Do you know how hard it is to find white leggings that don’t show your entire ass?
I’m only aware of this because I recently attended my first White Tantric Yoga Meditation event, which requires its participants to be dressed all in white, including a white cloth made of natural fibers which covers your entire hair. I signed up with a friend who ended up bailing at the last minute, and she was going to bring me a white scarf. At 6 in the morning I found myself rooting through my closet for something, anything white, that could cover my head, and ending up finding an oversized white tunic that I’d gotten in a clothing swap. So, I left my house at 7am with my hair swaddled in a cut-up hippie shirt, ready to do 11 hours of meditation.
I hope it doesn’t sound dramatic when I say that this was the most difficult day, both mentally and physically, of my entire life. As a charter flight attendant, I worked 50 hours straight and was constantly flying in and out of sketchy situations and often war zones. I’ve helped build a national and soon to be international business with 9 different branches. I run, I yoga, I box, I Pilates, but fuck, none of these things had mentally or physically prepared me for 11 hours of chanting while staring into a stranger’s eyes with my hands above my head. I’m glad I didn’t know what I was getting into when I got my ticket, because I would have run shrieking.
I arrived at a church in Oakland, clothed in white, around 7:30am, to a sea of other people dressed in white. I eyeballed the other participants nervously, because this is a partner activity, and my would-be partner had stayed up partying the night before and was fast asleep in bed, destined for a righteous hangover (she was sure I would be angry with her, but honestly I was glad I got to experience this day solo, so it worked out perfectly). I gently pushed my way (trying to be zen even though I was cranky and tired, smiles, yes, thank you, excuse me) through people huddled around, chatting with friends, to the meditation area in the chapel. I put down my mat and started searching for my perfect partner, not wanting to be staring straight into the eyes of some weirdo for 11 hours. I asked several people, aiming for those with kind eyes who seemed rather normal, but everyone was already paired up. As I sat down with exasperation next to a couple who had driven from Davis, the husband leaned over and said “don’t worry, the perfect partner will find you.” I snorted, slightly skeptical and more than a little bit nervous, but god was he right. I found Teresa.
Little did I know, but this event is a marathon for kundalini yoga practitioners and while welcoming, is extremely difficult for beginners. As everyone began to introduce themselves, it became very clear that I was in over my head. Many people in the class were training to become kundalini yoga teachers themselves, and were fulfilling a requirement to attend a white tantric yoga session for their certificate. One older bearded guy had flown in from New Mexico and it was somewhere around his hundredth sesh. When I said that I just came because I like to meditate and that I did yoga maybe once a month and Pilates occasionally, I was met with shock. One person likened it to suddenly waking up and deciding that you wanted to learn to run, and instead of starting with a mile, you sign up for a marathon. I said, I like just to do weird stuff, so a friend sent me the link and I signed up. They were impressed. I was terrified.
After the 270 participants settled in on our mats, the moderator introduced us, and the first meditation of one hour (!!!) began. I didn’t know anything about Teresa, but I was supposed to stare into her eyes while we chanted, so I did… I picked her left eye and stared it down, making the most intense eye contact I had ever performed. I made it about 5 minutes with my legs crossed and my hands in prayer pose over my heart before I started wondering what would happen if I just started screaming, ripped out my yoga mat from underneath both of us, and stormed out. I didn’t because I didn’t want to disturb her peace, but that was basically the only thing keeping me there.
The meditations ranged anywhere from 31 to 62 minutes, which I now realize are magic numbers in kundalini (any beginner would probably know this, but I wasn’t even a novice, I literally knew nothing about this practice). Over the course of an 11-hour day, we did 4 62-minute meditations, and 4-31 minute meditations, with breaks and a delicious vegan lunch in between. The meditations ranged from sitting quietly in silence with our eyes closed, to chanting while pulsing our arms back and forth while staring into each other’s eyes, to pressing our palms over our ears (the hardest by far). The moderator would check in throughout the meditation to let us know what we should be focusing on, and occasionally to let us know that we were doing well and were halfway through… when she announced 31 minutes on the first one-hour meditation, I nearly sobbed aloud. I couldn’t believe only a half hour had passed.
