Finding Sanctuary in Kripalu Yoga

It was the darkest time of my life. I was a 26-year-old therapeutic wilderness counselor for at-risk youth, living in the rugged mountains of North Carolina with a group of 10 boys, ages 11 to 17. The winter had been cold, our shelters weren’t insulated, and the group dynamics were dysfunctional, to say the least. I spent countless nights helping the boys finish their homework by the light of a kerosene lantern, breaking up fights, processing trauma, and keeping the woodstoves stoked. After a year and a half, I was traumatized, exhausted, feeling lost, and awakening to the realization that my soul was calling for something I wasn’t finding on the mountain.

Having had done yoga in college, where I was a religious studies major with a strong inclination for the mystical and spiritual traditions, I began to look for a yoga class in nearby Asheville. Looking through the paper one day, I saw a small ad that read, “Kripalu Yoga Sanctuary. Classes by donation.” I was broke—“by donation” was in my price range.

The class was on the second floor of a two-story brick building downtown. I climbed a steep, creaky staircase, and walked into a room with brown shag carpet. A small man with long hair and a goatee introduced himself as the teacher and welcomed me into the space. The class included a few college-age students, several in middle age, and a man who looked like a carpenter. He was stretching on his mat, wearing a pair of Carhartt’s that were just a little too tight for yoga. I learned later that he was a regular, and he always wore his work duds to class.

I found a space and got settled. The teacher began the class by going around the room and asking each person how they were doing today. Everyone shared a little something personal. It was nice. Then we were led into a centering and pranayama.

As I closed my eyes and began to follow the teacher’s instructions, I felt something give way in my heart. The pain of my time in the woods began to rise, tears started to flow, and I could feel a warm energy moving through me. It felt so good, and I felt so safe. We were led through a series of postures that opened my body. I was breathing, I was feeling. All the tightness and tension was starting to melt away.

When I opened my eyes after Savasana, the sun had set and the full moon was shining brightly through the window. The room was bathed in moonlight. I could feel dried tears on my face, and I felt refreshed. After class, people came up to me and offered me hugs. I didn’t know any of them, and yet I felt completely seen and safe.

I remember wondering, Where am I? What is Kripalu Yoga? I kept coming back to those classes. Kripalu Yoga felt like coming home. These days, in my role as Director of the Kripalu Schools, I hear similar stories from so many people. My personal mission is to nurture the flame, tell the stories, and do all I can to keep the light of this living and evolving tradition burning strong and bright.

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