Haleakala - Taking Yoga to the Summit

 Above the clouds

Above the clouds

Early in the morning, either with friends or alone, biking has become one of my favorite ways to move through our world.  Biking gets me out of my regular grind - out of my head.  It connects me with views, vistas and quiet.  It creates space for sharing with bike friends.  It makes a space for conversation and connection.  Biking is life - hills and valleys.  When a big hill is in front of me, I lower my gaze, focus on the moment, focus on the breath and pedal.  Looking up and ahead at big challenges can be overwhelming and scary.  And biking isn't without its fear.  Having an accident makes one vulnerable and aware of danger and risk.  Staying alert and careful is part of its experience.  

I started training for my biggest biking goal ever - to bike up Haleakala volcano in Maui - a 10,000 foot elevation.  I like to share that it's taller than Mt. Everest, however, 20,000 feet of it is under water.  I hired Maui Cyclery for support and guidance.  They had a truck to refill water bottles, replenish energy bars and to carry warmer clothing until needed - it can be freezing up top.  Donnie Arnoult, the owner and ex pro, kept me laughing with stories of his life on Maui.  Ed, who drove the truck, picked up a Jackson Chameleon on one of our breaks and kept me hydrated - it was a special day.  

 Jackson chameleon

Jackson chameleon

But I started getting tired around 5,000 feet, only half way.  A dull headache set in from the altitude.  I kept hydrating and took it slow.  I stopped talking and listened.  Donnie instructed me to breathe through my nose for maximum efficiency and oxygenation.  While the ride to the summit was only 38 miles, I had to train for 100, due to the elevation and averaged 4 miles per hour.  At about mile 28, Ed and Donnie bid me farewell - what?  Somehow I had missed the memo that guides were not permitted into the park.  Donnie stuffed my leggings and jacket into my jersey pocket, filled up my water bottles one last time, replenished my energy bars and bid me farewell.  I didn't like the idea of finishing up solo but as I pedaled on it felt right.  Now it was the volcano and me.  Only ten more miles anyway - but the punchline there is that I was only going four miles per hour - so ten miles is over 2 1/2 hours.  Off I went.  Head down, breathing through the nose - long and deep.  Focus on the breath - "You got this Janet."  I couldn't tell how much ground I was covering.  I wasn't keeping track of time or distance traveled.  I was in the clouds on a seemingly endless winding incline.

I got to a "7,000 feet" sign - only 3,000 more! My headache continued and nausea set in. As a student of Kundalini Yoga teacher training since October, we have been exploring strength - the strength of our nervous system.  We are stronger than we think we are and can accomplish more than we think we can.  When I asked Donnie if I would make it to the top he said, "Maybe.  We'll see."  This wasn't what I wanted to hear.  He told me it was hard to predict.  Those that seemed okay would stop and those that didn't - sometimes they made it.  It didn't come down to physical strength - it was the strength of one's own will.  In Kundalini yoga, some of the asanas (postures) and mudras (hand positions) are challenging,  where my mind starts dancing around to a melody of "I can do this - I can't do this." And round and round it goes.  But with discipline and strengthening - we can do it.  Through the headache and nausea, I focused on the breath.  I chanted in my mind.  This was an important strategy.  Taking yoga to the summit.  Sat Nam, Sat Nam - Breathe in Sat and exhale Nam - Truth is my identity.  

I coached myself in the third person.  For the first time that day, I thought I might not be able to do it.  I felt sick and my right foot was throbbing.  I got off my bike and sat on a rock.  I took off my shoes and rubbed my feet.  I hydrated and ate an energy bar.  "You got this Janny.  You are fine.  You can do this.  Take your time.  It's okay."  I loved myself up.  I spoke to myself kindly.  My mantra became, "You got this" for a while.  I said the words out loud so that I heard them.  My own voice assured me in a kind way.  

Why did I do this bike ride? I've asked myself this question.  If it stops being fun - then why?

The last several years have been tough.  Big life changes, introspection, turning a page and healing.  A physical challenge like climbing a hill is an illustration of life challenges.  It makes a struggle literal.  As I heal, as I see life as an adventure again, I can imagine reaching the summit, which brings me back to Kundalini Yoga.  I've always been athletic - always kept my body moving.  But about two years ago, I needed a new strategy - a way to quiet my mind, find peace and connect with something bigger than my daily life.  I tried yoga and it was Kundalini that helped me feel peace, opened my heart-center - to forgive others and myself.  I spontaneously and impulsively signed up for Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA and spent one weekend there each month, graduating in June 2018.  It's hard to find words about the training.  I was scared - i didn't know what I was getting myself into.  I stayed with the same group of women in our A2 apartment each month.  Kundalini teacher training was a way to scratch the surface of my self and go deep.  It's hard to pick one word for what it meant to me because it was so many things - it was hard, emotional, tiring, intense, healing and empowering.  I feel grateful that I impulsively signed up.  I had no idea what I was in for and it's probably better that way.  I'm so thankful to know of the healing potential for myself and others and know that it changed my life forever.  Kundalini includes a daily personal practice - a Sadhana - preferably before the energy of the day, before the sun rises. I've been committed ever since.  It's a commitment to the self - to our true spirit - our center.   Kundalini Yoga helped me in my own life and helped me get up that volcano. 

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I saw a sign that the summit was two miles away - only a half an hour more.  I got this.  And I wasn't alone.  In Kundalini, we are taught about the power of community - how we balance out each other's energy - high with low, happy with sad.  Even when practicing alone we are taught to imagine our community with us.  We are never alone because we are all connected and connected to the infinite.  This is comforting to me and comforting on the ascent up the volcano.  .

I biked up that volcano for many parts of myself - the shy girl who was bullied and scared; the divorced 55-year-old, finding power and independence; the mom of three beautiful children; for my "self" which is not defined by others.

Life is an adventure again.  When it gets hard we step off the road, coach our self, cuddle our self and then get back on the road, breathe and go slow and feel the support of friends.  We love our self the most.  We fall.  We get hurt.  We make mistakes.  We get in our own way.  We cry.  With a soothing voice, a breath, a chant - we center, focus and start again.  And we give thanks.  Thanks to my biking group for training with me and all the words of encouragement and support from yoga friends, Amherst friends, old friends, college friends, family........ :)