“I CAN’T CROSS MY LEGS ANYMORE AND MY GODDAMN BACK HURTS“
Sometimes we were so silly we giggled, but a few times I found myself silently starting to cry, thankful that I could keep my eyes closed so my partner couldn’t see how wet my face was. The thing is, even if you meditate daily and as a normal practice, half a day in your own thoughts is a deep, dark place. I never realized how full my head was of thoughts like “I can’t” or “I couldn’t possibly” or “I’m not equipped to handle this, I’m not as strong/smart/capable/zen/pretty/woke as other people.” I never realized I was mentally or physically capable of sitting on a bunched-up blanket for 11 hours with only myself and a stranger as company. I both hated and loved every second of it, and I was shocked and relieved to realize that everyone else seemed to feel the same way. The practice itself isn’t easy, self-exploration isn’t easy, being alone with your own thoughts in a body that is screaming “I CAN’T CROSS MY LEGS ANYMORE AND MY GODDAMN BACK HURTS” isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable, and I love things that are comfortable: fleece sweaters, Sherpa blankets, my dog, my partner, my bed. Things that aren’t comfortable are really, really hard, but they force you to grow because you can either shrivel or sprout.
Towards the end of the day, with sweet relief from sitting in sight, we did a partner meditation where Teresa and I stared into each other’s eyes while locking our left hands, and pulsing back and forth with our right hands, chanting… it’s funny because I chanted the same thing over and over for hours, and I can’t remember a single one, because I was in the moment and not focused on memorizing the mantras. I kept laughing because it felt so uncomfortably vulnerable, but at the same time, I was drawn into her kind eyes, her smile, her willingness to talk to me about meditation and poses and getting through the pain during our breaks, and I thought, I’ve said a hundred words to this person and I feel like I know her as well as I know my mom, my best friends, my boyfriend. When I felt like I couldn’t go on, she basically carried me by willing me on with her eye contact. I have her number and I’ve been texting her, so I’m 99% certain she’s real, but if I didn’t I would wonder today if she was some sort of angel who disappeared back into the heavens after helping a novice meditator through an 11-hour kundalini marathon, like that was her spirit role. She did have very luminous skin and she didn’t seem to sweat, so it wouldn’t be shocking.
At 7pm, we finished our meditations, shook our arms out, packed up our stuff, and headed out the door… I ripped the cut-up shirt off my head before I got in my Uber, because it was driving me bananas, but I hadn’t even noticed for the entire day because I was so focused on my back, my legs, getting the chants semi-right, and my meditations. I went home exhausted. When people asked me how it was, I said that I was still processing. I was glad I did it, but I wasn’t sure what to say.
“my god, my body is being ravaged, I must move, I must scream“
The moderator had told us that it may take 40 days for us to process the cleansing that we went through during the one session, and I don’t doubt that, because today I feel alive, but sore and depleted. I do feel cleansed. I do feel peace. I do feel like my body was run over by a dump truck and then monkeys feasted upon my brains piece by piece (or peace by peace, hahah). Honestly, I’m still confused as hell, but I am proud, and I cannot believe I made it through. My moments varied from “ok, this is ok, this is easy” one second, to “my god, my body is being ravaged, I must move, I must scream” the next. I did move, but I never screamed, and for that I am hella proud of myself.
Would I do White Tantric Yoga again? Yes, absolutely… but I would start with more kundalini classes, maybe an hour in length, before I went into a full-day meditation retreat again. What did I learn? I learned that my mind is scary but I must accept it. I learned that if I can push past pain, there is joy and relief, even if just for a moment. I learned that life is never going to be without difficulties, and I can’t expect things to be easy, but I can learn to cope with them without letting them ruin my peace. I learned that reactions are my choice. I learned that sometimes I can’t focus on a month from now, a day from now, an hour from now, even a minute from now, but if I can focus on the exact second I’m in, in the present, I’ll be able to get through because I really don’t have a choice.
God, that was hard. That was a hard day, but a good day… a really, really good day.