I woke up the next morning after about four and a half hours of sleep. There was a 6:00 a.m. yoga practice scheduled as part of this workshop, but between the heat and the lack of sleep, there was just no way that I was going to be functional enough to participate. So after my roommate left (she was in the same program as me), I went back to sleep and slept until about 8:00 a.m.
The cafeteria was just one floor down from my room, so I went down there, still feeling a little shaky and a little nervous about eating breakfast. As I walked up and down the lines, I realized that there were plenty of options for me to have a light, nourishing breakfast before heading into the day's sessions.
I wound up filling a cereal bowl with organic raspberry yogurt and topping it with a healthy handful of crispy quinoa cereal. I grabbed a piece of fruit, and then spread some peanut butter and jelly on two rice cakes. I couldn't finish all of it, but my stomach was surprisingly cooperative, and I felt pretty good, if not still a little tired, as I headed back down to the session.
I set myself up in the back of the room and listened carefully as the instructor presented her material. When she started talking about the mind/body connection and how anxiety manifests itself through physical symptoms, particularly in the enteric nervous system (the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, etc.), I was hooked. Of COURSE it all made sense! All those years that doctors have just been trying to treat either the mind or the body were just setting me up for failure - I'm one of those people that needs to address both equally.
As I listened and participated in the day's activities, I found myself frequenting the ice stations set up around the room to help us deal with the insane heat. Unfortunately, the ice cold wash cloths didn't last too long - after about five minutes, they were hot and useless.
I found myself journaling through most of the day. Whenever the instructor would say something that was particularly interesting or that resonated with me, I wrote something else down in my journal. I wrote and wrote and wrote - and in the process, I felt as though I were releasing my demons. I got everything down on paper, and then it was just gone.
Late in the morning after our first break, I looked up to the windows high at the top of the walls. They were open, and a breeze was coming in, blowing the curtains around. My gaze found the top of the ceiling, and I suddenly realized that the giant room we were gathered in was formerly the chapel or sanctuary at this former Jesuit compound.
Excitedly, my eyes found all of the typical characteristics of a Catholic sanctuary: the high ceilings, the windows, the altar - the altar! I realized with a shock and a thrill that the former altar had been covered with a beautiful, brown, sparkling cloth, and sitting right on it was a larger-than-life brass statue of Shiva, dancing on the head of ignorance. Whatever stained glass design had been in the doors at the rear of the room had been replaced with beautiful bright red Ohm symbols.
I was looking forward to lunch, and I filled up a tray with curried vegetables, quinoa with cilantro and lime, a giant piece of cornbread, a salad, and another piece of fruit.
Since the temperatures had cooled off a bit, I decided to go sit outside at one of the picnic tables under a canopy. There was a table where two older women were sitting, and I asked if they minded if I took up a seat at the opposite end. They invited me to sit with them, and we started chatting. After a few minutes, several of my workshop-mates arrived at the table, and we all began talking openly about our experiences with anxiety and our symptoms and what we hoped to take away from this weekend at Kripalu.
One woman in particular struck me as being a kindred spirit - she suffered from nearly the exact same kind of food anxiety that I've been dealing with, and she had a wonderful quality to her laugh that made me feel at ease with her.
When we had all finished lunch, I took my tray back inside, and since the rumor was that the gift shop was nicely air conditioned, I decided to check it out.
I walked into the gift shop thinking that I would look for a small statue of Tara to take home with me, after my last experience with her just before I went to Cleveland in June. But Tara didn't speak to me that day. Instead, it was Lakshmi who was looking for my attention.
If you're unfamiliar with the Hindu deities, Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth, prosperity, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. The little information card behind this tiny green resin Lakshmi said that she would help me cleanse the heart and spirit of hatred, ignorance, and desires, and that it was appropriate to place her on my altar or office desk to overcome any negative mental tendencies. I mean, hey, what else is anxiety, if not a whole bunch of negative mental tendencies?
The woman I had connected with at lunch also turned up in the gift shop, and we found ourselves planted in front of an entire huge shelf of books about yoga practice, including volumes about how to use yoga to heal the mental and physical bodies. I enjoyed myself so much, looking through books, picking out a small stack to take home with me, chatting with her. I started to feel like my old self again, sitting in front of a giant book shelf at Barnes & Noble for hours and losing myself in the pages of a book...
The afternoon session was more practice, which was great, and went by pretty quickly. I alternated between looking through my new books and listening to the instructor, continuing my journal entries when something struck me as being important.
