Pure Yoga, where I teach, recently hosted Bryan Kest. I’m not sure how I can describe him to you-to say that he is a semi-celebrity yogi who likes to use the word ‘fuck’ a lot (so do I) would be to label him. So I’ll tell you how I and maybe one other, experienced his Long Slow Deep Workshop, or as he chided, the ‘LSD’ workshop. He said that we would come out feeling as if we had taken LSD. That’s not how I experienced it. But it is about how you experience it. Bryan did say that. Not the judgment about it. He said that as well. So try to be yogi-like as you non-judge this piece as I digest Kest.
Of course, I had an expectation about the class-there was a description about it, and I being a yoga instructor for 7 years, have my vision of the Long, Slow, Deep. With any vision, comes a relationship of how you view the world. It come with an expectation of how things might look. But they often don’t look like we expect, wouldn’t you say?
So, he gave us fair warning at the beginning of the LSD workshop that we wouldn’t like it. So, why are you comparing it to LSD? People like LSD, or so I’ve heard.
He said that if we never meditated, that this class would be very difficult because we couldn’t fidget in our poses. Stillness. Bring it, I teach meditation and am a meditator.
He said that he might lose a couple of people (of 30 curious attendees) and that in the past, one man punched him before he left the workshop. He didn’t say he punched him in the face. Did you get that picture in your mind though like I did? I think Kest likes shock value. He sounded like he’s from Brooklyn, but he’s not, he’s from Detroit.
Did I mention that he’s the owner of a studio called Power Flow? He said that there would be no flow, only holding poses for extended periods. Long. Slow. Deep.
He talked about a something ‘special’ for 10 minutes, right near the end, that we’ve never experienced. (How does he know my experiences? Maybe I have. But no, I hadn’t.)
He talked an awful lot.
He talked for nearly 2 hours, about being silent with our breath and still in our pose. He said we should be in the moment, not reacting to his endless chatter. The workshop lasted 2.5 hours, but was slated for 2. He talked so much, perhaps, he just didn’t give a fuck. That’s what he would say, I suppose, him and his poddy mouth.
He burped aloud. With purpose. Didn’t excuse himself for it. Then, he asked if we had a reaction to it. I did. Did you? It was disgusting. It was purposeful. I wanted to know where was the silence and stillness of Kest? Then, when I found out the purpose, I thought, that the use of crude-ish points, and curse words, impacts our emotional brains so we won’t forget it and our reactions will be indelibly imprinted in the matrices of our minds forever. (Hello, Donald Trump strategies!) Did you ever try to dislodge something embedded in a matrix?
We did fundamental stuff, mostly forward folds, bending forward, while sitting down or lying down, a leg up in the air, doing all sorts of things, the inverted way. I used my blocks and a strap at times. One may need support when going deep. No reason not to plan in advance.
Why did we do Slow, Long, Deep? Because after 2 minutes, the muscle settles and then shortly afterwards, so does the fascia, the tight covering around the muscle. So we were trying to accomplish both. Using a yin approach to Astanga-like poses. He used his Iphone to set his timer to 3 minutes. Then, off we went in our pose.
Lucky me, I hit a zone. As I said, I meditated and stayed at a comfortable edge. I was alert, my muscles were engaged in the poses, yet I was relaxed in my mind and breathing. When you’re in a physical meditation marathon, you pace it, you don’t treat it like a sprint.
There were a number of meditators in the room. And determined New Yorkers. More women, than men, like an 80/20 split, which is the way of yoga in NYC. There was a lot of stillness in the room. It was just Kest who didn’t stop moving or talking.
He told us that we’d been in poses at the 1 hour and 20 minute marker. To me, it felt like 40 minutes. That’s a sign I was in the moment. Time flies when you are in The Now.
Mostly, I was conscious of my breathing. Sometimes, slow, long, deep breaths. Other times, my natural breath rhythm.
Other times, I forgot my breath, because Bryan talked so much. Was I supposed to ignore him, focus on him or focus on my breath and body? Either way, that was an energy suck throughout the practice. There were about five times that I wanted to put my fingers up to my pursed lips, to give Bryan the universal “Shhhhhh,” sign. I wanted to experience the fucking silence he kept talking about.
Then, I hit my breaking point. Two hours in. My body began feeling achy, like my immune was running down-my defenses were lowering. That’s what Byran was hoping for, I am guessing. Destruction. That’s one of the yoga trinities-Destruction. The other two are Creation and Preservation. Any adept yogi knows it, and knows it’s a cycle. I was in the destruction cycle.
By then, the 10 minute special would be no happy ending for me. It was a forward bend, with the chest forward, with legs extended out on the ground. I’ve done forward bends hundreds of times. Maybe for 2-3 minutes max. Ten minutes? No. It almost broke my back. Actually, I think it did.
