To celebrate the start of summer this year, I went to a Summer Solstice Yoga Dance Party. Yep. That’s a real thing. At least it is where I live in Vancouver, the city that gave the world Lululemon, and where most locals ski/swim/Stand Up Paddle/bike/hike and run on a daily basis in the surrounding big mountains and old-growth forests.
No surprise then that the rave was sold out. I have to admit, however, that even though I like to consider myself a bit of an Urban Hippie (anyone want to meet for a green juice at the farmer’s market after Bikram?) I feared I was going to be a bit out of my (blissed-out) depth.
When I arrived at the studio 30 minutes early, I found a sizeable line up of Lycra-clad yoga geeks waiting outside. The reason? Gloria Latham, the founder of Vancouver’s Semperviva yoga studios, and her personal brand of high energy Kundalini yoga, which is part step aerobics, part primal scream therapy, and set to fun musical playlists. Because in addition to the great workout you get in her class (which I’ve attended at a Semperviva yoga retreat), students also get a dose of Gloria’s mind/body spirituality that is so applicable to real life, so authentic and easy to digest that one of my friends calls attending Gloria’s Monday evening class her version of going to church.
But given that this yoga rave was so much more than a regular class, for many people it seems more like a pilgrimage to [insert mega important religious site of your choice here].
Once we were all inside and Gloria settled herself quietly on the candlelit podium, she had us start by just raising our arms in the air and swaying. Actually, throughout the evening there was a lot of swaying. Then she started us on the small, repetitive movements (think pumping the air with outstretched arms and repeated mini clenches with your fists for the longest five minutes of your life) that are the hallmarks of Kundalini yoga.
“If there is tension in the body, there is tension in the mind,” Gloria said into her Madonna headphone just as my hands were beginning to cramp up and my fingernails were leaving red, angry dents in my palms. Shockingly, none one else looked ready to give up. So I didn’t either. I kept going, trying not to stare at (or hate) the people around me who looked like they could clench forever, all while smiling (with their inner third eye or something).
Before long, the music picked up, and Gloria had us bending, squatting and forcefully chanting “Har Hare Hari” to "Summer Nights" (from the Grease soundtrack). And though that sounds like an odd pairing, it worked. The crowd’s energy surged; people started to get into things and by the time "Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing came on, the room pretty much felt like a 7th grade dance with small groups dancing together in circles around the room, cheering each other with whoops and cat calls -- only mindful, accepting, yogi cat calls.
“Find a friendly stranger and put your palms together above your heads,” instructed Gloria at some point. For me, that ended up being a tall, bald, super athletic guy whose sweat started to drip down the length of my arm once we were in place. But whatever! "Walking on Sunshine" was playing! So I held my hands up to his, danced around and tried to focus on feeling his energy.
As the whole crowd started moving in a giant, pulsating circle around the room, Gloria interjected a few more times with nuggets of insight and Deep Thoughts. “There are lots of things we can say to each other,” she said. “But the only thing we should be saying is, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’” It was a Jump the Shark moment. She nearly lost me. I almost evaporated right out of the room and right back into my reality of being a sometimes-short-tempered busy mom to two young boys who generate obscene amounts of laundry and dirty dishes.
But I wanted to stay, so I held on and when told to “find another friend,” I did. And Miss Lemon Licorice Perfume and I sat back to back, arms intertwined, leaning on each other as we bent and flexed our spines. And it felt really good. As in supportive and generous and comforting.
To wind down, we did sufi grinds, which is where you sit cross legged and circle your torso over stationary hips. If you haven’t tried them before, let me say that 1) they loosen up your whole pelvis and 2) they make you feel like a bad ass yogi. So do them. Often. I’m going to!
“Stop looking at one another and feeling silly,” Gloria advised quietly as we swayed in silence. Again with the swaying. “Close your eyes and really let go.”
Totally sound advice. And as I sat around trying to make it happen, I realized I already had.