mind”, I started to gain a healthy perspective on the pain. It was there, but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Pain without narrative, without drama. How very novel and exciting.
By now it’s about 4.10pm, already 100min into the class, and I’m pretty high on my own breath and movement, thinking that the class was already worthwhile, whew, thank god we’re done. And then something strange happened. Tommy said, “Are you guys ready to go deep now – I mean, deep deep?” At this point, maybe two muscle fibers from my deltoids hadn’t been singed already – but hey, I’ve paid good money for this, and I’m a sucker for deep deep, so why the heck not?
That’s when Tommy led the lion’s paw exercise: in a seated position, contract your hands into claws, palms facing upwards, arms semi-straight, exhale to bring your arms up above your head, inhale to bring them down. Continue for 10min. (For an illustration, go to minute 5:00 on this video of my friend Camilla demonstrating lion’s paw kriya).
Partway through the exercise, something cracked inside me. My whole body was already flooded with electricity, and then I felt this expansion in my chest. Perhaps this is what people meant when they talked about their heart opening up. What I can say is that it was a feeling of beauty. The thought with the feeling was this: the beauty you’ve been seeking is already inside you.
And that’s when I cried. Because I realized that all the pretty things I had been chasing down my whole life (read: cute girls) were already residing inside me. Hundreds of times I had told friends and students that you can only see in others what you already have inside yourself: “If you think someone is petty, mean, vindictive, or shallow, that means you have some of that trait yourself. And the more it pisses you off, the more you resent that trait in you.”
But how about the beauty? If you see someone as kind, compassionate, generous, pretty, or vivacious, isn’t it because you have that trait inside you, too? And the more you feel elevated by their virtues, does it not mean that you possess more of that virtue, too?
Yup. It has to go both ways. All of this reminded me of a passage I read three years ago:
“This book is about reminding you of who you really are. You are beauty. You are kindness. You are joy. You are the embodiment of the divine goddess. It’s also about reminding you that full effort is full victory. And if you’ve read this book and found your way to your own inner kindness, joy, and divinity, then you have found fulfillment. As we said in Chapter 2, the work is the wealth. Sure, a decent guy would be icing on the cake. But you already possess the cake, and it is you.”
Crazy thing is, I wrote that stuff. It’s the closing of The Tao of Dating for Women. And yet, it is one thing to understand something intellectually, and another to experience it directly. And, quite frankly, I hadn’t gotten it myself until around 4.20pm on 4/20/2012 – an auspicious time for psychedelic breakthroughs, I hear.
So what I would encourage you to do, my dear readers, is that once you grasp the printed word, to go beyond it. Once you notice the nodding of your head in intellectual assent, go do something that cracks your heart open, too. Move the energy inside your body.
Maybe it’s a hike in nature. Maybe it’s volunteering at a shelter for homeless kids. Maybe it’s looking into the bottomless eyes of a newborn. Maybe it’s breathing hard with your arms flapping up and down like a resurrected zombie in a kundalini class. You don’t have to do ayahuasca in Peru, you don’t have to go to India or Africa — the source is much closer to you than that.
However you do it, get back in touch with your body, your heart, and reconnect to your source of wonder. Because that wonder is you. The beauty is you. If you can see the beauty, it’s you. And once you notice that your bank account of beauty and joy is already overflowing and has always been just by virtue of being alive, then you’ll know you have a lot of it to share with others.
Wouldn’t that be fun?