A few years back I experienced an extraordinary sensation. I was in a yoga class and at some stage I had a powerful feeling of joy leaving me. I could feel it and almost see it, watch it leaving the room. I felt bereft. It’s not unusual to have strong emotional experiences in yoga; some poses, especially deep back bends, open the heart, others open the hips, where lots of emotions are stored. In ancient Indian philosophy (especially Kundalini and Ayurveda) there is a belief that there are energy centers within the human body – chakras – that help to regulate all its processes, from organ function to the immune system and emotions. There are yoga poses associated with these chakras and many yoga teachers use these poses to work with chakras: to balance and align.
I haven’t been a believer in chakras. I’m not a spiritual person. Yoga was for me a form of physical exercise which eventually became something more powerful; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was spiritual, but it certainly made me feel much better – less anxious, calmer, happier, better. I always marvelled (and still do) that no matter how I felt and what my intention was for going to a yoga class, somehow I always came out feeling like I got exactly what I needed – and this is contrary to what I thought I was after. I would always walk out more energised, smiling, grateful for the class.
So having this experience of being abandoned by joy has felt devastating. This was some 2 years ago and I still have this sensation that joy got up and left and hasn’t yet returned. I miss joy.
A note on chakras:
There are 7 chakras positioned throughout the body, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Each chakra has its own vibrational frequency, that is depicted through a specific chakra color, and governs specific functions:
- Red is the color of the root chakra (first chakra); it’s located at the perineum, the base of your spine. It symbolises safety, survival, grounding, nourishment from the Earth energy. Its function is concerned with earthly grounding and physical survival.
- Orange is the color of the sacral chakra (second chakra); it carries meanings associated with emotions, creativity, sexuality, and is associated with water, flow.
- Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra (third chakra) and symbolises mental activities, intellect, personal power, will.
- Green is the color of the heart chakra (fourth chakra) which is connected with love, relating, integration, compassion.
- Blue is the color of the throat chakra (fifth chakra); it symbolises self expression, expression of truth, creative expression, communication, perfect form and patterns.
- Purple (or deep indigo blue) is the color of the third eye chakra (sixth chakra) which evokes intuition, extrasensory perception, inner wisdom.
- White is the color of the crown chakra (seventh chakra) and is associated with the universal, connection with spirituality, consciousness.
When I first started practising yoga in Sydney it was usual to start and end the class with a collective ‘Om’ which is sounded out as A-U-M – three different sounds with a vibration felt in your throat and then your lips (although in the Hindu tradition its just a very nasal reverberating Oh sound). It’s a sacred sound and mantra in Hundiusm, Buddhism, Jainism and Skikhism and is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions.
It’s a weird thing to do at first – the expelling of breath whilst projecting the sound – you never know how your voice is going to sound out loud and there are always concerns of self-consciousness: “will I sound off-key?” etc. But it’s a powerful way to connect and at the end of a class its always interesting to experience how much more energy and freedom that mantra emits. It’s a great way to open and close the practise and gives a tangible sense of connectivity. Rolling Oms are my favourite: it’s where you just keep chanting Om in your own breath cycle and it creates a beautiful mellifluous sound because everyone’s breath cycle is different. It also removes the fear that you will start before anyone else.
Having moved to the Sunshine Coast I’ve discovered two lovely yoga studios – one of which incorporated a more elaborate mantra (Shanti Om) which took me a while to figure out (and therefore left me sitting with my discomfort). But the other studio I joined doesn’t Om. It struck me one day that there was this sense of incompletion at the end of each session and I realised that what I was missing was chanting this mantra Om. I asked the yoga teacher who informed me that it was part of studio’s policy (part of their ‘brand’) to not Om. Why? Because it might put people who are new to yoga off – make them feel uncomfortable . She suggested that I could always chant inside my own head. But that defeats the purpose. Two things struck me as being really strange:
- that the yoga studio considered itself a brand; and
- the assumption that people couldn’t cope with having to make the Om sound. Conversely it was considered OK to sit with hands in a prayer mudra and all say ‘namaste’ at the end of class.
It led me to think about the business of yoga: what yoga has become/morphed into and how muddle-headed it all is. On the one hand it’s promoted as the contemporary panacea to all the world’s (individual’s) ills, yet on the other hand it distances itself from the root of its origins as a spiritual practice.
I have to say, I have had the privilege to be part of what I consider a truly authentic yoga studio and have come across many wonderful yoga teachers , and it is thanks to them that I have been able to develop and deepen my understanding of yoga – physically and beyond.
But I’m not at all certain about the business of yoga. The yoga studios who set up chains and become a ‘brand’. What does that mean? My experience is that they train their staff in a certain way and present their classes in a certain way (despite each yoga teacher having their own personal style, it remains very formulaic) and are not really interested in their community unless it benefits them. That sounds cynical doesn’t it? It is. And I hate that I’ve become cynical. But I also hate the imposition of a certain way of being that is purported to be either ‘zen’ or ‘yoga’ that really has nothing to do with what yoga is about. A lack of authenticity.
So I’m curious: to Om or not to Om?
Oops, just had one of those awkward moments at the yoga centre where I needed to have a shower in the very open communal shower space and realised I only had a small hand towel with me.
My intention was simply to wipe down my sweat with a towel and change back into my clothes to go to my acupuncture appointment. At first I had thought of just going in my yoga clothes but thought better of it – too sweaty. For some reason I hadn’t planned on a sweaty class but by the time it was over I was drenched and a wipe down would not do.
The shower cubicles at my yoga studio are located between the men and women’s changing rooms but they’re right at the end of the corridor for everyone to see. No problem if you have a towel to wrap around yourself. Problematic if you don’t. Reason being is that the cubicles are designed in such a way that there really isn’t anywhere to put stuff so that it remains dry – just one hook on the back of the door. So its not like you can take you clothes in with you.
What to do? Solution: I had worn a dress so I could take that into the cubicle, hang it on the back of the door and hang my very tiny towel on top. Sweaty yoga pants were kicked beneath the door into the communal space. Quick shower, quick dry – amazing how easy it can be to dry yourself with a little rectangle – stop my feet dry on the sweaty 9and now wet) yoga gear outside, and back to the changing rooms. Whew! Just as well I wasn’t wearing anything more complicated (like jeans that would have required somehow drying my feet and holding the jeans up high to step into so they wouldn’t get wet).
So note to self: do take a larger towel. Just in case.