"You're late," Jennifer, the smiling security guard who greeted us upon our 8 am arrival at Hacienda de Guru Ram Das, announced. Founded by the late Yogi Bhajan, the Española community is home to the annual Summer Solstice Sadhana Celebration, a mecca for Kundalini yoga devotees and practitioners the world over.
Jennifer, a self-proclaimed "Indigo," gushes effusively about the magical energy swirling around the ashram, where the annual White Tantric Yoga intensive is apparently in full swing.
As an occasional Kundalini class cruiser, I'd known about the event for years, and heard many a tall terrific tale of breakthroughs, visions, psychic downloads and consciousness upgrades that followed the week-long experience.
But Española seemed light-years away from my home in Los Angeles, and White Tantra remained but a spiritual fantasy—that is, until this year, when I found myself in residency less than an hour away from the ashram, with way too much time on my hands and a hankering for a deeper meditative experience, an upgrade or two or twelve, and hopefully, a few new friends to add to my mix.
My friend Arthur and I raced to the Tantric Tent, where 1,900 lotus-bound yogis were staring eye-to-eye, fingers poised in prayer-like mudras, while a recorded song played on (and on and on) about prosperity and other spiritual ideals.
It was the first kriya (Kundalini exercise) of the day—one of six, each 62 minutes long—and they'd only just started, which gave me a chance to watch the fire burn across the mountain range while offering Arthur plenty of time to figure out how to tie his turban.
As a herd of white-clad yogis exited the tent, beelining alternately for the porta-potties and the strategic smattering of electrolyte-filled coolers, Arthur and I headed inside. Even though we were late, luck landed us in the middle of the mix, surrounded by real-deal Kundalini yogis with real-deal, elegantly wrapped turbans.
While Arthur looked the part (missing beard notwithstanding), I was clearly a tourist, as evidenced by my stained, borrowed whites, the shredded T-shirt wrapped around my head and the threadbare rug upon which I sat, garish and flat compared to the fluffy sheepskins cradling the yogi butts around me.
I was greeted with an endless stream of "Sat Nam"s—a Sikh phrase having something to do with God's name being truth or now or maybe both, which I alternately interpreted as "Hello," "Thank you," "OK," and "What the hell is that wrapped around your head?" While I'm no stranger to Kundalini, having come to appreciate the every-now-and-again class as an esoteric break from my six-day-a-week Ashtanga addiction—I mean, practice—I still felt like an imposter when repeating the aforementioned catchphrase. Thus, I offered up my own versions in reply, like "Word," "Ditto" and "Back Atcha'," which were received with varying degrees of amusement.
Seated in my line of gender-specific sacred geometry, I watched the man kitty corner from me floss his teeth between kriyas, while another applied cuticle cream to his fingers and his toes. Though I wasn't in the habit of sharing my grooming rituals in public (except when picking my feet at Ten Thousand Waves) during a yoga workshop, I (almost) welcomed the familiarity this immersive exposure was gifting me, (sort of) appreciating the closeness—literal and figurative—we were sharing.
Perched upon a platform at the front of the tent sat a woman named Satsimran Kaur Khalsa, flanked by two beefy Sikhs wearing sunglasses, arms crossed in the universal "Don't fuck with me" mudra. Wielding an endless arsenal of chit-chat and guilt trips, she led us through our Tantric practices—we, the lollygagging slackers who dawdled between kriyas, who talked and slouched and messed up the sacred rows.
"We're running an hour late," she snapped. "At this rate, we won't be done until after dark."
"Then try talking less," quipped the man to Arthur's left—he of the ragged goatee and the devout girlfriend who rearranged the crystals spaced out in front of her between kriyas.
Sixty-two minutes fly when you're snorkeling the Caribbean or racing to catch a plane, but it's an eternity when your arms are outstretched, your chin is tilted skyward and you're chanting in Sanskrit. Sixty-two minutes is forever when you're holding your breath through 16 rounds of silent prayer, exhaling through a single booger-leaky nostril and observing a thousand suns burning in the hip you broke as a tiny childhood daredevil. Sixty-two minutes was time enough for the woman with the mountain of amethyst dangling from her neck to flag down a monitor to take her place (so as not to disturb the geometry of our rows), nab a chiropractic adjustment in the Healing Tent and return in time for the last 10 minutes of the exercise, only to wrench her neck yet again.
And so it was that I spent the first day of summer contorted in awkward positions, paired with songs and prayers and stares, spaced between Satsimran's inchoate Star Trek metaphors.
Exhausted from bending and chanting, while hopped up on the maca infusing the smoothie I nabbed from the raw food kiosk in the mess hall, I lay down on a wobbly wooden bench, wondering if these awkward kriyas were affecting my consciousness—were affecting any of our consciousnesses—when I spied a goathead lodged in the heel of a supine Sikh resting next to me.
"You've got a goathead in your foot," I said.
He pulled his foot to his chest for a gander.
"It's just a baby," he snorted, rolling his eyes.
I searched my kriya-mushy mind for an appropriate response, something that said: "Wow, you're a dick," but sounded more enlightened.
"Sat Nam," I announced as I headed back to the Tantric Tent to breathe, chant and bend myself into a more tolerant, compassionate person.