The air now definitely felt much cooler than it had that morning, and dinner outside was beautiful. I filled up a plate full of mushroom risotto, more salad, roasted vegetables, and a lovely piece of vegan vanilla cake with strawberries and homemade cashew cream. No stomach problems or anxiety now - I ate heartily and chatted with a few more people. Complete strangers, but we all enjoyed each others company, and pretty soon, I found myself thinking about changing clothes and going for a little walk.
Now, one of the things we learned in this workshop was that it's very important to listen to your body to see what it wants. Especially for those of us with anxiety, healing that anxiety requires that we be able to recognize what the anxiety feels like in our bodies. In one of my favorite books, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, yogi Brian Leaf talks about how we need to learn to trust our bodies and our instincts.
That's not as easy as it sounds. Yes, you can pretty much tell when you need to eat and sleep and use the bathroom, but listening to your body's innate wisdom and needs can be tricky. So, I decided to try an experiment that evening, and I decided to "go with my gut".
The first thing my gut told me was that I was to head back down to the gift shop and see if I could find a book about Ayurveda, the ancient art of healing that is considered the sister science to yoga.
Okay, easy enough, and I was enjoying the cool air of the gift shop. I found my book, paid for it just as the shop was closing, and tried to figure out what to do next.
I walked out of the gift shop, and right out the back door through which I had entered the day before. There was a concert going on in the yoga room, and the doors were open so that the music floated out into the warm summer evening. I stood for a second, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath, feeling the music floating in and out of me.
I walked around the building, coming to the impressive front lawn, and saw that there were benches under some of the trees. I followed myself down the lawn, searching for an empty bench where I could park myself for a little while and read my new book.
I walked right down the huge, sloping front lawn. I crossed the driveway, and spying a bench under some kind of arbor, I headed in that direction.
There were people sprawled on blankets on the lawn. A group of students training to be yoga teachers were practicing handstands.
I walked past them all towards the bench, and then...
I saw another, smaller arbor. There were two Ohm symbols carved into the sides, and a huge clump of my favorite day lilies right next to it. Beneath the lilies was a heavy, brass zodiac sundial. It appeared to be the entrance to a labyrinth.
Okay, still following my gut, I entered the labyrinth, clutching my book.
The path was much narrower than I had expected - barely wider than my foot. And it was heavily vegetated, so heavily, in fact, that there were places where I had to literally raise my arms and push through clumps of grass taller than me. There were patches of dried lupines that rattled when I brushed them with my leg.
After a few feet, I caught a glimpse of some kind of shrine at the center of the labyrinth, and a woman standing there.
I kept walking. I walked around, then doubled back, then walked around some more.
As I walked, I found myself doubting the path I was on. But something said to me: trust the path; follow the path; trust the path.
So, I kept walking.
Eventually, the woman left and started her way back out of the labyrinth, and she and I passed each other on the narrow path.
Finally, I came to the center of the labyrinth, and sitting there was a ceramic Buddha. The same Buddha, as a matter of fact, as one that was given to me 13 years ago when I left my job working at the pharmacy in northern New Jersey before I moved here to the Adirondacks. But this Buddha had been exposed to the elements, and the copper finish had worn off. But it still looked like a happy Buddha.
There were large dishes full of water and coins near this Buddha; people had left rings, jewelry, and scarves. Someone had put a large, beautiful chunk of turquoise between two Bali silver beads, strung it on leather, and placed it lovingly around the Buddha's neck.
Behind the Buddha was a large, square wooden stake that had prayer flags wrapped around it, and prayers and words of prayer from all faiths written on it.
I walked around that little shrine, absorbing it from all angles, and then finally settled myself down in front of the Buddha. I got down into my yogi squat, a yoga pose where you squat down sort of like a frog, and place your hands in prayer at your heart's center. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Little Buddha, I thought, I have no idea why you brought me here, but I will trust this path, and I will find out.
Then I chanted a brief Ohm, stood up, and walked out of the labyrinth, and back up across the front lawn.
As I walked up the hill towards the building, I looked to my left and saw a bright orange and blue sunset blazing across the sky. I heard the music. I felt my breath, and smelled the summer evening as the moon and the stars began to appear in the sky.
Back in my room, I chatted with my roommate, who was also completely worn out from the heat and the stress, and then started to read my new books. I finally made myself lay down to sleep around 10:30, being determined to make the 6:00 a.m. yoga practice the next morning...