I’ve had lower back pain for so long. It may have started in law school. My back would ‘throw out’ a number of times. I remember laying down in the back for a law class, because of it ‘threw out’. It happens when I‘ve been extremely active to the point of wearing myself down physically, or when stressed chronically.
I can take about 2 hours in the car, driving, before I notice it. And when I am at the desk for hours, working, I feel it. Winters, and dry, cold days are my worst enemy. Sitting at a restaurant, bar, walking museums, after about an hour and a half, I feel it also.
About 80% of Americans experience back pain, as Bryan mentioned. The muscles and fascia surrounding my lower back just won’t release, the spine is rounded slightly. I am not alone in hunching over books, desks and technology. And being a litigator in the 5 burroughs of Manhattan for nearly a decade did wonders to degenerate my discs. With yoga, my back has benefitted, nonetheless, I cannot imagine if I did not practice, how much pain I’d experience.
The first 3 minutes in the 10 minute pose, I was not still. There was a searing burning sensation in my lower back. I don’t even remember Bryan’s talking because my back had all of my attention. After about 3 minutes, my mind started to notice my breath again. Could I stay still for the rest of the pose? How? I was in near tears it was so excruciating.
Bryan let us know when we were ‘well over’ half way through-at 6 minutes. That’s not ‘well over half way’. About 7 or 8 minutes is, and 9 is the homestretch. There went my expectations again.
Just when I thought I could take no more, and I thought I’d dislodged myself from the pose, breaking stillness, I concentrated all of my energy into my long, slow, deep breaths-a technique that’s known as ‘ocean breathing’, ujjayi breath. I started at 50, and made so much ocean sound, that I couldn’t hear my thoughts. I don’t think others could hear theirs either, it was a slow rolling tidal wave of a breath. I focused on counting and breathing.
I didn’t lose count. I got to 36 and then it was over. Just like that. I took 14 breaths with pauses between inhales and exhales, in about 3.5 minutes time. And when I got to the end, I noticed that my back had stopped screaming at me. It was just stiff.
We did a 30 second counter pose for each leg. Really? That’s it? Just 30 seconds for 10 minutes of torture? Then the final resting pose, savasana, the corpse pose. I was dead.
We had probably about a 10 minute savasana. Then he announced we were free to leave. He didn’t apologize for keeping us late. He did mention that we were a good group or breathers and focused. We are New Yorkers, we may be scurrying about, but we like to take control and if focus and breathing means control, well, then… The only option in that workshop was to control ourselves-our reactions, breath and bodies, and we did it. If only, in life.
I had to run out, and couldn’t take the prescribed ‘hot bath’ that Bryan recommended. If only I had a tub. Not only that, I had a 50th birthday celebration to attend. I was a bit annoyed that I had to rush around, after that experience, and was kept an extra 30 minutes and not warned in advance. It tainted my mood. I was to be in recovering mode after that workshop. But I had to be in rushing and party mode.
I made a cup of tea, and got dressed quickly, then stood on the subway platform in midtown for over 30 minutes of delays, shifting from foot to foot because of my achy body, before I hopped into a cab to Astoria Queens to meet my Greek friends. My mood wasn’t yet festive. I was still annoyed I didn’t have time to rest. But, eventually I got my groove back. Or might I say, my back got into groove.
Many hours passed, after dinner, then dancing at a Greek lounge, and finally ending with my friend and I at a speak-easy, speaking easily for hours about life, Trump and middle age.
That’s when I noticed it. Or didn’t notice it. My back. Usually I would need to move around and stand for awhile after sitting in a hard chair for a couple of hours. But I hadn’t. I couldn’t feel my back. It felt completely released. I was in such shock about it, I brought it up at 3 different points over the night.
That night, I fell asleep and my neck and shoulder weren’t stiff either. I was completely loose and easy. And I still went home alone. Ha. Ha.
I spoke to my friend the next day whom I had convinced to attend the workshop. She couldn’t get off the floor as I was rushing out of Pure Yoga. She couldn’t feel her legs, and for hours after, she couldn’t. She got up for an 8 a.m. hot power yoga class the next morning, dreading the commitment she had made to meet a friend there. To her surprise, she felt great. Loose and Limber.
So, to digest Kest, I say, thanks to Kest. It was magical. Two days later and it’s still released. Unexpected.
Yes, I judged it, you, myself and my experience. I recognize that. It was a grueling experience but as with any struggle, it makes you grow. And Bryan had said that, amongst the hundreds of other things he did say. I was listening. And breathing. Come back to Pure Yoga anytime.
But next, time can you cut out some of the chatter and give us a bit more silence? I want to empty my mind, not fill it.