When he first attended the Energy Intensive at Kripalu seven years ago, David Ellner was living the life he’d thought he always wanted. As the CFO of a $400-million entertainment corporation, he had money, power, prestige, and an impressive title.
“I thought those were the goals,” he recalls. “I was working 60-hour weeks, and when I woke up in the morning, the first thing I’d do was check my Blackberry. I thought the faster I went, the more alive I’d feel. But then I hit 40 and realized I’d gotten most of what I’d wanted, and I still wasn’t happy.”
Kripalu’s Energy Intensive, which Kripalu CEO, Richard Faulds (Shobhan), and Jonathan Foust (Sudhir) have been coteaching since 2000, was the catalyst that put David on a new path. “It was a life-changing experience,” he says. “I felt like I was in the front seat of a roller coaster. It was the wake-up call I needed.”
“Jonathan and I are continually amazed by the impact of this program,” Shobhan says. “It’s catalyzed a profound process of personal transformation for a lot of people. People break out of their box, get back in touch with their wholeness, and choose to become a bigger version of themselves.”
The Energy Intensive is designed to bring people into the moment, to open their hearts and minds as they explore the relationship between energy and consciousness. “When we pay attention, we become aware of how energy is not flowing in our body, which we experience as physical discomfort and mental agitation,” Jonathan says. “When we begin to feel a sense of safety and that we’re not alone in the world, we start to experience new possibilities in our life, and to experience our natural state of presence, openheartedness, connection, and expanded awareness.”
Most of the program is about doing rather than listening; Jonathan jokes that “the didactic element is about seven minutes long.” Participants do yoga twice daily, engage in a rich mix of small-group exercises, and also spend time in meditation and reflective journal writing. Central to the program is a session of integrative breathwork designed to foster deep insight and release. Shobhan and Jonathan, both senior teachers at Kripalu, say the Energy Intensive is based on what they consider to be the essence of the Kripalu teachings—self-inquiry, cultivation of self-awareness, and surrender to prana (energy, or life force). Like Kripalu Yoga, the program is designed to create transformation and healing—in people’s minds, hearts, lives, and relationships.
As with all Kripalu programs, the first step in opening the door to transformation is creating an environment in which people feel comfortable and supported. Shobhan and Jonathan begin the program by taking time for people to get to know each other and share their intentions. “They create a container of safety that allows you to trust and relax,” David says. “You’re able to pull back the layers until you’re left with your true nature.”
The trust among the group, which is built during the first two days of the program, is an essential aspect of the integrative breathwork session on Saturday morning. It’s vital that everyone feels safe to dive into this potent experience, because the technique affects each person differently and can bring up deep emotions and powerful revelations. The breath and body, says Shobhan, serve as “doorways to take you into non-ordinary states.”
The session begins in the late morning, and the atmosphere in the room resembles a protected, nurturing cocoon, with the lights dimmed and shades drawn. Participants—men and women, spanning a wide range of ages—lie wrapped snugly in blankets on the floor, divided into small groups, each with its own coach. “On behalf of the captain and the crew, I’d like to welcome you aboard,” Jonathan says, and a ripple of laughter runs through the group.
Simply put, the integrative breathwork technique increases the amount of oxygen coming into the body, stimulating the movement of energy throughout the system. “The basic rule of energy is that once it gets freed up, it goes to where it’s blocked, because energy is designed for maximum flow,” Jonathan says. As blocks dissolve, the release of energy can manifest in myriad ways—as laughter, tears, feelings of bliss, or a deep sense of connection. David Ellner describes it this way: “The calm that came over me during that session was something I’d never experienced before. It was the first time I’d touched something that felt solidly happy.”
“I never know what’s going to happen next, and it’s intriguing to find out what’s bubbling up inside me,” says Antoinette Marchand, who has taken the program a dozen times since she first came to Kripalu in 2004, when she was in her late sixties. She now assists in the program as a breathwork coach. “The Energy Intensive is probably the strongest part of what I’ve done at Kripalu that has helped me grow as a more peaceful, accepting, and nonjudgmental person. It’s helped me to know that I’m not alone and that I’ve got everything I need.”
As for David, he went back to his high-powered job (which he has since left), but he turned it on its head. He cancelled a slew of weekly meetings that he realized were unnecessary; he stopped taking calls while eating lunch; he even changed the way he reads his e-mail, having his assistant winnow through his messages to filter out the few important ones.
“I realized I had so much more control over my life than I thought,” he recalls. “It’s not just about getting ahead anymore. I’m opening more and more to not being afraid of sharing who I am, or of opening to who other people are—and with that comes this lightness. It’s that important, that powerful.