Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. – Thich Nhat Hanh
Routine. Some days, I wear it like an old sweater – soft and familiar. Wrapping me up like a hug, keeping me safe and warm. Routine can be so comforting. Knowing what comes next. Having a rhythm, a slow, steady beat, being able to sing along, not missing a step. Routine can keep me sane. I know where I’m going and what to expect when I get there. And when I feel out of control – like my life is happening around me and I am just helplessly watching – pulling on that old sweater and getting back into a rhythm is a relief. As if I’ve gotten my everyday back.
I know that my days are, in fact, not predictable. Anything is possible, each day new and fresh, with no moment ever the same. There is ebb and flow. It’s a good thing, but tough to remember when the tide is high. Routine helps me feel as though I can at least ride the wave safely, all while singing a familiar song that guides me toward the ground, the present, landing on my feet at the end of the day.
Sometimes, routine is a heavy weight on my shoulders. Hammering down, with its consistent, familiar beat that I now know well, and I know what comes next, and I can feel it, but I don’t want it. Wake up, get ready, make coffee, prepare lunch. Drive to work, sit at computer, drive home. Pick up the kid, make dinner, clean up. Bath time, bedtime, me time. Sleep. Repeat. Routine becomes monotonous, each beat wearing me down. That once comfy sweater becomes tiring to look at. The same outfit every day. Color fading, the sleeves wearing thin.
That’s what I found myself wearing this February. Outside, cold and gray, and inside, pulling on that tired old sweater to keep me warm. When really, I long for sunshine. To strip off the sweater, fling the windows open, and feel the warmth of the sky. Breathe in the fresh air and breathe out the stale, heavy routine.
I tried kundalini yoga for the first time on Sunday morning. It was an 8 a.m. class that I’d been telling myself I should try for months, but never got around to it because 8 a.m. On a Sunday.
Growing up Catholic, church on Sunday mornings was a chore. My laziness finally won out and my mother gave up making me attend. By sixth grade, I had quit CCD. No more Tuesday nights in a stuffy trailer behind St. Dismas Parish, no more choir practice with Sisters Mary and Lucy. No more communions, no more confessions. I never got confirmed, and I wore the dropout status proudly – as if I had successfully escaped an evil cult and I was free to believe or not believe whatever I wanted.
And now here I am, leaning into a new Sunday morning routine. Longing for a set time to focus on me, light and energy, on a day that is typically associated with devotion and creation. It just seems so fitting, so right, to start off the week by being present. My own prayer. Maybe it’s a part of me that wants to belong to a church, a community, a faith. Whatever it is, it brought me to a sun-filled room early Sunday morning, rolling out my yoga mat, setting up blanket and bolster and water bottle around me. The instructor sat in front, dressed in white, a gong on one side of her and a harmonium on the other. There were three others, our mats arranged in a half circle. Ready to begin.
I thought it was going to be a gentle, easy practice. For the most part, it was. We were seated or on our backs the entire time. There was no sweat dripping from my face and onto the mat like I’ve experienced in other classes – my Saturday morning class, for example, surrounded by women older than me, thinner than me, stronger than me, holding poses much more gracefully than me. Anyone who tells you yoga is not a workout should take that yoga class. Hell, everyone should take any yoga class. It’s really just all around good for you.
Some yogas (like Bikram) are structured as a physical workout. Others (like Jivamukti) put an emphasis on meditation. Kundalini Yoga is little of both, but with an added emphasis on consciousness that activates energy centers throughout the body. Kundalini class can be a good workout, but its teachers and students (often wearing white turbans) participate in each kriya with a quiet reverence more akin to a temple than a gym. If you like your physical exercise to come with a side of spiritual enlightenment, Kundalini Yoga might be for you.
See now why I wanted to try this on a Sunday morning? It just made sense.
Kundalini yoga can involve rapid, repetitive movements, which are what got to me. I started getting tired holding my arms out, twisting side to side, making sure my spine was straight and my core engaged. What I thought would be gentle became a workout of my body and my mind. On my hands and knees in tabletop position, I reached my right arm out and my left leg back. I held the posture for as long as the instructor told us, my body starting to shake. Pushing through made me feel light-headed but strong, forcing me to focus on my breath, which had become deep and grounding. My breath became a driving force, my strength, holding me up, keeping me up, the energy coming from deep in my gut and out through my nose and assuring me that I’ve got this. I can do this.
I found power in the repetition, power in my breath. It felt energizing and good.
Repetition. Routine. It can be so easy to let it weigh you down and feel smothered, powerless beneath the pounding rhythm. To let your tired arms drop and give up, no longer reaching for strength. But it’s there. Sometimes it just takes a breath of something new, and then deeper breaths – inhales and exhales so long and steady and focused until that stale energy is moving again and you find yourself still upright, still moving, still going strong.
Today, the sun shines. The sky is blue. The windows are open, fresh air flows in, and I am here.