So it’s Thursday, September 8th, 2011. Bhaktifest officially begins. I’ve already been on an adventure and a half, and technically the festival had not yet even begun. I woke up, rather spontaneously, right as T and Jen were unzipping their tent across from me. We had discussed getting up early together so that we could go sign up for yoga class last night. Being that I was a first timer, they pick out a class for us to sign up for together – a Vinyasa flow class with Scott Blossom. We wait in line for about an hour and sign up. It’s only about an hour and a half before the class, so we wander around the venue. The vendors we saw last night are mostly set up, others are just rolling in and starting to set up. There is an energy that already has an edge on yesterday. It’s hard to pin down; last night, we anticipated the festival. This morning, we could see it, but maybe not yet touch it, just know that we were taking steps towards the precipice.
I really don’t know what to expect – in yoga class or at this festival overall. One expectation I came with was lots of bear hugs with new friends, and I am most certainly not let down on that expectation. I’ve done a few yoga poses before on Wii, which evidently does not count as having “done” yoga. We line up our mats in the left front corner, all four of us close to each other. T is just to my left and has already let me know he’ll give me tips as we go along. Scott talks to us in a calming and soothing way about preparing mentally for our practice, for Bhaktifest, and about the yoga we will be doing. As I’ve come to learn often accompanies yoga classes, a philosophy is taught in short lessons and stories both before and during the instructors direction for the practice. I listen with an open mind, a slightly open heart and just try to visualize and internalize the lesson.
I can’t remember the particular deity, story or lesson that Scott delivered – I ‘ve had so many lessons since that they start to melt together a bit – but I do remember the way his voice grabbed my focus, and held it, for most of the class.
The kirtan music starts up. A harmonium thrums out a soft, reverent melody laced with longing. A set of tabla drums join in and give this longing and seeking a pace. We hear the ancient Sanskrit names of God in beautiful yearning euphony, and we repeat them back with as loving an attempt at pronunciation and tonality we can muster. Scott invites us into each pose, explaining what we are stretching, opening, or strengthening – physically, mentally, and spiritually – with each position. We begin going through our flow. Each pose, I just start a second or so after everyone else and imitate their movements and positions. On several occasions, T whispers a correction to me and I promptly attempt to do what he suggests.
I’m feeling some intense stretches, some serious muscle work, and one other thing; an unbearable sensation of heat. It’s unseasonably hot right now – I think the high for the day was around 115 Fahrenheit. Class started at 11 a.m. just as the heat of the day gained its footing, so I’m estimating the current temperature at precisely one-hundred and hotter-than-you-know-what degrees. I live in Arizona, so I’m no stranger to these kinds of temperatures – just not used to doing hour and a half yoga classes in them. Several times, I feel the heat and exertion pushing me to the edge and suspect I shall soon swoon. I take short breaks in child pose (Scott said I could if I needed to!) and walk back to my backpack once to get a sip of water. Then, I go right back into the flow. My mind is grappling with this heat, as if thinking about it instead of focusing on my poses and intentions will somehow help. Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, is practiced by the legally insane, yogicly gifted, and constitutionally cold blooded in the safety of climate controlled studios set to 95-105 degrees; not on 115 degree days, outside, by yoga virgins.
For the third time in less than 24 hours, I’m rather sure that I’m going to die. After a class lasting long enough to read Dante’s Inferno aloud twice, we are nearing the end of our practice. I can barely hear Scott’s instructions to lay down on our backs in Sivasana position over the moaning of my body telling me to please go find a pile of ice to climb into. I learn that Savasana translates to “corpse pose” which is awesome, because I’ll already be in position when I croak in 2 minutes. He tells us to still the mind – no small challenge since mine is running around like a horse on fire. I am laying there ignoring his request and just feeling hot, being hot, thinking hot when it occurs to me that I need to knock it off and just try to do this thing.
“Chill out self. The body isn’t going to kick the bucket over this. You’ve been hotter before and lived, and you are already cooling down – you’re just laying here for crying out loud. Now shut up and focus.”
“Focus on what dummy? YOU were just freaking out over the heat yourself and you ignored his instructions.”
“Well, then, just focus on breathing in and out. I think that’s supposed to work.”
“But it’s SOOO freaking hot!”
“Shut up and breathe.”
So I did. I decided that I would try and still the mind. I’m sure I wandered off of just focusing on my breathe a few times and let those thoughts just flitter away, possibly broke into a mantra in my head; would have either been the Mahamantra, or, possibly, Our Father. Either way, all I know is that I left that really hot place – my body – for the next 10 or 15 minutes. I’m not asleep; falling into slumber always brings on dreams right up front – I often start a dream 3 or 4 times before I actually fall asleep, and I can usually remember the parts of the dream where I’m bordering on conscious, but that transition didn’t happen. I just left my mind and body altogether, but was still conscious.
The only things I can say about that time is that it was timeless – both an instant and an eternity at once, it was calm like I’ve never even considered before, and it was cool. I did not visualize corresponding scenery, but I felt that I was somewhere cool like the Himalayas, and it was light – pure light, brighter than white light. No sense of movement, no “tunnel” of light like people report in near-death experiences, no sense of vision, smell, or hearing – just light, and cool, and calm.
Scott asks us to wiggle our fingers, and wiggle our toes, and I immediately begin to do so. The brightness starts dimming slowly, and degree by degree the sense of heat comes back. I cannot believe how many degrees come back, because when it’s completed I feel like I’m in an oven. I can’t believe the contrast between how cool I just felt and how hot I feel now – it’s drastic. The coolness leaves me, the light leaves me – but the calm stays, and it feels wonderful.
After class, I’m explaining this sensation to someone I just met, and he asks how long I’ve been practicing.
“Um, this was my first class.”
“Yeah, Ever.” At least in this life. “Is that normal?”
NO, that is not normal, evidently. Some people work for years to achieve that kind of stillness of mind. Some never feel it. Well, I know what I felt and it was incredible.
I’m thinking, “Ok. This yoga stuff is pretty cool. “