Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Yoga and Ayurveda specialist, shares a breathing practice to bring you to a calm, centered state.
J. L. Johnson, guest blogger
When Edmund Hillary set foot on the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, it was his greatest feat: a first ascent that would forever link his name, along with that of his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, to the world’s highest peak. But it wasn’t his greatest challenge. That would come in 1975, when Hillary’s wife and 16-year-old daughter were killed in a plane crash. “It changed everything,” he told Time magazine. “My life disappeared.”
Hillary did eventually remarry, and carried on with vital environmental and humanitarian work in his beloved Nepal. When he died in 2008, it was as a climbing legend who had conquered the unconquerable—but also as a husband and father who’d spent years tackling a much more personal obstacle.
Whether it’s loss of a job or loss of a loved one, accident or illness, sooner or later we all find something daunting that is standing in our life’s path: An obstacle. A roadblock. Or, as suggested by Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, a mountain: something that can seem insurmountable but can help us learn to value the climbing process itself and give us greater perspective as we rise.
“Who knows what will arise when we watch ourselves?” asks Kripalu Yoga teacher and life coach Michelle Dalbec in her R&R retreat workshop Reflections on Your Inner World. By opening up to the richness of our interior life through meditation and journaling, she elaborates, we can invite deeper self-reflection and self-expression into our daily existence.
Both meditation and journaling create an “open-hearted space of discovery,” Michelle says, by letting things be as they are—not changing, not critiquing, but simply observing and noting our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. “If we look at a situation long enough through the lens of meditation and journaling, we might be able to shift our perspective on it,” she says.
Where we look for answers to this question can make all the difference between fantasies and dreams come true.
I’ve been teaching at Kripalu for more than 15 years now—and throughout most of that time, I’ve been Kripalu’s Senior Scholar-in-Residence. Each year, I teach hundreds of people in hatha yoga programs, in yoga philosophy programs, and in personal growth programs. Sometimes I feel like I’ve inadvertently landed on one of the great pilgrimage routes of modern times, seeing—as we do here at Kripalu—a river of more than 32,000 contemporary seekers a year: modern versions, sometimes, of the ribald seekers of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or the more innocent characters of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Each of these contemporary pilgrims brings along his or her own story, of course, and each story is compelling. But over the years I’ve come to see that these stories, unique as they are on the surface, often have one central longing at their core, one insistent question: How can I live fully?
Our seekers phrase this question in so many different ways: How can I live a passionate and authentic human life? How can I discover the full potential of this human mind, body, spirit?
“The cause of all agitation is the constant modification of mind. The mind easily becomes concentrated and one-pointed through the practice of yoga. When control of the mind is obtained, the kingdom of peace is established.”—Swami Kripalu
As a veteran police lieutenant living in Philadelphia, I’m not your typical yogi. About a decade ago, while looking to add stretching to my exercise routine, I discovered Bikram Yoga. I quickly found that incorporating yoga into my life made me feel radically different—less worried, more grounded. Even doing a 20-minute routine before work left me feeling at peace with myself and better able to handle people with grace. I also found that yoga helped dissipate the low-level anxiety I’d lived with for so long.
Yoga soon took on a central role in my life, and, five years ago, I decided to become a teacher so I could share what I’d learned with others. I’d been teaching in Philadelphia for about a year when I flipped through the Kripalu catalog and was intrigued by a program with Shiva Rea. It seemed to have an element of flow to it that I hadn’t experienced in other classes I’d taken.
Her program was my first opportunity to take yoga all day long, and the experience was supernatural. When I came out of the class the next day, I felt like I was flying. It was as if someone had unleashed a sense of joy in my body; I felt so light and exhilarated. I couldn’t believe I could feel that good. I thought to myself, “I need to learn how to bring this feeling into my teaching.”
A cancer survivor explores bold new directions
When I plopped into the Radiance program’s opening night welcome circle, I was exhausted. That morning, I had attended the memorial service for my dear friend, Dara, who had passed a week before. A couple hundred people gathered to share stories, laughter, tears, and outrage that this beautiful, lively, loving soul had left at age 40, from cancer.
And now, a train ride and time warp later, here I was in the branch-filled Berkshires, sitting in a back jack, meeting eight cancer survivors and our co-leader Maria Sirois. In that moment, “life after cancer” looked to me like throwing a rose on my friend’s coffin and hearing it thud. It looked like crying myself to sleep every night for the last two weeks.
But as I settled in and heard tales of diagnosis and survival, I remembered: Oh. We’re all still here. In my fellow workshoppers—eight people from their 30s through 50s—I saw stress and fear and bravery and resilience and resistance. I saw myself. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma seven years ago at age 31, I had almost been forgetting that I was a survivor, too.